Queen Victoria’s grandmother

Black History Queen Charlotte

Sorry if this is well known already, but Queen Victoria’s grandmother was of black ancestry, being directly descended from a black branch of the Portugese royal family.

She was queen Charlotte and was very popular with the British public. I believe that she, with her African hair set the fashion for very high piled up hair styles for women that were so popular in what we call the late Georgian period, both here and in continental Europe. It was also very fashionable to have a young black male servant as part of your household, so again, the tendency was to try to style European hair to look like African hair.

When I was at school my friend and I were surprised to notice that the mad wife of Rochester in Jane Eyre was stated to have black skin. Interracial marriages were not something we were aware of in 1970’s Southampton. Despite the fact that the character was an heiress from the Caribbean our teacher told us that black didn’t mean she was a black woman and laughed at us, saying it just described her mood. It is pretty clear that a woman described as having black skin and being from that part of the world was of African origin.

When I have heard Othello taught it was always suggested that his tendency to jealousy was childlike and the idea being that all black people were childlike and prone to extremes of emotion, presumably this being to justify enslavement of Africans. Conversely, none of the characteristics such as PTSD leading to mental breakdown of Macbeth, insecurity and emotional instability leading to madness in Lear, suicidal thoughts in Hamlet, or any other flaws in the other presumed European characters are never spoken of as typical of people of European origin.

I studied black history under professor David Katzman when he was visiting the University of Birmingham in the 1980s. I tried to teach this subsequently but was unable to secure employment doing so. I am pleased to see so much information about history that is not entirely European is now being disseminated. We did learn a little about the existing wars and empires in West Africa and of course the elements of culture that spread through the Americas from Africa via the transatlantic slave trade.

We also learnt a little about the movement to promote history of Africa.

After learning about how painful straightening black hair was in the 1950s, I have been fascinated to watch a program tonight about how women all across Europe in the late 1700’s were putting so much effort into trying to get their hair to look African.

 

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