Shonda Rhimes’ Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story explores the romance that endured for 57 years between King George III and Queen Charlotte. Based on characters first introduced in Bridgerton, the show brings their story to life with a fictional twist.
The royal couple of the show is grounded in history. Golda Rosheuvel and James Fleet portray the couple in the 1800s, while India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest depict their younger 1700s counterparts. As the story unfolds, the world of Queen Charlotte incorporates real-life inspiration, transporting viewers to a Regency-era world full of romance and very little real conflict.
Of course, no one should be tuning into Bridgerton—a world of diverse and intriguing royals and royal-adjacent people who regularly indulge in steamy escapades—for a history lesson. The makers behind the show have been very clear that the series is not a history lesson but rather fiction inspired by facts like how an eight-year-old Mozart performed for the king and queen!
Fact vs fiction in ‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’:
The real heritage of Queen Charlotte
The ongoing discussion about Queen Sophia Charlotte’s race served as inspiration for the creative team behind Queen Charlotte. Executive producer and director Tom Verica stated, “Many historians believe that Queen Charlotte was of mixed cultural heritage.” Historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom argued in 1997 that the queen’s ancestry can be traced back to Margarita de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese royal house. However, the exact implications of this lineage are still debated among historians.
According to Smithsonian magazine, “de Castro [y] Sou[s]a’s ancestry is traced from the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana, whom Valdes believes was a Moor.” It’s important to note that during that time, the term ‘Moor’ did not solely refer to race back then, but to religion as well.
King George was into farming and astronomy
Rhimes mentioned to Netflix, “Of the true historical facts I decided to keep in the show, one was the fact that King George was a farmer. They called him Farmer George back then, and Farmer King.”
He was also fascinated by astronomy and tracked the transit of Venus at that time, as per the Georgian Papers archives. Rhimes stated, “He really did build one of the first-of-its-kind observatories … the transit of Venus is an actual astronomical phenomenon that actually happened during that period of time.”
He left behind detailed notes in agricultural books, and among his notable inputs are his “drawings and calculations of the transit of Venus across the sun on June 23, 1769.” His predictions for subsequent transits in 1874 and 2004 were accurate.
Queen Charlotte introduced the tradition of Christmas trees to England
Christmas might seem incomplete without the Fir tree centrepiece, but it was not always a custom. The tradition of the Christmas tree, which gained widespread popularity in the 19th century, is often associated with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Their family’s gatherings around the Christmas tree were even depicted in the Illustrated London News in 1848, as noted by the Royal Collection Trust.
However, as is depicted on the show, it was Queen Charlotte who introduced this German custom to England. She brought with her the practice of decorating a yew branch, which was said to have originated from Martin Luther in the 1500s.
King George’s mystery ailment
This is a topic that is still debated among historians. While some say it could have been the rare blood disorder porphyria, some have speculated it could have been bipolar or even schizophrenia. “It could be mental, it could be physical, it could be neurological,” said Rhimes. “It really bothers me that we run around talking about the ‘madness’ of King George and sort of make fun of it in other storytelling or in other places in history, so I really wanted to try to make that human and humane for him.”
Mylchreest spoke about it at the ‘An Evening with Queen Charlotte’ celebratory panel, on May 16 at Netflix’s 2023 FYSEE Emmy campaign event space. “I think that it’s most useful… to leave that open [for viewers]. The show is told through Charlotte’s eyes — and to Charlotte, not only George’s [condition] but the entire world is a mystery. I think that the audience should share some of that mystery.”
Black nobility in London
The book Black London by Avril Nanton and Jody Burton served as one of Rhimes’ inspirations for the racially inclusive world of Bridgerton. She told Shondaland, “I made Agatha [Arsema Thomas] and Lord Danbury [Cyril Nri] off the idea that there were African royalty sending their children to boarding schools in England,” she said. “That was something I’d never known either—that there were these incredibly wealthy Africans living in London in a parallel life.”
Queen Charlotte is currently streaming on Netflix.