Queen Charlotte of England

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Queen Charlotte of England

An engraving of Queen Charlotte of England, wife of King George III.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the 18th century, a painting of Queen Charlotte -- wife of the British King George III -- sparked a flurry of debate because her facial features seemed more in keeping with someone of African heritage. And with good reason: It seems that Queen Charlotte was descended from a branch of a Portuguese royal family who traced their ancestry to a 13th-century ruler named Alfonso III and his lover Madragana, who was "a Moor" ( an old term for someone of African or Arabic descent) [source: Jeffries].

Some historians cast doubt on this theory but scholar Mario de Valdes y Cocom notes that the queen's personal physician said she had a "true mulatto face." Further, the royal family spelled out its link to African ancestors in a published report released before Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, in conjunction with her position as head of the Commonwealth [source: Cocom].

If correct, the royal link to black heritage would mean that Queen Charlotte's granddaughter, Queen Victoria, was of mixed race. The same goes for her still-living descendants, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince William, and any future heirs.

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