UK Royalty and Race

There’s a lot of discussion about how the present royal family is dealing with Prince Harry’s present partner, but I am increasingly fascinated by what defines race. This is an article by Kate Williams takes definitions of race onto a new level:

Queen Charlotte, the German wife of “mad” King George III and mother of his 15 children. The historian and TV producer Marios y Valdes y Cocom argues that she was Britain’s first black queen for her bloodline descended from a 13th century king and his mistress, Madragana, who may have been a Moor. 18th century commentators said she had “negroid” features and a royal doctor declared her as having a “true mulatto face”. If Valdes is correct, all the royal family would have a black heritage, including Victoria and the modern royals. but  historians are not certain of Madragana’s ethnicity (she may have been a Mozarab or Iberian Christian) and the comments may be founded in a cruel and racist alignment between “black” and “ugly” (the queen was always mocked as unattractive) in the 18th century and since.

For starters, I thought the Moors were brown rather than black, but beyond this is the definition of what constitutes an inheritance.

The term black covers a wide range of concepts in English, most of which are not treated to race. It is to do with darkness, which before the invention of electric lights invoked all sorts of fears; people rarely travelled at night so anyone who did was suspected of criminality. Strike breakers were blacklegs, a criminal was a blackguard, and criminals  blacked up their faces to prevent discovery. Most people worked out of doors, so became tanned; being a person of leisure allowed them to be pale. The term ‘blue blood’ comes from a Spanish term referring to skin so pale that veins were visible beneath it. So it is unclear what black meant in the past, though it was not a form of praise.

For Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) to be descended from this mistress who was born about 1230, this means about 20 generations separate them, so it is really stretching a point to claim Charlotte was of black descent.

Closer to the present,  Barack Obama is generally described as black rather than mixed race. I am fascinated as to why.

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