Blurred Identity Boundaries in Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz’s Wardrobe: Tradition, Modernity, Refashioning and Progressive Non-Conformity By Celia Reyer
Part 1 of 3
Queen Charlotte entered the English monarchy in 1761 as a 17-year old princess from Mirow, Germany. She was the daughter of Charles Louis Frederick and his wife, Elisabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen. A descendent of King Alfonso III and Madragana of Portugal, Charlotte had ‘mulatto’ features indicative of Afro-Asiatic ethnicity. In recent years, her ethnic origin that entered the English blood lines of the monarchy became public knowledge.
Charlotte was an atypical Queen in many ways. From 1762-1769, the painter, Alan Ramsay, decided to illustrate her features as he saw her., however as the years passed her true appearance was washed out of portrait commissions replaced with a depiction of a the Queen with more European features. Faced with the loss of her ethnic identity, Charlotte focused on priorities on the home front at Kew Palace, the humble country home that she and her husband so enjoyed. As the years passed, this mother of 13 surviving children was faced with her husband’s disturbing ailing heath – he had porphyria, a blood related genetic condition that deteriorated his mental state.
Analyzing Charlotte’s wardrobe could not be done without considering her circumstances. Expectations on her appearance as Queen unfazed this modern thinker who could be coined as a progressive adaptor to sustainability, almost anti-fashion. Unfortunately for Charlotte, she lived at a time where coverage of fashionable dress and trends was moving so quickly.
Questions arose from her wardrobe choices as she publicly opposed fashionable dress. Why did she feel compelled to wear a specific style supported by dated hoops until her death? With constant reuse and refashioning of the same pieces, Charlotte clearly made her stand on appearances. To nuance this approach Cumming commented, “Privately she moved with fashion; on a formal public occasion she resisted it.“ ¹ This leads us to believe she was a leader in her own right, making a strong stand with no regret, or influence by the people who opposed it. Even though her style decisions were mocked and although appropriately conservative they were seen as out of mode.
Cumming further reveals,“George III and Queen Charlotte tried to maintain a formality of style which they perceived as a mark of respect to the monarchy ... They played a substantial part in supporting London based industry." ²
It can be perceived through Charlotte’s humble approach to refashioning she perhaps showed national support for department stores through her endorsement. This new business model allowed more affordable fashion to be sold to customers of many classes.
Adburgham stated, “Dress silks woven at Spitalfields were exclusively designed for Queen Charlotte and the Princesses; and the company she purchased from, Harding & Howell Co. was granted permission to sell certain patterns under the name of Queens Silk.” ³
This is a Queen who made progressive decisions for a woman of the time. They were calculated, human and honourable.