The many faces of George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte

With so much interest in the Royal Collection’s Georgian Papers Project,  we thought we would examine some of the portraits of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who was also patron of the arts. We took a brief look some time ago at some of the portraits of George III’s children, so other portraits of the Queen with her children can be found by following this link.

As you would imagine, both the King and Queen were painted by many of the leading artists of the day so we’ll take a look at just a few of them.

We begin with a miniature of Queen Charlotte by the artist Jeremiah Meyer, who was appointed miniature painter to her majesty.

Meyer, Jeremiah; Profile of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818); York Museums Trust;
Meyer, Jeremiah; Profile of Queen Charlotte (1744-1818); York Museums Trust

Our next portrait is attributed to Johann Zoffany, 1766. According to John Zoffany, His Life and Works by Lady Victoria Manners and Dr. G C Williamson:

Unfortunately for our artist he was addicted to the practical joke of introducing into his groups ‘without the permission of the original and often in unflattering guise‘ the representations of living persons with whom he had quarrelled or against whom he had  grievance. He is said to have scandalised the English Court by sketching out and showing to his friends a bold replica of his ‘Life School’ in which he had introduced a portrait of Queen Charlotte before she was married and had placed it opposite to the figure of one of her former admirers in Germany.

As Zoffany’ s Life School wasn’t painted until after this portrait of Queen Charlotte, it rather begs the question as to what she had done to upset him – perhaps she didn’t think he had captured her likeness in this portrait! We will probably never know.

Queen Charlotte (1744–1818) Johann Zoffany (1733–1810) (attributed to) The Holburne Museum

In 1789 Queen Charlotte sat for the artist Thomas Lawrence but, according to the National Gallery,  apparently unwillingly, having recently undergone the shock of George III’s first attack of apparent insanity. The pearl bracelets on Queen Charlotte’s wrists were part of the king’s wedding gift to her; one clasp contains his portrait miniature, the other his royal monogram. Although Lawrence’s portrait was considered to be very like Queen Charlotte, it failed to please the king and queen and remained in the artist’s possession

Lawrence, Thomas; Queen Charlotte; The National Gallery, London;
Lawrence, Thomas; Queen Charlotte; The National Gallery, London

This next painting is by one of the monarch’s favourite artists, William Beechey. In the biography of William Beechey R.A. written by W. Roberts in 1909, he notes that in 1793 Beechey painted a full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte, the Queen, in turn, honoured him by the appointment of Her Majesty’s Portrait Painter.

Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by William Beechey; National Trust, Upton House
Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Upton House

Interestingly, there is another copy of this portrait at the Courtauld Gallery, dated somewhat later – 1812 – and with slightly different dimensions.

Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte; The Courtauld Gallery;
Beechey, William; Queen Charlotte; The Courtauld Gallery

Probably one of the most well-known portraits of her is the one by Allan Ramsay.

Ramsay, Allan; Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of George III


Reynolds, Joshua; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), Queen Consort of King George III; Government Art Collection;
Reynolds, Joshua; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818), Queen Consort of King George III; Government Art Collection

And finally, a portrait after Thomas Gainsborough.

Gainsborough, Thomas; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Wimpole Hall;
Gainsborough, Thomas; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818); National Trust, Wimpole Hall

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14 thoughts on “The many faces of George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte

    1. All Things Georgian

      Delighted you enjoyed it and it would have been terribly remiss of us not to have written something at such an exciting time – busy trawling through the online documents right now 🙂


  1. Fantastic piece and brilliantly researched. You are of course right, with the documentary on George lll coming out soon (not to mention the very high profile ‘portrayal’ in Hamilton) it is a very exciting time for this period!


  2. Re Zoffany’s spite towards Queen Charlotte: I know the artist had an axe to grind with Queen Charlotte (and vice versa). In 1772 she commissioned him to paint a picture featuring all the highlights of the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s collection in the Uffizi. Zoffany duly set off for Florence and finished the painting (‘The Tribuna’) in 1777. Queen Charlotte (and George III) were, however, thoroughly disenchanted with the resulting picture. The Queen thought it was ‘overcrowded’, and ‘would nog suffer “The Tribuna” to be placed in any of her apartments.
    Not surprisingly, Zoffany never again worked for the royal family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All Things Georgian

      Yes date wise that would make sense as the original ‘The Academicians of the Royal Academy’ aka ‘Life School’ was painted 1771-72 and it was a replica of that which he added Queen Charlotte to. Wouldn’t it be fun to see his replica, wonder if that survived – very doubtful though!!


  3. Victoria

    It seems there are so many paintings of the lovely Queen Charlotte, formerly Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Exploring online I found there are even paintings of her as done before she married King George, III. All lovely. I am however left wondering why there are many paintings that make her appear so different then other paintings make her appear. Some of the paintings make her appear to me, as what I always thought of as Hapsburg like in her features. Those particular paintings are now considered by some to show that she had distant African or Moorish ancestry. Yet the paintings on this site show none of that. It is curious that there is such a strong difference in her features. The ones in which her skin tones appear darker, I’ve often wondered if those paintings needed cleaning as paints, varnish or what ever they use can darken after many years, especially centuries. What makes me wonder the need for restoration or cleaning is that many other paintings portray her as very pale, her eyes even seem blue or greenish blue. It is an interesting subject to explore, as to what the reality may have been as well as what did the Queen, King and family think of each painting; as well as who were the artists and what was their motives for painting Queen Charlotte one way or the other. Either way she is very lovely and it is quite curious that some of the portraits seem not to be of the same person. ???


    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks Victoria for your observations on the paintings. The Royal Collection online holds hundreds of paintings of Queen Charlotte and all very different. Quite as to why she appears so different in them could be due to the way in which the artist captured her likeness – or otherwise, equally some of the paintings might look different if freshened up, perhaps. There’s been a question about her ethnicity for some considerable time and is likely to continue until/unless some conclusive evidence can be found. We would to love have included more paintings of her, but space tends to dictate the number we can include in a blog post, so it’s possibly a subject for a future blog post 🙂


    2. triece

      Thank you so much for sharing information about the Hapsburg’s – how interesting! Anyway, back to Queen Charlotte, I watched the documentary about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and there was a scene in the documentary where the Queen was explaining to Meghan that she would not be the first woman of African descent to become part of British Royalty. She explained to Meghan that her great, great grandmother Queen Sofia Charlotte what the first. It was so interesting to me that I researched further and found out that when Sofie reigned it was during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and the British didn’t want the rest of the world to see her as a person of African descent, they were embarrassed of her features, so they requested that all of the painters showed her with European features. With the exception of one painter – can’t think of his name right off, but he paints her with courser features and a frizzy-kinky curled, red hair which is the closest depiction of what she looked liked – but still not an exact depiction. When you research her a bit further you’ll find that she was an African Portuguese mixed with German, and King George adored her. Queen Elizabeth is her great, great grand daughter.


      1. Sarah Murden

        Thank you so much for your comments. The painting you refer to is the one by Allan Ramsay. There has always been a great deal of speculation as to Queen Charlotte’s ethnicity, but unfortunately, to date, despite much research, there is still no conclusive evidence either way in the public domain.


    1. Sarah Murden

      It might be worth having a read of this one which is available online:

      There are several more recent books that are specifically about her life, which available from Amazon etc:

      Queen Charlotte by Olwen Hedley

      Queen Charlotte: A Princess from Mecklenburg-Strelitz Ascends the Throne of England by Friederike S Drinkuth which was translated from German to English.

      I haven’t read either of these, so can’t really comment upon their merit.
      Hope this helps



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