Queen Charlotte: finding fact in fiction

Looking at the way Queen Charlotte takes real history to tell compelling stories

Image by: Herbert Wang
Bridgerton prequel refers to historical events.

Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story came out on Netflix on May 4 as the lastest Bridgerton enstallment. Just as Queen Charlotte and King George III intrigued the people of their time, this Bridgerton prequel captivated audiences around the world as it put a spotlight on the influence of Queen Charlotte’s reign.

The series tells the story of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and King George III’s relationship, and the difficulties they faced in their early marriage. The pair navigate turbulent waters as Queen Charlotte seeks to learn more about her husband and her abilities as the new Queen of England.

Like other shows about the Royal Family, the series blurs fact and fiction.

The show points to the succession crisis that carries many of the flashes forward in this season. After the death of George IV’s only daughter, the crown was left without a suitable line of succession. In the show, Queen Charlotte sought to find suitable marriages for the rest of her children. In both the show and reality, this eventually leads to the birth of Queen Victoria—who would become third in line to the throne after her uncle George IV.

Queen Victoria is considered one of the most influential British monarchs, whose reign coincides with the Industrial Revolution and British colonial expansion. Although we can celebrate the importance of her granddaughter, Charlotte is credited with huge cultural strides as well.

The show demonstrates how Queen Charlotte introduced the modern Christmas tree to England and its colonies. A Christmas tree appears as a key set prop in a scene to highlight this part of history.

Another interesting fact is that unlike most kings in his era, George is believed to be one of the only men in his family to have refrained from taking any mistresses. This show takes this fact from history and interprets a great love story between King George and Queen Charlotte. Showrunner and master storyteller Shonda Rhimes doesn’t disappoint with the portrayal of their love.

The show also tackles the topic of mental health. When George suffers from an unknown mental illness in the show, he describes it as the heaven and earth colliding in his mind. In episode four, the audience is introduced to Dr. John Monro of the Bethlem Hospital when George seeks help.

The doctor was not merely created for the audience—he was a real figure who managed the hospital.

The scenes between King George and Dr. Monro show the cruel and dehumanizing way people with mental health struggles were treated in the regency era.

The romance between Charlotte and George contrasts with the cruel practices of Dr. Monro.

In the show, Charlotte accepts George for who he is and seeks to support him, instead of trying to cure him. The show recognizes love is not enough to cure his mental illness in the end, but instead worthwhile for its own sake.

This contrast between how Dr. Monro treats King George and how the Queen treats King George highlights the absurd cruelty of mental health treatment at the time. It’s another example of the way historical interpretation shapes this story.

This portrayal of mental health points to a common thread of inadequate mental health support throughout history. But it seems the show attempts to balance real history with romantic fiction, integrating the problematic aspects of the regency era to craft the conflict of this story.

The show’s balance of fact and fiction demonstrates how history can be used as an interesting tool for storytelling.

Though the world of Bridgeton and Queen Charlotte is quite obviously placed in a very fictionalized version of Britain in the regency era, the show nonetheless contextualizes history into a narrative that allows for an interesting story.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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