King George III and Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in Netflix’s Bridgerton

By Amy-Jane Humphries

In 2022, Bridgerton returned to Netflix to popular acclaim. The role of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain was once again masterfully played by Golda Rosheuvel, who expertly balances the queen’s performative frivolity with the fragility that lay at the heart of the monarchy, within the royal marriage itself. While Queen Charlotte has a prominent role in both seasons of the show, King George III, played by James Fleet, makes only fleeting yet often heart-rending appearances in the show. The relationship between George III and Queen Charlotte has long fascinated historians, and Charlotte is of enduring interest to queenship scholars. The scenes that the couple share in the show are especially significant because they are so infrequently represented on screen.

George is conspicuous by his absence for much of the first season of Bridgerton. The series takes place in 1813, two years after the Regency Act was passed, which relieved the king from royal duties and made his eldest son, the future George IV, the prince regent. Scattered references are made to him in the show, and Charlotte’s public prominence is contrasted sharply with her husband’s absence. The first encounter that viewers have with the king is therefore as unexpected as it is a tragic reminder of what the couple—both as characters and as historical figures—were going through behind closed doors.

In episode five, the viewers are introduced to George III for the first time in a dining room within the palace, as he calmly eats his dinner. Rosheuvel’s expressions speak to the rarity of the moment as George calls her ‘Lottie’ and encourages her to sit with him. He then makes small talk about their children and his illness is hinted at by the fact that George thinks that they are still toddlers. The king asks, ‘how is little George?’ and Charlotte replies, ‘well, he is not so little anymore – grows plumper by the day in fact.’ For those familiar with the infamous and highly caricatured girth of George IV, it is a clever reference. The confusion of the king is evident, however, and Charlotte’s pain is written across Rosheuvel’s face throughout the scene as she attempts to reach the man she had known in her youth by suggesting that they take a walk in the gardens ‘like we used to do.’ Just as it seems that connection has been made, however, the King asks about ‘dear Emily.’

Emily was the pet name for Princess Amelia, the youngest of the couple’s fifteen children who was born in 1783. Amelia’s death in 1810 from tuberculosis and other illnesses devastated the king. George’s anxiety over Amelia’s health contributed to his final period of mental illness, which lasted from her death until his own ten years later. At the time of Bridgerton, Amelia had been dead for two years, but the character of the king claimed that he had seen her ‘a fortnight ago.’ Unable to believe that Amelia was gone, the king’s confusion quickly turned to anger, and Queen Charlotte was forced to retreat from the room while he was restrained by household staff, exclaiming as they did so that ‘[Queen Charlotte] has killed my child!’

George III’s final appearance of season one was in the last episode. The scene occurs within a montage that shows several of the show’s couples. Queen Charlotte appears briefly in a garden, overhearing a ruckus being caused by George III who, in anger, knocks plates off a table with his cane and orders his attendants to leave him alone. This montage is overlaid with Lady Whistledown’s words: ‘one can never know the truth of a marriage behind closed doors. Beware indeed, blushing newlyweds, you know not the future that awaits. Will there be hardship? Or indignity?’ The rhetorical questions appear across the images of George III and Queen Charlotte in the garden, with Charlotte representing hardship and George indignity. The sad downward turn of Charlotte’s lips once again shows the desolation and loneliness that is hidden behind the façade of towering wigs and elaborate ensembles.

Much of season two elapses without George III making an appearance, but when he does it is both tragic and heart-warming. He bursts into the room in episode six where Queen Charlotte, Lady Danbury, the Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton, Mary Sharma, and Edwina Sharma had gathered. George is dressed in his bedclothes and is apparently delighted with the fireworks which were set off in the garden in premature celebration of the wedding of Edwina and Viscount Bridgerton. Charlotte appears visibly distressed and calls to the staff around them to take the king away before he has an outburst.

George seems to think it is his wedding day to Charlotte, calling her ‘my beautiful bride’ after apologising for being late to the ceremony. He asks where the archbishop and the congregation are, growing increasingly confused. As Charlotte rises to speak to the king, two of his attendants come to take him away, at which point he grows agitated and upset. While the other assembled women look away, Charlotte can only look on in horror. After shaking himself free of his attendants, George is then addressed by Edwina, who tells him that ‘[Charlotte] will make a most excellent queen’ and that their marriage ‘today will make [all of the trials during their courtship] well worth it.’ In doing so, she settles the king and encourages him to retreat to the other room to rest so that he would be ready to ‘rule this kingdom with the kind of love, compassion, and kindness the two of you undoubtedly share.’ This scene is fiction, but it perhaps captures an element of the relationship they once shared.

The love that the fictional couple had appears in brief moments in Bridgerton, perhaps reflecting the eventual reality of the historical couple. This relationship will be further explored in the upcoming Bridgerton spinoff that will focus on Charlotte’s rise and, though it will be steeped in fiction, a sense of the relationship that George and Charlotte would have had in their early years will be conveyed. The marriage of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz lasted for fifty-seven years, ending with her death in 1818. Their representation in Bridgerton will undoubtedly ensure that public interest in the long-eighteenth-century and this fascinating couple will continue for many years to come.

George III’s appearances in Bridgerton:

01×05 – The Duke and I – Directed by Sheree Folkson, 2020.

01×08 – After the Rain – Directed by Alrick Riley, 2020.

02×06 – The Choice – Directed by Tom Verica, 2022.

Bibliography

TV Series

Bridgerton. Series 1. Created by Chris Van Dusen. Directed by Julie Ann Robinson, Tom Verica, Sheree Folkson, and Alrick Riley. Netflix. 25 December 2020.

Bridgerton. Series 2. Created by Chris Van Dusen. Directed by Tricia Brock, Alex Pillai, Tom Verica, and Cheryl Dunye. Netflix. March 25 2022.

Podcasts

Amanda Matta. The Real Queen Charlotte. Art of History Podcast. January 2022.

Elaine Chalus. George III and Mental Health. Historic Royal Palaces Podcast. April 2020.

Ellie Cawthorne and Andrew Roberts. George III: The Tyrant Who Lost America? History Extra Podcast. October 2021.

Dan Snow and Andrew Roberts. Why We’re Wrong About George III. Dan Snow’s History Hit. November 2021.

Books

Corfield, Penelope. The Georgians: The Deeds and Misdeeds of Eighteenth-Century Britain.

Hadlow, Janice. The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte, and the Hanoverians. London: William Collins, 2014.

Peal, Robert. Meet the Georgians: Epic Tales from Britain’s Wildest Century. London: William Collins, 2021.

Roberts, Andrew. George III: The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch. London: Allen Lane, 2021.

Robertson, Ritchie. The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness 1680-1790. London: Allen Lane, 2021.

Worsley, Lucy. Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.

Cover Image and Figure 1 Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix.

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