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Posted by portugalpress on May 17, 2018
Simon Tubb plays Ferdinand II and Natalie Galland plays Princess Louise / PETER KAIN
Osborne House, Isle of Wight
Pena Palace, Sintra
St George’s Chapel, Windsor

It’s a 21st century fairy story, the engagement of an English Prince to an Afro-American actress. Controversially, the historian and journalist Mario de Valdes asserts that Meghan will not be the first British royal of African descent.

Valdes claims that Queen Charlotte – the wife of George III – had Portuguese and African relations. He links her background to an illegitimate branch of the Portuguese royal family tracing it to Dom Afonso III, the King of Portugal and the Algarve from 1249 to 1279. Records show Afonso had three children by his mistress, Ourana, who was the daughter of a Moorish governor.

Fifteen generations later, when Charlotte – the daughter of a German duke – married George III, her swarthy appearance and ethnicity became a matter of heated debate. The theory of her ancestry as put forward by Valdes has not been proved. More importantly, Charlotte’s genes were a healthy addition to the British royal family. She produced 13 offspring who survived to adulthood and was the grandmother of Queen Victoria.

Subsequently, there has been a degree of intermarriage between the British royals with Queen Victoria marrying Albert, her own first cousin. In turn, two of her grandchildren – our current Queen and Prince Philip – were married to each other. Since Harry has a mix of closely related genes, his decision to marry Meghan – rather than his own first cousins, Beatrice or Eugenie – is certainly a wise one!

In centuries gone by, intermarriage between European royals was common and the Saxe-Coburg pool of genes washed up on many shores. Victoria’s Saxe-Coburg mother and Albert’s Saxe-Coburg father were brother and sister. Another of their Saxe-Coburg nephews, Ferdinand, married the Queen of Portugal and they attended Victoria and Albert’s wedding. Held in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, in 1840, it was an enormous family get-together including a host of inter-related brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins.

Four years earlier, Ferdinand had visited his cousin Victoria in England. She sketched his portrait entitling her picture, the Prince of Portugal. Ferdinand was already betrothed to Queen Maria II and this was his final holiday as a single man. By all accounts, the cousins got on well.

Ferdinand and his other Saxe-Coburg cousin, Albert, shared common interests in art and architecture. Early in their married lives, both men had their own pet projects. Albert designing the family’s summer retreat, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and Ferdinand creating a similar holiday home at Pena Palace in Sintra.

Frequently exchanging letters, the cousins kept in touch and taking advice from Victoria and Albert, Ferdinand commissioned Sir William Ross to paint a miniature portrait of Maria. The following year, aged 34, she died giving birth to their 11th child. Eight years later at Windsor Castle, Albert met his end, dying of typhoid fever at the age of 41.

It was usual for the royal family to hold burial services at St George’s Chapel and Albert’s funeral took place there. Two years later, it was the Prince of Wales who chose to break with convention by holding his wedding in the Chapel.
Victoria must have given her permission and although she was still grieving for her husband, she attended the marriage service. She was concealed in the Royal Closet, a private box located above the Chapel’s choir. At her behest, Beethoven’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ was sung as it was Albert’s favourite piece of music.

Three more of Victoria and Albert’s children – Louise, Arthur and Leopold – were married at St George’s and, on each occasion, it included the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.

Without this change of tradition, it is probable that the Chapel would have remained a place of royal mourning rather than the venue for a joyful wedding. It’s likely that under different circumstances, Harry and Meghan might have chosen the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace where Charlotte and Victoria began their married lives.

By Carolyn Kain

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