Meghan Markle Is Not the First British Royal With African Heritage

By: Alia Hoyt
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during an official photocall to announce their engagement, at Kensington Palace, London on Nov. 27, 2017. Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

There was a lot of buzz when biracial Meghan Markle married into the British royal family May 2018 because — let's face it — the image of the Windsors has long been that they are rich, privileged and ultra-white. So, the welcome addition of Markle to the fam had a lot of people applauding this seemingly new, progressive attitude.

It didn't quite turn out that way, and now, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have taken a step back from their senior roles in the British royal family and are living in Los Angeles. They're expecting their second child, a girl, who like their son Archie, will not be the first multiracial royal of Britain's royalty by a long shot. Here are some other members of the British royal family with African connections.


Queen Charlotte

Queen Charlotte
Duchess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Sophia Charlotte, 1738-1820) was the queen consort of King George III (1738-1820).
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

A genealogist named Mario De Valdes y Cocom made waves when he confirmed long-suspected rumors that Queen Charlotte, who was born in 1744, actually boasted significant African ancestry. A German princess probably selected by King George III's mother to marry him, she bore the monarch a whopping 15 children. Her great-granddaughter, Victoria, later became Queen, and those diverse genes are present today in Queen Elizabeth II.

Although some historians dispute Valdes's claim, there was always a lot of interest in Charlotte's appearance, because of her rich skin tone and the fact that her features bore characteristics considered "negroid." In fact, one prime minister of her day wrote, "Her nose is too wide and her lips too thick," and the royal physician described her, "true mulatto face." Queen Charlotte's African lineage dates back to the 13th century, when Portuguese royal Alfonso III took a black Moor as a concubine, and had three children with her. Then, one of their children married into another family with black roots, further increasing Charlotte's eventual African blood.


Queen Philippa of Hainault

Queen Philippa was the wife of King Edward III, and was born in 1314 in what is now Belgium, in an area once ruled by Moors. Her father was a nobleman and at just 9 years old, she was selected as a wife for the future king of England. The claim of African ancestry is derived from a detailed picture given of her by the bishop Edward's father sent over to meet her. He wrote, "[H]er nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full and especially the lower lip...all her limbs are well set and unmaimed, and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father, and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us."

At age 15, Philippa married Edward, by all accounts a happy union. One of their children, Edward, was known as "the Black Prince" but no one is sure why; historians think this was because of the color of his armor. Her kindness and compassion won her much respect in Europe and helped her husband maintain his long reign.


Joy Elias-Rilwan

Third time was the charm for the Hon. James Lascelles, who wed Nigerian actress Joy Elias-Rilwan in 1999 following two previous marriages. Neither are what you would call standard royals. In fact, Lascelles spent time in the 1970s living on a commune, rather than taking tea with his first cousin, once-removed, the Queen. Currently 57th in line for the throne, Lascelles is a career musician who has traveled the world and studied jazz and Native American music. His wife is an actress who has appeared in film, television and theater productions, and has done extensive voice-over work. She's also said to be actively involved in AIDS charity work.


Meghan Markle

An established American actress with a degree from Northwestern University, Markle became successful in her own right long before she met Prince Harry. She was also married once before, and has worked with several charities.

Her biracial status has been a topic of commentary from the very beginning. The daughter of a white father and African American mother, Markle has been praised as a welcome addition to the royal family by her fans, but has also endured racial profiling pretty much since the moment the world found out about her relationship with Harry.


In fact, the couple finally reached their breaking point following years of especially distasteful stories in the British tabloids. In a March 7, 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey — the couple's first since leaving the royal family — Markle said the situation was worsened by press coverage that was often racist and included "outdated, colonial undertones." Markle admitted that she had thoughts of suicide, which Harry said terrified him. The couple confirmed their son Archie had also been denied the title of prince.