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Monday, March 16, 2009

Was this Britain's first black queen?

Stuart Jeffries

Queen Charlotte

Sir Allan Ramsay’s 1762 portrait of Queen Charlotte in the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photograph: Guardian

Queen Charlotte died nearly two centuries ago but is still celebrated in her namesake American city. When you drive from the airport in North Carolina, you can't miss the monumental bronze sculpture of the woman said to be Britain's first black queen, dramatically bent backwards as if blown by a jet engine. Downtown, there is another prominent sculpture of Queen Charlotte, in which she's walking with two dogs as if out for a stroll in 21st-century America.

Street after street is named after her, and Charlotte itself revels in the nickname the Queen City - even though, shortly after the city was named in her honour, the American War of Independence broke out, making her the queen of the enemy. And the city's art gallery, the Mint museum, holds a sumptuous 1762 portrait of Charlotte by the Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, showing the Queen of England in regal robes aged 17, the year after she married George III.

Charlotte is intrigued by its namesake. Some Charlotteans even find her lovable. "We think your queen speaks to us on lots of levels," says Cheryl Palmer, director of education at the Mint museum. "As a woman, an immigrant, a person who may have had African forebears, botanist, a queen who opposed slavery - she speaks to Americans, especially in a city in the south like Charlotte that is trying to redefine itself."

Yet Charlotte (1744-1818) has much less resonance in the land where she was actually queen. If she is known at all here, it is from her depiction in Alan Bennett's play as the wife of "mad" King George III. We have forgotten or perhaps never knew that she founded Kew Gardens, that she bore 15 children (13 of whom survived to adulthood), and that she was a patron of the arts who may have commissioned Mozart.

Here, Charlotte is a woman who hasn't so much intrigued as been regularly damned. In the opening of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities she is dismissed in the second paragraph: "There was a king with a large jaw, and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England." Historian John H Plumb described her as "plain and undesirable". Even her physician, Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar, reportedly described the elderly queen as "small and crooked, with a true mulatto face".

"She was famously ugly," says Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen's pictures. "One courtier once said of Charlotte late in life: 'Her Majesty's ugliness has quite faded.' There was quite a miaow factor at court."

Charlotte's name was given to thoroughfares throughout Georgian Britain - most notably Charlotte Square in Edinburgh's New Town - but her lack of resonance and glamour in the minds of Londoners is typified by the fact that there is a little square in Bloomsbury called Queen's Square. In the middle is a sculpture of a queen. For much of the 19th century, the sculpture was thought to depict Queen Anne and, as a result, the square was known as Queen Anne's Square. Only later was it realised that the sculpture actually depicted Charlotte and the square renamed Queen Square.

Hold on, you might be saying. Britain has had a black queen? Did I miss something? Surely Helen Mirren played Charlotte in the film The Madness of King George and she was, last time I looked, white? Yet the theory that Queen Charlotte may have been black, albeit sketchy, is nonetheless one that is gaining currency.

If you google Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, you'll quickly come across a historian called Mario de Valdes y Cocom. He argues that her features, as seen in royal portraits, were conspicuously African, and contends that they were noted by numerous contemporaries. He claims that the queen, though German, was directly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed, whose ancestry she traces from the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana, whom Valdes takes to have been a Moor and thus a black African.

It is a great "what if" of history. "If she was black," says the historian Kate Williams, "this raises a lot of important suggestions about not only our royal family but those of most of Europe, considering that Queen Victoria's descendants are spread across most of the royal families of Europe and beyond. If we class Charlotte as black, then ergo Queen Victoria and our entire royal family, [down] to Prince Harry, are also black ... a very interesting concept."

That said, Williams and many other historians are very sceptical about Valdes's theory. They argue the generational distance between Charlotte and her presumed African forebear is so great as to make the suggestion ridiculous. Furthermore, they say even the evidence that Madragana was black is thin.

But Valdes suggests that the way Queen Charlotte is depicted in Ramsay's 1762 portrait - which US artist Ken Aptekar is now using as the starting point for a new art project called Charlotte's Charlotte - supports the view she had African ancestors.

Valdes writes: "Artists of that period were expected to play down, soften or even obliterate undesirable features in a subject's face. [But] Sir Allan Ramsay was the artist responsible for the majority of the paintings of the queen, and his representations of her were the most decidedly African of all her portraits."

Valdes's suggestion is that Ramsay was an anti-slavery campaigner who would not have suppressed any "African characteristics" but perhaps might have stressed them for political reasons. "I can't see it to be honest," says Shawe-Taylor. "We've got a version of the same portrait. I look at it pretty often and it's never occurred to me that she's got African features of any kind. It sounds like the ancestry is there and it's not impossible it was reflected in her features, but I can't see it."

Is it possible that other portraitists of Queen Charlotte might have soft-pedalled her African features? "That makes much more sense. It's quite possible. The thing about Ramsay is that, unlike Reynolds and Gainsborough, who were quite imprecise in their portraits, he was a very accurate depicter of his subjects, so that if she looked slightly more African in his portraits than others, that might be because she was more well depicted. How can you tell? She's dead!"

Shawe-Taylor says that a more instructive source of images of Queen Charlotte might well be the many caricatures of her held at the British Museum. "None of them shows her as African, and you'd suspect they would if she was visibly of African descent. You'd expect they would have a field day if she was."

In fact, Charlotte may not have been our first black queen: there is another theory that suggests that Philippa of Hainault (1314-69), consort of Edward III and a woman who may have had African ancestry, holds that title.

As for Valdes, he turns out to be an independent historian of the African diaspora who has argued that Peter Ustinov, Heather Locklear, the Medicis, and the Vanderbilts have African ancestry. His theory about Charlotte even pops up on www.100greatblackbritons.com, where she appears alongside Mary Seacole, Shirley Bassey, Sir Trevor McDonald, Zadie Smith, Naomi Campbell and Baronness Scotland as one of our great Britons. Despite being thus feted, Charlotte has not yet had much attention, say, during the annual Black History week in Britain.

Perhaps she should get more. The suggestion that Queen Charlotte was black implies that her granddaughter (Queen Victoria) and her great-great-great-great-granddaughter (Queen Elizabeth II) had African forebears. Perhaps, instead of just being a boring bunch of semi-inbred white stiffs, our royal family becomes much more interesting. Maybe - and this is just a theory - the Windsors would do well to claim their African heritage: it might be a PR coup, one that would strengthen the bonds of our queen's beloved Commonwealth.

Or would our royal family be threatened if it were shown they had African forebears? "I don't think so at all. There would be no shame attached to it all," says the royal historian Hugo Vickers. "The theory does not impress me, but even if it were true, the whole thing would have been so diluted by this stage that it couldn't matter less to our royal family. It certainly wouldn't show that they are significantly black."

What's fascinating about Aptekar's project is that he started by conducting focus group meetings with people from Charlotte to find out what the Queen and her portrait meant to citizens of the US city. "I took my cues from the passionate responses of individuals whom I asked to help me understand what Queen Charlotte represents to them."

The resulting suite of paintings is a series of riffs on that Ramsay portrait of Charlotte. In one, a reworked portion of the portrait shows the queen's face overlaid with the words "Black White Other". Another Aptekar canvas features an even tighter close up, in which the queen's face is overlaid with the words "Oh Yeah She Is".

Among those who attended Aptekar's focus groups is congressman Mel Watt, one of very few African-Americans in the House of Representatives and who represents the 12th district of North Carolina which includes Charlotte. "In private conversations, African-Americans have always acknowledged and found a sense of pride in this 'secret'," says Watt. "It's great that this discussion can now come out of the closet into the public places of Charlotte, so we all can acknowledge and celebrate it."

What about the idea that she was an immigrant - a German teenager who had to make a new life in England in the late 18th century?

"We were a lot more immigrant-friendly in those days than we were friendly to people of colour," says Watt. "We all recognised that we all came from some place else. But there was always a sense of denial, even ostracism, about being black. Putting the history on top of the table should make for opportunities for provocative, healing conversations."

Does Valdes's theory conclusively determine that Queen Charlotte had African forebears? Hardly. And if she had African forebears, would that mean we could readily infer she was black? That, surely, depends on how we define what it is to be black. In the US, there was for many decades a much-derided "one-drop rule", whereby any white-looking person with any percentage of "black blood" was not regarded as being really white. Although now just a historical curio, it was controversially invoked recently by the African-American lawyer Alton Maddox Jr, who argued that under the one-drop rule, Barack Obama wouldn't be the first black president.

In an era of mixed-race celebrities such as Tiger Woods and Mariah Carey, and at a time when in the US, the UK and any other racially diverse countries mixed-raced relationships are common, this rule seems absurd. But without such a rule, how do we determine Charlotte's ethnicity? If she is black, aren't we all?

It's striking that on US and UK census forms, respondents are asked to choose their own race by ticking the box with which they most closely identify (though there can be problems with this: some people in Cornwall are angry that the 2011 census form will not allow them to self-define as Cornish because only 37,000 ticked that box in the 2001 census and that figure has been deemed too small to constitute a separate ethnic group). We will never know which box Queen Charlotte would have ticked, though we can take a good guess. But maybe that isn't the most important issue, anyway.

For congressman Watt's wife Eulada, along with some other African-Americans in Charlotte, the most important issue is what the possibility that Queen Charlotte was black may mean for people in the city now. "I believe African-American Charlotteans have always been proud of Queen Charlotte's heritage and acknowledge it with a smile and a wink," she says. "Many of us are now enjoying a bit of 'I told you so', now that the story is out."

But isn't her heritage too sketchy to be used to heal old wounds? "Hopefully, the sketchiness will inspire others to further research and documentation of our rich history. Knowing more about an old dead queen can play a part in reconciliation."

And if an old dead queen can help improve racial trust in an American city, perhaps she could do something similar over here. Whether she will, though, is much less certain.

Original here

Squatters move in to £3million home and tell owners: 'We'll call the law if you try to evict us'

By Daily Mail Reporter

Dozens of squatters have taken over a £3million mansion – and are threatening to prosecute the owners if they try to remove them.

A gang of 40 artists climbed through an open window and are living rent free in the Grade II listed building in Bristol, playing music and huddling around electric heaters.

The squatters claim it is a criminal offence to remove them and they are doing the owners a favour by keeping the building warm and dry.

squatters in Bristol

A gang of 40 squatters have taken over listed Mortimer House in Bristol

Squatting is legal if entry to an empty property is not forced and there is no criminal damage. But the squatters can be removed if the owners get a court order.

Owner Jason Birakos was visiting the four-storey Mortimer House in the suburb of Clifton, when he spotted posters on the door and was told by the squatters that they wouldn't leave.

One notice said: ‘We live in this property, it is our home and we intend to stay here. The section 6 is a legal document making it an offence - illegal - for you to try and enter by force and anyway we'd much rather talk to you.’

One squatter, Miriam said: ‘We have occupied this property because we want to highlight issues of homelessness.

'Buildings like this get damp damage and we keep them warm - it is like having your own live-in security.

'We have agreed to leave on Monday morning. We have swept the floor and tidied up and we will leave it tidier than we found it.'

Mr Birakos, who represents AGM City Space Investments Limited, has vowed to take legal action if they are not out by Monday.

He said: ‘They claim they entered through an open window but I’m absolutely positive the whole property was secure and windows boarded up for insurance purposes.

‘The whole situation is extremely frustrating. My hands are tied right now but if they’re there on Monday morning I’ll seek legal advice and get them out.’

‘It’s a very intricate building with some marvellous features and I’m worried there will be damage caused by their presence.'

The building used to be a hospital and is due to be converted into a luxury £7million apartment block.

park lane V sign

[A squatter gives a defiant V sign while staying at the Park Lane pad in January]

Squatters delayed an affordable housing scheme by taking over a home in the St Paul's area of Bristol in November.

In January squatters took over an empty £22.5million mansion in London’s Park Lane. They were evicted five days later after an order was granted to the owners.

Original here

How to Spot Atheists and Report Them to the FBI

"I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
-President George Bush

Unless you're Catholic or have been living in a cave for the last 20 years, you already know that Landover Baptist's Pastor Deacon Fred and Brother Harry Hardwick are the world's foremost Christian experts on the disease, Atheism, and its carriers called, Atheists. Both Pastors have risked infection and death to speak at countless Atheist conventions. Pastor Hardwick recently remarked as a guest on "The No Spin Zone:" "As long as there's twenty-four hour room service and they pick up my first class airfare, I'll give my 18.4 minute inspirational presentation to Lucifer himself! Besides, a relaxing walk through the parking lot outside an Atheist convention can harvest hundreds of car tag numbers for the FBI's computers. And with Mr. Ashcroft paying a dollar a tip, that can add up to a complimentary tour of the hotel gift shop, my friend."

When not bringing financially sound believers to the bosom of Christ, Hardwick and Fred dedicate their lives to ferreting out and publicly exposing hell bound, godless liberal trash. And outside of the demon-possessed folks at the mental hospital who fling their own excrement up your nose, Atheists are the worst kind of unsaved trash a decent Christian will ever have the displeasure of rebuking. Thankfully, there are not that many of them.

"I've got to tell you," says Pastor Deacon Fred, "that from what I've seen in the last few years, there are roughly 300 active Atheists living in the United States. I know that sounds like a lot of godless nuts, but I'm not exaggerating just to get your attention. Atheism is becoming a very serious epidemic because our projections show that within a mere eight years, our country will no longer have prison space to hold all of them. And that's not even taking into account the many folks who don't have the guts to admit at the family dinner table that they are Atheists, but spit in Christ's face in secret by failing to get down on their knees and repeat all the compliments He demands to hear. Most of the uncounted Atheists are in the closet and are too sissified to handle death threats from their Christian neighbors. "They say they don't believe in stuff they can't see, but they are the very same people who tell you that Ben Affleck and that harlot, Jennifer Lopez, have talent!" Brother Hardwick added, "Most of these closet Atheists are so ignorant, it isn't worth even worrying about them. Before they know it, their so-called Constitutional right to run around thinking for themselves will soon be taken away from them. My guess is that once George W. Bush comes through on his daddy's edict, that most of these selfish little renegade Atheist bastards will pick Jesus over Jail in a heartbeat."

"We are no longer talking about that tiresome 'free speech' thing," Mrs. Betty Bowers testified before a closed session of Congress last Wednesday. "The coin of the realm is rather emphatic in declaring, In God We Trust. By denying the Lord, these willful Atheists are rebuffing our nation's sacred currency. I don't know about all of you, but I can't think of anything more un-American than refusing to accept legal tender! Clearly, we have ourselves an issue of national security. As all of you have enthusiastically endorsed by default, we are now waging a Christian war against nations with gods that unfairly compete with our own. How can an Atheist be counted upon to raise a weapon and kill men, women and children for Christ? They can't! That's your answer. Every one of them is just an act of treason waiting to happen. I ask all of you, since our country has taken to killing non-Christian Arabs during interrogations, why have our own domestic non-Christians been allowed to get off scot-free? I can tell by the nodding of your heads that most of you see where I am going with this and I thank you in advance for your courage and faith."

As a result of this inspirational, secret meeting, Landover Baptist has been called upon to draft legislation to address the problem of Atheist traitors living like cockroaches in our midst. But you can do your part, too. If you are reading this, you know of a practicing Atheist in your community, and would like to report him to your local police department, we'd like to tell you how simple it is under the current Bush Administration. Most Christians acknowledge that Atheists are so unpatriotic, that they believe the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center happened because there is no God to play favorites with humanity. The truth is that our Lord loves only the United States and keeps a scorecard of folks who rub us the wrong way or don't give us their natural resources at a reasonable price. "The hills of Hades are going to be crawling with the Coalition of the Unwilling, my friends," says Pastor Deacon Fred.

In any case, it's important for you to report any anti-Christian behavior (whether it comes from Catholics or full-blown Atheists) to your local police department as soon as possible. Since the President of the United States doesn't even consider Atheists as citizens, and even acknowledges that they are a threat to our country, it should be no problem getting these so called "people" deported to France (The Home of Atheism). Please use the list below as a guide to spot an Atheist in your community.

Five Tips on How to Spot an Atheist

  1. Usually Atheists are pale of skin. They spend a lot of times indoors, because they are afraid to come outside. They believe the preposterous lie that Christians are trying to kill them, when in fact, all that we really want to do is force a quick conversion or to kindly place them in a maximum security prison for their own protection from devout Christians who may try to kill them. Many Atheists will try to throw you off by spending time absorbing carcinogens in tanning beds, so it important to remember in hunting Atheists that many, if not most, have very dark skin, too. CAUTION: Do not confuse these artificially dark folks with genuine Negroes. Real Coloreds need to be watched carefully around anything of value, but do not need to be brought to the Lord, as they all unblinkingly accepted Jesus as their loving God during Biblically-sanctioned slavery.
  2. Atheists are overweight. The stereotypes of typical Atheists are the trim, granola cruncher who jogs and plays racquetball or the vain hedonist, party-goer who worships only her full-length mirror, Recent studies have shown, however, that Atheists have become aware of these signifiers of their lack of faith. In order to blend in undetected with evangelical Christians, most Atheists now tend to be morbidly obese and will tell you, whether asked or not, that their enormous girth is the result of an undetectable thyroid condition and not the box of Little Debbie cakes they are holding.
  3. Atheists have too many university diplomas! These folks are chock full of secular knowledge. They toss the Bible aside in favor of so-called, "research" and "theories." They spend their days studying and trying to gather facts and data to support their ridiculous scientific theories, such as evolution and gravity. Don't let it fool you, Christian Brothers and Sisters! All the secular knowledge in the world can't disprove that the reason we are all here today was because Eve got some bad advice from a talking snake! Atheists are too full of their silly "logic" to understand that only blind faith leads to sighted Truth. Why, the homo-lovers in England have already accepted that most scientists are naturally Atheists. Don't let it happen in America! Report your Biology professor – or any so-called teacher who pollutes the soul with extraneous (non-Biblical) information -- to the local authorities before he recruits your child!
  4. Atheists Deceive! Atheists go under many different names, but they don't have the common sense to align themselves yet! Use this to your advantage in reporting them to the police! They call themselves, "humanists, agnostics, secular-humanists, moral relativists, Catholics, free-thinkers, undecided, Unitarians, and more recently, Brights." It is important to note that anyone who has a post-graduate degree or is interested in getting a post-graduate degree, is suspect! Also be warned, Wiccans , Vegans, Yogists, and readers of science fiction are either Atheists or on the road to becoming an Atheist. Our job as True Christians™ is to use this loophole of time under the current Bush Administration to get as many of these God-haters arrested as we can before they do more damage to our country than they already have.
  5. Atheists are afraid! Even though there are as many as 300 active Atheists in the United States, we can safely assume that if recent polls are correct, most Atheists are afraid to come out and say what they don't believe. It's your job to pull it out of them. Put them on the spot. Hound them at restaurants and on cruise ships. Don't take "I'd rather not talk about religion" as a answer. Give them one last chance to save their sorry souls. Then, call the police!
Original here

Redcoat Holdouts Still Fighting American Revolution


GREAT BROOK FARM STATE PARK, MA—In a surprising development that has confirmed a number of longstanding local rumors, authorities discovered the 32nd Regiment of His Majesty's Royal British Army still fighting the Revolutionary War in a small wooded area outside of Carlisle, MA Monday.

The disoriented foot soldiers—who in the spring of 1776 survived a barrage of Patriot cannon fire at Dorchester Heights only to become lost during the subsequent British retreat—were found by park rangers marching in the direction of a nearby Price Chopper supermarket.

Enlarge Image Redcoat Map

"Keep ye muskets at the ready, men," Col. Edmund Thorpe of Leicestershire was heard shouting to his troops as they prepared to cross an empty stretch of Route 225, which Thorpe claimed was a primary gunpowder supply route. "There is danger in this valley, for the traitorous coward Washington and his militia are said to camp just beyond that ridge."

Area folklore and occasional reports from nearby RV parks have for years suggested the presence of a ragged, hardy band of British soldiers still remaining from the Revolutionary War. But what was once dismissed as legend has now been verified by Walter Carp of the Merrimac Valley Historical Society, who identified the 32nd Regiment after watching its members struggle to scale a razor-wire fence near a local recycling center.

"That's them, all right—the old 32nd," Carp said. "They fought valiantly at Breed's Hill, but they never seemed to have the right coordinates when it came time to track an enemy. Looks like they might be a little worse for wear, the poor fellows."

Enlarge Image Redcoats fire

One of several Redcoat campfires recently discovered in the Carlisle area.

The regiment's last mention in historical records came in March 1776, when the soldiers garrisoned a small fort near the Concord River and awaited orders from Gen. William Howe, then commander in chief of British forces. Though regiment scout James Winthrop reportedly estimates that Howe is no more than 80 kilometers from their location, public records indicate the general has been in London since his burial there in 1814.

"Howe cannot be far," said Winthrop, pointing to a faded map sketched on worn hemp paper. "No more than a fortnight away."

After receiving intelligence on the foreign military unit, the Pentagon immediately dispatched F-15s from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, but the planes were called off after British foreign secretary David Miliband assured officials that the redcoats did not represent the United Kingdom.

While the 32nd Regiment's numbers have dwindled over the past two centuries due to illness and desertion, the remaining holdouts have vowed to continue fighting until the colonists' siege of Boston is repelled. They then plan to rendezvous with the King's 14th Regiment at Fort Ticonderoga, near the current site of the Diamond Run Shopping Mall, to restock on hardtack and tobacco.

"'Tis been a long and bitter struggle with our foolhardy American cousins," 2nd Lt. Henry Bertram said during a brief pipe break near the soccer field of Washington Elementary School. "Dearly do I miss my fair wife, Abigail, and our precious babe, Elizabeth, safe at home in Leicestershire. Why, my daughter must be tall as a barrel by now!"

Having survived the brutal winters of 1831, 1907, and 1999, most members of the regiment appear to believe that the worst stretch of the war is over, and that a full surrender of all colonial militias to the Royal Army is imminent. However, after spotting a number of new outposts last week in the growing Colonial Estates subdivision west of Boston, some have argued that the Americans may in fact be making gains.

"Fie on your childish speculations," said Col. Thorpe, responding to growing concerns in his ranks. "I will not have this regiment torn asunder by such cowardly prattle. Somewhere in the Province of Massachusetts Bay there is a loyal countryman in whose farmhouse we can tarry for a night. Once rested, we shall strike a final blow to the treasonous Yankees."

Added Thorpe, "By God, the jewel of the His Majesty's crown shan't be lost!"

The last reported sighting of the 32nd Regiment occurred in January, when a number of Carlisle locals claimed to have seen the redcoats loitering in or around their backyards.

"I saw some old guys in funny costumes messing around near my toolshed about a month ago," said Bay State Electronics Supply employee Jim Hicks, 45. "But when I flicked on the porch lights they ran back into the woods."

Local law enforcement officials said the soldiers are now considered suspects in a string of unsolved garden burglaries that began in 1838, as well as in the 2003 deaths of five Revolutionary War reenactors near Lowell, MA.

The Centers for Disease Control is investigating whether the regiment may also be responsible for the recent deaths of several thousand New England residents from smallpox.

Original here