Why does Meghan Markle look so Indian

Meghan and Harry: Already earlier racism in the royal family?

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry's wife, tears in her eyes when she says the following sentence in a TV interview with talk master Oprah Winfrey: "In the months that I was pregnant, I kept going about the fact that he (Archie) won't get a title and concerns and discussions about how dark his skin might be when he is born. " The Duchess says she was so unhappy that she even considered committing suicide. It is not news that the members of the British royal family are under heavy pressure. This has already been shown in the past by the fates of Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and now also of Prince Harry.

Non-white nobles in Victorian England?

Meghan is by no means the first non-white person in the British royal family. According to Priya Atwal, a historian at Oxford University and author of the book Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire, Queen Victoria adopted several in the 19th century Children from the British colonies to "get to know their new territories better and leave a positive image of their families there," as Priya Atwal explains in an interview with DW.

In a tweet, Atwal wrote that she saw amazing parallels between Meghan Markle's story and that of Princess Gouramma von Coorg, an adopted child of Queen Victoria. Princess Gouramma (1841-1864) was the daughter of Chikka Virarajendra, ruler of Coorg, a small independent kingdom in southern India. The Hindu Rajah had left Gouramma in the care of the Queen on a trip to England in the hope that his daughter would find a secure future and a husband there. Amazingly, Queen Victoria was enthusiastic about the idea and readily agreed.

Queen Victoria and the Children of British Colonies

"If you delve a little deeper into the history of the royals, there are other non-white people to be found in the history of the English royal family," says Atwal.

Queen Victoria tried to convey a cosmopolitan image by bringing Commonwealth children to her court

There would be Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), who in 1761 was King George III. got married. Her family is said to have had black ancestors. However, research disagrees on this. The historian Mario de Valdes y Cocom wrote in an article in 1999 that Charlotte was the daughter of the German Duke Karl Ludwig Friedrich von Mecklenburg (1708-1752) and his wife Princess Elisabeth Albertine von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and thus "in direct line with Margaritade de Castro y Sousa, a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, descends ".

"Bridgerton's" Queen is black

The Netflix series "Bridgerton", which became a surprising streaming success in 2021, is based on this - albeit controversial - thesis. "That is why the role of the queen was cast with an ethnically mixed actress (Golda Rosheuvel, editor's note)," says Atwal.

In the series "Bridgerton" black aristocrats are the focus

In her book she examined the fate of Queen Victoria's godchildren (1819-1901) and their origins: "Chiefs' houses of all colonized areas that belonged to Great Britain". This circle included Prince Duleep Singh and Princess Gouramma from India as well as Sarah Forbes Bonetta, an African orphan from what is now Nigeria, who Queen Victoria also made her goddaughter.

"Non-white wards were like family members"

"It was fascinating for me to see that in the family photo albums that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert put together there were also photos of Princess Gouramma, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Maharaja Duleep Singh and his children. That has to do with that, of course that photography (...) became fashionable in the 1840s, "says Atwal. However, one of the reasons why these photographs appeared for the first time in a family album was that nothing of this kind had existed before. Atwal sees the fact that they also appeared in it as evidence that Victoria and Albert considered them to be family members.

Was Victorian England more advanced than the royals today?

Does this mean that the British royals had more progressive views in the past than they are today? Indeed, mixed marriages between English and Indians were common in the mid-18th century, according to British author William Dalrymple, who describes his own mixed race in the book White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India.

Atwal believes that at the time, the concept of race was not defined by skin color. "It is interesting that Queen Victoria did not think in these categories. She saw people like Gouramma, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Duleep Singh (...) as kind of relatives, as equals. For her, the decisive factor was whether a person had royal blood had or not. "

The Queen's intentions, however, were ambiguous. Maharaja Duleep Singh converted to Christianity, and the Queen tried to marry him off to Gouramma "because she thought the union of the two was ideal. She saw in them a model couple who in some way should represent her concept of a new kingdom. This is comparable to the pressure on Harry and Meghan, who were also supposed to represent the Commonwealth ideal, "explains Atwal.

"Escape" from royal life

Queen Victoria's marriage brokerage didn't work. Gouramma suffered from the pressures of royal life. This also included "intensive examinations by her guardians or by British society because she was the queen's godchild," said Atwal.

Harry and Meghan interviewing Oprah Winfrey in March 2021

Duleep Singh avoided Princess Gouramma after rumors that she fell in love and was about to run away with a servant. "In the letters I found (...) the main thing was that she wanted to lead an anonymous life. She saw that the servants led a normal life. That's why they wanted to become like them," explains the Oxford researcher and emphasizes that although Meghan and Gouramma's stories are different, their need, pressures and expectations to escape the etiquette of royal life were similarly strong.

Have the views of the UK changed in the last 150 years? "It's a complicated question. Science is only just beginning to research it," Atwal replied to DW, adding that while Queen Victoria brought the non-white children into her family's lap, she was ready to reject her ward Duleep Singh when he wanted to marry an English woman. Just as in the case of Meghan Markle, the question was: "What will the children look like?"

Adaptation into German: Sabine Oelze.