Nubian Skin | Black History Month & Dido Elizabeth Belle
From time to time, historians like to explore the diversity of the race in the Royal family over history. It's common for unspoken royal figures not to be taught in many British schools. We see a change with Golda Rosheuvel in the beloved Netflix series, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (born in Germany and Queen of Great Britain and Queen of Ireland as the wife of King George III in the 18th century).
There are other unspoken figures associated with the royal family within the same period. In this week's blog post, we will be shedding light on Dido Elizabeth Belle, the British heiress born of an African slave in the British West Indies and a member of the Lindsay family of Evelix.
There are not many portraits of Dido alone, only with her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, by David Martin in 1778. Critics insist that this painting presents Dido and Elizabeth (second cousins) more or less as social equals, with both looking straight at the viewer. After her father died, she was established a free woman by his will and remained part of British nobility.
It's not known where she was born, but the year of her birth in 1761 to her mother, Maria Belle, and her father were Sir John Lindsay, a British career naval officer (stationed in the British West Indies). When her father was knighted and promoted to admiral, Lindsay took Belle to England in 1765. She grew up with her British cousins in the Murray family, educated and living in Hampstead (London).
Her social position, as documented, was considered a privilege for someone of her background. Not exactly equal to her relations but notable. "Belle was treated like the rest of the family when she was in company with only the family," noted by the Earl and Countess of Mansfield. Dido Elizabeth Belle worked as an amanuensis for the Mansfield's in their later years, a role usually managed by men, yet upon reflection of her education and trust by the Earl and Countess proved hugely.