Part of the Bridgerton World
“We are one crown. His weight is mine, and mine is his…”
In 1761, on a sunny day in September, a King and Queen met for the very first time. They were married within hours.
Born a German Princess, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was beautiful, headstrong, and fiercely intelligent… not precisely the attributes the British Court had been seeking in a spouse for the young King George III. But her fire and independence were exactly what she needed, because George had secrets… secrets with the potential to shake the very foundations of the monarchy.
Thrust into her new role as a royal, Charlotte must learn to navigate the intricate politics of the court… all the while guarding her heart, because she is falling in love with the King, even as he pushes her away. Above all she must learn to rule, and to understand that she has been given the power to remake society. She must fight—for herself, for her husband, and for all her new subjects who look to her for guidance and grace. For she will never be just Charlotte again. She must instead fulfill her destiny… as Queen.
And what’s so special about the bookjacket?
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn and television pioneer Shonda Rhimes comes a powerful and romantic novel of Bridgerton's Queen Charlotte and King George III's great love story and how it sparked a societal shift, inspired by the original series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, created by Shondaland for Netflix.
The romantic leads, as seen on screen:
His Majesty The King
Young King George
Corey Mylchreest appears in
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
James Fleet appears in
seasons 1 and 2
Her Majesty The Queen
Young Queen Charlotte
India Amarteifio appears in
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Meet all of the Bridgerton characters
His Majesty The King
Portrayed by: Corey Mylchreest
Young King George
Corey Mylchreest appears in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Portrayed by: James Fleet
James Fleet appears in Bridgerton, seasons 1 and 2
Her Majesty The Queen
Portrayed by: India Amarteifio
Young Queen Charlotte
India Amarteifio appears in Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Portrayed by: Golda Rosheuvel
Inside the Story
- In January 2022 Shonda Rhimes called me with the news that Netflix had greenlit a Bridgerton prequel series about Queen Charlotte. A couple of months later, at the Bridgerton Season 2 premiere (literally backstage at the red carpet!) I suggested to Shonda that I write a novel based on the show. It turns out she had been thinking the same thing, and that was the beginning of Queen Charlotte, the novel.
- The collaboration process was one of taking turns. Shonda wrote six scripts and then gave them to me to craft into a novel. I did a bit of research on how to adapt scripts into a novel, and found absolutely nothing. It turns out there haven't been too many novelizations of television shows or movies--at least not the way Shonda and I envisioned it. We wanted Queen Charlotte, the novel, to read like a fully-formed novel, like something that could stand on its own even if you didn't watch the show. I realized that I was going to have to figure out the process on my own. I remember turning to my husband and saying, "Well, people might say I did it badly, but no one can say I did it wrong." In the end, I had to break down the architecture of a screenplay and then rebuild it as a novel. I honestly don't know how else to describe it. It was a fascinating process, and one I enjoyed immensely.
- The biggest change between the show and the book was the elimination of the later storyline, with the characters we know and love from Netflix's Bridgerton. I simply didn't see how jumping back and forth —which works so well in a television format— was going to work for a novel, especially since I wanted the book to have as much of a romance novel feel as I could. It was never going to be a true romance novel; the ending is far too bittersweet to be a classic HEA. But I wanted Charlotte and George's courtship to read like a romance novel. I wanted readers to have all the same heady feelings we get when we watch a couple fall in love. This would be difficult to achieve, however, if we kept moving back into the later timeline, when George is so diminished.
- I've never been a visual writer, and thus I don't usually have a clear (or even a fuzzy) picture of my character's faces when I write my novels. While writing Queen Charlotte, however, I visited the set, met the actors, and then later watched early cuts of the show. It was an entirely new experience for me to be able to see (and hear!) the characters so clearly as I was writing the novel. I loved being able to incorporate bits and pieces of the actors' performances. For example, Corey Mylchreest bites his lip when he (George) is amused. So when Charlotte is realizing the depth of her affections for George she thinks: "She looked up at him, at his beloved face, those dark brows, and the full lower lip he liked to bite when he was amused."
I had a similar experience after meeting Freddie Dennis, who plays Reynolds. From the scripts, I knew that Reynolds was tall, handsome and self-composed, but I had not realized how regal Freddie played him. Reynolds may be a servant, but he has an almost aristocratic demeanor, and this became a big part of his characterization in the novel.
- Shonda and I (and our publisher) know that some readers don't like tie-in covers featuring actors, so the original idea was to release Queen Charlotte with two different covers — one with India Amarteifio and Corey Mylchreest as Charlotte and George, and another that looked more like a "regular" book. But when HC's marketing director suggested that we go with a reversible cover, we knew we had our answer — everybody would get BOTH covers. I think it turned out amazing, don't you? Find out more about the reversible cover→
- The real Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz did not speak a word of English when she arrived in London. She and George were able to communicate using a combination of German and French. (I tend to think it was mostly German; although George was the first British monarch from the house of Hanover to speak English as his mother tongue, his parents' first language was German, and he was undoubtedly fluent.)
The Netflix show does not delve into Charlotte's language barrier, and in truth, the novel doesn't, either, but I thought it would be fun to at least acknowledge Charlotte's mother tongue, especially since I adore long German words. So Charlotte frequently expresses frustration that she can't simply mash up words and make new ones, as it seems the Germans often do. In one of my favorite moments, George reminds her that she is Queen and can do whatever she wishes.
- King George was indeed an avid scholar of science, and many of his scientific instruments can be seen at The Science Museum in London. I visited the museum in July 2022 to see them for myself and highly recommend a visit if you're in the UK.
The Transit of Venus is a very real astronomical phenomenon. It occurs when the planet Venus travels directly between the sun and the Earth and can be seen from Earth as a small black dot traveling across the sun. Transits of Venus occur in a "pair of pairs" pattern, occurring approximately every 243 years. First two transits take place in December, eight years apart. Then, after 121.5 years, we get two June transits, again 8 years apart. After 105.5 years, the pattern repeats. Thus the most recent transits have occurred: December 8, 1874, December 6, 1882, June 8, 2004, June 5-6, 2012. Then next two transits will be: December 10-11, 2117, December 8, 2125. George was indeed fortunate to be alive for two transits!
- We don't know —and likely will never know— the cause of George's mental illness. It may have been a psychiatric disease, or it could have been a brain tumor that affected his faculties. It has also been suggested that he suffered from porphyria, which is a liver disorder that can present with psychiatric symptoms. Indeed, the 1994 film The Madness of King George, presents porphyria as the cause of George's dementia.
The historical record suggests that he did not start showing signs of decline until his late 40s or early 50s; it's unlikely that he would have had an episode such as the one depicted in Queen Charlotte so early in his marriage. We have very much taken poetic license with this. What is real, though, is the King and Queen's true love and devotion to one another. This is well-documented and is considered one of the greatest love stories of the British Royal Family.
Enjoy an Excerpt
The London Road
8 September 1761
Like all members of the German aristocracy, Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was in possession of a great many names. Sophia, for her maternal grandmother, Sophia Albertine of Erbach-Erbach, a countess by birth and a duchess by marriage. Charlotte for her father, Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who was born a second son and had died before he could assume the position of head of the family. Then there were the many and sundry double-barreled lands and properties that made up her heritage. Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Erbach-Erbach, of course, but also Saxe-Hildburghausen, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, and, if one wanted to go back far enough, Waldeck-Eisenberg.
She enjoyed all of her names, and she was proud of every last one, but the one she liked best was Lottie.
Lottie. It was the simplest of the bunch, but that wasn’t why she liked it. Her tastes rarely ran to the simple, after all. She liked her wigs tall and her dresses grand, and she was quite certain no one in her household appreciated the complexities of music or art as keenly as she did.
She was not a simple creature.
She was not.
But she liked being called Lottie. She liked it because it because hardly anyone ever used it. You had to know her to call her Lottie.
You had to know, for example, that in spring her favorite dessert was raspberry-apricot torte and in winter it was apple strudel, but the truth was she had a taste for fruit, and for sweets, and any sweet made of fruit was her absolute favorite.
People who called her Lottie also knew that when she was a young girl she’d loved to swim in the lake by her home (when it was warm enough, which it rarely was). They also knew that when her mother had banned the practice (stating that Charlotte was too old for such frivolity) Charlotte had not spoken to her for three weeks. Peace was reestablished only after Charlotte had written a surprisingly thorough legal document outlining the rights and responsibilities of all involved parties. Her mother was not immediately persuaded by Charlotte’s arguments, but her older brother Adolphus had intervened. Charlotte had made a good case, he’d said. She’d shown logic and intelligence, and surely that should be rewarded.
Adolphus was the one who’d coined the pet name Lottie. And that was the true reason it was her favorite name. It had been bestowed upon her by her favorite brother.
Pardon, her former favorite brother.
“You give the appearance of a statue,” Adolphus said, smiling as if she had not spent the last three weeks begging him not to marry her off to a stranger.
Charlotte wanted to ignore him. She’d have liked nothing better than to never utter a word in his direction for the remainder of both of their lives, but even she recognized the futility of such stubbornness. And besides, they were in a carriage in the southeast of England, and they had a long ride both ahead and behind them.
She was bored and furious, never a good combination.
“Statues are works of art,” she said icily. “Art is beautiful.”
This made her brother smile, damn his eyes. “Art can be beautiful to gaze upon,” he said with some amusement. “You, on the other hand, are ridiculous to the eye.”
“Is there a point?” Charlotte bit off.
He shrugged. “You have not moved an inch in six hours.”
Oh. Oh. He should not have gone there. Charlotte leveled her dark eyes on his with a ferocity that ought to have terrified him. “I am wearing Lyonnaise silk. Encrusted with Indian sapphires. With an overlay of two-hundred-year-old lace.”
“And you look beautiful,” he said. He reached out to pat her knee, then hastily withdrew his hand when he caught her expression.
“Apparently, too much movement could cause the sapphires to shred the lace.” Charlotte growled. She literally growled. “Do you want me to shred the lace? Do you?”
She did not wait for him to answer. They both knew he was not meant to. “If that were not enough,” she continued, “the gown sits atop a bespoke underpinning made of whalebone.”
“Yes. Whalebone, Brother. The bones of whales. Whales died so I could look like this.”
At this Adolphus laughed outright. “Lottie—”
“Don’t,” Charlotte warned him. “Don’t you dare call me Lottie as if you care.”
“Come, Liebchen, you know I care.”
“Do I? Because it does not feel as if you care. It feels as if I have been trussed up like a prized sow and placed upon an altar as sacrifice.”
She bared her teeth. “Shall you put an apple in my mouth?”
“Charlotte, stop. You were chosen by a king. This is a great honor.”
“That,” Charlotte spat. “That is why I am angry. The lies. You will not stop lying.”
She could not stand it, these endless lies. This was no honor. She wasn’t sure what it was, but certainly not an honor.
King George III of Great Britain and Ireland had appeared out of nowhere (or rather, his people had; he had not deigned to make an appearance) and inexplicably decided that she, Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, should be his next queen.
Mecklenburg-Strelitz. They had traveled all the way to Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Charlotte loved her home, with its placid lakes and verdant lawns, but she was well aware that Mecklenburg-Strelitz was considered one of the least important states in all the Holy Roman Empire.
To say nothing of the distance. The King’s advisors would have had to sail past dozens of duchies and principalities —with dozens of duchesses and princesses— before reaching Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
“I do not lie to you, Charlotte,” Adolphus said. “It is a fact. You were chosen.”
If Charlotte could have moved in her whalebone corset, she would have twisted to face him more squarely. But she could not, so she was forced to settle for a glacial stare. “And how difficult was it to be chosen?” she demanded. “What do they need? Nothing special. Someone who can make lots of babies. Someone who can read. Someone with all the social graces. Someone with a royal bloodline. That is all they required.”
“That is not nothing, Liebchen.”
“It is not a great honor. And you could have told them to choose someone else. Someone stupid enough to want it.”
“They did not want someone stupid. They wanted you.”
Good God, he could not possibly be so dense. “Adolphus, think,” she implored. “Why me? He could have anyone. Anyone. And yet they came hunting all the way across the continent for me. There must be a reason for that.”
“Because you are special.”
“Special?” She gaped at his naiveté. No not that. He was not naïve, he was merely trying to placate her, as if she were some calf-witted child, too blind or stupid to recognize the web of treachery that had been spun around her. “I am a stranger to them,” she said. “They are strangers to us. You cannot think me this ignorant. There is a reason they wanted me, a stranger. And it cannot be a good reason. I know it cannot be a good reason because you have not looked me in the eye since you told .”
It took a moment for Adolphus to speak. When he did, his words were useless. “This is a good thing, Lottie. You shall be happy.”
She stared at him, at this man she thought she knew better than anyone. He was her brother, the head of her house since the death of their father nine years earlier. He had sworn to protect her. He had told her she was good and worthy, and she had believed him.
She should have known better. He was a man, and like men, he saw women as pawns to be shuffled around Europe without a thought to their happiness.
“You know nothing,” she said in a low voice.
He said nothing.
“You proclaim that I will be happy as if you could possibly know that. As if your mere words will make it so. Did you ever once ask me what I want? No, you did not.”
Adolphus expelled an irritated puff of air. She was trying his patience, this was easy to see. But Charlotte did not care, and her fury was making her reckless.
“Turn the carriage around,” she announced. “I am not doing this.”
Adolphus’s face grew hard. “I signed the betrothal contract. You are doing this.”
“Brother.” She gave him an obnoxiously pleasant smile. “Turn this carriage around or I will bounce. Do you wish to know what will happen if I bounce?”
“You shall tell me, I’m sure.”
“This corset of mine, made of the finest and most expensive whalebone, is rather delicate. And also, it is very very sharp. And of course, I am in the height of fashion, so this corset is quite snug.” Charlotte snapped a finger against her midsection to make a point, but the joke was on her. She’d lost all sensation in her ribcage, and she might as well have been tapping a wall.
“Shall we loosen it?” Adolphus suggested.
“No we shall not loosen it,” she hissed. “I must arrive on display, which means I must stay strapped into this monstrous thing. And thus if I give the appearance of a statue, ridiculous to your eye, it is because I cannot move. No, I dare not move. My gown is so stylish that if I move too much, I might be sliced and stabbed to death by my undergarments.”
“How joyful it is to be a lady,” she muttered.
“You are upset.”
She wanted to kill him.
“It is a viable option,” she said. “Moving. I’ve considered it. Choosing to be killed by my undergarments. There must be an irony to it, although I confess I do not yet see it. Humor, yes. Irony… I’m not sure.”
“Charlotte, I mean it, stop.”
But she could not. Her mind was on fire. Her fury was righteous and she was scared, and with every mile she was hurtling toward a future she did not understand. She knew what was happening, but she did not know why, and it made her feel stupid and small.
“We have, what, an hour to go?” she railed on. “I believe if I am diligent with my movements I could most certainly bleed to death before we reach London.”
Adolphus appeared to be suppressing a groan. “Like I said, you are upset. Emotional. I understand—”
“Do you understand? Truly? This, I would love to hear. Because I am not upset. Nor am I emotional. I am angry. And I cannot breathe. And both are thanks to you, Brother.”
He crossed his arms.
“I shall do it,” she warned. “I shall bounce, and I will impale myself on this ridiculous corset and bleed to death.”
At that, she finally shut her mouth. Adolphus rarely took that tone with her. In fact, she was not sure he ever had.
Before her eyes, her genial brother disappeared, replaced by the stern and powerful Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It was disconcerting. Infuriating. And it made the little girl who still resided deep in her heart want to cry.
“I know I should have taken a firmer hand with you when Mama and Papa died,” he said. “I allowed you to read too much, and I indulged your every whim and frivolity. So I take full responsibility for the fact that you are now exceedingly headstrong and mistakenly think you can make decisions. You cannot. I am in charge. This is happening.”
“I do not see why you could not just—”
“Because they are the British Empire and we are a tiny province in Germany!” he roared.
Charlotte shrank into herself. Just a little bit.
“We had no choice,” he hissed. “I had no choice. You want a reason? Fine. I have none. There is no good reason. In fact, the reason might be terrible. I know that no one who looks like you or me has ever married one of these people. Ever. But I cannot question! Because I cannot make an enemy of the most powerful nation on earth. It is done.” He leaned forward, vibrating with rage and impatience and maybe even resignation. “So shut up, do your duty to our country and be happy!”
Charlotte flinched. Because finally, Adolphus wasn’t lying. His skin was brown. Her skin was brown. Brown like chocolate, like warm, rich wood. She did not have to set eyes upon King George III of Great Britain and Ireland to know that his was not.
So why? Why was he doing this? She knew what the pale-skinned Europeans said about people like her. Why would he “pollute” his bloodline with a girl of Moorish ancestry? Her tree led to Africa, and it did not take many generations to get there.
Why did he want her?
What was he hiding?
“Liebchen,” Adolphus said. He sighed and his eyes softened. Once again, he was just her older brother. “I am sorry. But there are worse fates than marrying the King of England.”
Charlotte swallowed and looked out the window, at the English countryside rolling by. It was green and bursting with life. Fields and forests, small villages with their quaint churches and high streets. She supposed it did not look so different from her homeland, although she had not spied a single lake.
Was it so much to wish for a lake?
“Will I ever return to Schloss Mirow?” she asked quietly.
Her brother’s eyes grew wistful, maybe even a little sad. “Probably not,” he admitted. “You will not wish to. In a year, we will be too rustic for your tastes.”
Charlotte had the oddest sensation that if she were anywhere else, if she were anyone else, she might cry. Yesterday, her tears would have flowed. Hot and angry, with all the passion of her youth.
But now she was to be Queen. She did not cry. Whatever lay inside a person, creating tears, forming sobs—it had been switched off.
“Sit back,” she said. She tugged her hands free from his and set them firmly in her lap. “You are endangering my gown. I need to look perfect when I arrive, do I not?”
Her palace awaited.
St. James’s Palace
8 September 1761
Most of the time, George didn’t mind being King.
The perks were obvious. He had more money than one person could possibly spend, multiple palaces which he could call home, and a veritable flotilla of servants and advisors, all leaping over each other to satisfy his every whim.
Chocolate in the morning with precisely three spoonfuls of sugar and a dollop of milk? Right here, Your Majesty, on a silver-edged saucer.
A copy of The History of Succulent Plants by Richard Bradley? Never fear, it does not matter that it was published in 1739, we shall find it for you immediately!
A small elephant? That might require a few months to procure, but we shall get on it straightaway.
For the record, George had not requested an elephant. Of any size. But it rather cheered him to know that he could.
So yes, being King was frequently delightful. But not always, and one could not generally complain, because one sounded like an ass when one complained about being King.
But there were drawbacks. One enjoyed a disturbingly small degree of privacy, for example. Like right now. A normal man might enjoy a shave from his valet with nothing to fill his ears but birdsong drifting through the open window, but George’s dressing room had been invaded by both his mother and one of his advisors.
Neither of whom were showing any inclination to shut up.
“She was being fitted for her gown when I left her,” Princess Augusta said.
“Everything is as it should be,” Lord Bute murmured.
“She wanted to wear some monstrosity from Paris. Paris!”
Bute nodded, a rather diplomatic motion that indicated neither agreement nor dissent. “I believe the French capital is known as a center of fashion.”
George closed his eyes. It was odd, really, but people seemed to speak more freely in his presence when his eyes were closed, as if somehow he could not hear them.
It was not a trick George could employ often; it would not do, for example, to close one’s eyes while sitting on a throne or receiving heads of state. But at times like this, reclining with a warm towel of his cheeks and throat as he awaited his valet’s arrival with foam and a straight razor, it could be quite illuminating.
For his mother’s discussion with Lord Bute centered on George’s fiancée, which would not have been so remarkable, except that George had not yet met his fiancée, and the wedding was in six hours.
Such was the life of a King. One would think being anointed by God would grant one the right to clap eyes on one’s bride ahead of one’s wedding. But no, a King married for his country, not his heart or loins. It didn’t really matter if he did not see Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz before they took their vows. In fact, it might be better, all things considered.
Still, he was curious.
“She is marrying an English King,” his mother said. “She must wear an English gown. Did you see what she was wearing this morning when she was presented to me?”
“I am afraid I did not notice, ma’am.”
“Fusses and frills. It was altogether too much for a morning call. Sapphires. In the middle of the day. And lace made by nuns. Nuns! Does she think we are Catholics?”
“I am sure she merely wished to make a good impression upon her future mother-in-law,” Bute demurred.
Princess Augusta snorted. “These Continentals. They are entirely too full of themselves.”
George allowed himself a smile. His mother had been born Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. One could not sit more squarely in the middle of the Continent than Gotha.
But Augusta had been a princess of Great Britain for twenty-five years. More than half her life. She was supposed to have been Queen, but that honor had been denied to her when George’s father, then the Prince of Wales, was hit in the chest by a cricket ball and died shortly thereafter. The Crown would skip a generation, traveling from grandfather to grandson, and with no husband to be King, Augusta could not be Queen.
Still, she had devoted herself to this country. Princess Augusta had birthed nine princes and princesses, all of whom spoke English as their mother tongue. If his mother now saw herself as wholly British, George supposed that was understandable.
“She is attractive, though,” Bute said. “Her face was most pleasing. And she held herself well. One could say that her posture was regal.”
“Yes, of course,” Augusta agreed. “But she is very brown.”
George opened his eyes. This was unexpected. “The earth is brown,” he said.
His mother turned to him. Blinked. “What on ea—” She stopped herself before she punned, which struck George as a mild tragedy. He quite liked puns, intended or otherwise. He loved the way words clicked together, and if sometimes this meant his sentences were four hundred and sixty-three words long, then that was a problem for someone else.
He was King. Long sentences were his birthright.
“What,” his mother said again, after a pause that didn’t seem nearly lengthy enough to have contained the full stretch of George’s thought process, “does that have to do with anything?
“I love the earth,” George said, thinking that explanation enough.
“Don’t we all,” Bute murmured.
George ignored him. He didn’t mind Bute; he was mostly helpful, and the two of them shared a common love of natural philosophy and the sciences. But he was also occasionally annoying.
“The earth is brown,” George said. “That which springs all life, all hope. It is brown. It is lovely.”
His mother stared at him. Bute stared at him. George just shrugged.
“Be that as it may,” his mother persisted, “no one told us she was so brown.”
“Is that a problem?” George asked. He closed his eyes again. Reynolds had arrived with the razor, and it was much more relaxing this way. Although logically speaking, one should never feel too relaxed with a razor near one’s throat.
“Of course not,” she said quickly. “I certainly don’t care what color she is.”
“You’d care if she were purple.”
Silence. George smiled in his mind.
“You are going to give me a megrim,” his mother finally said.
“There are a great many doctors in the palace,” George said helpfully. It was true. There were far more doctors than any one person could possibly require.
Except a King, apparently. A King required a great many doctors. This King in particular.
“You know I’m not actually going to get a megrim,” his mother said crossly. “But honestly, George, could you just allow me to finish?”
He motioned with his hand. It was a regal thing, that. He’d learned it at a young age, and it came in handy.
“We are not prepared for her to be so brown,” his mother said.
“Indeed,” Lord Bute said, adding absolutely nothing to the conversation.
“And it doesn’t come off.”
At that, George’s eyes snapped open. “What?”
“It doesn’t come off,” his mother repeated. “I rubbed her cheek to be sure.”
“Good God, Mother,” George said, nearly rising from his chair. Reynolds jumped back, just fast enough to keep from slicing George’s throat with the razor.
“Please tell me you did not try to rub the skin off my intended bride,” George said.
She bristled. “I meant no insult.”
“Nevertheless, you—” He stopped, pinching the bridge of his nose. Don’t yell don’t yell don’t yell. It was important that he remain calm. He was at his best when he was calm. It was when he lost that calm that his mind started to race, and what he needed right now —what he needed always—was no mind-racing.
He took a breath. “You are not an unintelligent woman, Mother. Surely you realize the rudeness of such a gesture.”
Princess Augusta’s posture, which had already been ramrod, grew even more impossibly stiff. “I am mother to the King. You are the only person above me. Thus, I am incapable of being rude to any but you.”
“Your argument does not hold,” George told her. “Have you forgotten that by nightfall she will Queen? And thus most certainly above you.”
“Pah. In rank, perhaps.”
“Wasn’t that precisely your point?”
But his mother had never been a friend of logic when it counteracted her arguments. “She is a child,” she said.
“She is seventeen. Might I remind you that you wed my dear father at sixteen?”
“Which is why I know precisely what I am talking about. I hadn’t a whit of maturity at my marriage.”
That gave George pause. It was very unlike his mother to speak of herself in such a manner.
“She will need guidance,” his mother continued. “Which I shall provide.”
“She shall be most grateful for it,” Lord Bute said.
Again, always so helpful. George ignored him, turning once again to his mother. “I am sure she will be delighted to receive your aid and succor now that you have treated her like a circus freak.”
Augusta gave a little sniff. “You are always so quick to extol the virtue of science and inquiry. Surely you would not begrudge me my curiosity. I have never met someone of her color. I do not know how it works. For all I know a double-tincture of applied arsenic would bring her right down to my complexion.”
George closed his eyes. Dear God.
“I knew she was a little dark,” Augusta said.
“Indeed,” Lord Bute murmured.
Augusta turned to him. “Why did Harcourt not explain her color? He saw her when he signed the papers, did he not?”
“He mentioned some Moor blood,” Bute allowed.
“Some,” Augusta emphasized. “That could mean anything. I thought she’d be the color of milky coffee.”
“Some might say she is.”
“Not the way I take my coffee.”
“Well, we all do pour our milk diff—”
“Cease!” George roared.
They did. Perk of being King.
“You will not speak of my bride like a bloody cup of coffee,” George bit off.
His mother’s eyes widened at his coarse language, but she held her tongue.
“Your Majesty,” Bute said.
George silenced him with a flick of his hand. “Mother,” he said, waiting until her eyes were fixed on his before finishing his question. “Do you or do you not approve of this marriage?”
Her lips pinched. “It does not matter if I approve of it.”
“Cease your dissembling. Do you approve?”
“I do,” his mother said. Quite firmly, in fact. “I believe she will be good for you. Or at the very least, not bad.”
“Not bad?” George echoed.
“For you. Not bad for you.” And then, as if they didn’t all know what she meant, she added, “I don’t believe she will exacerbate your… condition.”
There it was. That thing they never talked about. Except when it was happening and they had no choice.
The last time had been particularly awful. George did not remember all the details; he never did, he just woke up later feeling exhausted and confused. But he recalled that they had been discussing her, his soon-to-be bride. She was on her way already, on a ship from Cuxhaven, but a voice in his head had warned him that this was not the right time for a journey. It was not a safe time for a journey.
She would lose the moon.
What the hell did that mean? Even he did not know, and the words had sprung from his lips.
He was not certain what had happened after that. As usual, giant chunks of his memory were gone. George always visualized the phenomenon like an atmospheric mist, seeping from his mouth as he slept, growing softer and thinner until it drifted away on the wind.
Memory as mist. It would have been poetic if it weren’t his memory.
The next thing George remembered was waking up at the Royal College of Physicians. It was rather like he’d been shaken from a nap. His mother was there, along with a small handful of doctors.
One of them had actually been helpful.
Pleasant change, that.
“May I continue, sir?”
George looked at Reynolds, who had been standing quietly through the entire exchange, straight razor in hand. George held up a finger, signaling that he needed a moment more, and turned back to his mother. “You tell me that you support this marriage, and yet you appear apprehensive. I would have you explain.”
Augusta took a moment before speaking. “We will need to make adjustments,” she said. “Quickly.”
“People will talk,” Lord Bute said.
“People will talk,” she agreed. “It is a problem. We do not want them to think we did not know.”
“That her skin is brown?” George asked.
“Precisely. They must think we wanted it this way. Perhaps we are trying to make a statement. We wish to unite society.”
“We have already made the trade deals,” Lord Bute said. “But they could be canceled…”
“We cannot cancel the Royal Wedding on the day,” Augusta said sharply.
“God no,” George murmured. He could not even begin to imagine the nature of the rumors that would follow.
“The ton might not accept her,” Bute said. “It’s a problem.”
Augusta was having none of that. “We are the Palace. A problem is only a problem if the Palace says it is a problem. That is a fact, is it not?”
Bute cleared his throat. “It is.”
“And the King is the sovereign head of the Church of England and Ruler of this great land. Therefore, nothing he does would ever be a problem for the Palace. Would it, Lord Bute?”
“It would not.”
“So. This must be as the Palace wished it to be. Must it not, Lord Bute?”
“Yes. It must.”
“Good.” Augusta’s voice was brisk, businesslike. “Then the King’s choice has been most intentional. To make that clear, we shall expand the guest list for the wedding. And add to the new queen’s court.”
Bute’s eyes widened. “Are you saying…”
“The King is saying.” She placed her hand over her heart, the very image of feminine rectitude. “I am only his mother. I say nothing.”
George let out a bark of laughter at that.
The only sign that Augusta heard him was a slight tightening around her mouth. She barely even paused before saying to Lord Bute, “The King wishes to expand the guest list for the wedding and add to the new queen’s court.”
George smiled. He finally understood. His mother was brilliant.
“Of course, Your Highness.” Lord Bute looked at Augusta, then at George, then back at Augusta. “It is only… the King realizes that the wedding is in six hours?”
“He does,” George said, grinning.
“The Danburys, I think,” Augusta said. “Your grandfather spoke of them, did he not?”
“I could not say,” George admitted.
“He did,” Augusta said firmly. “Not of the current Danburys, of course. He would never have known them. But he knew the father. Stupendously wealthy. Diamonds, I think. From Africa.” She looked at Bute. “Are you taking notes?”
“Yes,” he said quickly, scrambling for paper. George wished him luck. He was not likely to find any in his dressing room.
“Who else?” Augusta asked. “The Bassets?”
“An excellent choice,” Bute said, still looking for paper. And a pen. “Might I suggest the Kents?”
Augusta nodded her approval. “Yes, they will do. I’m sure there are more. I shall trust you and Lord Harcourt to determine who might be most appropriate.”
“Of course, your Royal Highness. I shall have the invitations issued at once.” Bute cleared his throat. “It is very short notice. They may have other plans.”
Augusta flicked her hand in the air. It was a regal thing, and George was fairly sure she found it just as handy as he did. “Other plans?” she echoed, disbelief painted across her face. “Who would not want to attend a royal wedding?”