Queen Charlotte’s Birthday: January 18

On January 18, 1780, a barrage of artillery fire rolled across the frozen Straits of Mackinac. The guns of Michilimackinac boomed as artillerymen loaded and fired 12 pounds of gunpowder. Why were they shooting in the dead of winter, when not much ever happened at the isolated outpost? To celebrate Queen Charlotte’s birthday!

Members of Michilimackinac’s small detachment of the Royal Regiment of Artillery fired the salutes to mark Queen Charlotte’s birthday.

Charlotte, wife of King George III, was born in 1744 in the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in what is now northern Germany. When she was 17, the newly-crowned George decided to marry her, in part because Charlotte’s home duchy was relatively insignificant and would probably not ensnare the British government in foreign obligations. George and Charlotte were married within hours of her arrival in Britain on September 8, 1761, having never met each other prior to the ceremony.

Although their marriage was arranged and guided by diplomatic concerns, George and Charlotte formed a warm, loving relationship. Together they had 15 children (although two died in childhood), two of whom became monarchs themselves- George IV and William IV. Both Charlotte and George patronized musicians and artists, and she took a special interest in botany, supporting and enlarging the royal gardens at Kew which became a national botanical garden. Charlotte cared for George as he suffered increasingly regular bouts of serious illness in the late 18th century, and was named his legal guardian in 1811. George’s illness (now hypothesized to be porphyria, a skin and nervous system disease) eventually became permanent, and he was unaware of Charlotte’s death when she died in 1818.

A 1795 drawing of King George and Queen Charlotte, along with two of their daughters. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, New York Public Library

Interestingly, the cold January day celebrated with artillery fire at Michilimackinac was not Charlotte’s actual birthday, which was May 19. Just like in modern times, when Queen Elizabeth II celebrates two birthdays, Queen Charlotte celebrated her real birthday and an “official” birthday on January 18 marked with pomp and ceremony. Although the queen warranted a state birthday, the birthday of King George himself was perhaps a high point of the British calendar year. On June 4, 2018, join the interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac for the King’s Birth-day Celebration, which will include toasts, proclamations, and artillery salutes just like the ones that sounded for Queen Charlotte in January 1780. Visit www.mackinacparks.com for more information.

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