(Detail of portrait showing the Crown Prince, Jacques-Victor Henry Christophe, and Crown Princesses, Françoise-Améthisse and Anne Athénaïre Henry Christophe, courtesy of the Musée du Panthéon Nationale Haïtien)
Since 2019, the Fanm Rebèl project has been tracing the footsteps of Marie-Louise Christophe, the first and last Queen of Haiti, who, after the fall of the Haitian Kingdom in 1820, sought refuge in Great Britain.
From Haiti to Europe: A Black Queen in the Age of Slavery
Marie-Louise Christophe was consort to Henry Christophe, who was born enslaved in the colonial Caribbean and served in the Siege of Savannah during the American War of Independence. He later became a prominent leader in the Haitian Revolution, paving a course for the end of French colonial rule, the birth of the first Black nation-state and the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. In 1811, Henry and Marie-Louise Christophe were crowned King and Queen of the 'Royaume d'Hayti'. Marie-Louise was referred to in the royal almanacs as the ‘auguste reine des haytiens’, and was, according to the nineteenth-century British press, ‘beloved by all ranks and conditions’. Paying homage to the numerous and nameless women, enslaved and free, who fought and died in the struggle for freedom and independence, she created a ceremonial legion of all-women soldiers, known as the ‘Amazones’, who became part of her retinue as queen.
Following a rebel coup, Henry Christophe took his own life on 8 October 1820 and his sons and sole surviving heirs were executed. Marie-Louise and her two surviving daughters escaped to England in 1821, where they were sheltered by the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson before moving to Blackheath, sojourning in Hastings and, finally, settling in Marylebone (at 49 Weymouth Street, the site of the proposed plaque).
In 1824, Marie-Louise left England and, after several years, took up residence in Pisa, where she died in 1851, outliving both of her daughters and surviving her husband by over thirty years. Though she spent the latter portion of her life in Europe, and, according to her will, continued to think of Haiti as her home even until her death, she nurtured a persistent fondness for Britain, attesting to the parliamentarian Robert Inglis in 1841 that she would never have left had it not been for the ill health of her daughters.
Commemorating a Hidden History - Fanm Rebèl, the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and the Nubian Jak Community Trust
By cultivating international friendships and venturing into an unknown (and undoubtedly hostile and colonialist) environment, during a period marked by immense personal upheaval, loss, displacement, infirmity and ill health, Marie-Louise proved herself to be enduringly resilient, courageous and open-hearted.
Though no known portraits of Marie-Louise survive, she left a remarkable and curious breadcrumb-trail in a series of letters, advertisements and a last will and testament - a copy of which survives in the U.K. National Archives - which tells us much about her life beyond Haiti. Moreover, material fragments of her life survive in the buildings that she inhabited. Together with the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain and the Nubian Jak Community Trust, the Fanm Rebèl project would like to commemorate Marie-Louise's historically significant presence as a Haitian Queen in London with a Nubian Jak commemorative blue plaque to be mounted at her London residence on 49 Weymouth Street. The project will be part-funded by the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain and we hope that friends of Haiti in the U.K. and beyond can help us to reach our goal to raise the remaining funds.
Plaque and Unveiling
We hope that all donors and patrons will join us for the momentous unveiling. It is hoped that, following approval from Historic England, the plaque will be unveiled by the end of 2021. All details about events to mark the unveiling will be published on this project page in due course.