Caribbean Queen commemorated
UCLan’s Dr Nicole Willson launched a campaign to get a blue plaque installed in central London
A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) academic has played an integral role in gaining official recognition for a Caribbean Queen.
Dr Nicole Willson’s research into Marie-Louise Christophe, Haiti’s first and only Queen, has led to a blue plaque being mounted on a London property.
In 2019, Dr Willson unearthed a translation of the original will of Marie-Louise Christophe in the UK National Archives. The document proved the wife of Henry Christophe, the revolutionary general turned king, who reigned between 1811 to 1820, once lived in the fashionable outskirts of London. Marie-Louise moved from Haiti to England with her two daughters, Améthisse and Athénaïre, after a coup by rebel forces which led to her husband’s suicide and the assassination of her only surviving son.
Marie-Louise and her daughters were spared the same fate and, after several months, sought refuge with abolitionist friends in England. The document helped Dr Willson to trace the Queen’s movements across Britain and highlighted how Marie-Louise remade her life in exile.
"I’m absolutely delighted my research has led to the first plaque being dedicated to a Haitian woman in the UK. This has been a monumental journey which has been several years in the making"— Dr Nicole Willson, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Researcher at UCLan’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research
Marie-Louise lived for short periods in Blackheath and Hastings before eventually taking up residence at 49 Weymouth Street in Marylebone. She stayed at the now Grade II listed property until 1824 when she departed with her daughters for Europe.
Together with the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, with whom she collaborated in 2020 to make a documentary following Marie-Louise’s footsteps in Britain, Dr Willson launched a Crowdfunder appeal to raise money for the heritage project and sought support from the Nubian Jak Community Trust to erect a permanent blue plaque on the site.
Dr Willson, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Researcher at UCLan’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research, who is working on a project on Haiti’s rebel women, said: “I’m absolutely delighted my research has led to the first plaque being dedicated to a Haitian woman in the UK. This has been a monumental journey which has been several years in the making.
“It shines a spotlight on the history of someone who, though remarkable, has been largely overlooked in the history books. Given the under-representation of Black figures on blue plaques throughout the UK more broadly, the commemoration of a Black Queen who lived in Georgian London has wide and significant value for public history.”
"The life of Queen Marie-Louise and her role as the Queen of the first independent Black state is a fascinating one and it is fitting that she should be commemorated in the City of Westminster"— Councillor Andrew Smith, Lord Mayor of Westminster
The unveiling event, held on 7 February, was opened by Councillor Andrew Smith, Lord Mayor of Westminster, and featured speeches from Dr Willson, University College London’s Professor Matthew Smith, Wilford Marous and Michelet Romulus of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Haiti Support Group Shodona Kettle and Haiti’s Ambassador to the UK Euvrard Saint-Amand.
Dr Willson added: “I’m glad that, with the help of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, my ultimate goal of securing a blue heritage plaque for Marie-Louise has been achieved. I hope this plaque will help to raise her profile and bring other stories of Haitian women to light.”
Dr Jak Beula, Nubian Jak Founder and CEO, commented: “The Nubian Jak Community Trust is delighted to be working alongside Dr Nicole Willson and the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in honouring Queen Marie-Louise with a Blue heritage plaque. We trust that 49 Weymouth Street will become a heritage site of interest for Londoners and visitors to the capital, as we remember a remarkable woman who, for the most part, has been a forgotten chapter in British and Caribbean history.”
Wilford Marous, President of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain, said: “The Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Great Britain and the Haitian community in the UK would like to thank the Nubian Jak Community Trust for understanding our project and supporting us in securing a blue plaque in London for our Queen, Marie-Louise Christophe. This is the result of exceptional UK-Haiti understanding, respect and collaboration to reach this historical moment. Long live the Queen!”
Councillor Andrew Smith added: “The life of Queen Marie-Louise and her role as the Queen of the first independent Black state is a fascinating one and it is fitting that she should be commemorated in the City of Westminster.”