I have written quite a bit about slavery and its evils, but after that shock of finding out that my cherished heroes of stage and screen were the wealthy descendants of wealthy people who owned slaves, I had one more shock in store:
I found out that the Kings and Queens of England were involved in the slave trade. I knew that even now the modern royals have their dubious dark corners. What kind of man, for example, deludes a little girl into giving Hitler salutes?
How did the witnesses of the illegal killing of a rare Hen Harrier feel when no charges were brought?
I knew how unbelievably rich Cornwall could make you, even if it is one of the poorest counties in the country. I knew that if anybody in the county died without a will and no heir could be found, everything went to Prince Charles:
I knew from the Daily Mirror how one royal “required his chef to cook his eggs for three minutes; the chef usually boiled several batches to ensure they fit his precise preferences.” :
But slavery? Apparently, it began with Queen Elizabeth the First. She gave her royal support to Sir John Hawkins, the sea captain, who was one of the first to men to make a profit from transporting Africans to the Americas.
Then there were the Royal Adventurers into Africa, a company set up in 1662 to trade slaves. It involved the brother of King Charles II, namely the Duke of York, and the sister of King Charles II, Princess Henrietta, and the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, and Queen Catherine of Braganza and the Duke of Albermarle, Lord Arlington, Lord Ashley, Lord Berkeley, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Craven, Lord Crofts, and Lord Sandwich and Baron Tom Cobley and all. In total, there were four royals, four barons, two dukes, five earls, seven knights and a marquess. And Samuel Pepys. And the so-called “philosopher of liberty” and “Father of Liberalism”, John Locke. By 1665 they were making £200,000 per year from slaves between them. (£6.5 billion today). The slaves didn’t make anything at all:
The Royal Adventurers into Africa were given a monopoly on the slave trade for a thousand years but ceased trading in 1672. That same year, King Charles II gave a monopoly on dealing in slaves to the Royal African Company. The Royal African Company (the name might have some significance here) was owned by his brother, His Royal Highness, James, Duke of York. Also involved were Sir George Carteret, Sir John Colleton, Lord Craven, Lord Shaftesbury, 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 Sheriffs of London and the so-called “philosopher of liberty” and “Father of Liberalism” and “lover of hard cash”, John Locke, whose ancestor had been a slave trader.
By 1680, they were transporting around 6,000 slaves a year to new homes in the West Indies and the same annual number to North America….
And next time, an exciting quiz…
10 responses to “The kings of slavery, and the queens (1)”
Back then, it was business, a way of life. We can not go back to change it or look at their actions with 21st Century eyes and judge. The best we can do is learn from history – and wow most every nation has areas like this, eh?!
[where in the world did you find that picture of cross-eyed Charles?!! Hysterical!!]
We can’t change it but I do think that more could be done to atone, Governments have overseas aid budgets and I think that ours in particular could be more carefully targeted, perhaps to countries in the Caribbean or in Wets Africa that we have exploited. I do feel too that the individuals whose families have benefited from slavery and who have continued to enjoy their inheritance should think of sharing some of it with their fellow man. As regards our beloved Prince Charles, I think I found it on Google somewhere, having searched for “Prince Charles eggs”. He is very well known over here for his ability to waste food particularly at breakfast.
How do you compensate this generation for what happened centuries ago? I agree with the atoning sentiment, but how to do that is debatable.
It makes for depressing reading. But GP is right, it is a part of history and one hopes that these acts of inhumanity will never happen again. Last week they showed a mob of American students outside of their university, demanding to pull down a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, because he represented slavery. Why? Surely he should remain so that we remember those that suffered. For others he represents an ideology, for me he is a great figure of history. This notion that we should expunge all so called ‘unsavory’ figures from history and re-write it is wrong. We should learn from history, embrace the past and walk bravely into the future, armed with the horrifying knowledge of slavery, so that we may never repeat that horror again.
I think if you have a lot of people protesting about mere statues (as we have over here), then they need to target their energy more carefully. They should be asking their politicians, for example, what they are going to do about the phenomenon of modern slavery or sex trafficking, both of which are disgustingly frequent, even in a modern society like ours. Statues make easy targets! The focus should be forward to make a better future for people not shouting about what it’s too late to change.
A more proactive and direct approach is definitely required John.
It’s shocking (these days) to think that the Royals were part of this inhumane trade, but as GP and Rich say, it’s history and cannot be changed. What we can do is learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Our past is full of skeletons and wrongdoings, it’s what has made us the society we are today, and it is I hope a much better one! A fascinating insight into our dark and dismal past John.
Fascinating insight into the way slavery permeated society at that time.
I’m not a great one for going back to apologise for slavery or to pardon WW1 soldiers as we can’t undo it, or see it with contemporary eyes.
However, we can do something about stopping people trafficking, modern slavery and war.
As I said, I think that the mega-rich people who have profited from slavery and who just ignore the source of their wealth should do practical things to help the very poor people of the West Indies. They should build hospitals or clinics, sponsor doctors and nurses and so on. All they do at the moment is enjoy the cash.
WW1 soldiers are a different issue. If you look at what they actually did, they would have been executed if they had been at home. Comparatively few were actually charge with cowardice as far as I remember from when I read “Blindfold and Alone” some years ago now.
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