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…