King Charles III and Prince William have expressed “deep sorrow” over the atrocities of slavery, but neither has publicly acknowledged the crown’s central role in the trade. Over a period of 270 years, 12 British monarchs sponsored, supported Or according to historians benefited from involvement in British slavery.
Elizabeth I (reign 1558–1603,
The Tudor Queen gave a large royal ship to the slave trader John Hawkings in 1564 in exchange for a share of the profits of the voyage. According to Nick Hazlewood in his book The Queen’s Slave Trader, Hawking captured many Africans and seized a further 600 from Portuguese ships.
James I (1603–1625,
The first Stuart kings granted royally-connected merchants a monopoly on trade with Africa. They formed the Guinea Company, which provided enslaved people for English-owned tobacco plantations in Virginia, US, according to the book Staying Power by Peter Fryer.
Charles I (1625–1649,
The king granted a monopoly license for the transport of enslaved people to the reconstituted Guinea Company in 1632. English colonies were established in 1636, beginning with Barbados, the “first black slave society”, where the economy was based on the exploitation of the labor of enslaved people.
King Charles II granted a royal charter to the Company of Royal Adventurers of England. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images
Charles II (1660–1685,
After England’s brief period as a republic, the first monarch to restore the monarchy made the slave trade a state-sponsored enterprise. He invested in a slave-trading business, the Company of Royal Adventurers of England trading in Africa, and gave it a royal charter.
When the Company was dissolved in 1672, the King transferred its patronage to the Royal African Company. This company would transport more enslaved people from Africa to America than any other single organization in the history of transatlantic trade.
James II (1685–1688,
James was the governor of the Royal African Company and was awarded 500 guineas for his “extraordinary services”. In 1677.
As king he was the largest shareholder of the company until he sold his shares after being deposed in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. Historian KG Davies, in his book The Royal African Company, states James earned £6,210 from his investment – the equivalent of £1m today, according to the most conservative estimates.
What is the cost of Taj?
The cost of the crown is the check of royal property and finances. The series, published before the coronation of King Charles III, seeks to shake off centuries of secrecy to better understand how the royal family is funded, the extent to which individual members have profited from their public roles , and the questionable origins of some of their wealth. The Guardian believes it is in the public interest to clarify what can legitimately be said to be private money, what belongs to the British people, and what, as is so often the case, affects both. .
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William III (1689–1702) and Mary II (1689–1694,
The Dutch Prince William of Orange, a Protestant, deposed James II, who was Catholic, in the “Glorious Revolution”. In January 1689, William accepted a free transfer of £1,000 shares (equivalent to £163,000 today) in the Royal African Company from his deputy governor, the now infamous Edward Colston. Virginia Commonwealth University historian Dr. Brooke Newman has found that William III and Mary II acquired more wealth from shares as England’s profits from slavery increased.
Queen Anne dramatically expanded the slave-trading activities of the UK. Photograph: Ian Dagnall/ Alamy
Queen Anne (1702–1714,
Queen Anne is remembered for leading the union of England and Scotland in 1707, which formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain. He expanded his slave-trading activities dramatically by acquiring from Spain in 1713 asiento de negros, The monopoly right to supply enslaved Africans to Spain’s colonies in South America. This contract was fulfilled by the South Sea Company.
George I (1714–1727,
George I was the governor of the South Sea Company and had substantial holdings.
The company’s history draws heavily on the “South Sea Bubble” – the 1720s rise and fall of the company’s share price. Only a few focus on the nature of its business – the asiento Contract to supply 4,800 adult, healthy males annually to Latin America.
John Carswell calculated in his book The South Sea Bubble that, despite the fall in the shares, the king made a large profit from his investment.,
George II (1727–1760,
George II was also governor and shareholder of the South Sea Company. According to the Slave Voyages Database, which compiles records of transatlantic trafficking of enslaved people, the company took 41,923 African captives on its ships between 1714 and 1740. More than 7,000 people died in the attacks.
George III wrote an essay as a teenager which argued that slavery had no moral basis. Photograph: Prisma Archivo / Alamy
George III (1760–1820,
An essay George III wrote as a teenager, arguing that slavery had no moral basis, has been cited by some as evidence that the future king was opposed to it. But according to research by historian Brooke Newman in her upcoming book, The Queen’s Silence, she supported the continuation of the slave trade and slavery and opposed the abolition movement behind the scenes.
George IV (1820-1830,
George IV’s lack of support for the growing movement to abolish slavery also helped delay emancipation for years. His reign was marked by the ruthless suppression of a rebellion by slaves in the Caribbean.
These included the reaction in 1823 in Demerara, Guyana. According to Michael Taylor, in his book The Interest, the British authorities responded with massacres, on-the-spot executions and floggings. Ten enslaved people who rebelled were hanged, and their heads were displayed on spikes.
William IV (1830–1837,
William IV was king at the time of the abolition of slavery in 1833, but had always opposed abolition.
Before becoming king, he assumed the title of Duke of Clarence and spent time in the Caribbean, where he befriended plantation owners and claimed to have contracted a venereal disease. He devoted speeches in the Lords to a defense of slavery, arguing that it was vital to prosperity, and he argued that enslaved people were “in a state of comparatively humble happiness”.
Today’s home of King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, Clarence House was built for William IV in the late 1820s.