This article by Mike Small on the links between the British monarchy and slavery was first posted on https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2023/04/16/a-monarchy-based-on-slavery/. It was written just before the coronation on May 6th, at Westminster Cathedral, but with Charles coming to receive the ‘honours of Scotland’ on Wednesday 5th July at St Giles Cathedral the EL&SD Editorial Board is reposting this.
A MONARCHY BASED ON SLAVERY
An institution that became immeasurably wealthy through the slave trade now proves itself irreformable as it profits from contemporary racism. It’s beyond time to ditch the monarchy and create a republic.
As the coronation looms it soaks up media attention and generates an ink-truck of press moronism and deference. As most of us struggle with bills and rent and food it’s revealed that Elizabeth II and Charles III extracted cash payments worth more than £1.2bn from two hereditary estates that pay no tax at all, in addition to the millions they receive in public funding for their official duties. In 2022, they received £21m each from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall respectively. New research now shows that Charles, who receives about £86m a year in public money, is technically in line for an extra £250m a year in taxpayer money, according to the generous terms of a funding settlement introduced by David Cameron as prime minister in 2011. The tabloids are in an orgy of sycophancy and outrage simultaneously boosting Kate and savaging Meghan. Here in some bittersweet hagiography they manage to discover that Kate’s ancestors played a part in abolishing slavery.
As the fawning/outrage builds in momentum we realise that some people are furious at Meghan for not coming to the Coronation because they wanted Meghan to come to the Coronation so they could be furious at her for coming to the Coronation.
Displacement-rage options are being discussed but will probably settle on Meghan Markel even though she’s not here given that a) one of our newspapers published an article fantasising about dragging her through the streets and pelting her with excrement, and b) their sister TV channel joked about hanging Archie off a balcony.
This industrial-scale hate-mongering is off the scale – but it’s a handy distraction from the awkward stories being unearthed about the Royals.
The monarchy is knee-deep in slavery. Last week the Guardian published a previously unseen document showing the 1689 transfer of £1,000 of shares in the slave-trading Royal African Company to King William III, from Edward Colston, the company’s deputy governor. The document states that £1,000 of shares were given to William III in 1689. The shares were in the Royal African Company (RAC), which captured, enslaved and transported thousands of African people, with the monopoly power of a royal charter. The document clearly bears the handwritten name of the now notorious Edward Colston. That’s the same Colson who was toppled and chucked in Bristol harbour.
After Colston transferred the Royal African Company shares, William III became governor of the company and earned a massive income from it. The royal charter gave the Royal African Company a protection monopoly for slavery from west Africa.
Now, the Slave Voyages database, which collects information from historical data reveals that in the 60 years of its operations, the RAC transported 186,827 enslaved people to America. They estimate that more than 38,000 people died during the journeys.
Despite the best efforts of the Daily Mail to re-write royal history as that of abolitionism, the reality is that on July 5 1799 the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV, stood up in the House of Lords and made a passionate speech in defence of slavery. He began by outlining the long history of the trade in England, stretching back more than 230 years. He noted how vital it had been to expanding both economy and Empire. And then he came to the transporting of slaves themselves – the infamous “Middle Passage”. His appeal worked. Abolition was not passed in 1799. Across almost three centuries, 12 British monarchs sponsored, supported or profited from Britain’s involvement in slavery.
It’s in this context that the relentless assault on Markel should be read. The press behaviour – acts as a conduit – a carrier and form of legitimisation for racist tropes. It’s worth remembering that the press In England speculated that Markel’s “rich and exotic DNA” would thicken the Windsors’ “watery, thin blue blood”; described Meghan as “(almost) straight outta Compton”; discussed how her family “went from cotton slaves to royalty”; and compared her newborn son to a chimpanzee. The underlying message of this coverage – was that Meghan, the daughter of a Black woman descended from enslaved Africans, would taint the British monarchy.
As England wakes to the realities of Brexit, this narrative of legitimised racism is born out through the rhetoric of the Home Secretary which are even too repulsive for some senior Conservatives.
Dr Brooke Newman, author of The Queen’s Silence, has written: “The current queen’s distant ancestors launched England into the trans-Atlantic slave trade and are responsible for the enslavement and death of millions of African captives. The Royal African Company represented the culmination of over a century of small-scale slave trading initiatives endorsed by the English monarchy, beginning with Elizabeth I’s support of John Hawkins’ slaving expeditions in the 1560s to deliver African captives to Spanish America.”
As the historian Maya Jasanoff has noted, “Scratch almost any institution with roots in Britain’s era of global dominance and you’ll draw imperial blood.” And none more so than the British monarchy.
A YouGov poll this week showed that most people care very little about the Coronation – it comes as just four private street parties have been registered in Wales for the event next month. There are three live events planned in Edinburgh. But we must move from widespread indifference – even in the face of an avalanche of media attention – to actual resistance to the institutions of monarchy and the entrenched hierarchy and feudalism they represent. The obscene wealth – and its origins built on slavery are just the latest revelations that should confirm anyone’s republicanism.
As Allan Armstrong wrote announcing the protest on Calton Hill on the day of the coronation:
“On May 6th, the UK state-orchestrated coronation of Charles takes place in London. Charles represents the pinnacle of the UK’s political order, based on the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster. Our Republic is organising a protest on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, a place with a long tradition of democratic dissent. The 2023 Declaration of Calton Hill, initiated by RIC, has been drawn up to win support for the assertion of the republican, democratic sovereignty of the Scottish people. Our protest on May 6th anticipates the withdrawal of participation in the UK state’s directly imposed institutions and extra-constitutional, non-violent, direct action until we complete Scotland’s Democratic Revolution.”
The coronation should be an opportunity to unleash rage against this institution and this broken grotesque country. (And that goes for Scottish phase of the coronation on July 5th – EL&SD EB)