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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK

Britain’s monarchy backed slavery from day one

Portrait of Charles II Stuart (London, 1630-London, 1685), King of England, Scotland, Ireland and France. Painting by John Michael Wright
A portrait of Charles II, by John Michael Wright. ‘The grim document in which Charles II granted the Royal African Company exclusive rights to barter for black slaves can be viewed on the British Library website.’ Photograph: Dea Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images

Your article refers to William III’s shares in the Royal African Company (RAC), which transported more slaves across the Atlantic than any other company, but misses the bigger picture (The Colston connection: how Prince William’s Kensington Palace home is linked to slavery, 6 April).

The RAC (and its predecessor, the Company of Royal Adventurers) relied on royal backing from the start. The grim document in which Charles II granted it exclusive rights to barter for black slaves can be viewed on the British Library website. It used its royally sanctioned monopoly to rapidly position England as Europe’s biggest slave-trading country. Many of the transported were branded “DoY”, for James, Duke of York, the company’s governor – and future king. Edward Colston’s transfer of shares to William III following the Glorious Revolution was simply maintaining the traditional royal patronage of slaving.

Britain’s liberals steadfastly campaigned against the company during William’s reign, and eventually succeeded in breaking its monopoly – for they too wanted a share of slavery’s profits. The historian William Pettigrew has written a book on this subject, Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752.
Jordan Andrews

• While your article rightly draws attention to the role of the monarchy in the history of the slave trade, it is missing a key period in this history: Cromwell’s Commonwealth (The British kings and queens who supported and profited from slavery, 6 April). Cromwell launched the Western Design, a colonialist venture, adding vast sugar plantations and the concomitant slavery to British possessions. Royalty were deeply implicated in slavery by granting monopolies and the like, but did they instigate slavery like Cromwell’s?

If you have a question about this, ask the Irish. After the 1649 Drogheda massacre, Cromwell killed one in 10 of the survivors and sent the rest to Barbados as slaves, writing that “this is a righteous Judgement of God upon these Barbarous wretches”.
Robert Godsill
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

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