Omid Scobie calls for royals to confront monarchy’s links to slavery

Omid Scobie has said the Royal Family needs to do more to confront historic links to slavery if it is to convince Britons that the House of Windsor is modernising to reflect a diverse country.

Writing in i following the row over the naming in a version of his latest book of two senior royals alleged to have made comments about the skin colour of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s unborn child, the author suggested there was an effort by Buckingham Palace to “sweep under the rug” uncomfortable issues such as race.

The Palace earlier this year publicly gave its backing to an independent study exploring the relationship between the monarchy and the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, adding that it was a subject which King Charles takes “profoundly seriously”.

The research being carried out jointly by the University of Manchester and Historic Royal Palaces will be conducted with full access to the Royal Family’s private archives. It is expected to be completed by 2026.

omid scobie calls for royals to confront monarchy’s links to slavery

The Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to view a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) on July 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

But Mr Scobie nonetheless accused the Royal Family of failing treat with sufficient seriousness both historic and more contemporary issues relating to race. In an apparent reference to complaints on behalf of the Duchess of Sussex that she was not adequately protected by the Palace from racist and sexist remarks in the press while a working royal, the author claimed the Palace had failed to have “serious conversations” about an alleged failure to act on Meghan’s behalf.

Mr Scobie said: “Shooing away opportunities to meaningfully explore the royal institution’s historic links to slavery (and the impact its legacy has had on the country), or have serious conversations around the royal institution’s failure to protect its only family member of colour, sends a clear message that the issues just don’t matter.”

He added: “Rather than properly address everything as part of a genuine attempt to modernise and better reflect the diverse country they serve, the Royal Family continue to sweep the issues, and more, under the rug.”

The British monarchy’s connection with slavery can be traced back to the tudor queen Elizabeth 1 who gave a royal ship to the slave trader John Hawkins in 1564 in exchange for a share in profits for the voyage.

Many subsequent monarchs from the Houses of Stuart and Hanover also had connections to the slave trade. While the House of Windsor did not come to the throne until 1917, after slavery was abolished in Britain, questions remain over how they have benefited from the financial legacies of slavery.

The monarchy’s links to slavery

Britain’s monarchs supported and sponsored the slave trade from the mid-1500s until slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833.

According to historian Nick Hazlewood’s book The Queen’s Slave Trader, Queen Elizabeth I gave a large royal ship to the slave trader John Hawkins in 1564 in exchange for a share of his profits.

For the next 270 years the Stuart and Hanover dynasties were shareholders in companies involved in the slave trade.

Slavery was abolished in Britain by the time the first Windsor monarch King George V came to the throne in 1917, but today’s royal family have benefited from the personal and national wealth accrued through royal investment in and protection of slave trading.

There is also a more direct link between recent royals and the slave trade. George Smith (1765-1836), the great-great-grandfather of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became Queen Elizabeth and mother to Queen Elizabeth II, was an MP, banker and director of the East India Company who lent money to Caribbean slaveholders. In 1833, his son, George Robert Smith, claimed compensation for 461 enslaved people in Jamaica, worth a total of approximately £18,000.

The Palace has so far chosen to remain silent about the controversy emanating from the publication of the Dutch version of Mr Scobie’s latest book, Endgame. Copies of the book were hurriedly withdrawn from shelves after it emerged that the text named the King and Catherine, Princess of Wales, as the two royals who had made alleged remarks expressing “concerns” about the skin tone of the Sussexes’ then unborn son, Archie.

Mr Scobie has denied that the revelation was a publicity stunt and reiterates that in his finished version of the book the names of the two royals “were to remain a mystery”.

While the Palace has sought to rise above the current row, senior royals have in the past defended themselves against allegations relating to race made by the Sussexes. Following the claims aired about Archie’s skin colour in the couples 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Prince William responded to a question from a journalist about whether the Windsors were a racist family by saying: “We are very much not a racist family.”

Both the King and William have previously expressed their personal sorrow at the suffering caused by the slave trade. During a trip to Rwanda last year, the monarch said he could not describe “the depths of his personal sorrow” at the suffering caused by the trade in enslaved humans. Charles had faced calls to offer a full apology but stopped short of doing so.

The Palace has been approached to comment.

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