April 6, 2023
VCU history professor Brooke Newman serves as lead researcher for Guardian’s investigation of British monarchy’s ties to slavery
Newman, whose forthcoming book is “The Queen’s Silence: The Hidden History of the British Monarchy and Slavery,” said “the British monarchy has refused to acknowledge or apologize for their historic links to slavery.”
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Over the past five months, Virginia Commonwealth University history professor Brooke Newman, Ph.D., has been working closely with the British media outlet The Guardian as the lead researcher for a special investigation on the British monarchy and its ties to slavery and the slave trade.
The Guardian’s project, “Cost of the Crown,” details the historical involvement of the British monarchy in the slave trade and reveals how its role in the creation of an Atlantic slave empire was both extensive and undeniable, Newman said.
“For centuries, the Crown and prominent members of the royal family invested in and profited from the enslavement and suffering of millions of Africans and people of African descent,” said Newman, an associate professor in the Department of History in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. “Yet, to date, the British monarchy has refused to acknowledge or apologize for their historic links to slavery or to attempt to atone for their inherited wealth accumulated through centuries of investment in coerced labor.”
Newman, a leading historian of Britain focused on slavery and its legacies, and author of the forthcoming book “The Queen’s Silence: The Hidden History of the British Monarchy and Slavery,” said she hopes the Guardian’s project and her book will “underscore the critical links between the institution of the monarchy and racial violence and exploitation and contribute to the ongoing struggle for reparative justice.”
“In an era when nostalgia for the imperial past is resurfacing in Britain, and the afterlives of slavery are often viewed as an ‘American’ problem, sharing this lesser-known history with the wider public is more important than ever,” Newman said.
The Guardian’s project includes examinations of individual monarchs, detailing their links to slavery. It also features a piece on Kensington Palace, William III and slavery. The pieces were produced in collaboration with Newman as the lead researcher and other scholars.
Newman contributed to articles published Thursday, including “The Colston connection: how Prince William’s Kensington Palace home is linked to slavery” and “The British kings and queens who supported and profited from slavery.”
The project also features an op-ed, “The British monarchy’s ties to slavery are writ large in the historical archives,” authored by Newman that focuses on the British monarchy, slavery and the problematic nature of the archives.
As the lead researcher, Newman provided an extensive reading list and archival references to the media outlet’s investigative team and also provided a detailed chronology of the British monarchs’ involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, their expansion and defense of colonial slavery, and their opposition to the abolition movement.
Newman met regularly, both virtually and in-person in London, to discuss historical details and also to tour Kensington Palace, which was purchased and renovated by William III when he was governor of the Royal African Company. She also provided the Guardian with the first known archival image documenting the transfer of £1,000 of Royal African Company stock from Edward Colston – whose statue was toppled by BLM protestors in June 2020 – to William III in 1689.
Newman also reviewed and fact checked the pieces produced by the Guardian’s investigative team.
“I enjoyed working with the dedicated journalists at the Guardian and being part of a collaborative investigative team,” Newman said. “I look forward to sharing the full story of royal involvement in the slave trade with the broader public when ‘The Queen's Silence’ is released.’”
Update - 4/10/23: After the publication of The Guardian and Newman’s investigation, a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace issued the following statement, as reported by The Guardian:
“This is an issue that His Majesty takes profoundly seriously. As His Majesty told the Commonwealth heads of government reception in Rwanda last year: ‘I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.’ That process has continued with vigour and determination since His Majesty’s accession.
“Historic Royal Palaces is a partner in an independent research project, which began in October last year, that is exploring, among other issues, the links between the British monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade during the late 17th and 18th centuries.
“As part of that drive, the royal household is supporting this research through access to the royal collection and the royal archives.”
The Guardian reports it is thought to be “the first time Buckingham Palace has publicly stated that it supports such research into the royal family’s troubling history.”
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