Friday, February 06, 2009

Question from Mike - Elizabeth's views on slavery

What was Elizabeth's views on "Slavery"? I ask this question because I read that the trade existed during her reign and that the realm profit from the trade.

Thank you,



PhD Historian said...

I am not aware that Elizabeth's opinion on slavery is directly recorded, though there is indirect evidence that she was not opposed to slavery ... as long as the slaves were not Englishmen.

Slavery, when defined as the classification of select individuals as chattel property to be bought and sold without their consent, was all but non-existent within England during Elizabeth's reign. Slave-owning by English subjects had been heavily frowned upon, if not outright illegal, since about the time of the Norman Conquest. Foreigners, however, were tacitly allowed to have slaves with them while visiting England, though they could not buy or sell them within England. Foreign slaves were not automatically freed upon arriving in England until after 1762 (Shanley v. Harvey). In 1824, that common law finding was overturned by statute law, however, as the Slave Trade Act allowed for continuing slave status for domestic slaves of foreign masters visiting the UK.

Slavery existed in the English overseas colonies only after 1619, especially in the West Indies, and was not abolished there until 1833. However, during Elizabeth's reign there were no overseas colonies of any significance ... Roanoke, Virginia failed in 1587, and Jamestown was not founded until about 1607.

English slave traders had been active well before Elizabeth's reign, however, beginning with the first voyage of William Hawkins to West Africa in 1530. At least 11 separate voyages by 4 different men were undertaken between 1530 and Elizabeth's accession in 1558.

During Elizabeth's own reign (1558-1603), more than a dozen slave-trading voyages were completed. Perhaps the most famous of these was John Hawkins's second voyage (1564), for which he used one of Elizabeth's ships and shared the profits with her. Elizabeth went on to exert Crown control over trade with West Africa, including trade in slaves, by issuing letters patent for such voyages in 1561, 1585, 1588, and 1592.

Because the Papacy had granted a slave-trading monopoly to the Portuguese, and because English slave-trading violated that monopoly, much of the English slave trade during Elizabeth's reign was either conducted in secret or officially denied, making it more difficult for modern historians to completely document the English slave trade.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that Elizabeth was not opposed to the slave trade as long as the "objects" of that trade consisted of Africans rather than Europeans, and as long as slave-owning was not allowed by Englishmen within England.

For further reading on the English slave trade in the Elizabethan period, see
Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible (2007);
Nick Hazelwood, The Queen's Slave Trader: John Hawkyns, Elizabeth I, and the Trafficking in Human Souls (2005);
James A. Rawley and Stephen D. Behrendt, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (2005).

Foose said...

She did make an official comment when Sir John Hawkins made the first English foray into slaving in 1562, kidnapping Africans and selling them in Hispaniola, "if any Africans should be carried away without their free consent, it would be detestable, and call down the vengeance of Heaven upon the undertakers." But she took shares in Hawkins' second slaving venture, as phd historian points out.

streona said...

Slavery was acceptable for non- Christians rather than any racial or nationality differences. Cartwright's case of 1659 freed a Russian slave that Cartwright had beeaten in Londonm & the quote "the air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe" is often attributed to this case.
In 1677 Butts v Peny held that you could only be a slave if you were not a Christian.
The status of colonial slaves was under municipal slave laws.

Anonymous said...

I believe she was opposed to conventional slavery and only consented to Hawkins' expedition on the grounds that not Africans were taken against their will and were shipped as indentured servants, something that was already happening to Europeans.