The King has expressed his support for the first time for research into the historical links between the British monarchy and the transatlantic slave trade.
Buckingham Palace said Charles takes the issues “profoundly seriously” and the royal household will help with the academic project by offering access to the Royal Collection and the Royal Archives.
The independent research, the PhD project of historian Camilla de Koning at Manchester University, is co-sponsored by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) which manages several sites.
It will investigate the monarchy’s involvement in the slave trade and engagement with the empire and is expected to conclude in 2026.
A Palace statement was issued in response to The Guardian, which has 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 slave trader and the company’s deputy governor.
A spokesperson for the King said he had continued his pledge to deepen his understanding of slavery’s impact with “vigour and determination” since his accession.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last year, Charles told Commonwealth leaders in his opening ceremony speech that “to unlock the power of our common future, we must also acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past”.
He said he was on a personal journey of discovery and was continuing to “deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact” and added that the roots of the Commonwealth “run deep into the most painful period of our history”.
But there was no apology from the then-heir to the throne for the royal family’s involvement in the transportation and selling of people for profit.
For centuries, successive monarchs and other royals participated in the trade, either supporting and facilitating the activity or making money from it.
A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said on Thursday: “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’.”
The spokesperson added: “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.
“Given the complexities of the issues it is important to explore them as thoroughly as possible. It is expected that the research will conclude in September 2026.”
Manchester University’s website lists Ms de Koning’s research as Royal Enterprise: Reconsidering the Crown’s Engagement in Britain’s Emerging Empire, 1660-1775.
Her previous work includes research into Dutch involvement in the slave trade while at the University of Leiden.
A spokesperson for HRP said: “Historic Royal Palaces is a co-sponsor, with Manchester University, of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership, exploring how the royal family were involved with the structures that underpinned Britain’s economic and imperial development in the 17th and 18th centuries.
“The project will examine the royal role in empire and look at how the royal family, as individuals, understood their place within it.”
The King is to be crowned amid grand celebrations at Westminster Abbey on May 6.
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