Britons never will be slaves …?
And don't forget that Jane is giving away a copy of her new book!
After writing Forbidden Shores I went on to read more about the abolitionist movement and about the black population in England. It’s a fascinating subject. As I mentioned in my post about my book, there was never a large slave population in England, but by the end of the eighteenth century as many as fifteen thousand black people lived in London. Most of them were male, working as pages, footmen, and butlers--the sort of servants who ostentatiously displayed their employers’ wealth.
Were they free or not? Good question. The status of a slave brought to the country from abroad had been debated for at least a century. The English took very seriously the concept of Magna Carta and as the patriotic song Rule Britannia (set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740) said: Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never will be slaves. So you couldn’t have slaves in England… could you? The matter was decided once and for all when Chief Lord Justice Lord Mansfield ruled in 1772 that a slave was not regarded as such in England, and--most important--could not be coerced into returning to the land where he or she was enslaved.
Mansfield had a personal interest in the matter. His own stepdaughter, Dido Elizabeth Lindsay (1761-1804), was the daughter of a sea captain and an enslaved woman rescued from a Spanish ship. Dido was brought up in Kenwood House in Hampstead Heath near London and served as companion to her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, who was also adopted by Lord and Lady Mansfield. Johann Zoffany, fashionable painter to the court and aristocracy, painted this portrait of the two women in 1779. They’re beautifully dressed, and both looking at the artist/viewer, which suggests some degree of equality. According to Wikipedia she had the status of an upper servant, and probably served as Lady Murray’s companion; for instance, she did not dine with the family but joined them after dinner for coffee. Was it the stigma of race or illegitimacy?
One of the most astonishing aspects of the abolitionist movement was that support crossed barriers of gender and class. Ordinary housewives boycotted sugar. The London mob was notorious for helping slaves escape and ordinary people accepted members of the black population into their lives and families.
Thanks again for having me visit, History Hoydens!