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Disruption in the Abbey


A man disrupted the service in Westminster Abbey that was being held to mark Britain's abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago. He shouted, "You should be ashamed!" and said the Queen (who was at the service and appeared to be searching through her programme to find exactly where he came in) needed to apologise on behalf of her ancestors.

For much of the world's history, slavery was an accepted fact. England led the way in outlawing slavery in 1102. The development of the inhumane, transatlantic slave trade in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries was largely invisible until reports arrived which horrified the people of Britain. It took some time, but Britain became the first country to abolish the slave trade. A few days ago a cluster of bishops walked through the streets of London to express their remorse over the enslavement of Africans.

Many other European countries were involved in the slave trade, as were Muslim countries. (Muslims enslaved Africans. It is estimated that Muslims enslaved about two million Europeans kidnapped from Mediterranean countries.) Africans also were involved. Olaudah Equiano, an African slave who had gained his freedom and whose remarkable efforts in the cause of abolition are featured in our series, remarked in his autobiography how fascinated he was when he arrived in London “seeing these white people did not sell one another, as we did. . .and in this I thought they were much happier than we Africans.” My brother Roger, when engaged in oil exploration in West Africa, was proudly shown a cannon by a local chieftain who said that his ancestors had used it to fire at the Royal Navy's ships when they were enforcing the ban on the slave trade.

It seems a bit odd to ask people to apologise for their ancestors, but as apologies have been called for I await with interest the words of remorse that will issue from some of these other quarters.

Thank you, dear Anchoress, for mentioning the series.