I AM delighted by the news that ‘the TV historian’ Lucy Worsley is to lead a review of the Historic Royal Palaces’ links to the slave trade. Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and Hampton Court are among the residences that will come under her forensic scrutiny. I can’t wait to see which frock she will wear.
Dr Worsley, who is chief curator of the charity Historic Royal Palaces, said this review is ‘long overdue’ and added, ‘We’ve been thinking really hard and planning all sorts of changes. The time has come. We’re behind. We haven’t done well enough.’
‘The TV historian’ has made a promising start with her discovery of much muck among the jewels and coronets saying, ‘All properties used by the Stuart dynasty had within them an element of money derived from slavery.’ For example, the Stuarts played a prominent role in the slave trade when King Charles II granted a charter to the Royal African Company, of which his brother James, who succeeded him as King James II of England, was a member. The company held a monopoly on the trade until 1698 and did not cease dealing in slaves until 1731.
Kensington Palace and Hampton Court are among properties with connections to William III, who was a part owner of the company.
Dr Worsley believes there is a ‘more challenging side of history that Britain as a whole is quite good at sidelining in favour of supporting the tourist industry.’ She certainly knows what she is talking about, for no one has done more in recent times to prosper the tourist industry than Lucy and her TV series highlighting the history of England in one-hundred-and-seventy-three dresses, forty-nine cheeky smiles and twenty-eight knowing winks at the camera.
With a moral zeal surpassing even her devotion to the art of looking like a Jane Austen character all the time, she declaimed from the very apex of the high moral ground: ‘It is always great to push people a bit into an uncomfortable and darker direction, because then you can see the historical causes of things like social injustice.’
Oh yes, it is always great to push people into uncomfortable places – especially when the one who does the pushing inhabits such an eminently comfortable place. But do take heed, dear Lucy, for those who earn their ciabatta by wandering dreamily through crystal palaces should be careful at whom they throw their highly-polished stones.
Of course she is right and her re-writing of the past according to the prejudices of the present – sorry, I mean her deeply serious investigation into the sheer hideousness of all our kings, princes and governors – is indeed long overdue. Especially if the follow-up TV series can find worldwide syndication.
Now forgive me, Lucy, but doesn’t this mean that you yourself will be (sort of) benefiting from the slave trade?
Let me lay aside all such cynicism. I’m sure the whole operation will be a terrific success and might even receive a prize when the TV annual awards are handed out. And I look forward to other nasty bits of history being reported with similar tastefulness and couturial elegance. How about Peasantry-chic in the Black Death or Dior’s Part in the Holocaust?And – just to extend the ‘TV historian’s’ range a bit from the pictorial to the olfactory – The Perfumes and Scents of the Thirty-Years War?
Go on, love, you know you can do it!