he Duke of Cambridge has denounced slavery as “abhorrent”, saying “it should never have happened” as he addressed the issue following days of protests calling for reparations from the royal family.
William expressed his “profound sorrow” at the forced transportation of millions of people from Africa to the Caribbean and North America – a trade which British monarchs either supported or profited from during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Speaking during his visit to Jamaica with Kate, he echoed the words of his father the Prince of Wales and described the slave trade as an “appalling atrocity” that “stains our history” and he went on to acknowledge Jamaica’s “pain”.
The Cambridges’ tour of Belize, Jamaica and the forthcoming final leg in the Bahamas has prompted demonstrations and statements calling for an apology from the royal family. The future king did not say sorry, just as his father Charles had not during his trip to witness Barbados become a republic.
But he praised the Windrush generation of Caribbeans who arrived in the UK a few years after the Second World War to help rebuild the nation depleted by six years of conflict.
Jamaica’s prime minister Andrew Holness appeared to suggest his country may be the next country to break away from the monarchy, telling the Cambridges it was “moving on” and intended to “fulfil our true ambitions and destiny as an independent, developed, prosperous country”.
The Independent has reported the Jamaican government has already begun the process to transition to a republic, with an official appointed to oversee the work.
Speaking during a dinner hosted by the Queen’s representative in Jamaica, Governor General Sir Patrick Linton Allen, the duke said: “Anniversaries are also a moment for reflection, particularly this week with the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”
Commenting on the sentiment expressed by Charles when he attended the Barbados ceremony that saw it become a republic in November, he said: “I strongly agree with my father, the Prince of Wales, who said in Barbados last year that the appalling atrocity of slavery forever stains our history.”
“I want to express my profound sorrow. Slavery was abhorrent.
“And it should never have happened.
“While the pain runs deep, Jamaica continues to forge its future with determination, courage and fortitude.
“The strength and shared sense of purpose of the Jamaican people, represented in your flag and motto, celebrate an invincible spirit.
“It is this same spirit that spurred on the Windrush generation, who came to the United Kingdom to help rebuild after the Second World War.
“We are forever grateful for the immense contribution that this generation and their descendants have made to British life, which continues to enrich and improve our society.”
Elizabeth I was involved with one of Britain’s first slave traders, John Hawkins, while Charles II encouraged the expansion of the industry and with his brother the Duke of York, later James II, invested their private funds in the Royal African Company, which transported Africans across the Atlantic.
As the slavery abolitionists campaigned they were opposed by the Duke of Clarence, George III’s son, later to become William IV.
The royal and the rest of the pro-slavery lobby would eventually lose the battle when William Wilberforce and other abolitionists succeeded in passing the bill banning the slave trade in 1807.
William delivered his speech on Wednesday and for the second day the Cambridges’ presence in Jamaica prompted protests, with around a dozen members of Jamaica’s Rastafarian community demanding reparations from the royal family when the couple visited a military event near Montego Bay.
Ras Iyah V, a leading member of Jamaica’s Rastafari Nyahbinghi community, said: “We are here to protest against any British monarchy descendant coming to Jamaica without being prepared to apologise for slavery and colonialism.
“We can only forgive people who acknowledge that what they did was wrong and are willing to repair the breach of the wrongs they have committed.”
He added: “And today the British monarchy has a lot of African artefacts in their possession – they still bathe in the wealth that was extracted out of the blood, sweat and tears and lives of our people and we have never been compensated for any form of enslavement.”
During his speech at the black tie event William affectionately paid tribute to the Queen, whose Platinum Jubilee is marked by the Cambridge’s Caribbean tour: “She may be my actual grandmother, but everyone counts her as their grandmother too.”
And he recognised the plight of Jamaicans caught up in the conflict in Ukraine: “Catherine and I were deeply moved by the plight of the Jamaican students who have recently returned safely from Ukraine.
“Their experiences are a reminder of the terrifying toll and inequality of war and conflicts across the world, which we must never forget.”
Kate was dressed in a green gown by British designer Jenny Packham paired with earrings and a bracelet that were loaned by the Queen and wore the Royal Family Order and her Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order star.
Later on Thursday, the couple will bid farewell to Jamaica after attending the inaugural commissioning parade for service personnel who have completed the Caribbean Military Academy’s officer training programme, then fly to the Bahamas where they will be greeted by prime minister Philip Davis.