Henry Richard Greville Experiences the Effects of Slavery First Hand

A sketch probably of Henry Richard Greville, 3rd Earl of Warwick, in 'Van Dyck' dress - presumably for a ball.
Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1886/Box 624.

The first Earl of Warwick to experience the effects of slavery first hand (whereas previous Earls had experienced slavery at a distance) was also the same Earl to be listed as ‘friendly’ to the abolitionist cause. Might this experience have had a lasting influence on his views towards slavery?

The said Earl was Henry Richard Greville (1779-1853), Lord Brooke and later 3rd Earl of Warwick. In 1803 he accompanied Britain’s incoming ambassador William Drummond (1769-1828) to the capital of the Ottoman Empire. He wrote a memoir1 detailing his journey from Naples to Constantinople, as part of a much larger Grand Tour he undertook in his early 20s.

From Henry’s writings it seems that it was curiosity that brought him to Constantinople’s notorious slave market. This was alongside other visits to sites of historic interest. His descriptions of the place catalogue what he saw, and exactly how it was arranged. The descriptions of the humans he witnessed on sale makes for very hard reading to this day.

Prior expectation

It seems that the 24 year old had approached the visit with several expectations. This included the slave market being a place where ‘beauty’ could be found and bought. His illusions might well have been fed by romanticised notions of the exotic orient, made popular in print and other sources. Helpless but ‘beautiful’ slave girls, along with the harems of the east, proved particularly popular for painters of the orientalist school of the same century. Sir William Allen’s depiction of the market in 1838, now kept in the National Gallery for Scotland, is very much the poetic vision Henry might have had in his mind’s eye. Whatever his illusions were, it is clear that what he found was contrary to his expectations.

Overall, he gives only subtle hints of his feelings at observing the human beings for sale in this hopeless place. His sympathies, we can feel sure, were with those slaves whose situation was ‘one of apprehension & dread’. Henry noted in particular the way different races were divided in the market and sold for varying sums. His descriptions of the way slaves were scarred on their foreheads underlines the brutality of the situation.

The extract, in its entirety, reads as follows:

We got through great interest an officer of the grand visiers to take us into the slave market, we were given to understand we had been the 1st Christians admitted & it was an officer alone of such high rank could have introduced us.

It is a large court surrounded with open shops – under sort of penthouses. The outer gates always have sentries placed. We walked round under the penthouses close to the shops in many of which were the white Slaves mostly cucasians [from the Caucuses?]. I was struck with nothing remarkable as to beauty, though on the whole rather pretty – but those of the highest value are general in the inner rooms & kept more out of sight. They looked rather melancholy, and as any Turk can buy them this situation must be one of apprehension & dread. As to their future fate – they sell from 50 to 3 or 400 £ according to their beauty.

The Black slaves were sitting more in front & about the penthouses  – these are much cheaper & seemed happy enough laughing & talking. The mys… [many sold?] were copper coloured, broad faces with only blankets on – marked & cut in figures on the face with large earings & bracelets of gold – & very curious looking people. We were told they were sold in the countries by their friends to merchants. Tho’ many no doubt sold by whoever could steal them.

1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR1886/Box 619 (loose)

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