Speaker’s state coach singled out in parliamentary review of artworks for ‘depicting enslaved people’

A three-century-old carriage has been tagged in a parliamentary review for featuring a Roman slave.

The Speaker’s State Coach, an ornate gold carriage last used at Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981, is one of 343 artifacts labeled as linked to slavery.

A carving of an ancient slave was apparently responsible for it being marked “depiction of enslaved people.”

The cross-party speaker’s Advisory Committee on Artworks is now considering whether to change the collection’s labeling or the way it is presented.

But Tories have sounded the alarm over the “ridiculous” project, arguing that slavery could be linked to almost every element of Western society.

The speaker’s state coach is said to “depict enslaved people,” though the description on the UK Parliament’s website doesn’t specify details of the image

According to the official description of the carriage on the collection website of the Parliament, it was made around 1698 for Willem III.

It contains iconography about the glorious revolution of 1688 that confirmed the supremacy of Parliament.

It is believed to have been presented to the Commons Speaker by Queen Anne in the early 18th century, and bears the coats of arms of successive holders of the post.

The carriage was used for ceremonial events for centuries, the last being the royal wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.

It is now on display at the National Trust Carriage Museum in Arlington Court.

The ongoing investigation of the collection at Westminster has identified 68 politicians associated with the repugnant trade – including prominent figures such as Robert Peel, Robert Walpole, William Gladstone and Edmund Burke.

Former Prime Minister Robert Peel - known as the founder of modern policing - was a well-known opponent of slavery and his family did not own it.  But he is tagged because his father made money spinning cotton.  Pictured is a bust of Matthew Noble marked in the Parliamentary Review

Former Prime Minister Robert Peel - known as the founder of modern policing - was a well-known opponent of slavery and his family did not own it.  But he is tagged because his father made money spinning cotton.  Pictured is a bust of Matthew Noble marked in the Parliamentary Review

Former Prime Minister Robert Peel – known as the founder of modern policing – was a well-known opponent of slavery and his family did not own it. But he is tagged because his father made money spinning cotton. Pictured is a bust of Matthew Noble marked in the Parliamentary Review

The parliamentary artwork review of around 9,000 artifacts was launched in mid-2020, amid a wave of global anti-racism protests that saw a statue of merchant Edward Colston toppled in Bristol.

The commission said at the time: ‘In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Parliamentary art collection is being reviewed to identify images of individuals and activities associated with the British slave trade and use of forced labor of enslaved Africans and others in British colonies and beyond.’

In September, a first set of political figures and artwork related to slavery was unveiled, sparking anger over “wokeism.”

At that time, there were 24 people and 189 items on the list negatively associated with the slave trade.

However, further updates up to March last year saw the number mentioned nearly triple to 68, with 343 pieces covered.

At that point, the reference to Black Lives Matter had been removed from the updated list.

This statue of Edmund Burke, Member of Parliament and renowned political thinker, is listed

This statue of Edmund Burke, Member of Parliament and renowned political thinker, is listed

Portraits of former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, including this one, are listed as being linked to slavery

Portraits of former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, including this one, are listed as being linked to slavery

This statue of Edmund Burke, Member of Parliament and renowned political thinker, is listed. Burke was a critic of slavery, but his younger brother apparently speculated on Caribbean plantations

Instead, it said: ‘Like the approach taken by a number of museums, art galleries and other major collections, the aim is to reflect on the current approach to managing the collection and how its diversity and inclusion can be widened.’

A spokesperson for the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art said: ‘The documents published as part of the committee’s review have been developed through rigorous academic research.

The purpose of the list – which is constantly being revised – is to ensure the accuracy of Parliament’s collections and to catalog items related to the transatlantic slave trade, including works depicting people who had financial interests or family ties to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery, as well as artwork featuring abolitionists.

“As far as the long-term location of Parliament’s artworks is concerned, there are no plans to remove specific artworks from the exhibition. This list of works of art is not exhaustive and will be updated every two years as research becomes available.’

On whether art would be moved or labeled differently, the spokesperson said: ‘Parliament is exploring ways it can develop improved standards and frameworks for the management of its collections.

Below you can see how items from the Collections are explained to visitors, employees and Members.

“The work is at an early stage and Parliament will engage with Members, staff and visitors – as well as a range of external partners – to ensure that a wide range of views are heard throughout the development process.”

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