When Britons were slaves in Africa

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, pirates operating out of north Africa enslaved thousands of men, women and children from the British Isles. Adam Nichols describes the often faltering attempts to release the captives from a life of hard labour and torture

View of Algiers with mediterranean galleys, published in Johannes van Keulen's Dutch Atlas, 1709. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the January 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine

The famous lines from the song ‘Rule Britannia’ proudly proclaim that “Britannia rules the waves. Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.” Dating from the 1740s, ‘Rule Britannia’ expressed Britons’ pride in the Royal Navy and its role in cementing Britain’s position as an imperial superpower.

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