Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann

Black Tudors: The Untold Story

A black porter publicly whips a white English gentleman in a Gloucestershire manor house. A heavily pregnant African woman is abandoned on an Indonesian island by Sir Francis Drake. A Mauritanian diver is despatched to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose... Miranda Kaufmann reveals the absorbing stories of some of the Africans who lived free in Tudor England. From lo...

Title:Black Tudors: The Untold Story
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Black Tudors: The Untold Story Reviews

  • Sarah Wagner

    *I received this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.*

    I had never really given much thought to Africans living in Tudor England, but I'm glad this book introduced me to a few of their incredibly varied lives. In addition to highlighting less prominent historical figures, this book teases out plenty of details which histories focused on politics often miss. I particularly liked the chapter on the divers who salvaged items from the sunken Mary Rose. I had no idea this had been done in the 16

    *I received this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.*

    I had never really given much thought to Africans living in Tudor England, but I'm glad this book introduced me to a few of their incredibly varied lives. In addition to highlighting less prominent historical figures, this book teases out plenty of details which histories focused on politics often miss. I particularly liked the chapter on the divers who salvaged items from the sunken Mary Rose. I had no idea this had been done in the 16th century, let alone that African divers had been recruited for the task. This book is filled with such details and this along with the strong challenge to my preconceived notions about the period made this book a great read.

  • Ashley

    This book discusses the lives of black people in Tudor England, contradicting the assumption that they were not a part of English history at this time. The author attempts to tell the story of several individuals, and in so doing shed light on the variety of occupations and roles held by black people at the time, again contradicting an assumption that black people in England must have been slaves or servants. I liked that the author frankly discussed what is and what is not known from the histor

    This book discusses the lives of black people in Tudor England, contradicting the assumption that they were not a part of English history at this time. The author attempts to tell the story of several individuals, and in so doing shed light on the variety of occupations and roles held by black people at the time, again contradicting an assumption that black people in England must have been slaves or servants. I liked that the author frankly discussed what is and what is not known from the historical record, especially as there were a lot of blank spaces in the lives of these ordinary people. When she made assumptions, she explained why she did so (for example, she theorized that one individual had immigrated from the Netherlands based upon the neighborhood in London where he lived). She also started each chapter with a brief passage from the imagined perspective of her subject, which I enjoyed as it made it easier for me to engage with the subject matter. I appreciated that the author included a significant bibliography and notes section, as these are sometimes lacking in popular nonfiction books. My interest in the Tudor era comes primarily from reading a lot of historical fiction, which often (and understandably) tends to stories about royalty or people associated with royalty. I appreciated the insight into ordinary people, and I hope that some historical fiction authors read this book and incorporate some of information in it to make for more interesting and diverse characters. I certainly enjoyed discussing the information I read in this book with friends.

    I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

  • The Irregular Reader

    It is said that history is written by the winners. While that is certainly true, the more insidious fact is that history is written by those who hold the pen. What this means in a practical sense is that those with little power, and little influence–whether or not they “won”–are often either diminished in the historical record or left out entirely. One of the great (or terrible) things about the emergence of the internet is that it has given voice to populations who, even fifty years ago, would

    It is said that history is written by the winners. While that is certainly true, the more insidious fact is that history is written by those who hold the pen. What this means in a practical sense is that those with little power, and little influence–whether or not they “won”–are often either diminished in the historical record or left out entirely. One of the great (or terrible) things about the emergence of the internet is that it has given voice to populations who, even fifty years ago, would not have been heard. The internet is going to change how histories are written in the future, the vast amount of data available, and the clamor of voices waiting to speak will need to be addressed by future historians.

    But enough digression. We’re talking here about the Tudor era. Very, very few people are literate, even in the upper levels of society. While high ranking men and officials had a decent literacy rate, women, lower classes, and other marginalized groups were overwhelmingly illiterate. The upshot of this is that we know quite a good deal about the rulers, the “important” folk, economics, etc. but very little about the daily lives of merchants, yeomen, women (especially poor women), and others not well represented in the written record.

    This fact makes Kaufmann’s book incredibly ambitious. There are no known surviving sources written by Africans in Tudor England. Kaufmann instead must play detective, inferring the shapes of these people’s lives through their interactions with higher-status (ie. record-leaving) contemporaries. What Kaufmann has found is the tip of a fascinating iceberg. The unusual wording of law in the British Isles (and notably not in her colonies) meant that there could be no slaves in England (though people could be, and were, treated as such). As a result, Kaufmann’s history isn’t one of slavery, but about the wide range of professions and lifestyles occupied by Africans in Tudor England. We are introduced to sailors and wreck divers, prostitutes and silk weavers, servants and princes. Some were able to live independently in cities and towns through the country, others were employees or servants. Some tales are inspiring. Others, like the fate of Maria, an African woman brought on board one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship for “entertainment” are horrible beyond imagining.

    Kaufmann has been able to unearth or infer quite a bit of information on the lives of African individuals in Tudor England. Her book is a fascinating look at a time before England’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade made the dehumanization of African people the norm. Her work will appeal to historians and anthropologists alike, and is a must read for anyone seeking more information on the role of non-Europeans in history.

    A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

  • J.A. Ironside

    ARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

    I once heard a radio interview about a Dickens novel adapted for stage where the lead role was played by a black man. The interviewer suggested that this was an interesting choice considering the time period in which it was said. To which said black actor replied, with humour, that actually there was no reason why the character couldn't actually have been black considering how diverse 19th C London really was - 'we (poc) weren't just inve

    ARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

    I once heard a radio interview about a Dickens novel adapted for stage where the lead role was played by a black man. The interviewer suggested that this was an interesting choice considering the time period in which it was said. To which said black actor replied, with humour, that actually there was no reason why the character couldn't actually have been black considering how diverse 19th C London really was - 'we (poc) weren't just invented'. I did know that there was a lot more ethnic diversity in Britain than our received historical sources lead us to believe but even I was surprised at just how diverse Britain through the ages really was. Black Tudors looks specifically at a period of English history about which much fiction - especially of the princes and king variety - has been written. Of course England was not populated only with gentry and aristocracy, nor was it populated only by white people as the author shows. This is a light read for a historical non fiction and the author has been frank where she has made assumptions due to gaps in historical record, and also what led her to those educated guesses. This is a fascinating book and adds substantial fuel to the argument for more diversity in historical fiction.

  • K.J. Charles

    What an extraordinary, revelatory book. The author has gone through the minutiae of parish registers and legal records to reconstruct the stories of Africans living in Tudor England, on the way revealing just how many there were. It's a staggering demonstration of how much history has been whitewashed. The author puts each of the stories she's dug out into a wider context of the time (skilled artisans, pirates, prostitutes, musicians at the royal court, divers; city people and country people; se

    What an extraordinary, revelatory book. The author has gone through the minutiae of parish registers and legal records to reconstruct the stories of Africans living in Tudor England, on the way revealing just how many there were. It's a staggering demonstration of how much history has been whitewashed. The author puts each of the stories she's dug out into a wider context of the time (skilled artisans, pirates, prostitutes, musicians at the royal court, divers; city people and country people; settlers and just visiting) and shows how much international travel and immigration, forced and voluntary, was going on. Obviously the historical record is sparse--most people have disappeared altogether, six centuries on, so the number of lives Kaufmann has managed to dig out are probably only a fraction of the whole--but this is a really impressive attempt at recreating a world that hasn't just vanished but been deliberately whitewashed away.

    Fantastic stuff. Inevitably there's a lot of grimness here--racism, the beginnings of the slave trade--but there's also glimpses of a world that was just busily getting on, with immigrants of all sorts fitting in to society and becoming part of its ebb and flow.

    I read this in e so I didn't get full value from the illustrations; also if you get it in hardback you could use it to hit people who think England's past is monochrome. A really good and necessary book.

  • Nathen Amin

    Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann is an ambitious book loaded with little-known Tudor trivia that has long been overdue in the study of 16th century England, and fortunately for the future of this little-explored topic, the result is a fascinating production of the utmost quality that takes a close look at ten individuals who could, quite accurately, be considered Black Tudors.

    There is a common-held belief that these British Isles were inhabited by a native, white population before the rise of

    Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann is an ambitious book loaded with little-known Tudor trivia that has long been overdue in the study of 16th century England, and fortunately for the future of this little-explored topic, the result is a fascinating production of the utmost quality that takes a close look at ten individuals who could, quite accurately, be considered Black Tudors.

    There is a common-held belief that these British Isles were inhabited by a native, white population before the rise of Slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the onset of twentieth century globalisation with the voyage of the Empire Windrush from the Caribbean, that people of colour quite simply were unknown to our Tudor-period ancestors. Yet, as Dr Kaufmann shows in this illuminating and extraordinarily in-depth publication, such a view is quite simply nonsense. As the author notes in the blurb, people of colour were christened, married and buried by the church in England, and were paid wages just like any other 16th century person. They formed integral parts of the communities they lived in, and provided services that were often welcomed, and in many cases, essential.

    A Black Tudor presence is first explicitly noticed shortly after the arrival of Katherine of Aragon in England for her wedding to Prince Arthur, around the turn of the 16th century. The Spanish princess brought her own servants across the Channel, which included a woman of a Muslim Moorish background named Catalina, whose duty included making the future queen’s bed. Perhaps more famously is the arrival of a trumpeter to the Tudor court who became known, ironically one imagines, as John Blanke, a man who would serve both Henry VII and Henry VIII with distinction, and for which he was handsomely rewarded. Henry VIII even footed the bill for Blanke’s wedding, ordering a gown of violet cloth, a bonnet and a hat as a gift for ‘our trumpeter’

    For even the most ardent of Tudor readers and students, there will be much within Black Tudors that you simply didn’t know, and this is where the true value of this work can be found. Dr Kaufmann is not simply covering well-trodden ground, an issue which has often plagued the study of the sixteenth century, but instead is revealing information that most of her audience will be coming across for the first time. The results are astounding.

    Who knew, for example, that Africans were the predominant divers of their day, a fact which witnessed the recruitment of an African named Jacques Francis to try and salvage some items from the sunken Mary Rose in 1450s, over four hundred years before the ship was eventually raised from the sea bed. Sir Francis Drake was just one prominent figure of his day who employed a person of colour, in his case Diego, a freed slave from Panama who would go on to circumnavigate much of the globe with his English captain, often working as an interpreter.

    Of course, the history isn’t always joyous, as discovered by the tragic tale of Black Maria, a woman aboard one of Drake’s ships who was raped, impregnated and then abandoned on an island when she presumably had outlived her usefulness. We are also treated to the curious tale of a black porter named Edward Swarthye, who in 1596 in rural Gloucestershire was employed to whip a white member of the gentry named John Guye, perhaps an incident unfathomable to our preconceived ideas of enforced black subservience in the past. A particular entry which I thoroughly enjoyed reading involved the wonderfully-named Reasonable Blackman, who was able to take advantage of his freedom in England to become a successful silk weaver in Southwark, counting many wealthy aristocrats and merchants amongst his clientele.

    I was also astonished, more through my own ignorance of the subject as it was so poorly documented elsewhere before this book, that although black people existed as slaves in Spain, bought and sold on cathedral steps like inanimate objects, slavery was not recognised in England so that once these men and women arrived in England, they were considered free. For example, when Pero Alvarez, an African man who arrived in England from Portugal during the reign of Henry VII, he was instantly considered a free man, no longer subject to the shackles of slavery. The subject of slavery arose in an English court of law in 1569 when it was comprehensively determined that no man could be subject to slavery upon entering the kingdom, for ‘England has too pure an air for slaves to breath in’. Two decades later, William Harrison noted proudly;

    ‘as for slaves and bondmen, we have none; nay such is the privilege of our country by the especial grace of God and bounty of our princes, that if any come hither from other realms, so soon as they set foot on land they become as free in condition as their masters, whereby all note of servile bondage is utterly removed from them’

    The author is an expert in her field, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and an Oxford graduate, where her doctoral thesis was based on the presence of Africans in Britain between 1500 and 1640. The subject couldn’t be in safer hands. Dr Kaufmann’s research is impeccable, and has to be for such a detailed if specific study of those people who for so long have been disregarded by centuries of historians. She treats each of her subjects as individuals in their own right instead of just a community, exploring each life with a delicate warmth and respect that endears those individuals to the reader. We are gripped by their story.

    Black Tudors is essentially a fascinating and concise microhistory of a small but important community in 16th century living their everyday lives amidst the much greater socio-political matters occurring around them, from the Great Matter and Reformation of Henry VIII to the threat posed by Spain against Elizabeth I. This book has no filler, and is wholly focused on its objective, a heavily-researched, well-referenced and pioneering, production. At 34-pages, her bibliography is possibly the most exhaustive I have seen. Kaufmann succeeds in her project, and succeeds well.

    In her introduction, Dr Kaufmann notes ‘the misconceptions surrounding the status of Black Tudors are part of a wider impression that any African living outside Africa before the mid-fifteenth century, be it in Europe of the Americas must have been enslaved’, further pointing out in her conclusion that Africans were seen and heard across England, from Hull to Truro. This book will hopefully go some way to dispelling this misguided belief that many of us hold. Kaufmann also states confidently “for all those who thought they knew the Tudors, it is time to think again”. She’s right.

  • Jennybeast

    I have read several outstanding books about everyday Tudor lives recently, and I'm delighted to add this one to my bookshelf. Solid and exhaustive research that makes excellent arguments not only for the presence of Africans in the everyday Tudor landscape but also their status as free persons who were ordinary members of the community. I also particularly love that each chapter is devoted to a person of a different social standing, so in addition to presenting the breadth of diversity in circum

    I have read several outstanding books about everyday Tudor lives recently, and I'm delighted to add this one to my bookshelf. Solid and exhaustive research that makes excellent arguments not only for the presence of Africans in the everyday Tudor landscape but also their status as free persons who were ordinary members of the community. I also particularly love that each chapter is devoted to a person of a different social standing, so in addition to presenting the breadth of diversity in circumstances that the different subjects enjoyed, we also get a slice of many different sorts of Tudor lives.

    Kaufmann also does an excellent job modeling how one researches very specific subjects, and how much information can (and cannot) be inferred from something as brief as a will or a baptismal record. Her contextualization of the information she presents is a real pleasure to read.

    Advanced Reader's Copy provided by Edelweiss.

  • Irene Headley

    I am somewhat conflicted about this book. It was absolutely fascinating. The information was great, and I enjoyed a lot of the little details, especially the ones about the court records.

    HOWEVER.

    Firstly, once you get into the 1620s, I am not really sure you can call them 'Black Tudors'. Admittedly, 'Black Tudors and Early Stuarts' does not work as well.

    Secondly, some of her connections got a bit tenuous. My eyebrows raised a bit when she constructed a past for Cattelina of Almondsbury entirely o

    I am somewhat conflicted about this book. It was absolutely fascinating. The information was great, and I enjoyed a lot of the little details, especially the ones about the court records.

    HOWEVER.

    Firstly, once you get into the 1620s, I am not really sure you can call them 'Black Tudors'. Admittedly, 'Black Tudors and Early Stuarts' does not work as well.

    Secondly, some of her connections got a bit tenuous. My eyebrows raised a bit when she constructed a past for Cattelina of Almondsbury entirely out of whole cloth, and when she went from a discussion of Annie Cobbie to a discussion of abandoned babies.

    the abandoned baby found shortly after the trial of Anne Cobbie's employers have been Anne Cobbie's child? Yes. But we have absolutely no evidence that it was.

    Lastly, I had real issues with the way she began each chapter, with a series of paragraphs putting the reader into the mind of the subjects. We don't know what any of them were thinking, or saying. Not John Blanke-- certainly not Anne Cobbie, who is depicted as putting on skin cream and thinking about how her soft skin is what her customers like, and not Cattelina of Almondsbury, who is milking a cow and thinking about being black, and how strange that is. Given the very little information we have about them, I can understand the temptation to create a narrative around them. I just don't think the author

    . It would have been, I think, an equally interesting book had it been structured differently, perhaps around themes, and not people forced to exemplify those themes.

    So, I recommend it, but with those caveats.

  • Leanda Lisle

    I will hold back, for now, on the Scottish trumpeteer who worked in international espionage, and the ecstatic user of a Tudor dildo, who ‘With Oh, and Oh.. itching moves her hips/And to and fro full lightly starts and skips ’. Suffice it to say that any fears that Kauffamn’s that Black Tudors may prove worthy, but dull, are unfounded.

    There is an assumption, Kaufmann believes, that all Africans in British history have been enslaved victims and that the Caribbean slave trade was ‘almost inevitabl

    I will hold back, for now, on the Scottish trumpeteer who worked in international espionage, and the ecstatic user of a Tudor dildo, who ‘With Oh, and Oh.. itching moves her hips/And to and fro full lightly starts and skips ’. Suffice it to say that any fears that Kauffamn’s that Black Tudors may prove worthy, but dull, are unfounded.

    There is an assumption, Kaufmann believes, that all Africans in British history have been enslaved victims and that the Caribbean slave trade was ‘almost inevitable’ – ie depressingly predictable. Black Tudors opens, however, at a time when British involvement in the African slave trade was largely north to south, with us as the slaves.

    The coastal villages of Tudor England and Ireland were raided regularly for the slave markets of North Africa. Indeed, this trade was still going on in the Caroline period when our trade in West-African slaves to the Caribbean and North America began.

    While there were thousands of white slaves in Africa, those few black Africans who ended up in England were free, and it is their rich and emblematic stories as Afro-Tudors – and Stuarts - that Kaufmann tells. Each, from a retired pirate, to an African prince, are introduced with a little piece of fiction; a few paragraphs, written in italic, in which they are imagined expressing their thoughts at a particular point in their lives. But this fiction is kept quite separate from the history.

    The subjects of biographies can take over an author’s imagination. Weaker historians give way to this and express what they feel were their subjects’ thoughts at particular moments. Kaufmann never does this. The biographical material she has is thin – sometimes very thin. A Jacobean Gloucestershire villager left no record beyond the probate list of what she had owned at the time of her death. Yet Kaufman brings her subjects to brilliant life by using only the proper tools of the historian: empathy tethered to fact and context. The fictional passages are simply a charming and novel introduction to their real world.

    The names of Kaufman’s black Tudors reflect European empire building, baptism, blunt description of their colouring, the popularity of nicknames and the English fondness for puns: they include the Latin sounding Cattelena of Almondsbury, an Edward Sawrthye, the silk weaver Reasonable Blackman, and John Blanke (as in the French ‘blanc’). This last was a trumpeter at the court of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, performing at his funeral, and then, in a scarlet livery, at the coronation of Henry VIII.

    Several other black Tudors appear at key historical moments – diving for salvage after the sinking of Henry VIII’s great battle ship the Mary-Rose, or accompanying Francis Drake as he set out on his circumnavigation of the world.

    Kaufman’s suggestion that Blanke may have come to England in the train of Katherine of Aragon, or on the ship-wreck of Juana of Castile and Philip the handsome, opens her introduction to the Spanish slave trade, which began with their conquest of the New World, and to the courts of the first Tudor kings. Kaufman thus frames the wider history of the period, before adding the details that allow her subjects to take shape.

    John Blanke is the only Black Tudor to have a portrait – so we can see he wasn’t blanc at all. It appears in a Westminster Tournament roll with Blanke mounted on a horse and playing what we would now call a cavalry trumpet. But it is his demand to Henry VIII for a pay that makes him more immediate and real: ‘his wage now and as yet is not sufficient to maintain and keep him to do you Grace like service as other trumpets do’. Henry VIII’s was a talented and knowledgeable musician and it seems he appreciated the services of Blanke, whose money was doubled.

    Kauffman then considers what Blanc needed his money for: the costs of travelling with the court, and the English love of fine clothes. Henry VIII later paid for Blanke wedding outfit, a gown of violet cloth furred with black lamb (violent was a favorite colour for weddings), and the gifts of a hat and a bonnet.

    Trumpeters like John Blanc were not only present at major state occasions. They also acted as messengers and were supposed to enjoy diplomatic immunity that allowed them free passage through enemy territory. This made them useful as spies – something I had never considered. In 1560 the Duke of Norfolk complained to William Cecil of the arrival of a trumpeter from Scotland carrying letters, ‘but more to spy than otherwise’.

    Kauffman is struck too by the sheer ordinariness of the lives of her black Tudors (and Stuarts). It did not seem remarkable then, as it would have done two centuries later, to see the black porter Edward Swarthye beat the educated white manager of an iron works on their employer’s orders. Porters were, essentially, security guards, and he was doing his job as any other English porter might.

    The story of the dildo comes as background to the life of one of only two women featured: the ‘tawny’ prostitute Anne Cobbie. Black prostitutes were rare. More black men visited white prostitutes than the other way round and Cobbie’s striking ‘soft skin’ earned her a high price. Kauffman describes the rich clothes worn by such high class tarts, and it is a client’s description of a visit to one such that includes the passage on the dildo (‘stiff as steel’ and used ‘with many a sigh’).

    But this, Kauffman points out, was written for what Pepys called ‘one hand reading’, and a prostitutes expected fate was to be left, by the age of thirty fiver, ‘fitter to furnish a hospital than to garnish a bedchamber’.

    I was glad of a happier ending to Black Tudors: Kauffman’s last little biography of a Gloucestershire villager and her cow. People named their cows, and Kauffman set the scene so well I had happy day dreams of independent single women like her Cattelina and their animals, Brown Snout, Lovely and Welcome Home.

    And there is something moving in finding black Englishmen and women simply pottering around Tudor and Stuart England. A shared past can unite us and it is a worthy achievement – in the best way – to unearth such a past and do it so well. Black Tudors is light as a feather, yet well informed and informative: an absolute joy.

    An edited version of this review appeared in The Times Leanda de Lisle is the author of Tudor: the Family Story

  • Petra Eggs

    There are 13 other reviews of this book, which isn't published yet, so all of us read freebies or arcs. Everyone else 4 or 5 starred it. 5 reviewers 'forgot' to mention it was a freebie which are provided in exchange for a review usually. I used to write to GR about this as it is a legal requirement in the US but generally GR didn't do anything at all and the reviewers continued blithely on not letting anyone know they got loads of books for free and reviewed them all 4 or 5 stars. That might be

    There are 13 other reviews of this book, which isn't published yet, so all of us read freebies or arcs. Everyone else 4 or 5 starred it. 5 reviewers 'forgot' to mention it was a freebie which are provided in exchange for a review usually. I used to write to GR about this as it is a legal requirement in the US but generally GR didn't do anything at all and the reviewers continued blithely on not letting anyone know they got loads of books for free and reviewed them all 4 or 5 stars. That might be good for marketing and the authors' egos, but good for readers who want an objective opinion before spending their hard-earned money?

    ______

    DNF. I'd just finished

    and was all fired up to read more about those usually invisible to (overwhelming male) historians, not just women but people of other races. It might even be a good book, from some aspects, but it wasn't an enjoyable one, it was boring to the extreme. Dry, dry, dry. You know when you are reading and you can't remember what you just read and that happens repeatedly? That's when it's time to admit defeat from turgid prose and look for something that holds your attention.

    What I got from the little I read, about a quarter of the book, was that Blacks in Italy and Spain were slaves and being property had no rights. This was abhorrent to the UK and apart from a few brought in for private households, there was never slavery in Great Britain. So any Black reaching the UK, no matter how, even if as a slave, should s/he escape, s/he was free. (Later, in 18th C London there was a 'law' that any slave who escaped and stayed free for three weeks became a free man. The law didn't exist, but the mob did, and the rule of the mob prevailed).

    Henry VIII who loved music and was an accomplished musician had a great favourite in a trumpeter, John Blanke, who wrote a letter that survives, to the king asking for a pay rise.

    From Roman times there were always black people in Britain, they just got ignored by historians. There is a short article on blacks in Tudor times

    . It ends with Queen Elizabeth I trying unsuccessfully to expel them from the UK.

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