Book Review: Black Tudors

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A little while ago, I wrote a post in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing that if we taught the history of all cultures and people in Britain much more widely, it could help break down barriers, misinformation and encourage people to live together more peacefully in the future.

Black Tudors, a book by Miranda Kaufmann, does exactly that. 

Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash

If you believed hours of modern historical film footage, the paintings of Holbein and the average romantic historical novel, you'd probably assume that there were no black people living in England before the mid 1600s. But there were. And they didn't just live here, they lived amongst their fellow townspeople as equals. The author convincingly argues for a mixed race Tudor era in England that had their own freedom, legal powers and ran their own businesses. 

And despite in many cases the only evidence that they existed was a scrawled entry in a baptism register or inventory, the author has managed in each case to flesh out their lives as much as possible. She has researched suggestions on how each person in the book came to England and where they were born. We have them working, often becoming self employed. They married and settled and had children. Some sailed with Drake and Raleigh and helped negotiate trade deals all over the world. One was a very accomplished and respected court trumpeter to Henry VII and Henry VIII. Another rescued weaponry from the silty bed of the Solent from the Mary Rose. We also get a peek at the wider picture - the treaties, the wars and the squabbles between leaders - that influenced their journey to England.

One of the things that struck me most were local people's attitudes to settlers from Africa to England at this time. It seems that they were very much integrated into everyday life with baptisms, weddings to locals and also notoriety for the quality of their work. Just like anyone else, they demanded more pay (John Blancke), gave evidence in court (Jacques Francis) and ran their own, independent businesses (Reasonable Blackman, Mary Fillis and Annie Cobbie). As the author writes, "anyone who assumes that all Africans in British History have been powerless, enslaved victims must be challenged." She argues that the slave trade with England did not happen until the mid-1600s, simply because Tudor adventurers were more interested in the spices and gold Africa could offer than any human commodity.

I loved this book. I knew that Tudors of different backgrounds and races were out there. I'm just so grateful for Miranda Kaufman for sifting through the archives to find not only the main people mentioned in their respective chapters, but also others that played a part in their journeys too. We absolutely need to study history as a whole - not the airbrushed kind - and it's important to place the contributions of Reasonable Blackman, John Blancke and Dederi Jaquoah alongside any other Tudor from that age. 

I bought my copy of Black Tudors from Amazon, as a Kindle copy - it's also available in paperback.  


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