Thursday, April 30, 2015

Who's That (Black) Girl?

Continuing our series on black folks in Tudor England, let's head a bit further north and a wee bit further back in time to the court of King James IV of Scotland. This poor bastard was easily the best of the Stewart kings of Scotland, and the last to die in battle when he invaded Northumberland and was killed by the forces of Henry VIII.

James IV matters to us here because of a particular incident that captured my imagination when I heard about it. It seems that in 1507, King James jousted for the honor of a lady, one of the black women of his court. We don't know her name, but we know that he spent more than 25 pounds of silver on a dress for her: gold-flowered damask decked out in taffeta. That's quite a dress, better than most ladies at court could afford. We know she had attendants and servants, too, because they all got nice dresses for the occasion. I guess it shows what was most important to court record-keepers, because we know how much her dress cost and what it was made of, but the lady's name is lost to history.

Who was this mysterious black lady? Why was she so important to King James that he'd bestow fine gifts upon her and joust in her honor? It was a big deal for a simple knight to joust for a lady's honor, so for the king himself to do it, we can infer this lady was extremely important to him.

Of course, I have my theories. Who's to say James didn't enjoy a bit of brown sugar from time to time?

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