Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"John Blanke, the Blacke Trumpeter"

More about black folks in Tudor England...

One of the best types of evidence we have for black people at court is visual. Financial records are at least a little ambiguous - after all, "Peter Negro" doesn't have to be a black man based on the name alone, and if someone was born in New Guinea that's just evidence they're black, not proof.

But check out this fine fellow:


That's a picture from the Westminster Tournament in England, 1511, celebrating that a boy was born to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife (the poor baby didn't make it). There's no ambiguity about this guy, who is clearly black. He's even wearing a turban. Records show this is "John Blanke, the Blacke Trumpeter" (his last name is probably either a mis-rendering of the word "black" or an ironic name based on the French blanc, or white). He earned eight pence a day for his efforts.

Most black people at court were, in fact, musicians. They had an important role as trumpeters and drummers in the military from Henry VIII all the way up through Waterloo, where there were some 400 black soldiers present among the English forces.

Some might opine that even today, it's something of a stereotype that black folks are naturally good at music or dancing. This relatively inoffensive cultural prejudice was probably shared by the Tudor English, and it clearly had an effect on the kinds of jobs black people did.

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