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Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann reviewed by Robin Rowles. Both are Members of London Historians.

black tudorsBlack Tudors is quite simply, a revelation. Miranda Kaufmann’s book, very recently re-published in paperback, is a gloriously detailed examination of a little-known aspect of early modern history. In eight beautifully written chapters we hear about Jacque Francis, commissioned to undertake salvage operations recovering equipment from the Mary Rose – and an ambitious plan to raise and refloat the vessel. That didn’t happen until 1982 and the Mary Rose wasn’t refloated but became a star attraction at Portsmouth.  However, it was a big idea for the age. Another big idea was sailing around the world, something never before attempted by the English. Francis Drake achieved this feat between 1577 and 1580 and along the way acquired a black crewman, Diego, who earned his ‘ticket’ by alerting Drake’s crew to an ambush. The replica of Drake’s ship, the Golden Hinde, now sits in dry dock near Southwark Cathedral and to twenty-first century eyes, it’s a wonder the vessel ever went to sea, let alone sailed round the world.

This book is full of previously little-known characters who in their way, made their contribution to history, like John Blanke, the black trumpeter to both Henry VII and Henry VIII (the latter was more generous with salary, unsurprisingly). His image is captured in the Westminster Tournament Roll, in the College of Arms. This is both rare and informative. Whilst on duty, dressed in his ceremonial livery, John Blanke would have looked all but identical to his fellows. His external appearance almost hid the fact of his African origin. This is the nub of Dr Kaufmann’s book. There were many black people in early modern England, but references to them as black, is fleeting. Their stories, like that of Reasonable Blackman, the silk weaver of Southwark, have somehow been submerged in the sands of time. Thanks to Dr Kaufmann’s meticulous research and flowing prose, their narrative has been unearthed and restored to its rightful place in history.

john blanke 500

John Blanke, back row, middle.

Like all good histories, Dr Kaumann’s examination of minutiae is expertly woven into the larger backstory. The result feels like a splendid retelling of ‘known’ Tudor history, the insertion of the stories of black people into the larger narrative is somewhat overdue and very welcome addition to studies of the period.

Black Tudors has recently been re-published in paperback by Oneworld.


Robin Rowles, a long standing member of London Historians, is also a qualified City of London Guide and Sherlock Holmes enthusiast. 

 

 

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