Home African Caribbean People Of African Descent In Tudor Times Part I

People Of African Descent In Tudor Times Part I

by Scherin Barlow
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Anthropologist contributor, Scherin Barlow Massay

When writing about black people in England, historians are quick to point out that the mass influx of Afrikan-Caribbean people began in 1948, with the arrival of the Empire Windrush. However, people of Afrikan descent have a largely undocumented history of living in England and Scotland since the Roman invasion of AD 43, when they came as soldiers.

Centuries later, beginning in 1492, another influx of Afrikan people came into the British Isles. Between 1492 and 1601, over three million Moors, either left or were expelled from southern Spain. The majority of Moors, who had conquered Spain in 711, went to the Maghreb; while about 20,000 remained in the territories of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. Some also came to Britain, not as slaves but as free people and were living in England before the slave trade began.

But who were the Moors and why does there seem to be such ambiguity about their identity?  In her book Moorish Towns in Spain, English writer Cecilia Hill asks this question: “Why were they so hated? Why did the Spaniards, which with the passage of centuries they had learnt all that the Moors could teach them, strive with an ever increasing animosity to drive them out: first from Toledo; then, after a long interval, from Cordova and Seville, finally, after two more centuries of struggle, from their last fort, Granada? It was inevitable. It was instinctive. The Moors were a coloured race, and their occupation of a European country was an insult.  They were Heathens  [i.e. non Christians],  and to suffer them was an offense before God. They were invaders, and they had no right to be in Spain. They occupied a valuable strip of seaboard, and might assist a further invasion from Africa. They were an obstacle to national unity and hampered participation in the affairs of Europe. They were an irritating anachronism. They were a thorn in the flesh.”

The Tudor period (1485-1603) was a significant time for black settlement in England.  In 1501, Katherine of Aragon arrived in England to marry Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII. Her entourage of sixty people included, John Blanke and Catalina de Cardones, as well as other Black Moors (described by Sir Thomas More, as “barefoot pygmy Ethiopians”), who were her attendants in Spain and also at the royal palaces in England. John Blanke was on the payroll of both Henry VII and Henry VIII and was given the prestigious roles of playing at the funeral of Henry VII and also at the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509. While working for the royal household he also received a clothing allowance, but petitioned Henry VIII for a pay-rise because he was not paid the same amount as the other trumpeters. He asked for his pay to be doubled to sixteen pence a day; in line with the other musicians, and also that it be backdated. Henry VIII granted his petition, and when John married in 1512, the King gave him a violet gown and two hats as wedding presents.

No further records of John Blanke exist after 1514. Catalina de Cardones was Katherine of Aragon’s personal attendant and served as Lady of the Bedchamber for more than 26 years. This was a prestigious and intimate role, making her closest to the queen at all times as a Lady-in-Waiting.  Later Catalina married a crossbow maker who was also of Moorish origins. When Henry VIII wanted his marriage from Katherine of Aragon annulled,  Katherine, in her defense, called Catalina (in her role as Lady of the Bedchamber) to substantiate her claims that her marriage with Prince Arthur had not been consummated, therefore, there were no grounds for an annulment.

Scherin Barlow

Scherin Barlow

Guyanese born, Scherin Barlow Massay, is a writer, educator, poet and artist. She studied applied human science at university and later Caribbean studies at Goldsmiths’ University of London. She has lectured on various subjects and ran courses in socio-linguistics. She recently conducted research for a London museum that is now part of the KS3 programme throughout the British Isles. She was an editor for a quarterly university journal, and has edited books for other writers. Her approach to writing is to keep it simple, keep it factual and keep it relevant to the audience. She is a keen photographer and her photographs have been used on the front cover and within books.


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1 comment

Urlene August 8, 2022 - 8:09 pm

Found the article really good and very well written you can tell she did her research also being able to listen to the article was fantastic


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