Henry VIII’s “black trum­pet”

The Tu­dor king lav­ished gifts on his long-serv­ing mu­si­cian John Blanke

BBC History Magazine - - Black Tudors -

The pop­u­lar per­cep­tion that peo­ple of African ori­gin first ar­rived in Eng­land aboard the Em­pire Win­drush in 1948 is mis­placed – by at least 400 years. Scores of black men and women set up home in Eng­land as early as the 16th cen­tury – many ar­riv­ing from Ibe­ria, as the Span­ish and Por­tuguese laid claim to swathes of Africa.

Africans could be found in the houses of prom­i­nent Tu­dors, such as Robert Dud­ley and Fran­cis Drake, and in the royal court. Un­for­tu­nately, we have a por­trait of just one. His name was John Blanke, and he can be seen (above) in the West­min­ster Tour­na­ment Roll of 1511, sound­ing his trum­pet at the fes­tiv­i­ties mark­ing the birth of a short-lived son to Henry VIII and Cather­ine of Aragon.

Blanke also per­formed at Henry VII’s fu­neral and Henry VIII’s corona­tion (both 1509), ply­ing his trade at the English court from at least 1507.

He may have sailed to Eng­land with the Span­ish princess Cather­ine of Aragon in 1501, when she came over to marry Henry VIII’s older brother, Prince Arthur. While many of the Africans in Spain were en­slaved, Blanke – like all Africans in Eng­land – was a free man. He re­ceived 8d a day from Henry VII (twice the fig­ure most ser­vants would ex­pect to earn), be­fore suc­cess­fully pe­ti­tion­ing Henry VIII for a pay rise, dou­bling his wages to 16d.

An­other in­di­ca­tor of Blanke’s free sta­tus is the fact that he mar­ried in Jan­uary 1512. Henry VIII showed his es­teem for his “black trum­pet” by giv­ing him a gen­er­ous wed­ding present: a gown of vi­o­let cloth, a bon­net and a hat.

The war­rant de­scrib­ing the king’s gift is the last men­tion of Blanke in the records. Per­haps he died in the fire that struck the Palace of West­min­ster in 1512, or at one of the two bat­tles fought in 1513: at Spurs and Flod­den.

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