The pros­per­ous silk weaver

Rea­son­able Black­man made a good liv­ing from a boom­ing new in­dus­try

BBC History Magazine - - Black Tudors -

Rea­son­able Black­man was a silk weaver based, by the end of the 1570s, in El­iz­a­bethan South­wark. He had prob­a­bly ar­rived in Lon­don from An­twerp in the Nether­lands, which had a size­able African pop­u­la­tion and was a known cen­tre for cloth man­u­fac­ture. Around 50,000 refugees fled to Eng­land from the south­ern Nether­lands be­tween 1550 and 1585, as war raged be­tween Dutch rebels and Span­ish forces oc­cu­py­ing their coun­try.

Black­man had a fam­ily of at least three chil­dren, named Ed­ward, Ed­mund and Jane, and as none of them were recorded as bas­tards in the par­ish reg­is­ter, we can as­sume he was mar­ried to their mother, about whom we sadly know noth­ing. As with John Blanke’s wife, how­ever, she was prob­a­bly an English­woman.

That Black­man was able to sup­port a fam­ily is a sign of his pros­per­ity as a silk weaver (in fact, he may have named him­self Rea­son­able in or­der to draw at­ten­tion to his ‘rea­son­able’ prices). The silk in­dus­try was new to Eng­land and its prod­ucts were the height of fash­ion. Once Queen El­iz­a­beth I re­ceived her first pair of silk stock­ings in the early 1560s, she con­cluded: “I like silk stock­ings well; they are pleas­ant, fine and del­i­cate. Hence­forth I shall wear no more cloth stock­ings.” The queen’s courtiers fol­lowed suit, and such was the de­mand that im­ports of raw silk in­creased five-fold be­tween 1560 and 1593.

Tragedy struck the Black­man fam­ily in Oc­to­ber 1592 when his daugh­ter, Jane, and one of his sons, Ed­mund, died of the plague that struck Lon­don that year.

Noth­ing more is known of Black­man after the death of his chil­dren, but there is a tan­ta­lis­ing record that sug­gests his son Ed­ward car­ried on his fa­ther’s trade. On 6 March 1614, when Ed­ward Black­man would have been 27, a cer­tain “Ed­ward Blake­more of Mile End, silk­weaver” was mar­ried in Step­ney.

BBC His­tory Mag­a­zine

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