A single woman in rural England
Cattelena of Almondsbury sold butter and milk from her most prized possession, a cow
Cattelena was an independent, unmarried “singlewoman” who lived in the small Gloucestershire village of Almondsbury, not far from Bristol, until her death in 1625. Her Hispanic-sounding name suggests that, like many others, she had arrived in England via the Spanish or Portuguese-speaking worlds. She may have originally come to Almondsbury via Bristol or as a servant to one of the local gentry families, such as the Chester family of nearby Knole Park.
Cattelena was one of a number of Africans living in rural England. Parish registers record the baptisms and burials of Africans, or the children of Africans, in villages in Cornwall, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Kent, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Suffolk and Wiltshire. The earliest of these is the burial of “Thomas Bull, niger” in Eydon, Northamptonshire in 1545.
An inventory survives of the goods Cattelena owned. These included bedding, pots and pans, a pewter candlestick, a tin bottle, a dozen spoons, clothing and a coffer. Her most valuable possession was a cow, which not only supplied her with milk and butter but allowed her to profit from selling these products to her neighbours. No furniture is listed, which suggests she may have shared her home, perhaps with Helen Ford, the widow who administered her estate.
Cattelena’s possessions – from her cooking utensils to her table cloth – each tell us something of her life. But the fact that she had them at all tells us even more. Africans in England were not owned, but themselves possessed property.
EVENT Miranda Kaufmann is discussing black Tudors at BBC History Magazine’s History Weekend in York. historyweekend.com
ON THE PODCAST
Miranda Kaufmann discusses Africans’ role in Tudor voyages of discovery on our podcast historyextra.com/podcast/ african-history-special BBC History Magazine