Monday, January 21, 2008

John Blanke (16th C.), Black Trumpeter for King Henry VIII

[John Blanke. Royal Trumpeter at Westminster Tournament, 1511 (Copyright British Broadcasting Corp.)]

Historians have documented the arrival of Black people in Britain as members of the Roman Army.
Before the Black Victorians is an excellent Black History resource which is part of Channel 4's "Black And Asian History Map" It recounts:

The first mention of a Black African in Britain in the historical record is at a Roman military settlement at Carlisle, in ca. 210 AD. Shortly after, in the years 253-58 AD, Hadrian's Wall on the Empire's northern frontier was guarded by a division raised in North Africa.”

The website recounts that individuals were subsequently brought to Britain from Africa at various times. It describes the first continuous presence of Black people in Britain as beginning in 1555, when 5 Africans were brought to England by a London merchant.

In 1596 Queen Elizabeth I proclaimed the number of "blackamoors", or people of African descent, excessive and ordered their expulsion, we are told in Before the Black Victorians. The Queen's own employment of a Black entertainer and a Black page are said to have undermined the deportation effort, and it ultimately failed.

Black Presence is an online feature of The National Archives of the United Kingdom, in partnership with the Black and Asian Studies Association. It includes an entry entitled John Blanke, Black Trumpeter:

It appears that John Blanke, a Black trumpeter, was a regular musician at the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII. Musicians' payments were noted in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber, who was responsible for paying the wages. There are several payments recorded to a 'John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter'. This trumpeter was paid 8d [8 pence] a day, first by Henry VII and then from 1509 by Henry VIII.”

We learn from the archives that a son was born to Henry VIII and his wife, Catherine of Aragon, on January 1, 1511. Tradition called for a major celebration of a royal birth, so the King held the two-day Tournament of Westminster later that year:

“Among the latter is a Black man. He appears twice on the Roll: once on the way from the court and again on the way back. According to the historian Sydney Anglo, he is almost certainly John Blanke, the 'blacke trumpeter' mentioned in the Treasurer's accounts.

Henry VIII's tournament was a costly extravaganza, and here we find a Black man included in one of the most magnificent pageants of his time, dressed formally as a mounted musician, perhaps also belonging to the equestrian corps of the court.”

John Blanke is one of the Musicians of African Descent who are profiled at

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