Saturday, November 3, 2012

Miranda Kaufmann: For Royal Trumpeter John Blanke 'we know he married in 1512 and that Henry VIII gave him a wedding present!'

[John Blanke performing at Westminster Tournament in 1511.  He is featured at]

November 1, 2012

Last Tuesday, I headed for Peckham Library to give a talk billed as "African musicians and Renaissance royal celebrations".  This consisted of an exploration of what is known of the lives of John Blanke, pictured here playing at the Westminster Tournament of 1511, and the 'More taubronar', a drummer at the court of James IV of Scotland in the early 1500s. 

The  Southwark Council theme for this year's Black History Month was "Celebration" and in line with that, I showed the role these musicians played in royal celebrations.

John Blanke performed at Henry VIII's coronation in 1509, and in 1511 at the Westminster Tournament, a huge celebration organised in honour of the new prince, Henry. This child was born to Katherine of Aragon on 1st January 1511, but sadly died only ten days after the Tournament in February. I wonder if the 60 ft long Tournament Roll, (which depicts John Blanke twice, in the procession of people coming to and from the jousting event shown in the centre), was completed in that brief time, or whether they carried on painting it after the prince's death? The Royal Exchequer accounts show that Blanke was paid ten times his usual wage for the Tournament, so he had cause for celebration too! And the following year, he had a personal celebration, as we know he married in 1512 and that Henry VIII gave him a wedding present!

Up in Scotland, we find the More taubronar playing alongside four Italian minstrels at the court of James IV.  He might have sounded something like this. They travelled around Scotland with the court- and at one point the king bought him his own horse. Not just a drummer, the taubronar was also a skilled choreographer who devised a dance to celebrate Shrove Tuesday in 1505.  He was also paid wages and  was married, with a child. Though he seems to have been injured, possibly fatally in 1506: the royal payments to a doctor survive. Nor was he the only African at the Scottish court at that time- but that's another story.

Both men are part of a much longer tradition of black musicians in European royal courts - going back to at least 1194 when Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI was preceded by black trumpeters in his entry  into Palermo, Sicily (see below).  Valued for their skill and paid wages, we can still only guess at the daily details of these men's lives.

No comments: