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Home -> Musicians -> Blanke, John

John Blanke  (16th C.)

Afro-British Trumpeter for King Henry VIII


Table of Contents

        1 Black People in Britain 
        2 Miranda Kaufmann
        3 National Biography
        4 Continuous Presence
        5 Deportation Decree
        6 Black Trumpeter
        7 Tournament Roll 
        8 Trumpeters
        9 Royal Ceremonies 
      10 Completion of Roll
      11 Wages and Wedding 

John Blanke
Trumpeter in the Court of King Henry VIII
Westminster Tournament, 1511
(National Archives, United Kingdom)


1 Black People in Britain

Historians have documented the arrival of Black people in Britain as members of the Roman Army.  Before the Black Victorians 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.

2 Miranda Kaufmann
Dr. Miranda Kaufmann wrote her doctoral thesis on the subject of people of African descent who lived in Britain during the period of John Blanke's career.  Her blog at MirandaKaufmann.com tells us:

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann studied History at Christ Church, Oxford, where she recently completed her doctoral thesis on 'Africans in Britain, 1500-1640'. 

On September 25, 2014 Miranda Kaufmann wrote that John Blanke is now included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

I'm delighted to report that John Blanke, the African trumpeter at the Tudor court, has now taken his rightful place in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography! He is one of 119 new entries this September. 

ODNB editor Henry Summerson writes on the OUP blog, Blanke's "fanfares enlivened the early Tudor court and [his] portrait image is the only identifiable likeness of a black person in sixteenth-century British art." 

3 National Biography
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on John Blanke is found at:
http://www.oxforddnb.com/public/dnb/107145.html  Here is an excerpt:

Blanke, John (fl. 1507–1512), royal trumpeter, was employed as a musician at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII, making his first recorded appearance there in 1507. He is thought to have been of African descent, but his age, place of birth, and parentage are unknown. His surname may have originated as a nickname, derived from the word blanc in French or blanco in Spanish, both meaning ‘white’. Blanke was part of a wider trend for European rulers to employ African musicians, dating from at least 1194, when turbaned black trumpeters heralded the entry of the Holy Roman emperor Henry VI into Palermo in Sicily.


4 Continuous Presence
Before the Black Victorians reports that individuals were subsequently brought to Britain from Africa at various times. It describes the first continuous presence of Black people in Britain:                

Historians give 1555 as the beginning of a continuous Black presence in Britain, when five Africans were brought to England from Shama on the West African coast - modern Ghana - by John Lok, a London merchant, who hoped that by teaching them English he might facilitate trade with the Gold Coast.

5 Deportation Decree
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.

6 Black Trumpeter
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, at:
The online entry on John Blanke begins:                     

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.  Dr. Miranda Kaufmann

7 Tournament Roll
Henry VIII ordered the creation of a pictorial tapestry of the Westminster Tournament, The Westminster Tournament Roll.  The National Archives entry gives a description:                  

It is a pictorial illuminated manuscript, a continuous roll approximately 60 feet long. It is a narrative of the beginning, middle and end of the tournament, which took place over two days.

8 Trumpeters
The people depicted on the roll include six trumpeters.  The entry explains:                   

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

9 Royal Ceremonies
Dr. Miranda Kaufmann writes of two major royal ceremonies in which the trumpeter John Blanke participated:

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.

10 Completion of Roll
Dr. Kaufmann raises the issue of whether the Tournament Roll was completed in the short time prior to the death of the infant prince:

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?

11 Wages and Wedding
Dr. Miranda Kaufmann adds interesting details of the earnings of John Blanke during the Tournament, and of his wedding in 1512:

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!


This page was last updated on March 5, 2022

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