Bridgetower, George A. P.
Chapman Nyaho, William H.
Dworkin, Aaron Paul
Wiggins, Thomas "Blind Tom"
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Musicians -> Blanke, John
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
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
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:
Miranda Kaufmann studied History at Christ Church,
Oxford, where she recently completed her doctoral thesis
on 'Africans in Britain, 1500-1640'.
September 25, 2014 Miranda Kaufmann wrote that John
Blanke is now included in the Oxford Dictionary of
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.
As 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."
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on John Blanke is
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
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
The online entry on John Blanke begins:
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
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
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.
The people depicted on the roll include six trumpeters.
The entry explains:
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
Kaufmann writes of two major royal ceremonies in which
the trumpeter John Blanke participated:
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.
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:
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
Kaufmann adds interesting details of the earnings of
John Blanke during the Tournament, and of his wedding in
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
March 5, 2022