Sunday, 24 January 2021

A Black trumpeter at the Court of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII

My eye chanced the other day upon a note by Richard Littlejohn in his column in the Mail Online about a man I had heard of before, John Blanke, and his possible link to a public house in Peterborough called the Black Boy and Trumpet. 

John Blanke is thought to have arrived in England in the retinue of Katherine of Aragon in 1501 and as a royal trumpeter in 1507 successfully petitioned for a promotion and a very substantial pay rise from 8d to 16d a day. He is believed to have played at the coronation of King Henry VIII in 1509 and is shown at the tournament celebrating the birth of the King and Queen’s short-lived son Henry in 1511. 

Extract from the Westminster Tournament Roll almost certainly showing John Blanke, the only figure wearing an green and gold turban. It is interesting to note that the artist having carefully depicted Blanke’s face and distinctive turban forgot and gave him a white right hand.

He is known to have married at Greenwich in 1512 but then disappears from the historic record. There is more about him in a handsomely illustrated piece on the Historic Royal Palaces website at John Blanke and on Wikipedia at John Blanke This has a useful bibliography for background on his life and times. 

I wonder if the trumpeter’s original surname was the Spanish one of Blanco. Several families of those who served Queen Katherine  seem to have established themselves in England.

This led me to another MailOnline article from 2018 about the lives of people who were African born or of African descent in sixteenth century England which can be read at Black Tudors of England: How early immigrants were treated as equalsThe stories revealed offer remarkable insights into their lives and those of those around them. Indeed they are seemingly stranger than fiction - and historical fiction at that. 

The reference in it to the Mary Rose salvage operation reminds me of a report in, I think, The Times, a while back about an analysis of the bones of some of the crew members of the Mary Rose from 1545 which showed that this was a varied group. By no means were all English, and one appeared to be partly of  North African origin. Sailors for the King’s ships, and doubtless those of his subjects,   appear to have been recruited from a much wider area than the English port towns and their hinterland. Henrician and Elizabethan England was, to use the fashionable term, perhaps more diverse in its population than we might expect.

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