Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

A Muslim girl at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I

I found this story from the website MyLondon by chance about a Muslim girl, probably a Tartar, who apparently spent most of her life at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I.

These days there is quite a bit of academic interest in immigrant figures in sixteenth century England, including some of the men on the ‘Mary Rose’, and especially there is interest in non-Europeans in that society. Some of these lives are retold in Miranda Kaufmann’s book Black Tudors. There may not have ever been very many such individuals, but that in a way adds to the interest of their lives.

I wrote about the life of John Blanke the royal trumpeter in my post about him from last January at A Black trumpeter at the Court of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII

The subject of this article Aura Soltana, or Anna as she was baptised is perhaps reminiscent of the much better known Pocahontas in the reign of King James I.

The article on Aura Soltana can be seen at 

Aura, or Anna’s, story and that of Anthony Jenkinson is one that might be out of historical fiction rather than lived experience, but then that is true if so many stories from the past. Current obsessions might lead some to denounce the situation as one of trafficking in people. Bringing modern perspectives to bear is usually unwise in such situations from the relatively distant, or different, past. One can imagine that Aura was lucky in being bought by Jenkinson and not an other man, and that her life may well have been more eventful, happier even, that it would have been on the shores of the Caspian. In that she has some similarities to the story of St Josephine Bakhita in the nineteenth century.

The Elizabethan trade with the Ottomans and thus breaching the embargo on trade with Muslims is discussed by the always informed and watchable Dr Kat in her video Dr Kat and the Elizabethan Trade in "Bell Metal"

The painting referred to in the article by Gheerhaerts of A Persian Lady is in the Royal Collection and there had been not a little speculation about it and its significance or symbolism. Dated to 1590-1600 it may simply be a portrait of an Englishwoman in Persian dress, a depiction of Persian costume or it may be a piece of complex symbolism, with the woman showing a resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I herself. It may in any case be a tribute to Aura’s influence  upon Court fashions.

File:Gheeraerts Unknown Woman.jpg

Image: Wikimedia / Royal Collection

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