An intriguing history of Africans in Tudor England.
Kaufmann (Senior Research Fellow/Institute for Commonwealth Studies, Univ. of London) presents the stories of 10 African men and women engaged in a variety of occupations, from trumpeter to trader. The author argues that the common perception that all Africans were enslaved by the British is erroneous and that Renaissance England had many free Africans who were part of the social fabric. “Despite the insatiable appetite for all things Tudor, from raunchy television series to bath ducks modelled as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn,” she writes, “the existence of the Black Tudors is little known.” Through meticulous archival research, Kaufmann creates compelling portraits of her subjects, including a trumpet player at Henry VIII’s court, a salvage diver, a circumnavigator, a porter, a silk weaver, a Moroccan convert, a prince involved in trade negotiations, a mariner, a woman involved in sex work, and an independent single woman. Since they left few documents behind, Kaufmann pieces together their histories from church records, references in various documents by influential Englishmen, literary works, paintings, and other sources. Each story is anchored in the social and political history of the time. Thus, readers learn much about Henry VIII’s courtiers; West African deep-sea divers, who used no diving equipment but could reach sunken ships to retrieve goods; Francis Drake and his treacherous ways; prostitution in Tudor and Stuart England; and the processes of silk weaving and dairy farming. The narrative is engaging, and the author’s argument about how Africans were generally accepted in Tudor England is persuasive. She provides a wealth of detail and only occasionally gets lost in minutiae, making the book a highly instructive history of an understudied part of Tudor society
An eminently readable book that offers contemporary readers valuable insights into racial relations of centuries past.