Guest Blogpost: Tanya Rogers (@tanyaalex38) has been a Teacher of History since 2003, and is from Northwich, Cheshire. Tanya has worked at Hartford Church of England High School in Northwich and Priestnall School in Stockport. Tanya has been an assistant examiner for both OCR and Cambridge International GCSE. Tanya is passionate about teaching and learning, EduTwitter and finding new approaches to make her teaching innovative.
Think you know the Tudors? Think Again!
The Top 5 Facts on the Black Tudors
If like me you have been teaching history for a long time, you may think that you know everything there is to know about the Tudors. It is a staple topic that I have taught every year since I started my teaching career in 2002. But it has only been this year in 2020 that I have taught about the existence of the Black Tudors. This revelation that Tudors who were Black came about in two ways, the first through an email from a year 7 student and second through Edu Twitter. I will discuss the email first. The student emailed me to explain that he had been deeply moved by the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the murder of George Floyd. His parents had been educating him at home about Black History and in particular, as a family, they had been reading the book ‘The Black Tudors’ by Miranda Kaufmann.
The student in question was rightly angry that he has not been taught any black history in year 7 and would have to wait until year 8 to learn about Britain’s colonization of its Empire. I felt that I had let Nathanael down by omitting to include the Black Tudors in year 7’s home learning and in fact I felt that I had done a great disservice to the Tudors and students I had taught in the past by making early history so whitewashed. Therefore I decided to make amends and create a series of lessons to be delivered by Microsoft Teams. I asked the History community on Twitter where to start and I was pointed in the direction of Hannah Cusworth and again Miranda Kaufmann and her blog. This is what I have found out in the creation of the lessons and in the videos I have made on the Black Tudors for my YouTube channel ‘The Price Academy.’
BLACK TUDORS: FACT ONE
1. Did you know that Henry VIII had a royal trumpeter who was Black? He was called John Blanke and he came over to England with Catherine of Aragon from Spain in 1501. Blanke is depicted twice in the Westminster Tournament Roll of 1511 with other white trumpeters Henry employed. He is seen wearing a turban and the pigmentation of his skin is black. This is the first image of a Black person that has been recorded in England, which makes this piece of evidence significant. The tournament was being held in celebration of the birth of Henry and Catherine’s son Henry, Duke of Cornwall who sadly died after two months of being born. What else is remarkable about John Blanke is that he actually petitioned the King and asked for a pay rise! The petition states that the 6d a week John was being paid was not sufficient to keep him and finance his living. He also states that he was being paid less than the other trumpeters that were in Henry’s employment. The petition shows that Henry agreed to double John’s wages to 18d a week and his signature is present on the document. Further records show that John was given a wedding gift from Henry in 1512 but then disappears from the list of official trumpeters in 1514. What I find fascinating about John is how he had the boldness to petition the King and ask for the pay rise and demand equal rights amongst his fellow professionals.
BLACK TUDORS: FACT TWO
2. Did you know that Henry VIII employed a salvage diver to locate £2 million worth of weaponry from the sunken Mary Rose? He was called Jacques Francis, a free diver from Guinea who was employed by a Venetian called Peter Corsi to lead a team of divers to retrieve the valuable items at the bottom of the sea bed. Jacques was employed on the basis that he could hold his breath and dive deeper than Englishmen who were not very able swimmers. Jacques had trained from a young age to dive for pearls in his native homeland. What is interesting about this story is that Jacques was paid £50 to attempt to salvage the weaponry which is a considerably higher sum than what John Blanke was paid. He only managed to salvage the anchor and some cannonballs from the wreckage of the Mary Rose which sank in 1545. The other significant part to Jacques Francis' story is that he is the first Black person to testify in court. His master Peter Corsi had been accused of stealing tin from a shipwreck and Jacques gives evidence as a witness. We have evidence with Jacques signature present. The fact that Jacques was able to testify shows that he was considered a free man as slaves throughout History were not allowed to appear in court on the grounds that their owners would have manipulated their evidence.
BLACK TUDORS: FACT THREE
3. Did you know that Catherine of Aragon had a Black royal bed maker? She was called Catalina and came over to England with John Blanke in 1501 to be a member of Catherine’s royal household. Catherine was destined to marry Prince Arthur who was the heir to the Tudor throne. I have taught the story of Henry, Catherine and Arthur many times over but not once did I mention Catalina. Catalina is crucial to the age-old question of whether Catherine and Arthur consummated their marriage or not. Catalina as the royal bed maker would have been privy to such information; as it was her that changed the sheets and had to be present at any intimate moments. It was Catalina’s first-hand knowledge that the Queen and King were after when he desired to annul his marriage on the grounds it was never valid in the first place. Alas by this time Catalina had returned to Granada and had been married, widowed and produced two children to a Moorish crossbow maker called Ovida. What strikes me about this story is how different history could have been if only Catalina had been found and the information she had revealed – Henry might not have needed to set up the Church of England and Catherine could have remained Queen. Catalina knows the answer to the question all historians would love to know! Did Arthur and Catherine ever have sex or not?
BLACK TUDORS: FACT FOUR
4. Did you know that Francis Drake had a former Spanish slave from Panama who helped him circumnavigate the globe? He was called Diego and it is said that he ran up to Drake and his soldiers at the port of Nombres de Dios and offered inside information that the King of Spain had sent an army to defeat Drake and his men; Drake planned to raid the town in order to plunder the gold and silver on the island. Diego who was an escaped slave said he would be willing to be a contact with the Cimarron’s; these were former slaves from Africa who had escaped to the mountains in Panama. Diego said the Cimarron’s would make an alliance with the English but only if Drake offered him protection. What followed was an ingenious plan to attack the mule train carrying the gold and silver with the help of the Cimarron and the capture of booty worth over 150,000 pesos. Drake took Diego back to Plymouth with him and he lived for 4 years in England before Drake set sail on the Golden Hind on his circumnavigator of the globe and Diego was taken with him. From 1577 – 1579 Diego sailed the world with Drake, he was not only Drake’s manservant but he could act as a spy due to being able to speak fluent Spanish, a go-between with any escaped slaves like in Panama and also an interpreter. Diego sadly died from an arrow wound near the island of Moluccas in 1579, the year before Drake returned home and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Drake also received the Drake Jewel for his victory in Panama with the help of the Cimarron’s.
BLACK TUDORS: FACT FIVE
5. Did you know that Black Tudors were Christian? Mary Fillis was born in 1537 and was the daughter of a Moroccan basket weaver and shovel maker. She came over to England when she was aged 6 or 7 with a group of merchants. Mary worked for John Barker a merchant before becoming a seamstress for a lady called Millicent Porter who lived in East Smithfield. What is interesting about Mary is that there is a record of her baptism at age 20. Mary got baptised at St Botolph in Aldergate in June 1597 and there was a large gathering present at the event. You can see in the parish registers that at least 5 women were present, including her mistress who confirmed to the parish clerk that Mary ‘was very Christian like.’ Did Mary convert from being a Muslim to being a Christian for any specific reason? It appears that she did so to get married. It is believed that the majority of African women in Tudor times would have had relationships with English men. What is fascinating about Mary is that after her mistress’ death she went on to become a seamstress in her own right, which considering the fashion of the Tudors must have been a very skilled job.
My Final Thoughts:
I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching year 7 about Black Tudors and investigating for myself the individual stories, there is definitely a lot more that I can learn and do as a History teacher to make sure the curriculum and the lessons I deliver from now on feature representations of all who existed and not omit their stories from the past like I had been doing before.
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