Most people have an idea about what they believe life to have been like in Tudor England: brutal, misogynistic, profoundly bound by religion and overwhelmingly white. In terms of racial diversity we have Shakespeare's Othello and his mysterious 'dark lady' but little else. Like a half-finished painting, our knowledge of the past can only be partial and Dr Miranda Kaufmann's endeavour with Black Tudors has been to fill in some of those empty spaces. Through extensive and meticulous archival research she has uncovered evidence of numerous people of colour living not only in London but across the country during the early modern period. By focusing in on ten biographies she builds a vision of early-modern culture, exposing its attitudes to race.
|A member of Margaret of Austria's court|
From John Blanke, who held the coveted position of trumpeter to Henry VII, and Catalina a woman in the entourage of Katherine of Aragon, who left Spain a slave but seems to have been granted her freedom shortly after her arrival in England, to Diego, who sailed the high seas with Sir Frances Drake and Cattelena, described as an 'independent singlewoman' living in Almondsbury, all these portraits force us to reassess our common preconceptions about race in the period and see people of colour as part of the ordinary fabric of early modern English society.
|Possibly a seamstress by Carracci|
Kaufmann's book is not only a fascinating and erudite exploration of race in Tudor England but also a vibrant, eminently readable and tender portrayal of individual lives. For anyone interested in the Tudor period Black Tudors is a must.
Elizabeth Fremantle's latest novel The Girl in the Glass Tower is published by Penguin.