John Blanke

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Extract from the Westminster Tournament Roll almost certainly showing John Blanke, the only figure wearing an orange turban latticed with yellow.

John Blanke (also rendered Blancke or Blak) (fl. 1501–1511) was a black musician in London in the early 16th century, who probably came to England as one of the African attendants of Catherine of Aragon in 1501. He is one of the earliest recorded black people in England after the Roman period.[1][2] His name may be a reference to his skin colour, derived either from the word "black" or from the French word "blanc", meaning white.


Historian Onyeka Nubia has written about John Blanke's possible origins in his 2013 book Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, their Presence, Status and Origins.[3] and in two articles. One is "Tudor Africans: What's in a Name?" in October 2012 for History Today magazine[4] and the other is "The Missing Tudors. Black People in 16th Century England" for the BBC History Magazine, published in July 2012.[5]

Little is known of Blanke's life, but he was paid 8 pence per day by King Henry VII.[6] A surviving document from the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber records a payment of 20 shillings to "John Blanke the Blacke Trumpet" as wages for the month of November 1507, with payments of the same amount continuing monthly through the next year.[7] He successfully petitioned Henry VIII for a wage increase from 8d to 16d.[8]

Dr Sydney Anglo was the first historian to propose that the "Blanke Trumpet" in the 1507 court accounts was the same as the black man depicted twice in the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll,[9] in a footnote to an article about the Court Festivals of Henry VII.[10] The Westminster Tournament Roll is an illuminated, 60-foot manuscript now held by the College of Arms; it recorded the royal procession to the lavish tournament held on 12 and 13 February 1511 to celebrate the birth of a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall (died 23 February 1511), to Catherine and Henry VIII on New Year's Day 1511. John Blanke is depicted twice, as one of the six trumpeters on horseback in the royal retinue. All six of the trumpeters wear yellow and grey livery and bear a trumpet decorated with the royal arms; Blanke alone wears a brown and yellow turban, while the others are bare-headed with longish hair. He appears a second time in the roll, wearing a green and gold head covering.

Black trumpeters and drummers were documented in other Renaissance cities, including a trumpeter for the royal ship Barcha in Naples in 1470, a trumpeter recorded as galley slave of Cosimo de' Medici in 1555, and black drummers in the court of King James IV in Edinburgh.

Representation in media[edit]

John Blanke features in the opening scene of a short animation about Ellen More entitled The Tournament of the African Lady, written and directed by Jason Young.[11][better source needed][12][better source needed]


  1. ^ David Olusoga, "Black people have had a presence in our history for centuries. Get over it", The Guardian, 13 August 2017.
  2. ^ Phil Gregory, "Black Romans in Britain". The Black Presence in Britain.
  3. ^ Onyeka. Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, their Presence, Status and Origins, London. Narrative Eye, 2013.
  4. ^ Onyeka (October 2012), "Tudor Africans: What's in a Name?" History Today 62 (10).
  5. ^ Onyeka, "The Missing Tudors: black people in 16th-century England", History Extra, 24 January 2014. First published in BBC History Magazine, July 2012.
  6. ^ National Archives
  7. ^ Miranda Kaufmann, "Blanke, John (fl. 1507–1512), royal trumpeter", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  8. ^ Michael Ohajuru, "John Blanke, Henry VIII’s Black Trumpeter, Petitions for a Back Dated Pay Increase", the many-headed monster, 27 July 2015.
  9. ^ "Sydney Anglo: The Historian Who Identified John Blanke", The John Blanke Project.
  10. ^ Sydney Anglo, 'The Court Festivals of Henry VII: A Study Based Upon the Account Books of John Heron, Treasurer of the Chamber', Bulletin of John Rylands Library, 43, 1960–1961.
  11. ^ "The Tournament of the African Lady (Short 2003) - IMDb".
  12. ^ "Jason Young".

Further reading[edit]