John Blanke

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Extract from the Westminster Tournament Roll almost certainly showing John Blanke, the only figure wearing a brown 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.

He was probably brought 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. 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.[1] and in two articles. One is "Tudor Africans: What’s in a Name?" in October 2012 for History Today magazine[2] and the other is "The Missing Tudors. Black People in 16th Century England" for the BBC History Magazine, published in July 2012.[3]

Little is known of Blanke's life, but he was paid 8d per day by Henry VII, and 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.[4] He also successfully petitioned Henry VIII for a wage increase.[5]

It was Dr Sydney Anglo[6] who in a footnote[7] to his article about The Court Festivals of Henry VII, first proposed the connection between the 'blacke trumpet’ in the 1507 court accounts and the black person depicted twice in the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll, an illuminated manuscript 60 feet long now held by the College of Arms that records 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, to Catherine and Henry VIII on New Year's Day 1511. Blanke appears as one of the six trumpeters in the royal retinue. All six of the trumpeters are mounted on horseback, wearing yellow and grey livery, and bearing a trumpet decorated with the royal arms; Blanke alone wears a brown and yellow turban, while the others are bare-headed. He appears a second time in the roll, in the procession back, wearing a green and gold head covering. The infant prince died days later, on 23 February 1511.

Black trumpeters and drummers are recorded 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 James IV in Edinburgh.