Culture

Tudor, English and black – and not a slave in sight

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From musicians to princes, a new book by historian Miranda Kaufmann opens a window on the hitherto unknown part played by black people in 16th-century England

Within moments of meeting historian Miranda Kaufmann, I learn not to make flippant assumptions about race and history. Here we are in Moorgate, I say. Is it called that because it was a great hub of black Tudor life? “You have to be careful with anything like that,” she winces, “because, for all you know, this was a moor. It’s the same with family names and emblems: if your name was Mr Moore, you’d have the choice between a moorhen or a blackamoor. It wouldn’t necessarily say something about your race.”

Her answer – meticulous, free of bombast, dovetailing memorable details with wider issues – is typical of her first book Black Tudors: The Untold Story, which debunks the idea that slavery was the beginning of Africans’ presence in England, and exploitation and discrimination their only experience. The book takes the form of 10 vivid and wide-ranging true-life stories, sprinkled with dramatic vignettes and nice, chewy details that bring each character to life.

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