A Taste of Black British History

With the recent political and historical events, it was only natural for me to escape to a different era. This weekend I ventured to Renaissance England. Specifically, I journeyed through the lives of three individuals of African descent that thrived during the Tudor reign. Contrary to what is often portrayed in history, these individuals did not live as slaves during this time. This post will dive into a little of what I discovered about them, plus highlight some art featuring a little melanin during the Renaissance time period. 

Besides running from 2020’s cousin, a.ka. 2021, I originally started on this journey with a random crave to see some Black faces in Renaissance art. Ordinary people crave cookies, chocolate, or ice cream, but on this particular day I desired to see Black faces in art. Don’t get me wrong; I do crave coação just as much as the next person. Anyway, I knew the quest for chocolate in European art would be challenging since history is often romanticized and stereotypical. Nevertheless, with a little research my craving was slightly satisfied. I came across a site that highlight men of color in European art during the Renaissance period. 

These are my three favorite discoveries from my internet search: 


1. The Sibyl Agrippina painting 

2. The Adoration of the Magi painting 

Click here for more information on this piece.

3. Cameo of a Black woman pendant 

Black Tudors: 

Now, onto those three specific individuals I mentioned earlier. These are just a few of the historical figures I came across during my journey through time. Their stories challenge theories that condense Black British history to a subjective narrative. 

1. Mary Fillis 

Mary Fillis moved to Britain in 1583 at the age of 6. She was the daughter of Filli Morisco, a Moroccan shovel maker. Her journey begins as a servant (not a slave), but she eventually gains her independence and begins working as a seamstress. Click here for more on Mary Fillis.


2. Cattelena of Almondsbury

Cattelena’s story is most interesting. Her name suggest that she was of Hispanic descent, but according to sources she is described as “a negra deceased single woman...” Negra, meaning black. According to sources, she lived in a small village until her death in 1625.
Her death records also included an inventory of her belongings. She owned a cow, furniture, and more than one outfit, which is rare for the “average” person during this time. I have so many questions about Ms.Cattelena. Who was she before being known as Cattelana of Almondsbury? How did she come to be in the countryside of England? Why did her belongings get inventoried? 


3. John Blanke

Ahh, John Blanke, the Black Trumpeter. I remember coming across the image pictured above in Elementary school in a history textbook. I assumed Blanke was the only person of color in England during this time since that image continuously surfaced...over and over again. I remember thinking, “did they at least pay the brother?😂. There is a decent amount of information on him, including documentation that he was paid 8 pence per day for his performances. 

 Further Reading:

Black Tudors, by Miranda Kaufmann 

Revealing The African Presence in Renaissance Europe, by The Walters Art Museum 

This blog post is an oversimplification of Black British History, but I hope I’ve sparked someone to dive deeper into traditional historical narratives.

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