John Blanke (16th century) Trumpeter

Archival records have made him Tudor England’s most widely recognised African. The circumstances of his presence at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII are not known.

It has been suggested he arrived from Spain with Catherine of Aragon when she came to marry Arthur, Henry VII’s eldest son, in 1501.

It was the trend for European royalty to employ Africans as musicians, entertainers and servants. But many people of African descent were born here, were baptised, married and buried here.

It appears that John Blanke was a regular musician at the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII. Musician’s payments were noted in the accounts of the ‘Treasure of the Chamber’, who was responsible for paying wages. There are several payments recorded to a ‘John Blanke the Black Trumpeter’. This trumpeter was paid 8d a day, first by Henry VII and then from 1509 by HenryVIII.

On New Year’s Day 1511 King Henry VIII was presented with a son by his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who had after Arthur’s death married his brother Henry. As was the tradition to celebrate major festivals such as coronations and royal births and marriages, Henry held a great tournament at Westminster.

They occupied positions varying from house- hold servants to dignitaries for overseas territories.

Yet John Blanke remains a mystery. His last name is an ironic joke, his first name an English one; did he have an African name?

We know that John Blanke was part of a long medieval and renaissance tradition of black musicians serving at European royal courts. In the 12th century, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI had Black trumpeters in his entourage and in the 16th century James IV of Scotland employed a drummer who was a Muslim Moor.

The rivalry between England and France may have further prompted the French to employ black trumpeters, just as Henry VII and Henry VIII had employed John Blanke.

A French tapestry depicting the famous Field of Cloth of Gold tournament of 1520 shows a black trumpeter whose trumpet banner displays the fleur-de-lis, the royal emblem of France.

Field of Cloth Gold c. 1545 Part of the Royal Collection Trust

He was one of eight royal trumpeters who played at the funeral of Henry VII and coronation of Henry VIII in 1509. In 1511 he played at the Westminster tournament marking the birth of Henry’s first short-lived son. Documents suggest Blanke petitioned the king to permit him to take the position of a deceased trumpeter and to double his wages from 8d to 16d per day. When he wed in 1512, Henry presented him with a gown of violet cloth, a bonnet and a hat.

Arguably the most famous member of the black community during the Tudor period was one of the first known to record, namely John Blanke, who rose to prominence during the first decade of the sixteenth century. It is generally thought that Blanke arrived in England as one of the North African attendants of Catherine of Aragon when she arrived in England as the wife of Prince Arthur in 1501. The Spanish mainland neighboured Moorish Africa and had a long history of cooperation and conflict with both the region and the people. Islamic Iberia only ceased to be in 1492 after the Moors were expelled from Granada by Catherine of Aragon’s parents, Ferdinand and Isabella. His name Blanke is probably in reference to his skin colour, either a bastardisation of the word ‘black’ or derived from the French word ‘blanc’ or white. THIS AD

Although little is recorded it is understood he was a trumpeter who must have been distinguished in his art to have received a degree of royal patronage. He was paid the not insubstantial amount of 8d a day by Henry VII and on one occasion in November 1507 received a payment of 20 shilings from the Treasurer. Blanke’s employment continued under the Henry VIII when he acceded to his father’s throne in 1509, the trumpeter present at the coronation in a professional capacity.

John Blanke, the Tudors ‘blacke trumpeter – The Henry Tudor Society

More information

Thanks to Wikipedia for information about John Blanke

The John Blanke Project brining together historians to look out for, such as Onyeka Nubia who wrote Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England

ISSU for th Black History Month 2017 edition

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