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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > August 2018 > John Blanke

John Blanke

Henry VIII’s black trumpeter was no slave – the fact he had wages tells us that. But who was he, and where did he come from? Miranda Kaufmann fills in the blanks

THE MOST FAMOUS AFRICAN IN TUDOR ENGLAND

John Blanke in his resplendent turban on the Westminster Tournament Roll
COLLEGE OF ARMS MS WESTMINSTER TOURNAMENT ROLL. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF THE KINGS, HERALDS AND PURSUIVANTS OF ARMS

Although at least 200 Africans lived in Tudor England, John Blanke is the only one for whom we have a portrait. Indeed, he appears twice – both times in the Westminster Tournament Roll, a 60ft vellum manuscript commissioned by Henry VIII in 1511. It was his proximity to the King that explains why he was portrayed. For John Blanke had worked at the Tudor court as a trumpeter to Henry VII and Henry VIII since at least 1507.

We know this because there are a series of records of him being paid wages. The first of these dates to early December 1507, when he was paid 20 shillings for the month of November, equivalent to a rate of eight pence a day. That meant his annual salary was £12, three times the average servant’s wage.

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About History Revealed

In this month's issue… Captain Cook's secret mission Retrace James Cook's 1768 first voyage - a scientific expedition that morphed into a globe-spanning quest to find a lost continent thanks to a set of secret instructions. Plus: Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles; the tragedy of British Tour de France hero Tom Simpson; the fall of the Russian Romanov dynasty; history of chocolate; William Wallace; weird pets; and Palymrene Queen Zenobia takes on Imperial Rome.