Book Review: Black Tudors: The Untold Story - Miranda Kaufmann

A black trumpet player.

A black porter publicly whips a white Englishman in the hall of a Gloucestershire manor house. A Moroccan woman is baptised in a London church. Henry VIII dispatches a Mauritanian diver to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose. From long-forgotten records emerge the remarkable stories of Africans who lived free in Tudor England…

They were present at some of the defining moments of the age. They were christened, married and buried by the Church. They were paid wages like any other Tudors. The untold stories of the Black Tudors, dazzlingly brought to life by Kaufmann, will transform how we see this most intriguing period of history.

I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time at school learning about the Tudors. I even went to see the recovered wreck of Mary Rose. Twice! All we were taught was the lives of Kings and Queens. We didn't hear about any commoners, so this book is a blessed relief - it is an in-depth look at ordinary people in Tudor Britain who were Black.

We hear about trumpeters in the Royal Court, freed slaves, pirates, and milkmaids - a delightful stream of anecdotes drawn from the historial record.

This is very similar to The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. The authors both perform the same sleight of hand - take a scrap of information from an official document and attempt to weave a narrative around it.

Don't get me wrong - it works, but the words "perhaps", "maybe", and "it is possible" do a lot of heavy lifting here. It spends a bit too much time focussing on the historical background of some of the peripheral white character - but it is well researched and gives us a tantalising glimpse into historic British attitudes to race.

It's a great book and well worth reading.

Particularly recommended for racist uncles who whine about "hIStOrICal AccUrAcy!"

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