Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, Their Presence, Status and Origins Paperback – 1 Oct 2013
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Do we imagine English history as a book with white pages and no black letters in? We sometimes think of Tudor England in terms of gaudy costumes, the court of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I and perhaps Shakespearian romance. Onyeka's book acknowledges this predilection but challenges our perceptions. Onyeka's book is about the presence, status and origins of Africans in Tudor England. In it Onyeka argues that these people were present in cities and towns throughout England, but that they did not automatically occupy the lowest positions in Tudor society. This is important because the few modern historians who have written about Africans in Tudor England suggest that they were all slaves, or transient immigrants who were considered as dangerous strangers and the epitome of otherness. However, this book will show that some Africans in England had important occupations in Tudor society, and were employed by powerful people because of the skills they possessed. These people seem to have inherited some of their skills from the multicultural societies that they came from, but that does not mean all of those present in England were born in other countries: some were born in England. The arguments in this book are supported by evidence from a variety of sources both manuscript and printed, most of which has not been widely discussed - whilst some of it Onyeka has discovered, and this may be the first time that it has been revealed. Other evidence is taken from texts that are the subject of popular discussion by historians, linguists and so on, but Onyeka encourages the reader to re-examine these works in a different way because they reveal information about the presence, status and origins of Africans in Tudor England.
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There's a downside to that weight of evidence and in places the book becomes a little difficult to read and quite heavily academic. That's a small price to pay for the quality of information on display.
I loved this book. There are people in these pages I won't forget in a hurry, like the unnamed London needle maker and John Ongunby- the Yoruba man Onyeka suggests was converting to gain access to English trade. Alongside a broad picture of the lives black people in Tudor England led there are wonderful snippets of information about the trade routes with African states and the politics of African and European powers at the time. A brilliant history book.
My doubts were allayed pretty much as soon as I started reading the book. The author has done some serious research using valid and reliable sources; he uses well known art from Tudor times which prove our existence here then and even depicts not as slaves or criminals, but in a positive light! There seems to be a constant attempt to erase our existence pre-slavery. I dare anyone with a genuine interest to read this book. It will challenge your perceptions, beliefs and if not, at least give you something to think about - research the subject matter yourself if you don't believe it. The information is all around you.