When we think of Tudor England, we don’t immediately imagine black Africans being part of that society. Yet there were Africans here at that time, and they were considered numerous enough in Tudor towns and cities to inspire the phrases “to manie” and “great numbers” in two letters signed by Elizabeth I in July 1596.
Both letters sought to have groups of these Africans treated as slaves and exchanged for white English prisoners held captive in Spain and Portugal. Robert Cecil, the most influential man in Elizabeth’s court, did not like a “commission of that nature”. Cecil’s view was probably shaped by the likelihood that most Africans were integrated members of the parish communities they lived in.
Africans are described in Tudor parish records from 1558 (when most official records began) until well into the 17th century by terms such as “Blackamoores”, “Neygers”, “Aethiopians” and “Negroes”.
These Africans were baptised, buried and recorded in parish records in London, Plymouth, Southampton, Barnstaple, Bristol, Leicester, Northampton and other places across the country.
[T]he Iberian Moor Catalina de Cardones, who arrived in England in 1501 with her employer Catherine of Aragon, later Henry VIII’s wife and queen. Catalina served her mistress for 26 years as the lady of the bedchamber and was married to a “Hace ballestas”, a crossbowman also of Moorish origin.