tells the stories of ten Africans living here during the Tudor and Stuart eras, uncovering the detail of their daily lives and how they were treated. Miranda reveals how John Blanke came to be the royal trumpeter to Henry VII and Henry VIII: the trouble Jacques Francis got himself into while working as a salvage diver on the wreck of the Mary Rose
; what prompted Diego to sail the world with Drake, and she pieces together the stories of a porter, a prince, a sailor, a prostitute and a silk weaver. They came to England from Africa, from Europe and from the Spanish Caribbean. They came with privateers, pirates, merchants, aristocrats, even kings and queens, and were accepted into Tudor society. They were baptised, married and buried by the Church of England and paid wages like other Tudors.
Yet their experience was extraordinary because, unlike the majority of Africans across the rest of the Atlantic world, in England they were free. They lived in a world where skin colour was less important than religion, class or talent: before the English became heavily involved in the slave trade. Their stories challenge the traditional narrative that racial slavery was inevitable.
Miranda Kaufmann is a senior research fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies