When I saw the title of Kaufman’s book I was immediately intrigued, as I, like many others, studied the Tudors at school, but never once learnt about black Tudors. I had just assumed there weren’t any. So, it turns out, do most people. Kaufman’s book is some of the first real, in-depth research done into the lives of black Tudors.
After a detailed and praise-filled introduction from Hirsch, who chairs the event, Kaufman reads out her introduction, which eloquently and succinctly outlines the lack of previous examination of the topic and the origin of her own interest in it. She also points out the assumptions we make about history; when we think of slaves, we think of Africans, because we’re rarely taught about the Africans who lived as regular citizens in England and Scotland during the Tudor era, or the one million white Europeans who were enslaved in North Africa.
The slave trade did not fully reach England until the 1640s, so during Tudor times there were very few slaves in Britain. In fact, it was said that ‘England’s air was too pure for slaves to breathe’, therefore any slaves brought to her shores were automatically set free upon stepping foot on them. The question that remains, then, is how Africans came to live here at that time, and who they were.
Kaufman’s book tells the stories of ten different black Tudors. They are all real, true accounts she discovered during her extensive research, which revealed around 360 black individuals recorded as living in Britain during this period. Kaufman speaks of a few examples: Diego, a black man who sailed the world with Sir Francis Drake, Anne Cobby, a prostitute, and Mary Phillis, a Moroccan woman, are just a few mentioned. Kaufman is clear and precise in her answers to all of Hirsch’s questions, and explains the subject matter well to an audience who, for the most part, know very little about it.
The questions asked by the audience leave something to be desired, but Kaufman handles them well and still manages to find opportunities for interesting answers. It is a fascinating talk and I immediately purchase the book afterwards; I can’t wait to read it, and am so glad Kaufman delved into this area of history.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place until August 27th. For information and to see events, see the EdBookFest website.