Until recently, the stories of Africans who lived and died in Tudor England have remained untold. In her talk at our York History Weekend this month, Miranda Kaufmann will explore their history, revealing what their lives were like and whether it was true that they became free once they set foot on English soil…
Q. What can audiences look forward to in your talk?
A. A fresh look at a place we thought we knew: Tudor England; and the fascinating stories of African men and women living there. In the talk I’ll be focusing on three of the ten individuals featured in the book: Jacques Francis, a salvage diver; Mary Fillis, a Moroccan convert; and Edward Swarthye, a Gloucestershire porter.
Q. Why are you so fascinated by this topic?
A. I too thought I knew the Tudors, so it was thrilling to unearth all this new material. What I discovered is also fascinating because it’s not what we might expect, and because of the light it throws on our understanding of topics such as racism and immigration today.
‘Portrait of an African Man’ by Rennaissance painter Jan Mostaert, c1530. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Q. Tell us something that might surprise or shock us about this area of history.
A. The only time a whipping appeared in my research, it was an instance of an African man whipping an Englishman, rather than the reverse.
Q. If you could go back in time to meet one historical figure, who would you choose and why?
A. I would like to meet any of the Africans featured in my book, and speak to them about their experiences, as one thing we lack is first-hand accounts of their lives from their perspectives, such as diaries or letters.
Q. What historical mystery would you most like to solve?
A. I’d quite like to know what happened to the Roanoke settlers.
Founded in August 1585 by Sir Walter Ralegh, Roanoke Island was found abandoned without a trace of the colonists in 1590. The only clues left behind were the letters CRO carved on one tree and the word CROATOAN carved on another. (Stock Montage/Getty Images)
Q. What job do you think you would be doing now if you weren’t a historian/author?
A. I think I would really enjoy being a food critic!
Miranda Kaufmann is a historian, author, journalist and senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. She will be speaking about Africans in Tudor England at BBC History Magazine’s York History Weekend on Saturday 25 November.