John Blanke: the Tudor Roman Connection?
In 1585 Tommaso Garzoni published a guide to ‘all the professions of the world’. Among them was that of ‘trumpet’ (or in Garzoni’s Italian trombetta). The role he described was analogous to the English herald or town-crier, someone who might play fanfares and make official announcements. Of course, a trumpet like John Blanke might have had considerable musical skill as well, but that wasn’t the main function of the job. It was often more mundane.
Standing in the town he might have to proclaim royal decrees, taxes, trials or executions. In a society where many people couldn’t read, this role was vital to get the authorities’ announcements out. Trumpets were expected to have a good voice as well as to be able to sound the fanfares that drew the crowds to hear them, but we can only speculate on John Blanke’s tone.
Garzoni found plenty of precedents for the modern role of trumpet in sources from ancient Greece and Rome. In the Iliad Homer attributed to one trumpet, Stentor, a voice of iron and the volume of fifty men. From Stentor comes the word ‘stentorian’ to describe a loud or powerful tone.
Another Greek trumpet, Achia, won three Olympiads and was commemorated with a statue. Cicero’s cases, too, provided evidence. In a speech against the trumpet Sextus Naevius, who had a dispute with Cicero’s client Publius Quintius, Cicero attacked Naevius as a buffoon. But his words also reveal that Naevius was a freedman, and Garzoni picked up this point to emphasise that ancient trumpets had been free and not enslaved.
It’s a fascinating observation in light of what we know about John Blanke’s free status, and also what we know about the Africans who came to Britain with the Roman army. Perhaps some of them were trumpets too
Dr Catherine Fletcher
Associate Professor History