John Blanke, an Afro-European
John Blanke, a musician and an entertainer who was also socially engaged in the struggle for equality in wages has challenged our perception of Tudor England. In many ways it could be argued that it is very difficult for us to fully grasp what life was like for Blanke: a young man of African descent trying to make a living in an environment where life was already difficult for the humblest part of the population.
Probably perceived as the exotic ‘Other’, Blanke had skills that were deemed valuable enough to be around the wealthiest people in the kingdom. He appeared to have carved a place in Tudor society. His role as a petitioner and records about his marriage are testimony to the impact he had on social actors. Defined as an African or a Blackamoore, John Blanke was also an Afro-European. I’m arguing that Blanke’s story is both a British and a European story.
His experience is part of the long and fascinating stories of people of African descent. These stories of multiple trajectories tell us about human connections and resilience. Young John Blanke was by no means the only man of African descent who made a place in European society in the 16th century. I am inviting you to consider his story as a chapter in a book that was not available for centuries. Had he lived long enough, Blanke might have reached the prominence of other illustrious Afro-Europeans such as the first Duke of Florence, Alessandro de Medici and Granada born Juan Latino.
John Blanke did however make his mark and survived the constraints of time long enough tell about his presence through records. It is now our role as entrepreneurs of memory to continue to recall his story and celebrate his presence even five centuries after his death.
Dr. Olivette Otele
Reader in History at Bath Spa University, UK.