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Tudor Africans: What's in a Name?

Onyeka explores the changing meanings of words for Africans in Tudor England.

Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d'Eresby (1555-1601) in an anonymous oil painting. His African servant is following from the right carrying a skull, suggesting this was a posthumous portrait. Grimsthorpe & Drummond Castle Trust/Ray BiggsIn her 1995 book Things of Darkness the historian Kim Hall says the African in Early Modern England is ‘too accidental and solitary to be given a historical statistic’. But in Tudor England Africans are described in parish records. For example, the burial of ‘Christopher Cappervert a blackemoore’ at St Botolph without Aldgate in London is listed on October 22nd, 1586; while ‘Mary Fillis, a black more, being about xx years old and dwelling with Millicent Porter, a seamester’ was baptised on June 3rd, 1597. In Plymouth, ‘Bastien, a Blackmoore of Mr Willm Hawkins’ was buried on December 10th, 1583 and ‘Anthony, John, a Neyger’ was buried on March 18th, 1587. In the same parish there are baptism records on May 2nd, 1593 for ‘Helene, daughter of Cristian the negro svant to Richard Sheere, the supposed father binge Cuthbert Holman, illeg.’

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