Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann

Black Tudors: The Untold Story
by Miranda Kaufmann

This is the kind of history and historical writing that excites me! Kaufmann’s Black Tudors is a gem because of its topical focus, that is, centering black history, its accessible language, and smooth, flowing prose. I was very excited to read this book and it exceeded expectations!

Black Tudors is split into ten content chapters, bookended with an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter focuses on a specific individual, a black person who left a mark — sometimes a small one — in the historical record for us to find. These individuals were not lords or aristocrats (like Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence), but ordinary working folks who came to England through a number of avenues: trade, servitude, attached to diplomatic entourages, etc. While each chapter focuses largely on the individual who lends the chapter their name for its title, Kaufmann also includes evidence of other Black individuals from North and West Africa, the Southern Mediterranean, the Middle East. The result is a rich historical landscape of a hidden minority community and the cultural, social, and political context of their Tudor world.

The reader gets a textured, almost tactile experience of Tudor life, not from an aristocratic or royal perch, but from below. Kaufmann grants the reader entry into the working, merchant classes, into the world of the laborer, the Tudor servant class. This is a culture without a “middle class” in the way in which we understand the term, but there is a servant class, a working class, a peasant class, a mercantile class. Kaufmann gives us a view of these worlds from within and through the lens of foreigners, Africans, and Muslims.

Kaufmann adds to a growing number of histories which add color to the whiteness of European history. It joins the work of Marc Matera, Olivette Otele, and others which have and continue to excavate blackness in a traditionally white-centric history. That said, this is hard work; the act of research in these kinds of histories is difficult as so many layers need to be peeled off to discover hidden individuals in the historical record. I fully acknowledge Kaufmann’s effort and applaud their thorough research.

As an example of historical method and empiricism, Black Tudors shows the reader how to weave a history and a prosopography from very little archival material. This makes this book an excellent historiographical case study for an under– or graduate level seminar on historical methodology.

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