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Miranda Kauffman - Black Tudors

17th September 2018

Dr Miranda Kaufmann, author of the acclaimed book, Black Tudors, is coming to talk at Wigtown Book Festival this Saturday, 22 September (3pm). So we took the opportunity to ask her about Africans in Renaissance Scotland and in particular on our doorstep, in south-west Scotland. The answer was fascinating.

It turns out that the first Africans in Dumfries may have been a drummer and a man named “Peter the Moor” who belonged to the court of James IV in the early 1500s.

Detailed research by Dr Kaufmann, has identified 350 Africans living in Britain between 1500 and 1640, some 13 of them in Scotland where they were mostly referred to as Moors.

Among them are entertainers, royal maidservants and others. There is even a record of the first known birth of an African in Scotland.

She said: “It’s fascinating to dig into the records and start to recover evidence of Africans in Scotland more than 500 years ago.

“They were often linked to the royal household, as entertainers or servants, and travelled all over the country in the royal entourage.

“We know that in the early 1500s a Moorish drummer visited Dumfries with the court along with a troupe of Italian drummers minstrels.”

Like the other Africans in Scotland at the time the drummer or ‘Morden taubronar’ was a free person not a slave, and was paid £17 a year, the same as the Italians.

Substantial sums were paid from the royal coffers to decorate his drum, travel round Scotland, and to support his wife and children while he was away. The king even covered medical expenses when the drummer was injured.

On 24 February 1504 a fee was paid to cover the cost of a horse to take another African, “Peter the More”, to Dumfries.

Peter first appears in the record in 1501 and after several years at court the king paid for him to go to France, then provided him with a regular pension on his return in 1506. His role is unknown but the fact that he was well paid and provided with horses and fine clothes indicate that he was highly favoured.

In 1504 a number of travel payments were made for two Moorish lasses (who may have been called Elene and Margaret) in and around Queensferry, Inverkeithing, Edinburgh and Dunfermline. One was christened in December, which is the first known example in Britain.

The next year each was given dresses in February and September, these were of respectable but inexpensive woollen cloth.

Then, on 14 February 1506, there is a note to say that a nurse had been paid to take the Moorish baby (“Moris barne”) to be shown to the king – the first known African birth in Scotland.

Not all Africans in Scotland were linked to the court. In 1512 the Moorish servant of Andrew Forman, the Bishop of Moray, is recorded as taking a gift to the king.

In 1549 a “Mour” who was a mercenary and skilled horseman was billeted at Hume, Berwickshire, and referred to in a letter from Lady Home to Mary of Guise as being “as scharp a man as rides”.