John Blanke on the Westminster Tournament Roll by an unknown artist

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A section of an animal skill roll showing lots of people on horses in a procession. The 6 horsemen in the centre are all playing long trumpets. One of the trumpeters is Black. The trumpeters are leading people who are wearing very fancy clothes and whose horses are also decorated. .
The royal trumpeter John Blanke, the earliest known portrait of a named Black person living in Britain.
College of Arms MS Westminster Tournament Roll (Membrane 28)
1511
Reproduced by permission of the Kings, Heralds and Pursuivants of Arms.

John Blanke was a royal trumpeter who lived during the Tudor period. He worked at the courts of the Tudor kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. He witnessed important moments in Tudor Britain England and Wales from 1485 to 1603, when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled.   ’s history and was part of some of the greatest Spectacle A sight or view that is very impressive to look at. of the Tudor age.

Although records show a Black presence in Britain as far back as Roman times, John Blanke’s portrait is the earliest known image of a named Black person living in Britain, and the only known portrait of a Black Tudor.

John Blanke is included on the Westminster Tournament A sports competition involving a number of teams or players who take part in different games and must leave the competition if they lose, with the winner being the last one left. Roll, a visual record of the festivities that celebrated the birth of Henry VIII’s son, who was born on New Year’s Day 1511.

Analysing the portrait

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    The Westminster Tournament Roll (Membrane 28),    Unidentified artists,    1511,        College of Arms
The royal trumpeter John Blanke, the earliest known portrait of a named Black person living in Britain.

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?

    • The image shows Blanke sitting on a horse, playing a trumpet. He is playing at a huge celebration to mark the birth of a royal baby – the son of King Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine of Aragon.
    • The baby was also called Henry, like his father. He was Heir to the throne The next person who will become King or Queen. so his birth was a very important event. Sadly, he died just a few weeks after he was born.
    • John Blanke is shown next to two other trumpeters who are also on horseback.
    • Blanke’s image is part of a much larger work called the Westminster Tournament A sports competition involving a number of teams or players who take part in different games and must leave the competition if they lose, with the winner being the last one left. Roll. It shows the king and queen, and the many other people who attended the celebration.
    • The trumpeters are all on horseback.
    • They are all wearing special Livery A special uniform worn by servants or officials, especially in the Tudor period. made with expensive materials for the occasion, including silver and gold.
    • We can also see King Henry VIII’s Royal Standard (flag) hanging from their trumpets.
    • John Blanke has been shown as having the face of a Black man. The trumpeter next to him, and all the other musicians in the Tournament A sports competition involving a number of teams or players who take part in different games and must leave the competition if they lose, with the winner being the last one left. Roll have been shown as having white faces. The white musicians have all been painted to look very similar to each other, whereas John’s face has been painted in a more specific way.
    • Although the artist has painted John Blanke’s face to show that he was Black, his right hand is shown as white, like the other trumpeters in the roll. It is thought the artist painted all the bodies of the musicians first, followed by their faces.
    • One of the trumpeters has a bag attached to his livery.
    • John Blanke is wearing a green turban patterned with yellow.
    • The Depiction The act of showing somebody/something in a particular way in words or pictures, especially in a work of art. of John Blanke tells us he is a Black man living in Britain. It is an important record of the presence of Black Tudors.
    • Blanke must have been an accomplished musician to have been selected to play for the king, especially at such an important event.
    • He must have also been a skilled horseman, to be able to control his horse while playing the trumpet.
    • We don’t know why he is wearing a turban. It may have belonged to him, or it may have been given to him to mark him out as having a particular job or status. We also know that Henry VIII and his Courtier A person who is part of the court of a king or queen. liked to dress in international fashions.
Although at least 200 Africans lived in Tudor Britain, John Blanke is the only one for whom we have a portrait.
Miranda Kaufmann, 2018

Who was John Blanke?

  • John Blanke was one of many Black people who lived in Tudor Britain England and Wales from 1485 to 1603, when kings and queens from the Tudor family ruled.   . We know this from evidence such as baptism, marriage and burial records. This helps to show that Tudor society was diverse. It is likely that many more were not recorded.
  • Little is known about how he came to Tudor Britain.  He may have journeyed with Katherine of Aragon, who arrived in England from her home in Spain in 1501. We know she brought trumpeters with her and that there were many people of African descent living in Spain at this time.
  • He performed at the funeral of the first Tudor king, Henry VII and the Coronation A ceremony at which a crown is formally placed on the head of a new king or queen to mark them becoming king or queen. of Henry VIII in 1509, as well as many other important royal events.
  • Records show that in 1509 Henry VIII gave John Blanke a big pay rise. Also, that the king gave him some fine violet cloth and a hat to wear at Blanke’s wedding in 1512, probably to an English woman. These events may reflect John’s status with the king or the importance of his position in the court.
  • John’s life being recorded in this way is unique. Other Black people living and working in Britain at this time do not have surviving portraits.
  • We do not have an exact record of the date John Blanke was born or the date he died.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This is the first person of African descent in British history for whom we have both an image and written records. This helps us know his name and something about his life.
  • This portrait is part of the Great Tournament A sports competition involving a number of teams or players who take part in different games and must leave the competition if they lose, with the winner being the last one left. Roll of Westminster. The Roll records royal festivities held to celebrate the birth of Henry VIII’s son in 1511.
  • The Tournament was a spectacular moment and the Roll was a way for Henry to present himself as a powerful ruler. London was filled with celebrations: guns were fired, the city bells were rung, and beacons were lit across the country.
  • The Roll shows a procession at the start of the day, a jousting scene, which Henry VIII won, watched over by his queen, Katherine of Aragon, and the procession returning after the Joust A fight on horses using a lance (long stick) to try to knock the other person off their horse, especially as part of a formal contest in the Tudor period. at the end of the day.
  • John Blanke appears in the Roll twice. He is shown with his fellow trumpeters in a group of six, at the opening of the Tournament and at its end. John and his fellow trumpeters also played at the Banquet A formal meal for a large number of people, usually for a special occasion, at which speeches are often made. and performances at the end of each day of the Tournament.
  • The Roll includes portraits of English people. This helps us to know what people looked like at this time, before portraits became more common.
  • The Roll is more than 18 m long – twice as long as a bus – and a little over 37 cm wide.

Why is the artist significant?

  • The Westminster Tournament A sports competition involving a number of teams or players who take part in different games and must leave the competition if they lose, with the winner being the last one left. was planned by the College of Arms An organization in London that is responsible for giving coats of arms to families and institutions in England and Wales. . This institution still helps plan important state events today such as coronations and royal funerals.
  • A number of different Heraldic artist Artists that study coats of arms and the history of old families. from the College of Arms would have worked on the Roll.
  • We do not know their individual names, but we know it was produced in the workshop of Thomas Wriothesley, who was the Garter King of Arms The most senior position of the three English Kings of Arms. This office was instituted in 1415 by Henry V. .
  • Heraldic artists still exist today just as they did in the Tudor period.

Questions

  1. Why do you think this is the only known portrait of a Black Tudor?
  1. Why do you think there are no portraits of the Black people living in Britain before the Tudor period?
  1. Why do you think records (including portraits) of people from the past are useful or important?