John Blanke, Black Trumpeter
|It appears that John Blanke, a Black
trumpeter, was a regular musician at the courts of both Henry
VII and Henry VIII. Musicians' payments were noted in the accounts
of the Treasurer of the Chamber, who was responsible for paying
the wages. There are several payments recorded to a 'John Blanke,
the blacke trumpeter'. This trumpeter was paid 8d a day, first
by Henry VII and then from 1509 by Henry VIII.
On New Year's Day 1511 King Henry VIII was presented with
a son by his wife, Catherine of Aragon. As was the tradition
to celebrate major festivals such as coronations and royal
births and marriages, Henry held a great tournament at Westminster.
The Black Trumpeter
at Henry VIII's Tournament
Pay Day for
Tournaments were a continuation of a tradition that gained
popularity during the Roman era. They were originally a form
of military training: games and exercises designed to instil
discipline into young men and teach them the art of bearing
arms. Tournaments later developed into an art form, combining
elements of drama, music and poetry.
By the early 12th century across northern Europe, tournaments
had become a kind of team game. Each team comprised a company
of knights under the leadership of the lord whom they followed
and served in times of war. Tournaments also had a chivalric
and romantic side. Ladies in the tournament audience had a
chance to see their heroes prove their prowess, strength and
courage (or not, as the case may be), and the knights in their
turn hoped to win over the affections of the ladies by their
The Westminster Tournament Roll
From the 15th century there was a growing desire to depict
spectacles and ceremonials and record them for posterity.
Henry VIII wanted such a pictorial record made of his tournament
to mark the birth of his male child. He commissioned the Westminster
Tournament Roll, a unique treasure held at the College of
Arms. It is a pictorial illuminated manuscript, a continuous
roll approximately 60 feet long. It is a narrative of the
beginning, middle and end of the tournament, which took place
over two days.
In the Westminster Tournament Roll, the king occupies a prominent
position. Henry is shown surrounded by a host of footmen,
officials and dignitaries, a mace bearer, a crowd of nobles,
the officers of arms and six trumpeters. Among the latter
is a Black man. He appears twice on the Roll: once on the
way from the court and again on the way back. According to
the historian Sydney Anglo, he is almost certainly John Blanke,
the 'blacke trumpeter' mentioned in the Treasurer's accounts.
Henry VIII's tournament was a costly extravaganza, and here
we find a Black man included in one of the most magnificent
pageants of his time, dressed formally as a mounted musician,
perhaps also belonging to the equestrian corps of the court.
References and Further Reading
Anglo, S., The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: Historical
Introduction, Oxford, 1968
Anglo, S., The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster: A
Collotype Reproduction of the Manuscript, Oxford, 1968
Barber, R. and Barker, J., Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry
and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Suffolk, 1989