|Africans have been present in Europe from classical
times. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Roman soldiers of African
origin served in Britain, and some stayed after their military
service ended. According
to the historians Fryer, Edwards and Walvin, in the 9th century
Viking fleets raided North Africa and Spain, captured Black
people, and took them to Britain and Ireland. From the end of
the 15th century we begin to see more evidence for the presence
Moors in the accounts of the reign of King James IV of Scotland,
and later in Elizabethan England.
King James IV (1473-1513) and the Black Moors of his Court
King James IV of Scotland came to the throne in 1488. He
was an able and visionary monarch whose administration united
and maintained order in the Scottish highlands and lowlands.
He encouraged manufacturing and shipbuilding, and created
a navy. James IV also renewed Scotland's alliance with
France, although in 1503 he took an English wife, Margaret
Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England.
James was a popular, fun-loving king with many interests.
Many Black Moors were present at his court. Some worked as
servants or (possibly) slaves, but others seem to have been
invited guests or musicians. We know that he courted Margaret
with lute and clavichord recitals and took her out hunting
and playing sports.
The King Provides Clothes
for the Party
After their marriage, the king's Lord High Treasurer's accounts
provide numerous entries to show how much he enjoyed lively
entertainment, employing foreign minstrels from Italy and
elsewhere. King James was generous to all kinds of people,
including Black Moors, as the following entries from the Treasurer's
- To celebrate Shrove Tuesday in 1505, several Africans
including a 'taubronar'
(drummer) and a choreographer were present in Edinburgh.
Twelve dancers (including Italians) performed in specially
made black-and-white costumes costing £13 2s
10d. Was this the origin of Morris (Moorish) dancing?
- In 1504-5 the 'Moryen' taubronar was paid 28 shillings
to allow his taubroun (drum) to be painted.
- James bought a horse at a cost of £4 4s for
this drummer, who accompanied him when he toured his
The King Requests an
Audience with a Black Baby
Moor women were also mentioned in the Treasurer's accounts. It is unclear whether or not they were servants, since they were showered with items such as gowns of satin, ribbons, slippers and gloves, paid for by the king.
Entries that refer to Moor women include:
- 'Blak Elene' or 'Elen More' was given five French
crowns in 1512.
- A 'blak madin' who attended Queen Margaret was given
four-and-a-quarter ells (just over five yards) of
- 'Blak Margaret' was given a gown costing 48s in
- 'Two blak ladies' staying at the Scottish Court
were presented with 10 French crowns as a New Year
gift at a cost of £7.
- In 1527, one item simply said ' to Helenor, the
blak moir - 60 shillings' .
After James IV's death at Flodden in 1513 during the Franco-Scottish
invasion of England, fewer references to Africans appear in
the accounts. Interestingly, however, in 1594, during the
reign of James VI, a richly attired Black Moor was paid to
help pull the chariots during celebrations to mark the birth
of James's eldest son, Henry Frederick. Nothing more is known
about this man except that he lived in Edinburgh.
For more on James IV and Margaret Tudor, see:
References and Further Reading
McRitchie, D., Ancient and Modern Britons, Los Angeles, 1884
Buchanan, P. Hill, Margaret Tudor: Queen of Scots, Edinburgh
and London, 1985
Dickenson, T. (ed.), Lord High Treasurer's Accounts
- Scotland, vols II, III and IV, Scotland, 1503-13
Edwards, P. and Walvin, J., Black Personalities in the
Era of the Slave Trade, London and Basingstoke, 1983
Fryer, P., Staying Power: The History of Black People in
Britain, London, 1984
The National Archives of Scotland http://www.nas.gov.uk