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Black Moors in Scotland

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 of Glossary - opens new windowBlack 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.


Lord High Treasurer's accounts, Scotland, 1505 - opens new window
The King Provides Clothes
for the Party

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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 accounts demonstrate:

  • To celebrate Shrove Tuesday in 1505, several Africans including a Glossary - opens new window'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 northern domains.
Lord High Treasurer's accounts, Scotland, 1505-6 - opens new window
The King Requests an
Audience with a Black Baby

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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 French russet.

  • 'Blak Margaret' was given a gown costing 48s in 1513.

  • '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:

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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

Onyeka, Blackamoores: Africans in Tudor England, their Presence, Status and Origins , 2013, [Onyeka Nubia published under the name Onyeka]

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