Friday 18th November, 4-5.30pm, In the Light of Gloriana Conference, Panel 3B: ‘Crafting an Elizabethan Narrative: Ideology, Sensationalism, and (Mis)Representation’, Meeting Room, The Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB.
In a damning indictment of ‘Gloriana,’ the entry for 1596 on the Guardian’s Black History timeline bears the headline: ‘Elizabeth I expels Africans’.This resource, which is designed to help Britain’s schoolteachers and pupils mark Black History Month every October, is merely repeating a ‘fact’ reported in key textbooks for the subject for over forty years. However, it is a wild misrepresentation of the significance of the strange correspondence regarding ‘Blackamoores’ between the Privy Council, Robert Cecil, the bankrupt former treasurer-at-war, Sir Thomas Sherley, and a merchant of Lubeck named Caspar Van Senden in the last years of Elizabeth’s reign.
This paper, based on original archival research into the State Papers and the Cecil papers, seeks to tell the full and cautionary tale of how such so-called ‘facts’ are created and the dangers of reading the past through a modern political lens. It will also place the episode in the context of my research into the lives of over two hundred Africans in Elizabethan England, whose existence was recorded in the parish registers, tax returns, court records and various other sources. It will show that these individuals continued to live in England after the so-called deportation, and further that they were not enslaved but rather made lives for themselves, being baptised into the Protestant faith, intermarrying with the local population, and in some cases becoming financially independent.