Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £35.99 £24.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Black Tudor and Stuart Lives in England

Where records are fragmentary, how do we interpret the experience of Black historical characters? Can we use historical fiction and art informed by historical research to fill the silences in the archives?
And what are the advantages and dangers of using fiction to understand the lives of Black Tudors and Stewarts? I think that literature is always really important to create empathy. And so storytelling allows us to have empathy for characters and understanding from that their point of view. We spoke earlier about the silencing in the archives and in the literature, not necessarily hearing the voices in the literature or the archives of these Black people. So this is a way of kind of giving a voice to them. However, I do think that can be dangerous in a way because we can’t always authentically know exactly how they would feel. We can have empathy for people.
We can try to connect the history with that, the social period and so on. But we won’t always know the internal thoughts and feelings of those characters. So in some ways, it could be a bit presumptuous to put words into their, into their mouths, really. So I think it’s about how we, how we do that and whether that’s through objects as well, and looking at objects to create stories around that. That could be an effective way of demonstrating that there were Black people, that there were Africans in England at the time and what their lives could have been like . But I do think we need to be careful about how we do it.
So I did reflect on some of the creative writing approaches and I presented your opening paragraphs and the kind of allure of that fiction really engaged my students. But we do need to be careful, as Christine Counsell says, about the allure of literature and how it is fictional and that we need to kind of be critical of that as well, to make sure that we are doing justice to the people, but also giving them a fair treatment as well. I think also, considering who is writing the story as well, is something that people have kind of challenged. But I do think to create empathy, to create understanding, to join literature and history is really exciting.

Watch Dr. Miranda Kaufmann in discussion with course contributor Wendy Lennon, a Fellow of the English Association and founder of Shakespeare, Race & Pedagogy.

In the second part of the interview, Wendy Lennon outlines the insights, challenges and some of the issues of using fiction and literary interpretation to better understand the lives of Africans in Tudor and Stuart England.

Stark Archives of Black Tudor and Stuart Lives

Where records are fragmentary, how do we interpret the experience of Black historical characters? Can we use historical fiction and art informed by historical research to fill the silences in the archives?

And where records do exist, how do we interpret these to appreciate and understand 16th and early 17th century Black lives?

There is a growing body of novels, poetry and drama by writers from a range of backgrounds, exploring the lives of Africans in Tudor England. In this step we provide selected creative interpretations and examine how contemporary writers have responded to the stories of Black men and women from history.

Black Tudors in Literature

Testament’s Black Men Walking is an odyssey through 2,000 years of Black British History, seen through the eyes of three Black men walking through the Peak District, which references John Blanke the trumpeter amongst other key figures

Patrice Lawrence has written a children’s book The Diver’s Daughter about an imagined daughter of Jacques Francis a Salvage Diver. The Diver’s Daughter tells the story of Eve, a young West African girl from Southwark who travels to Southhampton with her mother on a mission to find Jacques Francis.

Novelist Nikki Marmery re-imagines the story of Maria, the African woman who sailed on the Golden Hinde in her novel On Wilder Seas. The novel is inspired by Maria, who Francis Drake abandoned heavily pregnant in Indonesia in 1579.

Kate Morrison’s novel A Book of Secrets, tells the story of Susan Charlewood, taken from Ghana as a baby and now as a young girl, hunting for her brother through an Elizabethan underworld.

Ayanna Gillian Lloyd, novelist and poet from Trinidad and Tobago, has written a short story evoking the experience of Diego recently commissioned by the Colonial Countryside Project. You can hear Ayanna reading an extract from her story The Shadow Man in this audio podcast.


We’d like you to investigate one of the examples of literary interpretations of historical Black characters from the 16th and early 17th centuries.

You don’t need to read or listen to all of the work now, but you may be interested to follow up some of the writing that interests you later on. You can read short extract quotes from some of the writers in the Creative Responses PDF which you can download below.

After investigating some of the examples, which literary styles and approaches did you find most interesting?

  • What kind of historical research did the authors carry out? What do you think the writer’s reason was for adopting a historical approach?
  • Which approaches do you think are most valid or meaningful in relation to the evidence and what historical insights might they provide?
This article is from the free online

Black Tudors: The Untold Story

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now