Edward Swarthye’s story suggests black immigrants in England were seen as equals. Pictured: Portrait of an African man, circa 1530
The case of a black servant whipping a white one forms part of a growing body of evidence that Africans were treated equally in Tudor England.
Edward Swarthye’s dealings with the Elizabethan court is one of 350 examples of black people whose stories have been compiled in the book, Black Tudors.
The book is the first detailed study of early black immigrants and explores Swarthye’s coming to England on a ship under the command of Sir Francis Drake.
According to Miranda Kaufmann, senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, Swarthye had a higher rank than that of fellow servant, John Guy, who would go onto become mayor of Bristol and a colonial governor of Newfoundland.
‘The whipping is a shock today because when we think of whipping we usually think of a white man whipping a black man,’ Dr Kaufmann told the Oxford Literary Festival.
‘It utterly inverts everything we thought we knew about the Tudors.’
Black Tudors explores how Swarthye became a porter of Edward Wynter, a knight who joined Drake on a voyage to the Caribbean.
The book explores how Swarthye became a porter of Edward Wynter, who joined Sir Francis Drake (right) on a voyage to the Caribbean. Left: An African male bust featured on the Drake Jewel, which is believed to have been gifted to the naval hero from Queen Elizabeth I
Dr Kauffman said the whipping of John Guy by an African man ‘tterly inverts everything we thought we knew about the Tudors’. Pictured: Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak across a puddle so Queen Elizabeth I would not get wet
Swarthye it thought to have been recruited to fight alongside the English during a raid on the Spanish port of Catergena, which is now Columbia.
He then returned back to England with Wynter, it is believed.
Swarthye, who was given his English name for his dark skin, is mentioned in a court case in 1567.
The proceedings heard from John Guy, who complained over Wynter’s order for Swarthye to beat him as an example.
In Swarthye’s deposition, which is held at the National Archives, he admitted to whipping Guy on the order of his employer in the halls of Wynter’s house in Lydney, Gloucestershire.
Although he was never on trial, the African’s fate was never recorded.
As an experienced diver, Francis was employed to salvage guns from Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose. Pictured: The warship’s remains at the Mary Rose Museum, Porstmouth
Dr Kaufmann added: ‘John Guy went on to become the mayor of Bristol and an MP.
‘It’s quite something to consider that in his youth he had been whipped by an African man.
Dr Kauffman speculated that Guy’s experience may have influenced him to be more open with the Beothuk people of Newfoundland.
Black Tudors also explores the tale of Jaques Francis, a native of Arguin Island off Mauritania.
As an experienced diver, Francis was employed to salvage guns from Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose.
The warship sank near Portsmouth in 1545 after serving 33 years in numerous wars against France, Scotland and Brittany.
Francis appeared as a witness during the trial of his employer, Piero Paulo Corsi, who was accused of stealing items during the salvaging operation, according to court documents from 1548.
The court also ruled that Francis was fit to stand trial, despite other witnesses claiming Francis was not due to his status as a slave.
The ruling meant that Francis was the first known African to give evidence in an English court of law.
But Corsi, who won the case, would later be locked up in the Tower of London for abandoning the Mary Rose operation for another commission.
Dr Kaufman said there was a multitude of evidence to suggest black immigrants were free and that their status as salves was undone when they landed on English soil.
Slavery in Britain did no become widespread until the mid-17th century and was made illegal in Britain in 1838.
The fascinating lives of black people in Tudor England
African people are thought to have lived in Britain as far back as Roman times.
According to Dr Kaufmann, they were in attendance at the royal courts of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and James I, as well as in the households of Sir Walter Raleigh and William Cecil.
Black Tudors also shows that they lived and worked on different levels throughout society.
John Blanke, musician
A court trumpeter, John Blanke formed part of the entourage of King Henry VII from at least 1507.
Diego was taken aboard Sir Francis Drake’s ship in Panama at his request in 1572. He and Drake would circumnavigate the globe in 1577, claiming California for the crown in 1579.
Anne Cobbie, prostitute
Anne was one of 10 women cited when the owners of a brothel were brought before the Westminster session court in 1626.
Reasonable Blackman, silk weaver
Blackman lived in Southwark around 1579-1592 and likely arrived from the Netherlands to have three children. Sadly, two of them were lost to the plague in 1592.
Mary Fillis, servant
The daughter of a Moroccan basket weaver and shovel-maker, Mary came to London around 1583-4 and became a servant to a merchant. She would later work for a seamstress in East Smithfield.
Dederi Jaquoha, merchant and prince
The son of King Caddi-biah, Jaquoah was ruler of a kingdom in modern Liberia. He arrived in England in 1610 and was baptised in London on New Year’s Day 1611. He spent two years in the country with a leading merchant.