Black Lives in the Restoration Household: The Queen’s Account

This post is part of Reflecting on Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives: An Online Symposium, organised and edited by Rebecca Adusei and Jamie Gemmell. The blog series is introduced here. You can join Rebecca and Jamie to celebrate the publication of the posts at a free event at the London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 19 May – the event includes presentations by the post authors and a tour of the LMA’s new ‘Unforgotten Lives’ exhibition.

Susannah Lyon-Whaley

Susannah Lyon-Whaley is completing her PhD in Art History at the University of Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand on the Stuart queen consort Catherine of Braganza.

Imtiaz Habib’s groundbreaking study Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible (2008) searches for traces of its subjects in parish registers, legal documents, and also amidst the records of the royal court. Histories of European kings and queens – even to the present day – often say little about black lives, yet royal records offer rich, if sporadic, evidence of these. To establish the presence of African slaves in the train of Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess who arrived in England in 1501 to marry Henry VIII’s older brother, Habib looks to official letters and the accounts of bystanders.[1] While these records are rich, their references to black lives are not easy to find but must be mined, likely why Habib does not apply the same detail to the Restoration court of the seventeenth century (c. 1660-1688) as he does to the household of the Spanish princess.

Similar to many of Habib’s finds, the £2 paid “To the Lady Wood ffor the Blackemores Lienning [linen]” – in 1663 in the accounts of Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705), Portuguese queen consort of Charles II (r. 1649/1660-1685), is easily glossed over, sandwiched between payments to attendants at the waters of the spa at Tunbridge Wells and for gold to play at cards. While ‘Lady Wood’ can be identified as Dame Mary Wood (d. 1665) through her appearance in Catherine’s household lists, the ‘Blackemores’ – a phrase indicating African heritage – are not named, gendered, nor even quantified.[2]  By the Restoration, Habib argues that blackness was more likely to be associated with enforced servitude.[3] What, then, can the ‘queen’s account’ of these lives tell us about black lives in the Restoration household?

We might start by considering this household’s interaction with black lives more broadly. In 1662, Catherine arrived in London as the new queen of England and its expanding cache of colonies, swelled by her dowry to include Tangier in North Africa and Bombay (Mumbai) in India. Early modern Portugal had a significant black population, and Catherine’s ship carried “a little Turk and a negroe” as pages for the daughters of the English ambassador.[4] The celebrations of her departure from Lisbon included ‘Ethiopians’, and the pageants staged on the Thames for her arrival in London reputedly involved ‘Indians’ and ‘Moors’.[5] Perhaps, the ‘Blackemores’ might have arrived in England with Catherine, as Habib endorses the probability that the black Tudor drummer, John Blanke, arrived with Catherine of Aragon?[6] That this isolated mention is at Tunbridge Wells, where Catherine frequently sought entertainment, further offers the possibility that they could have been musicians. Yet the unnamed status of the ‘Blackemores’ seems to cement that the queen – or those recording her accounts – didn’t value their individual identities. Royals were intimately and consciously involved in processes that have defined black history transnationally. Charles II’s charter to the Royal African Company in 1663 sanctioned the transatlantic slave trade and Catherine too subscribed to this company.[7] In Catherine’s will, executed in Lisbon in 1705, she gave money to free enslaved children, women, and men (in that order).[8] However, it’s difficult to take such a document as a critique of slavery in general, especially given her aforementioned investment.

For Catherine, the visual culture of blackness in her court and chambers was associated with servitude and enslavement. Catherine’s guardchamber (the entrance to her state apartments) at Windsor Castle illustrated a black woman as Africa offering a tribute to a white woman, possibly Britannia or the queen, seated on a globe.[9] Her husband’s throne at Windsor was decorated with “three large figures being called slaves”.[10] In art, black lives were visible as objects, as allegories, as entities without names, like the ‘Blackemores’ in Catherine’s accounts. Yet, to take them as such is to risk boxing them into a one-sided narrative of the court’s structures.

The work of the modern American artist Titus Kaphar challenges the viewer to refocus their gaze beyond the hierarchical structures of early modern paintings to see the person beneath, an approach that accords with the approach of historians such as Habib to the archives.[11] In the UK, art historian Alice Procter’s Uncomfortable Art Tours use visual culture as a touchstone to reveal the imperial pasts of Britain’s elite.[12] If visual and material culture contextualise elite attitudes towards black lives, the archives reveal mundane details like linen, tangibly evocative in their material, daily use. Of course, not all Africans in England were enslaved. In 1682, Charles II welcomed the ambassador of Morocco, who spent an evening enjoying sweets in the apartments of the king’s mistress.[13] Nor are all ‘Blackemoores’ unnamed. Charles II’s own Privy Purse accounts list a payment of £10 to “Peter the Moore”.[14] Each clue contributes to a patchwork of black lives, their visibility and geographies, imprints that render them less invisible, as Habib’s subtitle implicitly suggests.

I want to offer one more example from the queen’s accounts: Rebecca Blackmore, whose surname is a potential – while not infallible – marker of race.[15] Unusually for a woman, Rebecca is an ‘Armes Painter’. In May 1670, she was paid £17, “For paintinge and guiltinge [gilding] in oyle 4 Trumpett Banners” and “For 2 kettle Drum Banners painted in oyle and guilt with fine gold” for Catherine’s “Troope of Guards”.[16] Rebecca was not part of Catherine’s household and the queen unlikely paid her directly. She also painted arms for the duke of Saxony, the duke of Albermarle, for the king of Sweden, and for the funerals of the baby daughter and son of James, duke of York. Yet if she was a black woman, clearly not enslaved, she adds a different note to the dynamic of race amongst those connected to Catherine.

Click here for links to all the posts in this series.

[1] Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible (Burlington: Ashgate, 2008), 23-26.

[2] R.O. Bucholz, ed. ‘Household of Queen (from 1685 Queen Dowager) Catherine 1660–1705,’ 39-40,; Nandini Das, João Vicente Melo, Haig Z. Smith, and Lauren Working, Keywords of Identity, Race, and Human Mobility in Early Modern England (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2021), 40-50.

[3] Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 191.

[4] 30 May 1662, ‘The Diary of Samuel Pepys,’ Given the context, these pages were likely personal attendants. While many pages were employed or apprenticed, it is possible these children were enslaved.

[5] Lorraine Madway, ‘Rites of Deliverance and Disenchantment: The Marriage Celebrations for Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, 1661-62,’ The Seventeenth Century 27, no. 1 (2012): 85; James Heath, The Glories and Magnificent Triumphs of the Blessed Restitution of His Sacred Majesty K. Charles II … (London: N.G., R.H. and O.T., 1662), 259.

[6] Habib, Black Lives, 39.

[7] BL, Sloane MS 205, ff. 8v–9r; TNA, SP 29/75 f.239. Habib, Black Lives, 171.

[8] TNA, PROB 1/56, p. 23.

[9]The Queen’s Guard Chamber, Windsor Castle,’ c.1817,

[10] RA, SP/ADD/1/158.

[11] Titus Kaphar/ ‘Can Art Amend History?’ TED Talk.

[12] Alice Procter. ‘The Exhibitionist.’

[13] F.H. Blackburne Daniell, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the reign of Charles II, 1660-[1685], preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, vol. 23 (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1932), 43.

[14] August 1668, Bodleian Library, Special Collection, MS Malone 44, fol. 100–112.

[15] Although Habib notes such surnames do not necessarily confer race, he notes they do signify its possibility and are worth taking into account: Black Lives, 46-49.

[16] TNA, LC 9/272, 19 May 1670.

1 thought on “Black Lives in the Restoration Household: The Queen’s Account

  1. Blackamores were a common site in Southampton from at least 1490 (and probably much early) arriving as crew on Italian merchant ships. Many were unnamed as were galleymen generally. There were also people like Black John a carpenter who worked on the town crown in 1492 and a tax payer in 1500

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