History Hunt: John Blanke

Today’s featured musician for the History Hunt series is a particularly good example of how some stories are much harder to hear about than others. When I was growing up and reading about English history, through history books and story books, I learned a great deal about what it was like to live hundreds of years ago. But I didn’t learn that there were People of Colour (POC) living all over England in that time, too, doing all kinds of jobs–my History Hunting skills weren’t good enough to find their stories just yet.

One of the people who I’ve only recently learned about is royal trumpeter John Blanke, who made music for two kings during the early 1500s. Nothing is known of his life as a young man, and no one is sure whether “Blanke” is his true family name or a nickname, but obviously he must have been a great musician!

His first employer on record was King Henry VII, starting in 1507, and when King Henry VIII was crowned in 1509, the new king let him continue his job as one of eight royal trumpeters. That he was highly valued as a musician in the court of Henry VIII is clear: when he got married in January 1512, the king himself sent him a wedding gift!

Unfortunately, after 1514, historians lose track of Blanke, which isn’t uncommon–record-keeping wasn’t always the best in those days. I can only hope his was a happy marriage and that he enjoyed playing the trumpet for the rest of his life.

To give an idea of the sort of music that was popular while Blanke was alive, here’s a recording of a performance by the Canadian Brass. The pieces the group plays were written a little later than when Blanke was active as a royal trumpeter, but they’re still worth listening to!

To Learn More (sources):
Blanke, John at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (podcast version available here)
John Blanke, Black Trumpeter at The National Archives


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