Draft proclamation on the expulsion of 'Negroes and Blackamoors', 1601


This draft proclamation of 1601 is an important document revealing that there must have been a significant proportion of people of different ethnic backgrounds living in Elizabethan England. But the proclamation asks for the deportation of black people, described as ‘Negroes and blackamoors’, from the realm of England. This was justified on the grounds that these people were viewed as Muslim ‘infidels’ who were draining resources needed by the Queen’s ‘own natural subjects’ at a time of ‘dearth’ or hardship.

In the late 16th century, repeatedly failing harvests had caused an increase in poverty, starvation and vagrancy. In terms that might sound unnervingly familiar to a modern reader, the expulsion of black people was presented as a solution. In fact they were so small in number that their absence would have had done little to relieve English suffering.

There is a full transcript of this manuscript on The National Archives website.

Background to the draft proclamation of 1601

In Elizabethan England, many large households (including that of the Queen herself) employed black African servants or musicians, and, in parish records, scholars have traced much evidence of black people working in London and its surroundings. But at the end of her reign, the Queen issued several official warrants requesting the removal of ‘Blackamoores’. In 1596, a letter was sent to the mayors of London and other cities, arranging for a Lübeck merchant named Caspar van Senden to transport the ‘many Blackamoores’ (and sell them). This was in exchange for 89 English prisoners whom Van Senden had helped to release from Spanish and Portuguese jails.

Yet the masters of these black workers did not consent to the deal, so the demand was repeated in 1596 and again in 1601. The language of these documents has disturbing implications, suggesting wide-scale racial prejudice. Importantly, however, some critics like Miranda Kaufmann have challenged the idea that this was a calculated ‘piece of racist immigration policy’. Instead Kaufmann regards it as ‘one of many scandalous proposals made by merchants and courtiers in the later part’ of Elizabeth’s reign. She suggests that this manuscript of 1601 ‘may never have gone beyond draft form’. [1]

[1] Miranda Kaufmann, ‘Caspar van Senden, Sir Thomas Sherley and the ‘Blackamoor’ Project’, Historical Research, vol. 81, no. 212 (May 2008), pp. 366–371.

Full title:
Draft proclamation on the expulsion of 'Negroes and Blackamoors', 1601
1601, London
Manuscript / Draft proclamation
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Reproduced courtesy of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House

Held by
Hatfield House
Historical Manuscripts Commission, Salisbury MSS, xi, 569 (Hatfield Cecil Papers 91/15)

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