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  • Title: Letters Permitting Deportation of Blackamoors from England (Modern)
  • Editor: Jessica Slights

  • Copyright Internet Shakespeare Editions. This text may be freely used for educational, non-proift purposes; for all other uses contact the Coordinating Editor.
    Author: Elizbeth I
    Editor: Jessica Slights
    Peer Reviewed

    Letters Permitting Deportation of Blackamoors from England (Modern)

    0.1Elizabeth I, Letters Permitting Deportation of Blackamoors from England (1596)

    [This pair of letters granting Queen Elizabeth I's permission for the deportation of "blackmoors" from her realm reminds readers of Othello both that early modern England was home to many people of color, and that at least some of these people faced the threat of royally sanctioned displacement as some of the most vulnerable members of a political economy prepared to scapegoat and to commodify them. There is no evidence to support the letters' claim that immigration, either through slavery or otherwise, contributed to joblessness among those born in England, but the highly profitable trade in human merchandise that saw the first African slaves brought into the country in the middle of the sixteenth century was certainly on the increase in this period. Although the second letter suggests that deportation of blackamoors in service should occur "with consent of their masters," neither letter mentions compensation, presumably assuming that English masters will prefer to be served "by their own countrymen" rather than by "those kind of people." This appears to have been a miscalculation, however, since the existence of a proclamation less than four years later compelling the masters of "negroes and blackamoors" to hand them over to van Senden suggests that most if not all failed to do so upon the original request (Tudor 221-2).]

    111 July 1596

    An open letter to the lord mayor of London and the aldermen and his brethren, and to all other mayors, sheriffs, etc. Her majesty, understanding that there are of late divers blackmoors brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here too many, considering how God hath blessed this land with great increase of people of our own nation as any country in the world, whereof many for want of service and means to set them on work fall to idleness and to great extremity. Her majesty's pleasure therefore is that those kind of people should be sent forth of the land, and for that purpose there is direction given to this bearer Edward Banes to take of those blackmoors that in this last voyage under Sir Thomas Baskerville were brought into this realm the number of ten, to be transported by him out of the realm. Wherein we require you to be aiding and assisting unto him as he shall have occasion, and thereof not to fail.

    18 July 1596

    An open warrant to the lord mayor of London and to all other vice-admirals, mayors, and other public officers whatsoever to whom it may appertain. Whereas Casper van Senden, a merchant of Lubeck did by his labor and travel procure eighty-nine of her majesty's subjects that were detained prisoners in Spain and Portugal to be released, and brought them hither into this realm at his own cost and charges, for the which his expenses and declaration of his honest mind towards those prisoners he only desireth to have license to take up so many blackamoors here in this realm and to transport them into Spain and Portugal. Her majesty, in regard of the charitable affection the suppliant hath showed being a stranger to work the delivery of our countrymen that were there in great misery and thralldom and to bring them home to their native country, and that the same could not be done without great expense, and also considering the reasonableness of his requests to transport so many blackamoors from hence, doth think it a very good exchange and that those kind of people may be well spared in this realm being so populous and numbers of able persons the subjects of the land and Christian people that perish for want of service, whereby through their labor they might be maintained. They are, therefore, in their lordships' name required to aid and assist him to take up such blackamoors as he shall find within this realm with consent of their masters, who we doubt not considering her majesty's good pleasure to have those kinds of people sent out of the land and the good deserving of the stranger towards her majesty's subjects, and that they shall do charitable and like Christians rather to be served by their own countrymen than with those kind of people, will yield those in their possession to him.