I love History, Romance, the Regency, Food, Family, Faith and Friends.
First, let's establish the basics. Black People existed in the Regency.
In London, there were over 10,000-20,000 that lived in London during the time of Jane Austen. The number has been estimated to be as high as 30,000 across England, Scotland, and Ireland. With less than 28 dukes during that time period, who are you more likely to run into, a duke, or a person of color?
If you want historical fantasy, think of thousands of hot dukes. Really? Unfortunately most looked like the gentleman on the left. (Some sources tally 28 based on Regency dates.) Sources: London Gazette from years:1726-1814.
Free resource on Blacks/Blackamoors:
Must read on Blackamoors in England is Black London, Life Before Emancipation by Gretch Gerzina. Download for free from Dartmouth or here.
Basic questions about Blacks/Blackamoors during the Regency and Georgian Periods:
Where did the blacks live?
1. 10,000-20,000 lived in London and other port cities.
2. "Throughout Britain, black people started to establish communities, concentrating around the large industrial towns and ports. They also began to make increasing numbers of the army and royal navy and across other professions." According to research done by the team producing the British Historical Series: Regency House Party.
Excerpts from Measuring the Moment: Strategies of Protest in Eighteenth-century Afro-English Writing by Keith Albert Sandiford
1772 Somerset Case: The enslaved had rights on English Soil. Lord Mansfield, Dido Belle's uncle, judged the case.
1776 American Revolution: A Fight for Freedom
1783 132 enslaved Africans are willfully drowned from the ship of the Zong. Lord Mansfield ruled against (Gregson v Gilbert) that the ship captain and crew were at fault. The Black River, Jamaica has a monument to the Zong.
1791 Parliament ends the practice of insurers paying for lost cargo (murdered or dying enslaved persons) to shippers and financiers.
1807 Peninsula War: A Fight to Stop Tyranny
1807 Trading and Capturing slaves abolished in the British Empire. This didn't stop breeding, selling, and re-importation of the enslaved
1811 British Regency begins with 2nd fit of Madness of George III, Prince George (IV) becomes Regent*
1820 British Regency ends with Death of George III. George IV now reigned.
1833 Slavery Abolition Act: British Empire: Ends slavery throughout all British Territories. All slaves are freed and all owners are paid reparations via Parliament. William IV signed this decree.
1861 American Civil War begins on April 12. (The Enslaved are not free in the US. It takes a war to end it).
1863 Emancipation Proclamation - US President issues Executive Order to free the slaves in the "Rebellious States" allowing the border states loyal to the union to keep their enslaved men and women.
1865 American Civil War ends April 9.
1865 Juneteenth, June 19 -the last slaves in Texas are informed of the Emancipation Proclamation.
1865 13th Amendment to the Constitution legally ends slavery in all of the US. Ratified December 18.
Thirty-two years after England ends slavery, the US ends it too. Thirty-two years....
*The British National Portrait Gallery suggests an even wider time period for the Regency: "The Regency spanned the four decades from the start of the French Revolution in 1789 to the passing of Britain's great Reform Act in 1832."
For more about my process of doing research: Vanessa Riley - How History Informs Her Diverse Regencies
Dido Elizabeth Belle
Dido Elizabeth Belle was the grand-niece of Lord Mansfield. She was the daughter of Sir John Lindsay, a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy and enslaved Jamaican woman. She was raised by her uncle at Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath.
Queen Charlotte (Portuguese Royal Line)
Queen Charlotte, the wife of the English King George III (The Mad King) (1738-1820), was directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa. Margarita de Castro y Sousa was a part of the black branch of the Portuguese Royal House. She was often called, "Mulatto Face" to deride her. These portraits are by her and the King's chosen painter, Allan Ramsay. The portrait above hangs in the State Dining Room of Buckingham Palace.
The painting below with her two oldest sons hangs in the Green Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace.
William Davidson (1786-1820) was born in Jamaica and came to Edinburgh at the age of 14. He came to study the law. Later he spent time at sea and became a cabinet maker. Unfortunately, he fell in with the radicals after the Peterloo massacre and tried to blow u the MPs in the cabinet to get the government to pay attention to their demands. He and his co-conspirators were arrested in a hayloft in Cato Street in London. They were hanged at Tyburn.
Peter the Great with his page.
The little Blackamoor pages grew up to be footmen, valets, and tradesmen.
Miss William Brown
Miss William Brown left her husband to join the 1815 ship crew of Queen Charlotte. She dressed as a man, had served for eleven years as a British sailor. While serving in the Royal Navy, Brown distinguished herself as "able on the books of the above ship." She also "served as captain of the foretop highly to the satisfaction of the officer." She is said to like to drink grog with other sailors. Charles Dickens described her as a "smart figure, about five feet four inches in height, possessed of considerable strength and great activity; her features are rather handsome for a black, and she appears to be about twenty-six years of age." She shared in prize money with her crew. Dickens said her share was considerable.
Brown's discharge papers.
Brown's Story in the 1815 Register.
Francis Williams, Wealthy Negro Scholar of Jamaica, Naturalized English Citizen
Francis Williams was born around 1700 to John and Dorothy Williams, a free black couple in Jamaica. John Williams had been freed in 1699 by the will of his former master. John Williams acquired the property and became independently wealthy which meant his children could be educated. Thus, Francis received an education and traveled with means to England where he became a naturalized citizen.
In the 1720s, Williams returned to Jamaica and set up a free school for black children.
Olaudah Equiano (c. 17451797) was a prominent author and merchant. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), helped sway public sentiment to favor abolition. Enslaved at age of 11, Olaudah is renamed him Gustavus Vassa by one of his owners. He is eventually sold to a merchant captain who allows him to buy his freedom. He spends the rest of his days an explorer and merchant before settling in England and beginning his successful memoir.
Political Cartoons are key examples of the culture and spotlight things the illustrator wishes to drive attention. I use many cartoons in my research.
Blackamoors were captured in political cartoons advertising marriages of convenience for husbands.
This is a political cartoon circa 1803. Please notice the Black woman drawn as one of the potential brides. If Black were not a part of the culture, why would one be drawn in the cartoon? Notice that she is drawn with mobcap bonnet like the other women. Her status is equivalent to the others. Free women are denoted with hats. Scarfs are the head-coverings of the enslaved.
Cartoons to Oppose Abolition
The New Union Club Being a Representation of what took place at a celebrated Dinner given by a celebrated society -- includes in picture abolitionists, Billy Waters, Zachariah Macauley, William Wilberforce. -- published 19 July 1819. Source: Wiki Commons
May 1773 - The Duchess of Queensberry fencing with Soubise.
The quote from the piece is The Duchess of Queensberry playing at Foils with her favorite Lap Dog Mungo after expending near 10,000 to make him a--Catherine Douglas, Duchess of Queensberry (1701--1777) is shown fencing with her servant, protege Julius Soubise (ca. 1754--1798). Soubise was born enslaved on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. In 1764, he was brought to England aboard a royal naval vessel. He was given to the 63-year-old Duchess as a gift by the captain of the vessel.
The Duchess doted on her new charge and Soubise was trained in riding and fencing, He became famous as "one of the most conspicuous fops of the town," because he was well styled and became nicknamed A Mungo Macaroni.
In 1777, Soubise moved to India, where he opened a riding school.
Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, 773.05.01.09+
Before I show some notices of upper-class influences, here are some from the lower and middle-class of Blacks and Whites socializing:
Repugnant accounts but notice that Blacks have moved beyond London and were now found in the country-side and more remote locations.
In 1805, Yale Professor of Chemistry, Benjamin Stillman observes the following:
Again this is a middle-class account of an interracial couple.
The minstrel and performance art was not unknown to a Londoner:
Excerpt from Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain
For fans of Underworld activities of London:
Above, I've shown you primary and secondary sources of middle and lower classes. Now let's move to the upper-class for this was not out of reach for Blacks/Blackamoors.
Friends in High Places
George Bridgetower (George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower) was born in Poland on October 11, 1778. The mulatto described as Afro-European was the son of John Frederick Bridgetower, a West Indie's black man and a white German maid. He became a virtuoso violinist whose talents were recognized by the Prince Regent. The prince took an interest in his education and directed Bridgetower's musical studies. Bridgetower performed in many concerts in London theatres like Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and the Haymarket Theatre. In the spring of 1789, Bridgetower performed at the Abbaye de Panthemont in Paris. Thomas Jefferson attended this event. Bridgewater died in February 1860.
Bill Richmond (August 5, 1763 -- December 28, 1829)
1810 Handbill; The latter image is an 1812 portrait.
American born, enslaved but lived most of his life as free in England. Richmond won his freedom and entered the British service under nobleman Hugh Percy. Married a woman, Mary Dunwick. When people slandered Mary for marrying outside of her race, Bill started fighting, besting everyone who dared him. He allegedly beat five men in one day. He became employed by Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford. They became fast friends and attended pugilist events together. Strangely, Richmond is believed to be the mulatto executioner (one of the executioners/Hangman for the Crown) of Nathan Hale.
For the King's coronation, a lavish banquet was thrown. Eighteen men, leading boxers, and sports figures of the day are gathered. They wear Tudor costumes to be celebrated amongst the Ton. These men are exhibited for their stature and Grecian-God like builds. Richmond is one of these men, the only man of color. Some say he taught Lord Byron to box.
Images from Richmond Unchained by Luke G. Williams
An Affair with a Prince of England
1788 James Gillray caricature. The scandalous drawing of Prince William Henry, the Regent's brother, caught in an affair with a dark skin mulatto woman. The woman wasn't made grotesque like others had done when characterizing dark-skinned females. Gilroy still mocked her, calling her Wowski. Her name is Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, one of the wealthiest women in the Caribbean. Dorothy's life story, her rise from enslavement to the axis of power is told in Island Queen (7/2021) by Vanessa Riley to be published by HarperColins William Morrow.
Dr. Jonathan Troup of Dominica attests to the relationship of the Prince Wm Henry a "mollatoe girl"-- "a very nice and well dress'd girl and handsome" May 15, 1789.
British Colonel Despard and Catherine
Portrait of Despard
Colonel Edward Despard and Catherine (Kitty) from Poldark (Season V)
On the 27th January 1817 Jane Austen began Sanditon, the first Regency that included, Miss Lambe, a mulatto heiress, a very wealthy mulatto heiress. Jane Austen, the patron saint of Regency Novels, was a progressive woman.
Miss Lambe, the wealthiest heiress in Jane Austen's Sanditon. People are scheming to marry her for fortune. Money trumps race.
Miss Lambe and Charlotte socializing together.
"Mrs. Griffiths was a very well-behaved, genteel kind of woman, who supported herself by receiving such great girls and young ladies as wanted either masters for finishing their education or a home for beginning their displays. She had several more under her care than the three who were now come to Sanditon, but the others all happened to be absent. Of these three, and indeed of all, Miss Lambe was beyond comparison the most important and precious, as she paid in proportion to her fortune. She was about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly and tender, had a maid of her own, was to have the best room in the lodgings, and was always of the first consequence in every plan of Mrs. Griffiths." from Jane Austen's words from her Sanditon.
Jane Austen was a contemporary author writing of her times. She captured the influx of mix-race women coming to England for education and marriage.
I am so excited for my friend Julia Quinn that her series was made into a Netflix show. Do you know how we long for more romance and more Regency pieces to be shown on TV or the big Movie Screen? Yet, because of the 'color-conscious' casting, the lead, The Duke of Hastings is played by the beautiful and talented Rege'-Jean Page, some are calling it 'controversial'. (Please note the sarcasm about hot dukes mentioned at the beginning of this post.) The chemistry between this actor and Phoebe Dynevor (Daphne Bridgerton) is fire-hot. Their work should be applauded. This series will bring attention to the genre I love. All books no matter what one writes within this time period will receive greater attention. This is fantastic.
Now, I know some want everything to be exactly as it was written in the book, but TV is a different medium, a different experience. Bridgerton will be different. Let's celebrate the differences. Viva la Page!!!
That said, let me answer the question you are dying for, was there ever a Black Duke? The answer is yes. Alessandro de' Medici was the Duke of Penn and the 1st Duke of Florence.
He is rumored to be the son of Simonetta da Collavechio, a black servant, and Cardinal Giulio de Medici who later becomes Pope Clement VII. Flamboyant, battle-hardened, and a ladies man, the Duke of Florence's reign is cut short by his assassination in 1537. His jealous cousin murders him. Why haven't you heard more of this duke? The assassination thing that his cousin, his white cousin did, not only took the duke's life but disparaged his record of rule. It was pretty extensive slander and done to make Alessandro a black mark in the family history. He who lives to tell the story shapes the story.
With the vast holdings of British peers in the West Indies and other colonies around the globe, I'm sure that there were more mix-raced peers, but they all learned to pass in order to live and to enjoy the privileges their birthright had given them.
If you'd like to see more Duke of Hastings and maybe a smidgeon of Alessandro type leads, please check out The Bewildered Bride and An Earl, The Girl, and A Toddler and Unveiling Love.
There are more Black men and women of means who lived extraordinary lives, but you will have to learn about them in one of my upcoming books. Why not buy my latest?