Ever heard of the Black Knight? No, I don’t mean that unfunny film with Martin Lawrence in it. I mean “The black Knight”? Did you ever stop to think where the tale of the black knight came from?
Well, many historians have dismissed the stories as a knight who had a black banner, or the knight who wore black armour, or the knight who had black hair. The truth is these men probably all were known as the black knight. After all, surely they couldn’t mean African knights, because there weren’t any Africans in medieval Europe, right?
Wrong! Whilst there may not have been armies of African knights charging around Europe in the middle ages there are noted examples which deserve further scrutiny.
Africans were first described in medieval texts as descriptions of “moorish invaders of southern Europe became popular. Whilst the majority of the Moslems who invaded Southern Europe would of been of North African Stock there would certainly have been a high percentage of mixed race warriors and Black Sub saharan Africans too.
Black Knights and Saints
As well as invaders, Africans featured as heros and even saints in Medieval Europe. These images show Saint Maurice. We cannot be sure that Maurice was actually of African origin but Maurice is derived from the name “Moor” and he was the leader of the Roman “Theban” Legion. Thebes being one of the Principle Cities in ancint Eygypt. Maurice has been depicted as an african since the 12th century, however with the african slave trade coming to prominence around the 16th century such images ceased to be the norm around that time onwards.
The moors even appear the tales of King Arthur, even though these are now proven to be fictional writings one of Arthurs knights was called Morien, again derived from “Moor”.
Black Knights in King James Court
My final image shows “A black knight and his Lady” . I have tried unsuccessfully to find the source for this image.
It was part of a clipping I collected years ago. I thought it may be a reference to King James of Scotland around 1507. James had several Africans in his court, and held a tournament in honour of one of the black maidens known as Ealenor. This image may bear reference to it. If you know different please inform me.
UPDATE 22/05/2015 – Rashidi-
Plate1. Black Norman Knight and his Lady. “So late as the tenth century three of these provinces were wholly black and the supreme ruler of these became for a time the paramount king of Transmarine Scotland.” Macritchie (photo from the Preston Collection).
So, as you see the reference to the black knight isn’t quite as light hearted as you may have previously thought. It is deep rooted in the history and mythology of Europe.
Saint Maurice: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Maurice
Journal of Negro History: http://www.jstor.org/pss/2716883
Theban Legion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theban_Legion
Another example of the same image.
Negro Norman Knight with his Lady
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