Although Germans were not as centrally involved in the slave trade as the Portuguese, Spanish, and British, their trading connections across Europe meant they nevertheless had opportunities to profit from it. Caspar van Senden was a trader from the Hanseatic city of Lübeck. On his own initiative he had negotiated the release of eighty-nine English prisoners being held by the Spanish and Portuguese, at some cost to himself, and he presented himself to Queen Elizabeth’s court seeking compensation. He received a royal warrant directing mayors and other officials to help van Senden acquire “Blackamoores” whom he could sell on his return trip to Spain and Portugal. This warrant did not work, and after he had incurred further debt securing the release of English prisoners he tried again in 1601 to acquire a more forceful license.
Although the letters are often used to illustrate a pervasive animus against black Londoners and a state-sponsored campaign to expel them from the country, recent research has suggested a more complicated story. As the historian Miranda Kaufman argues, these documents do not reflect any coherent program but rather a strategy to ward off a debtor. Rather than paying him, the court gave him a royal patent that he might use to pursue a commercial opportunity. Van Senden tried to craft an argument that would encourage masters to hand over their black servants out of a sense of national duty, but this was poor incentive indeed. Masters were unwilling to hand over their African servants, and, having received neither financial nor legal support from the court, van Senden’s scheme was destined to fail.
The first document is a letter in which the Queen outlines van Senden’s service to the realm and directs officials to help him find masters who would be willing to hand over their “Blackamores.” In return the masters will receive no compensation but can rest easy knowing that it is the Queen’s wish that they employ their “contrymen” in a time of widespread hardship and vagrancy. The second source represents van Senden’s persistence to see his scheme realized. It is a royal license drafted in 1601 that insists that any and all “Negroes and blackamoors” in England should be rounded up and handed over to van Senden. The license threatens anyone who resists with being reported to the royal authorities for unspecified punishments. It may have been composed by van Senden himself and does not seem to have moved past the draft stage.
An open warrant to the L[ord] Maiour of London and to all other vyceadmyralles, Maiours and other publicke officers whatsoever to whom yt may appertaine. Whereas Casper van Senden a merchant of Lubeck did by his labor and travell procure 89 of her Ma[jest’s] subiectes that were detayned prisoners in Spaine and Portugall to be released, and brought them hither into this Realme at his owne cost and charges, for the w[hi]ch his expences and declaration of his honest minde towardes those prizoners, he only desireth to have lycense to take up so many Blackamoores here in this Realme and to transport them into Spaine and Portugall. Her Ma[jes]ty in regard of the charitable affection the supli[ant] hathe shewed being a stranger to worke the delivery of our contrymen that were there in great misery and thraldom and to bring them home to their native contry, and that the same could not be don w[i]thout great expence and also considering the reasonablenes of his requestes to transport so many Blackamoores from hence doth thincke yt a very good exchange and that those kinde of people may be well spared in this Realme being so populous and nombers of hable persons the subiects of the land and xpian [Christian] people that perishe for want of service, whereby through their labor they might be mayntained. They are therefore in their L[ordshi]ps’ name req[ui]red to aide and assist him to take up suche Blackamores as he shall finde w[i]thin this Realme w[i]th consent of their masters, who we doubt not considering her Ma[jesty’s] good pleasure to have those kindes of people sent out of the lande & the good deserving of the stranger towardes her Ma[jesty’s] subiectes, and that they shall doe charitable and like Christians rather to be served b y their owne contrymen then with those kynde of people, will yilde those in their possession to him.
Source: “An open Letter from Elizabeth I (18 July 1596),” National Archives, London, PC 2/21, f. 306.
WHEREAS the Queen’s majesty, tendering the good and welfare of her own natural subjects, greatly distressed in these hard times of dearth, is highly discontented to understand the great number of Negroes and blackamoors which (as she is informed) are carried into this realm since the troubles between her highness and the King of Spain; who are fostered and powered here, to the great annoyance of her own liege people that which co[vet?] the relief which these people consume, as also for that the most of them are infidels having no understanding of Christ or his Gospel: hath given a special commandment that the said kind of people shall be with all speed avoided and discharged out of this her majesty’s realms; and to that end and purpose hath appointed Casper van Senden, merchant of Lubeck, for their speedy transportation, a man that hath somewhat deserved of this realm in respect that by his own labor and charge he hath relieved and brought from Spain divers of our English nation who otherwise would have perished there.
These shall therefore be to will and require you and every of you to aid and assist the said Casper van Senden or his assignees to taking such Negroes and blackamoors to be transported as aforesaid as he shall find within the realm of England; and if there shall be any person or persons which be possessed of any such blackamoors that refuse to deliver them in sort aforesaid, then we require you to call them before you and to advise and persuade them by all good means to satisfy her majesty’s pleasure therein; which if they shall eftsoons willfully and obstinately refuse, we pray you to certify their names to us, to the end her majesty may take such further course therein as it shall seem best in her princely wisdom.
Caspar van Senden schemes to remove England’s “blackamoores” (1596-1601) by Jeff Bowersox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blackcentraleurope.com/who-we-are/.