Africans played key role Scottish Royal household

AFRICANS are likely to have been an integral part of the Royal household in Scotland as much as five centuries ago, according to new research.

An intriguing glimpse of the cosmopolitan character of the Renaissance Scottish court of Mary of Guise has been unearthed by a detailed study of documents relating to Stirling Castle, where the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots was to rule as regent.

They include what is believed to be the first clear record of Africans being part of the Royal household at the Royal Palace in Stirling.

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The tantalising clues have been uncovered by John Harrison, a freelance historian who has been investigating original palace documents, as part of Historic Scotland's 12 million project to return the royal palace within the walls of Stirling Castle to how it may have looked in the mid-16th century.

Among Mr Harrison's sources is The Bread Book, an account of who received loaves from the royal kitchens throughout 1549 when the palace was the main residence of Mary de Guise, five years before she was declared regent and ruled Scotland on behalf of her daughter.

The book reveals that on most days a loaf was granted to the "Morys", or Moors, who Mr Harrison believes were probably either black Africans or Arabs originating from North Africa.

Mr Harrison said: "Just who the Moors were, and what they were doing, is difficult to say. They were quite low in the court hierarchy, but were part of the household and getting bread at royal expense."

He added: "This is a fascinating glimpse of the diversity of the Royal court at Stirling in the mid-16th century.

"It was quite cosmopolitan at the time, with the French Mary de Guise at its head, and surrounded not just by Scots but by people from Spain, the Rhineland and what is now Belgium. There were a few English, but they were mostly prisoners."

Mr Harrison said the historical records also showed that Mary of Guise, unlike the English Tudor monarchs who dined alone, took her main meals in public in the Queen's Outer Hall at Stirling.

He said: "Quite a wide range of people had access to her, not ordinary farmers but lots of people who were fairly well-to-do, which is important as she was working hard to build and protect the interests of her young daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots."

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According to Mr Harrison, there were also specific practical advantages in following the "French style" and eating in the outer hall of the palace. He said: "It had the easiest access to the kitchens and was also the largest space. And once everyone had finished eating, the tables could be cleared away to make space for dancing and entertainment."

Mr Harrison added: "Mary de Guise was an intelligent, decisive woman and a smart operator. In modern terms, she was networking, building contacts, hearing news, being seen and generating support.

"Just as important is that this tells us that she was part of a tradition that allowed a queen to work in this way."

The records studied by Mr Harrison also show that the widow of James V would lay on the very best cuisine for her guests. Some were even treated to sweets, such as gteaux, which were a great luxury at a time when sugar was an expensive rarity.

The bread would have included white rolls called pain de bouche, given to those who were "at the queen's board" and pain commun which was probably a light brown, wheaten loaf.

Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland's head of cultural resources, said: "Research allows us to recapture exactly what was going on in the 1540s. It helps us make sure that visitors will have an experience that is authentic, informative and a great deal of fun."