I thought about writing this in celebration of Black History Month after watching the BBC’s “Merlin” series. In the series they cast quite a few Black actors and even cast actress Angel Coulby as Queen Guinevere. This is how Im usually motivated to do my research. Being an autodidactic learner I either see or read something interesting and I go digging to see if I can find an example of it in art,literature or history. I love digging up little known and obscure facts about Black history through out the world so delving into the legend of Sir Morien was a pleasure
We’ve all heard of the “black Knight” of the King Arthur legend but there literally was a “Black” knight in King Arthur’s court. His name was Sir Morien & his tale is recorded in a 13th Century Dutch Manuscript. This tale more than likely existed in oral tradition & older text that no longer survive. There were actually quite a few people of African decent in medieval & ancient Europe. Sir Morien like King Arthur more than likely is a mythical figure based on an amalgamation of historic figures. Sir Morien more than likely was based on the leader of the Roman Theban Legion St. Maurice who himself has elements of legend attached to him.
Sir Morien is described in the text as such:
“He was all black, even as I tell ye: his head, his body, and his hands were all black, saving only his teeth. His shield and his armour were even those of a Moor, and black as a raven…
Had they not heard him call upon God no man had dared face him, deeming that he was the devil or one of his fellows out of hell, for that his steed was so great, and he was taller even than Sir Lancelot, and black withal, as I said afore…
When the Moor heard these words he laughed with heart and mouth (his teeth were white as chalk, otherwise was he altogether black)…”
For a full read I recommend this sight which has the full tale
Another Black Character in the Arthurian legends is Feirerfiz
Feirefiz is referred to as being a Saracen & his mother is the Moorish Queen Belcane (or Belacane) a Black woman & his father the fictional French King Gahmuret a White man
Many early Medieval Europeans may not have understood what children of bi-racial relationships would look like so they discribed Feirefiz as having patchy black & white skin Some also theorize the writers may have been describing a Black person with vitiligo.
“Feirefiz is a character in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Arthurian poem Parzival. He is the half-brother of Parzival, the story’s hero. He is the child of their father Gahmuret’s first marriage to the Moorish queen Belacane (Italian: “lovely meat”), and equals his brother in knightly ability. Because his father was white and his mother black, Feirefiz’s skin consists of black and white patches. His appearance is compared to that of a magpie or a parchment with writing on it, though he is considered very handsome. There exists a skin disease, Vitiligo, which produces such underpigmented patches across the body.”
A Black person in Medieval Europe may seem like an anachronism but Black Africans were more widely known to the North Western European than our mainstream history would have us believe. The fact you have such tales this early in North Western European history points to the presence of Black people in Western Europe during the medieval period.
The two above examples of medieval art are of Black African knights and noble men,one apparently of a king being crowned.
Its plausible that Black Africans absorbed the North Western feudal culture easily being that in Africa you had a tradition of horseman ship and mounted armored warriors also dating back to West Africa’s Medieval period
As we see from the above pictures this armored horse riding tradition is still alive today
Archeology also proves Black Africans were present in Europe during the earliest parts of the Medieval period. The remains of a 4th century Black woman were found in Brittan.
Blacks obviously migrated into Southern and North Western Europe throughout history as another ancient skeleton dating circa 3 AD the “Beachy Head Lady” pictured above confirms. Like the remains discovered in York these remains discovered in the South East England county of East Sussex are of a Sub Saharan female.
Those of use who are familiar with archeology and genetic research understand it was Black Africans who ventured out of Africa reaching Europe and Asia around 60k to 40k years ago as this reconstructed bust tells us.
This skull reconstruction is of the 1st homo sapiens sapiens in Europe dating to about 35k years ago.
As for Black Africans in Europe during the upper Paleolithic I recommend this documentary
So from these examples we see the Black African has long been in Europe prior to the Arab or Trans Atlantic slave trades. There are many more examples of artistic depictions of medieval Black Noble and common folk through out Europe. The below images are from the Medieval period ie: 4th century to 14th century(To the best of my knowledge). I am happy to say there are so many of these pieces of art representing peoples of Black African ancestry in Europe I grew tired of sorting through them & separating the many Renaissance art pieces and those that were made prior to the 15th century. I can only imagine how many more remain hidden or undiscovered.