Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann

“As early as 1489, William Caxton wrote: ‘He was so angry for it, that he became black as a Moor’. In 1550 William Thomas, in his Principal rules of the Italian grammar, defined ‘Moro’ as ‘ a Moore or blacke man’, as if the two were synonymous. Shakespeare described Othello, and Aaron in Titus Andonicus, as ‘Moors’, but references to Othello’s sooty bosom’ and Aaron’s ‘coal black’ visage make it clear that both were conceived as being dark skinned. A brief glance at Henry Peacham’s drawing of a staging of Titus Andronicus confirms that Aaron was played as a black man. Standing alone, it seems ‘moor’ had come to signify black skin.”

“With addition of “tawny’, meaning brown, ‘tawny moor’ referred to lighter skin North Africans. In the The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare described the Prince of Morocco as a ‘tawnie Moore’, and his Cleopatra as having a ‘tawny front. John Pory, the scholar who translated Leo Africanus Description of Africa in 1600, spoke of the ‘tawnie Moores’ who inhabited North Africa.”

“One Welsh squire wrote that the sunburnt peasants of Pembrokeshire are forced to ensure the heat of the sun in its greatest extremity, to parch and burn their faces, hands, legs, feets and breasts in such sort as they seem more like ‘tawny Moors’ than people of this land. But other than these literary sources, ‘tawny’ was rarely applied to a person’s complexion; to date, Anne Cobbie is the only persons frond in the archives of the period to be described this way.”

‘Tawny moor’ suggest a North African origin; that she was either from Morocco, like Mary Fillis, or from one of the other ‘Barbary States’ (Algeria, Tunisia, Tripoli) which, unlike Morocco, were part of the Ottoman Empire. Or, perhaps, given her English surname, she was the mixed-race child of a Black Tudor and an Englishman or woman. ”

Source: Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann