According to the National Archives website:

..in the Middle Ages, Moors arrived in Britain. They probably came, directly or indirectly, from Spain, which had been conquered by Muslims from North and Northwest Africa in the 8th century.

Is it known why these Moors came to Britain and what they did there?

The Wikipedia page Black British also has a reference to an African in Britain, perhaps someone who was one of the many slaves in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman conquest:

In 2013, a skeleton was discovered in Fairford, Gloucestershire, which forensic anthropology revealed to be that of a sub-Saharan African woman thought to be an unpaid bonded servant or slave, who died between the years 896 and 1025.

I also found this Rainbow Roundtable site with several references to Africans in Britain and around Britain but am wondering as to its credibility.

There are quite a number of references to Africans in Britain during Roman times and from the early modern period onwards (e.g. Moors in the court of James IV of Scotland, Elizabeth I of England expelling Moors), but I am curious about the period in between (i.e. the middle ages).

Are there any references in medieval chronicles, or is there any other evidence of Africans or Asians living in (or just visiting) medieval Britain?

I’m especially interested in Asians and Africans who were in Britain not as slaves but for other reasons.

  • 1
    I could swear I saw a twitter thread a few months ago on this exact subject... – T.E.D. Dec 13 '17 at 18:21
  • @T.E.D. Maybe you're referring to this? theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/06/… – Lars Bosteen Mar 30 '18 at 23:39
  • BBC History Magazine did an article on this subject and an interview. Matter of fact they did several - you might look there. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 31 '18 at 2:12
  • There is a difference between Moors (members of the Berber tribes and ethic groups) and Africans (residents of the continent of Africa), North Africans (residents of the Mediterranean coast of Africa), blacks (sub saharan Africans and their descendants), and other terms. And those terms were often used very loosely and imprecisely. – MAGolding Apr 30 '18 at 20:13

The Kingdom of Makuria (Nubian peoples, think south of Egypt) was a Christian kingdom and I would suggest that is the likely homeland for Black people who made it into medieval Europe. It's heavily neglected (crusaders and Christianity tends to be portrayed solely as 'white', but that is heavily incorrect as three Christian kingdoms existed to the south of Egypt). You can find their Makurian presence in crusades, and this was a likely link back to France and England.

From the 4th crusade comes a an account in Constantinople where the crusaders come across a Nubian man

And while the barons were there at the palace, a king came there whose skin was all black, and he had a cross in the middle of his forehead that had been made with a hot iron. This king was living in a very rich abbey in the city, in which the former emperor Alexios had commanded that he should be lodged and of which he was to be lord and owner as long as he wanted to stay there.

The king mentioned above was on his own pilgrimage...From his homelands to Jerusalem, to Constantinople, then Rome, and finally Santiago de Compostela (far north west of Spain).

The shrine to St. James at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain dates to the 9th century. The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) was (and remains) one of the most popular pilgrimage routes in medieval Europe.

Medieval Spain was a well-known multicultural melting pot of peoples. Pilgrimage to Santiago is mostly associated with European Christians, but this is an incorrect assumption. In fact, one 12th century Latin text lists Nubians as one of the 72 different nations from which pilgrims came to visit the shrine. Even more, a century after King Moses George’s trip, in 1312, historian Ibn ‘Idhāri al-Marrakuši also mentioned Nubians as pilgrims to Santiago. So even if the king did not go—or did not survive the trip—other Africans appear to have done so, and be counted among the black faces present in medieval Europe.

I believe from here, a few of these people made their way through Europe and are likely the source of those mentioned in James IV of Scotland court. Oddly, the link suggests that we know more of these people from the Christian Mukuria Kingdom than we do of them in Roman society.

I have a few sources, but https://www.publicmedievalist.com/uncovering-african/ seems best (quotes above taken from here)

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Potentially Chinese skeletons in London have been dated from the 2nd to 4th century. I have only seen vague explanations for their presence. Some methodological concerns were also raised about these findings.

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