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To download a pdf copy of this paper, please click here: PAPER V2 – Were the Bassanos Blackamoors, Black Jews, or tanned Italian-Spaniards



The reason for writing this paper was to prove or repudiate claims that Emilia Bassano and other Bassano descendants were “black”, at the request of Katrina Langford (alias Katrina Brown) who was allegedly writing a movie, and offered to use my book in the film, but claimed “the producer will only consider it if she’s black, or half black if her mother was Margaret Johnson”. She asserted, “my partner is Tiffany Haddish”, who “wants to play Amelia” (Emilia). To be clear, I did not set out to prove the Bassano’s were black, but investigate the truth, whether black, white, or tanned Italian-Spaniards.

The above portrait has been shared around the world as a depiction of Emilia Bassano after being published on Facebook by Ansell Ortell in 2015, with the assertion that Emilia was the sole author of the Shakespearean works. The inference is that Emilia Bassano was a Blackamoor, which by definition is a “member of the group of Muslim people from North Africa who ruled Spain from 711 to 1492”.[1] This viral post, amongst other things, caused a young Hollywood scriptwriter to contact me regarding proving whether or not Emilia was a Blackamoor. Throughout this paper, I will prove that the Bassano family were not Blackamoors, but might actually have been “black Hebrews”. When referring to “black Hebrews” in this paper, I refer to the original “black Hebrews” cited in the Tanakh (Old Testament), such as the lineage of Solomon and the “blackish” Shulamite, but not necessarily the ‘Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem’ who claim to have descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel.[2]

The Assertions

The portrait cited by Ortell above is not of Emilia Bassano, but is a circa 1550 “portrait of a Moorish woman” that was painted by a student at the Venetian School of Paolo Veronese. I suppose this may be why many people have assumed the Bassanos were ‘Blackamoors’.  Ortell further asserted:

Amelia Bassano is the lady who wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. Because she was black they would not publish her work. She died in poverty because she never received a dime for her work. Shakespeare was illiterate and could barely write his own name.[3]

Most of my readers know by now that I have written a major academic work investigating the “early plays” of Shakespeare that were performed in London prior to the birth of William Shakespeare and Emilia Bassano. Those who follow my Facebook page would know that Volume 1 of ‘Genesis of the Shakespearean Works’ is about to be released. Consequently, I have already proven that Emilia did not pen “all” of the Shakespearean plays, although I believe she did pen at least eight of the “latter plays”.

Ortell also asserted that Emilia died in poverty without her work being published. This is also false, because Emilia’s poetic work of Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (Hail God, King of the Jews) was published in 1611. The title should have indicated immediately that Emilia was not a Blackamoor (black Muslim), but a Jew. In fact, Emilia Bassano was the first Jewish woman in England to declare herself a poet in her 1611 ‘booke’ of poetry, where she attempted to bridge the gap between Christianity and Judaism, embracing both faiths from a subtle Jewish Essene perspective.

However, Emilia was careful to write of ‘Christ, King of the Jews’, as a tribute to Jesus Christ by way of an alternate Epistle to Paul in the Bible, therein allowing people to think she was a Christian. Most have interpreted this as a testament to her Christian faith against Judaism, but this is not the case. As a Jew who embraced Essene doctrine, Emilia was merely writing of the ignorance of Pharisees and Sadducees, who spent their days debating Oral Judaic law. This is abundantly clear in her statement:

Zeale, Lawes, Religion, now they doe pretend

Against the truth, vntruths they seeke to frame.[4]

As a skilled poet, Emilia was extremely careful with her words to protect her own life. Those before her were not so fortunate.  Thomas Kyd and especially Christopher Marlowe learned the ills associated with writing against the theologically acceptable custom of the day. In May of 1593, Kyd and Marlowe were arrested for suspected involvement in a manuscript containing “vile heretical Concepts denying the deity of Jhesus Christe our Savior”.  Without trial, Marlowe was stabbed to death, allegedly over a dispute of payment of a bill.  Therefore, it is not surprising that Emilia wrote in a guarded style to protect her own life.

Antonio Bassano in his 1544 Sefer ha-Refu’ot (Book of Remedies) refers to his ‘true Hebrew’ heritage from the land of his forefathers. This expression was also used by the dramatist of 1 Henry IV in the words of Falstaff (a ‘true Hebrew Jew’):

You Rogue, they were bound, euery man of

them, or I am a Iew else, an Ebrew Iew.[5]

This canto in our modern language should read:

You rogue, we did tie them up, every single one of

them, or I am a Jew, a true Hebrew Jew.[6]

Why is this significant you may ask? Because the dramatist drew a distinction between a ‘Jew’ and a ‘true Hebrew Jew’. Allow me to explain why. In the Tanakh (Old Testament), Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were Hebrews, not Jews. ‘A Hebrew’ in Deuteronomy 15:12 is the word עִבְרִ֗י transliterated as ‘Ivri’,[7] which is taken from the root word Eber (Abraham’s father), a descendant of Shem, meaning ‘region beyond’.[8] Some suggest it means to pass over or cross over the Jordon, but this cannot be until after Jacob.

In Jonah 1:9 when the storm struck, Jonah was asked what is your country and your people, Jonah replied, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”[9] The word “Hebrew” was used to describe Abraham, Joseph, Jonah, all of Jacob’s descendants in Egyptian bondage, as well as all of Israel. The distinction the dramatist makes is a Hebrew as opposed to a Jew is a true descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. An example of this is found in King Kuzari, king of the Khazars, who adopted Judaism, but was not a true Hebrew, as recorded by my own ancestor, Rabbi Judah ha Levi.[10]

Whilst I do not agree with the term ‘Jew’ because it was originally an ethnic slur against Hebrews in Greek antiquity, it is a common term today that is accepted by Hebrews and Jews alike. The word ‘Jew’ comes from the Greek word αία (blood) translated as ‘a Jew’ from the root Greek word Ἰουδαῖος meaning ‘Jewish’ but also refers to an ‘usurer’ (moneylender) in an evil context from Ezekiel 22:12,[11] well depicted by the dramatist in The Merchant of Venice. Thus, the word ‘Jew’ can be a person born a Hebrew or a person who converts to Judaism.

The dramatists of the Shakespearean works was a well-educated Hebrew, with a thorough understanding of the difference between being a true Hebrew Jew and a Jew who has chosen Judaism as their religion. In essence, it comes down to lineage. The Bassano family were true Hebrew Jews from the lineage of David, which means they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they were certainly not Moors (Muslims).

I have proved beyond reasonable doubt that Ortell’s assertions are almost entirely false – Emilia Bassano did not pen the entire Shakespearean works, her works were in fact published, and the Bassanos were not Muslims. The one assertion that needs further investigation is the possibility that they were black. The Bassanos certainly were not Blackamoors, but could they have been black Hebrews?

Black Hebrews or Tanned Italian-Spaniards?

There has been much talk over the past few decades about Emilia Bassano-Lanier as the “Dark Lady” of the sonnets, however, Ortell gave the impression that Emilia Bassano was black-skinned. We must investigate the veracity of these claims. In my 2013 book Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bassano Chronicles, I identified the overleaf miniature portrait by Nicholas Hilliard as Emilia Bassano.

The portrait is currently housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (housed in the British Galleries, room 57a, case 3). These miniature portraits were predominantly produced by a nobleman seeking a suitor for his daughter, or a suitor seeking the hand of marriage of his beloved.[12] I believe this is the very nature of the miniature portrait, one capturing her suitor Alphonso Lanier, and one soon after their marriage of Emilia. As Emilia’s father had passed away by 1593, Emilia was aligned with the surname Holland of her sister, hence the reason the portrait was identified by historians as “Mistress Holland”.[13]

Figure 1 – Miniature Portrait of Emilia Bassano

I have no doubt that this miniature portrait is of Emilia Bassano due to the imageries utilized on her bodice and hair comb. I obtained a high-resolution image from the V&A Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum) and enlarged the image by one thousand times the size on a large high-resolution screen to find on the bodice: honeybees, the Tree of Life, and stags. The two main emblems on the Bassanos earliest coat-of-arms were three honeybees above the Tree of Life, and the stag refers to the family coat of arms of her husband, Alphonso Lanier. The hair comb at the crest of her head is actually a row of double-winged six-legged honeybees all in a line.

The inscription contains the reference ‘Ano Dni. 1593. Ætatis suae. 26.’ effectively meaning ‘In the year of our Lord 1593 of his (or her) age 26’. Emilia Bassano was born on 27 January 1569 and was married on 10 October 1592; therefore this miniature was commissioned soon after her marriage to Alphonso Lanier. As the miniature would not likely to have been completed until late 1593 or possibly even 1594, then the age of 26 is a perfect fit for Emilia.

Thus, Emilia Bassano was a white English woman whose parents were Baptista Bassano, a Jewish Italian-Spaniard, and his English court concubine Margaret Johnson. The only other explanation is that Emilia had dark skin and covered everything but her face, which may have been covered in a typical Elizabethan stark white make-up. This theory is not valid, because in examining the scalp of Emilia in the portrait, we find white skin. This still leaves the question: even though Emilia was white, could Baptista have been a black Hebrew?

Bassanos referred to as ‘Black’ in Depositions

Creechurch Lane was a regularly visiting place of the earlier Bassano family, because the earliest secret Jewish Synagogue was on Creechurch Lane, London. In fact on 23 September 1584 Arthur Bassano (1547-1624) and other court musicians (probably his brothers) were arrested at Creechurch as below:

Sept. 23. Declaration by John Spencer, sheriff of London, of the misdemeanors committed by Arthur Bassano and other Her Majesty’s musicians, at the muring up of a way and gate at a place called Creechurch, Aldgate, pretended to be privileged. Their violence and insolence towards the Recorder of London.[14]

It seems the matter was not heard until 3 October 1584, as the below entry provides further details:

Oct. 3. John Spencer, Sheriff of London, to same. Details the circumstances under which Arthur Bassano and other Her Majesty’s musicians had been committed to custody. Will attend the Council, as ordered, on Thursday next. Incloses: Declaration by Mr. Sheriff Spencer, of the insolence and opprobrious language of Arthur Bassano and his fellows, to himself and the Recorder of London, and obstructing their officers while muring up the way and gate at Creechurch, Aldgate.[15]

In the same location at Creechurch, Mark Anthony Bassano was arrested after a clash with Soldiers only ten months later on 16 August 1585:

Aug. 16. Depositions of Valentine Wood and Tho. Norton, relative to an affray between Mark Anthony Bassano, one of Her Majesty’s musicians, and certain soldiers without Aldgate, near the Bars. Opprobrious words uttered by Bassano against the soldiers, then on the point of departure for Flanders. Bassano in danger of being slain, the soldiers thinking him to be a Spaniard.[16]

The depositions (witness statements) by John Spenser described the Bassanos as “a little black man was booted” probably referring to Arthur Bassano, and “a tall black man” probably referring to one of his brothers.[17] John Hudson suggested this entry proves the Bassanos “were of Moroccan/ North African ancestry”,[18] which is quite fanciful as they themselves declared they were of Hebrew descent.

We must examine why the Bassanos acted so viciously against Spenser and later Fleetwood. The Bassanos attacked Spenser and the Recorder of London was called. William Fleetwood was the Recorder of London in 1584. Fleetwood ordered the Bassano brothers be taken to Newgate Jail. When the Bassanos learned it was Fleetwood, they reacted vehemently, almost prophetically asserting in would not end well for them. In the end, Fleetwood and Spenser were made to apologize and pay the Bassano’s food and wine bills run up while in prison.

Spenser was known for rounding up foreigners, especially Jews and Spaniards. The swarthy (olive-skinned) Bassano brothers were not only musicians, but the Bassanos were merchants for many generations. So much so that they held monopolies over trade in England, given only to favoured courtiers.[18a] Spenser was one of the Bassano’s direct competition in bringing goods back from Venice, Spain and Turkey. It was in his best interests to have the Bassanos arrested.

Could he have referred to them as ‘black’ because they were swarthy, or was it because they resembled Jewish Spaniards whom he despised? In the 16th century, many English Puritans despised Italians, Spaniards, and especially Jews. In the legal case of Jacques Francis, a Venetian sailor by the name of Anthony de Nicholao Rimero asserted Francis was “a morisco [Spanish: Moor] born where they are not christened” and no weight should be given to anything Francis said. In the deposition of Domenico Erizo, he described Francis as a “pagan infidel black”.[18b]

In fact, many 16th century English people referred to Jews as “black”, whether they were in fact black or merely dark-skinned Europeans, because they believed Jews were associated with “the devil” in the murder of Christ. They failed to recognize that Jesus Christ surrendered to the Will of his Father – this was the Divine Will of God. Jews have been accused of poisoning wells and even bringing the Black Plague, although all these claims have now proven to be false. It was merely fearmongering by many writers, such as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker and James Howell who wrote of Jews as a “curse”, “uncouth looks” and a “stench”. William Brereton wrote of Jewish men as “black”. Quite often Jews with long dark hair were depicted as “black men”. Therefore, the usage of “black” in the deposition may have merely used as a slur against the Bassano brothers because they were Jewish Italian-Spaniards.

In the case of Mark Antony Bassano, he was later perceived as a “Spaniard”, even though he was born in England and had Venetian parents. Some writers as a result have assumed that Mark Antony was an Italian-Spaniard Blackamoor. He certainly was not a Blackamoor, but  a tanned Italian-Spaniard.

Court Documents

Historic documents prove that the Bassanos frequented England as early as 1517 before they emigrated to England at the request of King Henry VIII on 1 October 1539. The Bassanos had performed numerous times in England and there is evidence that some of the brothers resided in England from around 1531. [19] Whilst Henry VIII had a passion for Venetian music, it was Queen Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) who had a passion for Spanish and Italian music, and she seemed to have an attraction to black servants. Her father was Ferdinand II, King of Sicily and Aragon (a region of Spain), hence her passion for Spanish and Italian music. Queen Catherine’s entourage included a “black trumpeter” by the name of John Blanke, where the Exchanger Roll of 1507 recorded:

Item to John blanke the blacke Trumpet for his moneth wages of Novembre

last passed at viij d the day…………………….xx s [20 shillings][20]

There was also a Fraunces Negro who worked in the royal stables.[21] Therefore, it is quite plausible that King Henry VIII sought out the Bassano family for Queen Catherine. This would suggest that the Bassanos might have been black considering the sons of Antonio Bassano were referred to as “black” in later depositions.

However, the argument against this possibility is amongst the hundreds of references about the Bassano family in court records – there is not a single record of the Bassanos being black. Surely with so much emphasis upon John Blanke (a sole black trumpeter in special uniform), if the Bassanos were black, there would be records of six “black” brothers, consider the family served five succeeding monarchs. The fact is there is no such record. The only document that cites them as “a little black man” and “a tall black man” is the deposition mentioned above.

Bassanos Performed in the Blackamoor Inn

The Derbyshire descendants of Antonio Bassano have also come into question regarding one record of performance at Blackamoor Inn in Ashbourne. From this record, some deduce they were Blackamoors, which I have already proven is false. However, we must investigate this record to repudiate this claim.

Christopher Bassano was a Vicar Choral at St Oswald’s Church. There are notes to confirm his brother Richard visited the church in 1710 to set up the new organ with Thomas Cook, who was also of Staffordshire. In true family tradition, on Sunday 6 August 1710, around the time the ‘Bassano’s Church Notes’ were penned, after the service had concluded, Richard Bassano played “a grave sonata” in an “elaborate Italian manner” before a church full of people. He sang Psalm 121 “as an anthem” and “set a new standard to be aimed at”,[22] most likely with Christopher on violin:

I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?

My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.

The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.[23]

Philo claimed the practice of singing psalms originated from the Jewish Essenes.[24] The fact that the Bassano family held Jewish, predominantly Essene traditions, is of particular interest as we investigate the origin of the Shakespearean works filled with Jewish Essene imagery. Kabbalists use Psalm 121 with amulets “to ward off Lilith, the Queen of demons”.[25] There was a pocketsize Medieval Jewish book used by Kabbalists called Sefer Shimmush Tehillim (Book On the Use of Psalms) that was also banned by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of 1559, alongside the Bassano’s Kabbalistic books. Sefer Shimmush Tehillim claims if a person sings Psalm 121 reverently seven times, you will be safe from all evil occurrences by angelic protection.[26] Further information is contained in Volume 1 of Genesis of the Shakespearean Works.

This performance by Richard Bassano mentioned above, sparked a revival in Derbyshire with 5,000 people from all the neighbouring gentry filling the Church on 13 September 1710 to hear the orchestra with Christopher Bassano on violin. The celebrations continued most of the day with a concert in the evening at Blackamoor’s Head Inn.[27] In the records of the St Oswald’s Church, there is an entry as follows:

1710: The performers [the Bassanos] were entertained at dinner at the parish charge, service being ended at about 2 o’clock, and at night in the great parlour at the Sign of the Black moor’s Head. They made afine consort both of instrumental and vocall musick, and so concluded the musick of ye day.[28]

The Bassanos continued their celebrations at the Blackamoor Inn in Ashbourne. Some commentators seem to think this means the Bassano were Blackamoors. However, the Inn was named so because of it was a traditional English bar made of “dark wood panelling topped by a dark red frieze and ceiling”,[29] not because it was frequented by Blackamoors.

Conversely, there were a lot of pubs in Derbyshire, some still standing today from the 16th century. Why did the Bassanos choose the Blackamoor Inn? Could they have been black? Could they have been attracted by the name of the inn? Or could it have just been in close proximity to the Church?

Records show the Blackamoor Inn was located at 10 St John St, Ashbourne, and was later renamed Black’s Head and amalgamated with The Green Man Royal Hotel next door.[30] St Oswald’s is located on the same road only 480 metres away, so it was a short stroll. Thus, I suggest they performed at the Blackamoor Inn because it was the local traditional English bar within walking distance. It had nothing to do with ethnicity or colour of their skin.

London Descendants

Conversely, we must also consider the descendants, because our hereditary traits do not lie. As some of you may know, I happened to marry a descendant of Antonio Bassano, and my eldest son looks very similar to the early sketches of Shakespeare. Whilst my son is not a descendant of William Shakespeare, it makes me wonder whether the early sketches were of the real dramatists of the “Early Plays” later attributed to William Shakespeare.

Antonio Bassano had eleven children, so the Bassano family is quite extensive. One of Antonio’s lineages moved to Staffordshire, then onto Derbyshire, before many of them moved back to London. Some emigrated to the United States and some in the last generation emigrated to Australia. One particular lineage was Alessandro Bassano (1829-1913), who was a photographer who served Queen Victoria using the company Bassano Ltd. Interestingly, Alex (as called by the English, although his name by birth was Alessandro) took numerous photographs of actors in many of the Shakespearean plays. He also left us a quite a number of family portraits. In some photographs Alessandro had quite pale skin and in some darker skin, but some of his children did exhibit signs of his Italian-Spaniard heritage.

Figure 3 – Alessandro Bassano, family portrait. Circa late 1890’s. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Figure 2 – Alessandro Bassano. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

The only photographs that have any hint of dark skin is a self-portrait of Alessandro circa 1880 below, and a circa 1860 portrait of Alessandro’s eldest daughter Camilla Teresa (‘Lily’) Bassano, however, both may be as a result of a lack of lighting or their tanned Italian-Spanish complexion.

Figure 4 – Alexander (born Alessandro) Bassano. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Figure 5 – Camilla Teresa (‘Lily’) Serjeant (née Bassano). © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Alessandro was a 10th generation English born descendant of Antonio Bassano. The rest of his family exhibits little evidence of any “black” heritage.

Later Derbyshire Descendants who Moved back to London

I had the pleasure of spending some months with Ada Goodwin-Bassano (1916-1995) when she visited Australia for my wedding in 1988 with her granddaughter. I remember Ada fondly as a sweet little Jewish lady of Venice with quite an olive complexion. If it were not for her strong English accent, I would not have believed Ada was born in England. In her elderly years she never ventured out much, yet she was quite dark for an English woman. Her daughter, Valerie Drinkwater, is now in her mid-seventies and does not venture out much either, yet she also has a distinct olive complexion. Overleaf are photographs of Ada Bassano in her late teens and an early photograph of her mother, Florence Emily Bassano (1884-1955) who has a similar dark-skinned (but not black) Jewish-Italian appearance.

Figure 6 – Ada Goodwin-Bassano (1916-1995)
Figure 7 – Florence Emily Bassano (1884-1955)


As you can see by the above photographs, both Florence and Ada were quite dark-skinned for women born in England. This could merely be their Italian-Spanish heritage, but they are both 12th and 13th generation descendants of Antonio Bassano.


Imagery in the Sonnets

A numbers of scholars have used the imagery in Sonnet 127 of the ‘Dark Lady’ to refer to Emilia Bassano as “black”. Sonnet 127 below refers to her having “raven black” eyes alluding to the possibility that she was a bastard of “black” heritage, which was not counted as ‘fair’ in Anglo-Saxon England:

IN the ould age blacke was not counted faire,

Or if it weare it bore not beauties name:

But now is blacke beauties successiue heire,

And Beautie slanderd with a bastard shame,

For since each hand hath put on Natures power,

Fairing the foule with Arts faulse borrow’d face,

Sweet beauty hath no name no holy boure,

But is prophan’d, if not liues in disgrace.

Therefore my Mistersse eyes are Raven blacke,

Her eye so suted, and they mourners seeme,

At such who not borne faire no beauty lack’

Slandering Creation with false esteeme,

Yet so they mourne becoming of their woe,

That every toung faies beauty should looke so.(Sonnet 127)[32]

As I revealed in Volume 1 of ‘Genesis of the Shakespearean Works’, Emilia wrote of a ‘bastard shame’ upon herself but also upon her bastard son, in a time when birth control did not exist. Her father, Baptista Bassano, had relations with a court concubine (prostitute) named Margaret Johnson. There are no marriage records for any union between Baptista and Margaret, probably because Baptista was already married to Katherine Bassano (nee Fieschi).

That being the case, Emilia was born with a “bastard shame”. However, we must also consider her bastard son Henry Lanier. Let us consider a moment that his father, Henry Carey, was the bastard son of King Henry VIII, imagine the ridicule and shame growing up in the English court if Henry Lanier resembling his grandfather, King Henry VIII, but had tanned Italian skin. A bastard shame indeed!

Sonnet 130 described the ‘dark lady’ as having dun (Middle English: tanned) breasts and  black hair:

MY Mistres eyes are nothing like the Sunne,

Currall is farre more red, then her lips red,

If snow be white, why then her brests are dun:

If haires be wiers, black wiers grow on her head[33]

Others would cite the following passage from Sonnet 131:

And to be sure that is not false I sweare

A thousand grones but thinking on thy face,

One on anothers necke do witnesse beare

Thy blacke is fairest in my iudgements place.

In nothing art thou blacke saue in thy deeds,

And thence this slaunder as I thinke proceeds. (Sonnet 131)[34]

As I revealed in Volume 1 of ‘Genesis of the Shakespearean Works’, Sonnet 131 has a double meaning, like many Shakespearean imageries. Black fire is a Jewish Kabbalistic expression of the Torah being written with white fire upon black fire, or to put in another way from John 1:15: light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. Although the sonnet speaks of love, like many of the Shakespearean imageries, Emilia was really writing about the blackest sin of slander, not the colour of one’s skin:

Amidst the pain and suffering, having groaned a thousand groans: there is nothing that will save thee from thy darkened deeds; nothing art thou black as slander; thus proceed to the place of judgement, a watery grave.[35]

Sonnet 132 speaks of ‘putting on black’ which is a Jewish imagery of sackcloth and ashes, but also a Kabbalistic imagery. By the time we reach Sonnet 144, the poet writes of two loves, two spirits, one is male, right and fair (angel); the other is a female coloured bad spirit (demon):

Two loues I haue of comfort and dispaire,

Which like two spirits do sugiest me still,

The better angell is a man right faire:

The worser spirit a woman collour’d il.

To win me soone to hell my femall euill,

Tempteth my better angel from my sight,

And would corrupt my saint to be a diuel:

Wooing his purity with her fowle pride.

And whether that my angel be turn’d finde,

Suspect I may,yet not directly tell,

But being both from me both to each friend,

I gesse one angel in an others hel.

Yet this shal I nere know but liue in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.[36]

Others have claimed the Sonnets were penned by Emilia Bassano. Whilst we could assume Emilia was writing of a black father on a white mother, the female coloured spirit Emilia was actually referring to was Lilith, the ‘goddess of the night’ that would “tempteth”. This imagery is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls where Lilith is translated as plural liliyyot meaning ‘goddess of the night’.[37] In the Kabbalistic teaching of Lilith (Queen of demons) and her retinue, these liliyyot or goddesses of the night (succubi) tempt and even ravage men in the night. In is interesting that Emilia depicted Lilith as “coloured”.  Whilst most recognize Lilith as a white female demon with black hair, the Zohar depicts Lilith as “black but comely”,[38] from the same Zoharic imagery that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor 13:12, whereby the Prophets gazed through “dark glass” whereas Moses gazed through clear glass.[39]

Emilia’s own writings were also filled with the same Jewish Kabbalistic imageries of Lilith and her retinue, as were her abilities recorded by Simon Forman where Emilia had mastered the art of practical Kabbalah in invoking angels and demons, particularly Lilith and her retinue to villainy. Gamble noted Forman’s reminder to investigate “Lanier’s tales of invoking spirits and how she had succeeded to summon an ‘incubus’ or ‘succubus’ (Lilith in Jewish Kabbalah).[40] Forman’s actual notation in his diary of Emilia’s intent to invoke villainy is as follows:

at 5 pm 7 Jani. Monday. to know whi mrs Lanier sent for me et quid inde sequitur {et} wher she Entendes Any mor villani/ or noe.[41]

This is a combination of Latin and Early Modern English. It can be translated as:

Attended at 5 pm on Monday 7 January 1600, to know why Mrs Lanier sent for me, and what from this follows, whether she intends any more villainy or not.[42]

In essence, Emilia claimed that she had mastered the art of practical Kabbalah of communicating with angels and “invoking demonic spirits”. Before you assume Emilia was an occultist, in Emilia’s Salve Deus Rex Judæorum, she wrote a tribute to Christ from an Essene perspective, and in that same volume she wrote of “blessed Angels, powrefull Spirits” and “If God by prayers had an army sent Of powrefull Angels, who could them prevent?”[43] Let us not forget that Jesus commanded demons, as did the Apostles. However, the Christian Church in recent times have lost the power of God because too many Pastors misinterpret Scripture, particularly Matthew 26:53, where they refuse to acknowledge they hold power over demons. The fact that demons are actually angels that rebelled is why Kabbalists believe they have power over both angels and demons.

The imagery of balance between black and white, angel versus demon, good and evil, comes from Genesis 2:9. The sin of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought about the great task of Tikkun Olam, which is explained further in Volume 1 of Genesis of the Shakespearean Works.

Imagery in the Shakespearean Plays

This same imagery of black and white, good and evil, is found throughout all of the Shakespearean plays. For those who claim there are a large number of black references in the works, there are just as many white. Kabbalistically speaking, this is balance between the left and right side of the Tree of Life, a depiction of virtue.

We find the use of “tawny” in the lines of Philo in the opening scene Antony and Cleopatra as follows:


Nay, but this dotage of our Generals

Ore-flowes the measure: those his goodly eyes

That o’re the Files and Musters of the Warre,

Haue glow’d like plated Mars:

Now bend, now turne

The Office and Deuotion of their view

Vpon a Tawny Front. His Captaines heart,

Which in the scuffles of great Fights hath burst

The Buckles on his brest, reneages all temper,

And is become the Bellowes and the Fan

To coole a Gypsies Lust.[44]

Many of these words have actually been taken from snippets of Philo’s work. Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish philosopher who lived during the time of Jesus. Philo described the eyes as ‘outward senses, guards, and friends of the soul’ that allow a person to ‘cast your eyes over the whole of the business’ and assist our decision making to ‘honour virtue’.[45] Philo wrote of beating gold into plates and Mars in reference to creation.[46] ‘Bellows and the fan’ are references regarding the judgement of God from Jeremiah 6:29 and 15:7. Tawny front does not refer to skin or a breastplate as some suggest, but a darkened front, where Antony should have cast his eyes over the whole of the business to make virtuous decisions, rather than being lured by Cleopatra’s silken tackle and invisible perfume. This imagery was also taken from the Kabbalistic model of darkness and light cited by Philo in Book 7, Chapter 34.[47]

In Titus Andronicus, Aaron is described as a “swarth [black] Cymerion”[48] and a “barbarous Moore”.[49] Conversely, in the opening scene of Titus Andronicus, where Marcus Andronicus calls the Roman parliament “white”, a race of “spotless hue”.[50] Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona is depicted as a “swarthy Ethiope”[51] probably as a depiction of the black Ethiopian Jews, who are believed to be “black Hebrews” also from the lineage of Solomon and the Shulamite, or the lineage of Moses. Conversely, Proteus refers to “milke-white bosome”[52] and “white as a lily”.[53] For every question, there is an answer; for every black reference, there is an opposing white within every play in the Shakespearean canon.

The Merchant of Venice depicts the Prince of Morocco as black when he requests Portia not dislike him for his complexion:

Mislike me not for my complexion,

The shadowed liuerie of the burnisht sunne,

To whom I am a neighbour, and neere bred.[54]

This is most interesting because the Prince confirmed he was dark-skinned a neighbour and ‘near bred’. I suggest this is a cunning reference of the Jewish mellahs (ghettos) of Fes and Marrakesh in Morocco. Neighbour and near bred refers to the proximity of Fes, which is one of the northern cities of Morocco, not far from the Strait of Gibraltar. A number of the Bassano family were naval commanders of Spain who resided in Gibraltar, the most southern tip of Spain. The Governor of Fes prior to his reign was Abdallah al-Ghalib (~1517-1574), who became Sultan of Morocco in 1557 after his father was assassinated. Prior to 1557, Abdallah was the Prince of Morocco. He was also responsible for moving the Moroccan Jews of Marrakesh to a mellah named Hay Essalam for their own protection.

Conversely, also in Act 1, Scene 2 of The Merchant of Venice, the scene directions include Morochus, “a tawnie Moore all in white”[55] in the same Kabbalistic theme; and in Act 3, Scene 2, Bassanio speaks of “lyuers [livers]white as milke” to liken cowards to valour’s excrement.[56]

In the opening scene of Othello, Iago described Othello as “black”[57] and in dialogue with Brabantio, the dramatist used the imagery of an “old blacke Ram is tupping your white Ewe”.[58] Othello later in Act 3, Scene 3 admits, “I am blacke” in relation to his skin colour,[59] and calls upon “blacke Vengeance from the hollow of hell”[60] as an invocation, in the same way Emilia summoned Lilith. Iago also asserted “If she be blacke, and thereto haue a wit, She’le find a white, that shall her blacknesse fit,[61] which is another clear imagery of black on white.

In Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bassano Chronicles, I found the Bassano’s ancestry connects to the Spanish Bassano family of Knights of Santiago (Don Pedro, Don Adriano, Don John) who commanded the Armada (de Bassan in Latin, de Bazán in Spanish). We only had to investigate the following imagery already left for us in the opening scene of Love’s Labour’s Lost to see the imagery of children of the Spanish Armada are haunting the Court with music that would ravish like an enchanted harmony. They were from a family of knights from ‘tawny Spain’:

I that there is, our Court you know is hanted

With a refined trauailer of Spaine,

A man in all the worlds new fashion planted,

That hath a mint of phrases in his braine:

One, who the musicke of his owne vaine tongue,

Doth rauish like inchanting harmonie:

A man of complements whom right and wrong

Haue chose as vmpire of their mutinie.

This childe of fancie that Armado hight,

For interim to our studies shall relate,

In high-borne words the worth of many a Knight:

From tawnie Spaine lost in the worlds debate.[62]

The Oxford Dictionary definition of “tawny” is “an orange-brown or yellowish-brown colour” meaning tan from the Middle English word tenné, which originated from Old French.[63] It does not mean black.

Finally, one only has to refer to the numerous Bassano family characters that are exhibited in the Shakespearean works, such as Antonio, Bassanio, Baptista, Emilia (in 3 different plays about Emilia’s own life), Arthur, Don Adriano, Don Pedro, Don John, Gobbo, Jachimo, Katherine (in 3 plays), Laertes, Lodovico, Lucrece and Mark Antony, Bassianus (the patron saint of Bassano del Grappa), to see that not one of the Bassano family member characters were depicted as “black” in the plays. Being Italian-Spaniards, they were no doubt tanned, especially compared to white Anglo-Saxons in England.


To conclude, the Bassanos were not Blackamoors (black Muslims). The first generation Bassanos that emigrated to England were neither Muslim nor Christian, but “true Hebrew Jews” who embraced Jewish Kabbalah, the Babylonian Talmud, the Zohar of Mantua, and the ancient Jewish Essene doctrines contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Bassanos were not of Negroid heritage, but Hebrew heritage. Therefore, the claim of Emilia as a Blackamoor (black Muslim) is hereby repudiated.

The sons of Antonio Bassano were identified as “black”, but as I explained above, Jews in 16th century England were described as “black”. English Court records deny the possibility that the Bassano were black, otherwise John Blanke would not have been singled out in records and by special uniform.

The Shakespearean imageries are Kabbalistic in nature, using both black and white. In Emilia’s own 1611 poetic work of Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (Hail God, King of the Jews), she used more “white” imageries than black. Had her family been “black”, no doubt more dark imageries would have been used in Salve.

To conclude, I suggest the Bassanos were tanned Hebrews, but not black; certainly not as black as Africans, otherwise English court records of their skin colour would have existed. They were tanned predominantly white Italian-Spaniards. Langford and Ortell’s claims are herein repudiated.


2015-2017 inclusive Dr Peter D Matthews. All rights reserved. This academic paper may be freely used for academic purposes, subject to citing Dr Peter D Matthews as the author.

[1] Cambridge Dictionary: Moor.

[2] Jewish Virtual Library, Minority Communities in Israel: Black Hebrews.

[3] Ortell, Ansell (19 August 2015), WOW, What Do You Know?!!! – Amelia Bassano is the lady who wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays.

[4] Bassano (Lanyer), Emilia (1611), SALVE DEVS REX IVDÆORVM, Richard Bonian, a free copy of the works can be found in the Renascence Editions, University of Oregon,

[5] F1, 1H4 2.4.1137-8.

[6] 1H4 2.4.1137-8 modernized by Peter Matthews.

[7] Strong’s Concordance: 5680 – Ibri.

[8] Strong’s Concordance: 5677 – Eber.

[9] Jonah 1:9 NLT

[10] Ha Levi, Rabbi Judah (1140), The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith, translated by Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin, 2nd Edition, ISBN 9781583308424.

[11] Strong’s Concordance: 2453 – Ioudaios.

[12] Wikipedia: Portrait miniature,

[13] Matthews, Dr Peter D (2013), Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bassano Chronicles, Bassano Publishing House, Australia, ISBN 9780987365255, pp. 244-7.

[14] Queen Elizabeth – Volume 173: September 1584, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth, 1581-90 (1865), pp. 200-204.

[15] Queen Elizabeth – Volume 173: October 1584, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth, 1581-90 (1865), pp. 204-210.

[16] Queen Elizabeth – Volume 181: August 1585, Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Elizabeth, 1581-90 (1865), pp. 256-265.

[17] Deposition by Spenser against Arthur Bassano and other court musicians, August 1584. Also refer GB-Lpro, SP12/173, No. 25, 47.

[18] Hudson, John (2017), This is How we Know Amelia was ‘Black’, Dark Lady Players Facebook Page.

[18a] Menzer, Paul (2006), Inside Shakespeare: Essays on the Blackfriars Stage, Susquehanna University Press, ISBN 9781575910772, p119.

[18b] Depositions of Anthony de Nicholao Rimero and Domenico Erizo, HCA 13/93, ff. 275-6 (28 May 1548) and HCA 24/17.

[19] Matthews, Dr Peter D (2013), Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bassano Chronicles, Bassano Publishing House, Australia, ISBN 9780987365255, pp. 86-7, 95.

[20] Exchequer roll of 1507, E 36/214, f. 109 (7 Dec 1507).

[21] Kaufman, Miranda, Blacks in Tudor Britain.

[22] Cox, John Charles (1879), Notes on the churches of Derbyshire (Volume 2),

[23] Psalm 121, New Living Translation.

[24] Smith, William; Cheetham, Samuel (2005), Encyclopaedic Dictionary Of Christian Antiquities (in 9 Volumes), Concept Publishing Company, ISBN     9788172681111, p94.

[25] Levine, F (2000), The Use of Scripture in Practical Kabbalah.

[26] Sefer Shimmush Tehillim (Book On the Use of Psalms): Psalm 121. Also found in The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (Part 2) translated by Joseph Peterson (2005).

[27] Shaw, George E. (1998), Matters of Life and Death: History in Baptisms, Marriages and Burials as recorded in the Parish Registers of St. Oswald’s Parish Church, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, England – 1539 to 1945,

[28] Shaw, George, historian: The Green Man and Black’s Head.

[29] Derbyshire – Pubs and Inns with a literary connection,

[30] Grist, Mark, The Lost Pubs Project: Blackamoor Inn.

[31] New England Historical Society: Was Jackie Kennedy the 1st Black First Lady?

[32] Q1, Son. 127:1892-9.

[33] Q1, Son. 130:1939-40.

[34] Q1, Son 131:1960-5.

[35] Matthews, Dr Peter D (2017), Genesis of the Shakespearean Works, Bassano Publishing House, Stanthorpe Australia, ISBN 9780992461607, pp. 133-6.

[36] Q1, Son 144:2147-60.

[37] Blair, Judit (2009) De-demonising the Old Testament : an investigation of Azazel, Lilith, Deber, Qeteb and Reshef in the Hebrew Bible, Edinburgh Research Archive, p.27

Morray-Jones, Christopher (2002), A transparent illusion: the dangerous vision of water in Hekhalot Vol.59 p258 ‘Early evidence of the belief in a plurality of liliths is provided by the Isaiah scroll from Qumran, which gives the name as liliyyot, and by the targum to Isaiah, which, in both cases, reads’. (Targum reads: when Lilith the Queen of [Sheba] and of Margod fell upon them)

[38] Black Koltuv, Dr Barbara (1986), The Book of Lilith, Nicolas-Hays Inc., ISBN 9780892545605.

[39] Matt, Daniel (2002-2014), The Zohar, Pritzker Edition, Stanford University Press, Sections 1:49(a-b) in Vol 1, p272.

[40] Gamble, C.W.H.(2011), Shake-speare’s “Mr W.H.”, the “Dark Lady” and the “Lovely Boy”, The Marlowe Society Research Journal – Volume 08 – 2011, p10.

[41] Forman, Dr Simon (1596-1634), Casebooks Project, Case 6586 (MS Ashmole 236, f. 5r),

[42] Translation of Forman’s Notation by Peter Matthews.

[43] Bassano (Lanyer), Emilia (1611), SALVE DEVS REX IVDÆORVM, Richard Bonian, a free copy of the works can be found in the Reasscence Editions, University of Oregon,

[44] F1, Ant. 1.1.1-14.

[45] The Works of Philo, Book 7, Chapters 4,10 & 47,

[46] The Works of Philo, Book 17, Chapter 26, 35.

[47] The Works of Philo, Book 7, Chapters 4,10 & 47,

[48] F1, Tit. 2.3.811.

[49] F1, Tit. 2.3.817.

[50] Q1, Tit. 1.1.211.

[51] F1, TGV 2.6.955.

[52] F1, TGV 3.1.1319.

[53] F1, TGV 2.3.612.

[54] F1, MV 2.1.518-20.

[55] F1, MV 1.2.514.

[56] F1, MV 3.2.1432-3.

[57] F1, Oth. 2.3.1143.

[58] F1, Oth. 1.1.95.

[59] F1, Oth. 3.3.1894.

[60] F1, Oth. 3.3.2096.

[61] F1, Oth. 2.1.907-8.

[62] F1, LLL 1.1.181-4.

[63] Oxford Dictionary: Tawny.

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