Britain and Morocco During the Embassy of John Drummond Hay

“The first contacts between Morocco and England date back to the first decade of the thirteenth century when King John (1167-1216) sent a secret mission to the Almohad Sultan Muhammad al-Nasir (1199-1213) to obtain Moroccan support to counter French threats against England. The mission, however, was a failure. Nothing worthy of note occurred in the relations between the two countries from them until the beginning of the sixteenth century. Commercial exchanges, though limited in scale, became the most effective means of strengthening links between Morocco and England.”



“It became usual for English merchants to obtain Moroccan products such as sugar, ostrich feathers, and saltpeter, despite the protests of Spain and Portugal. In exchange, they would supply Morocco with fabrics and firearms. There was a great deal of correspondence between the Sa’adi Sultan ‘Abd al-Malik (1575-1578) and Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) on the subject of trade. The Sultan issued decrees in favor of English merchants to facilitate their commercial activities and to reduce competition in the sugar trade from Moroccan Jews. With the defeat of Portugal at the Battle of the Three Kings in 1578, the way was clear for Elizabeth and the Sa’adi Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur (1578-1603) to strengthen the economic and political links between their two countries. Political relations were strengthened as a result of reciprocal diplomatic missions and were crowned with an Anglo-Moroccan alliance against Spain in the reign of Phillip II (1527-1598).”


“Economically, commercial relations were strengthened through the creation of the Barbary Company in 1588, al Mansur issued a dah (decree of Sultan) granting special privileges and protection to English merchants in Morocco. Following the deaths of al-Mansur and Elizabeth I in 1603, and in the absence of a strong and stable central authority in Morocco, in 1610 James I (1603-1625) sent a diplomatic mission of Zaydan (1608-1627) headed by J. Harrison. The aim of the mission was to hold talks on the release of English captives incarcerated in Morocco. It seems that the negotiations were difficult as Harrison returned to Morocco three more times between 1613 and 1615 without making any headway in solving the problem of the captives.”


“With the European powers preoccupied by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the Moriscos strengthened their contacts with the Dutch, who were at war with Spain, and attacked the English vessels that were in competition with their Dutch counterparts for control over long-distance trade. When, in the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), England went to war against Spain. Harrison visited Morocco again in the hope, on the one had of obtaining help from mujahidin (holy warriors) in Tetuan and Sale in order to confront Spain under the most favorable conditions, and on the other hand of releasing the English captives. Harrison’s labors were crowned with an agreement with the mujahidin leader al-Ayyashi (1573-1641) on 10 May 1627 under England undertook to supply him with provisions and arms in exchange for his help in releasing the English captives.”


“Once Mawlay Isma’il had extended his control over the whole of Morocco, the English were convinced that the Alawites were in a strong position and began to think seriously about strengthening ties with the Sultan. The latter had sent a diplomatic mission headed by Muhammad ben Haddu al-‘Attar to England who returned with a draft Peace and Trade Treaty on 23 March 1682. The Sultan, however, refused to ratify the treaty because of the continuing English presence in Tangier and the increasing complexity of the captive problem.”


“Following Mawlay Isma’il consent to the release of sixty-nine English captives after the withdrawal from Tangier, the path was cleared for both sides to improve relations. In this new context, on 7 July 1714, the qa’ad Ahmed ben ‘Ali ben ‘Abdallah concluded a Peace and Trade Treaty in Tetuan on behalf of Mawlay Isma’il. The crisis over the captives, however, flared up again between 1716 and 1721. A British envoy, Charles Stewart, was sent to Fes and after slow and difficult negotiations managed on 23 January 1721 to convince Mawlay Isma’il to renew the Treaty.”


“It appears that the Khalifa’s protest convinced George II of the necessity of trying to ease tensions in their relations for he sent his envoy, Captain Hyde Parker, to Marrakesh on 1 July 1756. The previous agreements were renewed and signed by Hyde Parker and, on behalf of the Sultan, ‘Umar ben Zayyan al-Dukkali. Khalifa Sidi Muhammad, however, refused to release his British captives following Hyde Parker’s rejection of Morocco’s request for materials which were essential for the building and equipping of ships. The Sultan’s khalifa Sidi Muhammad was very angry at the time, calling the British all sorts of names, and wished that the French or even the Spanish were in Gilbraltar rather than them. He also threatened that he might form an alliance with the French to break the power of the British.”


“Following the death of Sultan Mawlay ‘Abdallah, and the suicide of the British Consul, James Reade, while on a mission to the court in 1758 to sign the Peace towards the British so he extended the treaty for an additional year until February 1759 and agreed to provision Gibraltar. A British mission then came to Marrakesh led by Mark Milbanke who won the admiration of the Sultan because of his conduct and astuteness. They signed an Agreement in July 1760.”


“By contrast, al-Khatib, although the Makhzan considered him to be the only man qualified to enter into the negotiations, was almost totally ignorant of the text of the previous treaties, and he did not possess a copy of any of them. In addition, the Sultan’s letter of the delegation did not grant him wide powers of discretion enabling him to take any decision without obtaining direct instructions. The method that the two men followed in discussing the General Treaty was as follows. They studied each clause by itself, until they agreed to accept it, reject it or subject it to a few modifications. I shall, therefore, first of all, discuss the General Treaty, which was described as a Treaty of Peace and Friendship’, stopping at the discussions that took place concerning each of its clauses. At this first level of analysis, I shall content myself with giving a picture of the proceedings and the circumstances surrounding the negotiations, before each clause reached its final advantages and disadvantages of the treaty for Morocco and Britain. The draft of the General Treaty proposed by Britain consisted of thirty-eight articles. Negotiations centered around fifteen of these clauses. What were the objections that Mahzan raised, and the efforts that al Khatib expended to counter his clever opponent Drummond Hay?”

Source: Britain and Morocco During the Embassy of John Drummond Hay By Khalid Ben-Srhir

The Barbary Company or Marocco Company 1585

“The Barbary Company or Marocco Company was a trading company established by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1585 through a patent granted to the Earls of Warwick and Leicester, as well as forty others for an exclusive trade period of 12 years See Cawston, p.226  “The Barbary Company was separate from the Turkey Company and the Venice Company (1583), who also operated in the Mediterranean and later merged into the Levant Company in 1592, was established with many of the same merchant investors, with a focus on trade along the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Many of its members were naturally also trading for the dominant Levant Company, whose success perhaps implied the commercial defeat of the Barbary Company.” 

Source: Shakespeare Survey With Index 1-10

“Morocco was at that point the main source of sugar for the English market, prior of course to the development of the West Indies plantations in the 1600s. After the settlement of the Essex affair, Elizabeth wrote Muley Hamet of such matters as the release of prisoners and the difficulties of some English merchants in Morocco. An Act of the Privy Council had arranged the deporting of “negars and blackamoores“, who great numbers in England irritated Spain, and fostered trouble against her. Elizabeth’s release of Moorish captives later had the double advantage of both Spain and Barbary.” 

Source: Shakespeare Survey With Index 1-10

“Diplomatic relations between England and Barbary had always been a compromise, in a sense compromising. The questionable alliance was put in terms of the advice offered Elizabeth in 1586, that “Her Majesty in using the King of Fez, doth not arm a barbarian against a Christian, but a barbarian against a heretic”. But the heathen hand, though welcomed against Spain, was rarely taken in public. The military prowess of the Moors, typified in the Battle of Alcazar, coloured the drama of the day. But the diplomatic exchange waited upon emergencies. The Armada brought a Moroccan emissary to England, and Essex’s raid on Cadiz in 1597 inspired eventually the embassy of 1600. For two years later, emboldened by England’s success, and hopeful of her active support, Muley Hamet, King of Barbary, proposed the grand design of the total conquest of Spain.” 

Source: Shakespeare Survey With Index 1-10

“Queen Elizabeth sent Minister Roberts who remained in Morocco for three years, and obtained some privileges for the English, particularly that in future none of the English should be made slaves in his dominions. By the treaty signed at Mequinez in 1728, these privileges were extended, it being stipulated that British subjects taken on board of foreign ships by the Maroccans should be immediately released and sent to Gibraltar: that provisions and other supplies for his Britannic Majesty’s fleets and for Gibraltar might freely be bought at the market prices in any of the Moroccan seaports; and that Moors, Jews, and other natives of in the service of British subjects there should be exempt from taxes of all kinds. Thus considerable benefits accrued to the nation through this chartered company, whose exclusive trade does not appear to have been long maintained.” 

Source: The Early Chartered Companies (A.D. 1296-1858) By George Cawston, Augustus Henry Keane

The Tomson brothers, Richard, George, and Arnold, with their kinsman Jasper, were merchant adventurers. Richard, a servant of Cecil and holder of monopolies in almonds, dates, capers, and molasses had been accused of bringing into the trade as many interlopers as there were members of the Barbary Company. Doubtless, the Tomsons’ service to Cecil gave them safety at home and gun-running made them popular with the Moors.

Source: Shakespeare Survey With Index 1-10

“Elizabeth’s death in 1603, and a civil war in Morocco that same year, ended the period of British co-operation with the Moroccan monarchy. James I intervened more directly into the affairs of trading companies, adopting the Spanish government’s model of intervention in commerce. King Charles I was unable, or unwilling, to protect British commerce–and even British coastal communities such as Bristol and Plymouth–from the ravages of Barbary corsairs; this was one reason British merchants drove him from the throne. Some in Parliament called for war against Turkey, and, during the reign of Cromwell, Turkish ships supplied royalist forces in Ireland.” 

Source: The Barbary Origins of the British Empire

“Charles II, in addition to receiving the Portuguese garrison as a wedding gift from the family of his bride, Catherine of Braganza, sent the British fleet against Algiers and so gained control over the western Mediterranean. Though Britain’s possession of Tangier was brief, it was regarded as the beginning of a British empire in Africa. During the two decades of occupation, the British colony there replicated British life, trying to create a miniature London impervious to the Moorish world around it. Unlike the imperial ventures in America or in Ireland, in North Africa the British encountered powerful and well-organized societies which could not be simply conquered. Tangier was a middle ground for the British imperial idea, between the trading companies which brought the British into Asia, and the occupation and conquest of British America.” 

Source: The Barbary Origins of the British Empire

“While European and American literature are full of stories of captives held in the Barbary states, there are no first-person accounts of Moors held as captives in Europe. And yet there were thousands of Moors taken captive by the European powers. According to Matar, their stories do not survive because very few of them returned to their native lands. In his fourth chapter, “Moors in British Captivity,” Matar recovers what he can of the stories of Moorish captives. He also notes the different kinds of captivity in Barbary. A slave (‘abd) was purchased, while a captive (aseer) was held for ransom. Slavery (‘ubadiyya) and captivity (asr) were different institutions. All of the North African states were engaged in the trans-Saharan slave trade, as well as trade in gold and other goods. The capture of European sailors was a different facet of the economy (pp. 114-115). For Matar, though, the real focus of this chapter is on the European enslavement of Moors. Europeans did not differentiate between the status of their captives; raids by European powers in retaliation for the piracy of Morocco or Algiers and the bombardment of the North African cities were among the factors, he argues, in the economic and political decline of these polities in the eighteenth century (pp. 131-132).” 

Source: The Barbary Origins of the British Empire

“The Levant Company formed, in 1592, as the result of what could be called a “merger” between two earlier merchant corporations, the Venice Company and the Turkey Company, themselves both Elizabethan foundations. Attempts to explain the merger as reflecting a “regionalist” approach to Mediterranean trade are vexed by the long career of the Barbary Company, which, despite significant overlap between its membership rolls and those of the Levant Company, was to continue trading independently with the littoral states of North Africa well into the 18th century.”

Source:  The Levant Company Between Trade and Politics: or, the Colony That Wasn’t Martin Devecka

“The formal beginning of Anglo-Ottoman relations dates from the correspondence between Elizabeth I and Murad III in 15791  which led in May 1580 to an Ottoman pledge of safeconduct (ahidname) for English merchants in Ottoman-controlled seas and ports in the eastern Mediterranean (the Levant) and along the Barbary coast of North Africa This document is usually considered equivalent to a grant of trading privileges to the English.” 


“Brotton traces how the anxieties, suspicions and xenophobia of Elizabethan Anglo-Islamic relations emerged in tension with the establishment of such trading enterprises as the Barbary Company, the Levant Company and the Turkey Company, whose activities brought riches, tastes and fashions home from an international trade in fabrics, food and munitions with Muslim countries.”

Source: Gloriana and the Sultan — England’s unlikely alliance Jerry Brotton’s study of how Queen Elizabeth I allied herself with Islam against the arch-enemy Spain makes for fascinating reading Marcus Nevitt

Shakespeare Studies, Volume 31 edited by Leeds Barroll, Susan Zimmerman


“The English, lagging behind for about half a century, cashed in on the slave trade as early as the 1480s. Various records kept in several Spanish archives disprove the received view that the English as a slaving nation was late coming in the 1550s.  Moors and Mooresses of Morocco constituted colonial targets only for the Portuguese and the Spaniards, they were also victims of the English who bought the captured slaves at the slave markets of Andalusia. The trade with enslaved Moroccans led to a serious depopulation of the coastal regions of Morocco.” 

The Anglo-Moroccan merchants made the painful discovery that they were interacting with Moroccan Muslims not from an overwhelming position of strength, but from a position of near impotence and vulnerability. The centralized rule of the Saadian sharifs had infused a sense of nationhood into the Moroccan tribes, and its mercantile policy, relying on exports to European countries, was conducted on Morocco’s own terms. Thus the English merchants were often at the mercy of the Moroccan sultans and their marabouts. The sultans dictated the fiscal terms of the trade and the marabouts banned the export of saltpeter and the famous Barbary horses. It is true that the trade had unilaterally been pioneered, in chronological order, by the Genoese, Portuguese, French and English merchant adventurers who had the advantage of the superior sailing technology of ocean-going vessels, but once the trade had been established, the sultans, on the whole, gained the upper hand.” 

Source: Shakespeare Studies. Columbia: 2003.Vol. 31


“The first Englishmen to settle along the Christian/Muslim or Hispano/African border were the merchants stationed in Seville, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Huelva, Cadiz, and Valencia. Their early encounters with the Moors in Andalusia and across the Straits of Gibraltar were the result of a concerted campaign launched by their company’s expansionist commercial policy. A shroud of silence has been cast over the history of early English slave-holding in Spain by Gordon Connell-Smith’s study of the English Andalusia Company. It is time to recognize as a historical fact that the majority of the English merchants resident in Andalusia–I mention only some of the prominent figures such as Robert and Nicholas Thorne, the geographer Roger Barlow, and Thomas Mailliard–were slave owners. Alfonso Franco Silva, the medievalist of the University of Cadiz, has provided ample evidence that some of them were also slave dealers.” 


“Malliard’s inventory, drawn up after his death on 29 August 1522 by his English business partners and executors Robert Thorne, Thomas Bridges, and Roger Barlow, list sixteen slaves, among them three Moroccan Moors, five Mooresses, four mulattoes (“loros”), and five negroes. The Mallards must be ranked among the leading slave owners in the Iberian Peninsula considering that the average number of slaves owned by the landed nobility was fifteen.” 

English trade with Morocco was a natural extension of the existing trade established by the Andalusia company in Spain and in the Levant. Individual voyages can be traced as far back as the 1520s or 1530s when Roger Barlow visited Agadir, which then was still in the hands of the Portuguese. Regular trade, however, began after the Portuguese had withdrawn from Agadir and Safi in 1541, and it increased after 1549 when Charles V forbade Spanish merchants to trade with North Africa, Morocco included, which by them had emerged as an independent sovereign state under the Saadian sharifs. The following years until 1603 were a period of experimentation when the merchants sought the ideal form into which the trade should be cast.” 

“Trade was maintained by the Barbary merchants for more than a generation without control or regulation. Then in 1585, under the pressure of the earl of Leicester, it was subjected to the control of a regulated company. Leicester saw in the Barbary Company a vehicle for selling strategic goods, munitions, iron, lead, tin, timber, and oars for the professional army and navy of Ahmad al-Mansur. The monopoly of the Barbary Company came to an end in 1597 when the trade reverted to its former freedom, giving way to uncontrollable deregulation, damaging rivalry, and fraudulent practices; its demise caused heavy losses among the English merchants.” 

Source: Shakespeare Studies. Columbia: 2003.Vol. 31 pg. 89.”