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

15th Century Moorish-English Relations


Laamiri contends that for Rogers, the first official contact between Great Britain and The Empire of Morocco goes back to 1213 when King John of England dispatched an Embassy to sultan Mohamed Ennassir, Morocco’s fourth Almohad ruler (1199-1213), asking for an alliance against France and support against his enemies within Britain with the promise that he would embrace Islam. The details of this embassy, according to Rogers, were recorded by Mathew Paris and later published and kept at Saint Alban Abbey.  Rogers made of this mission the subject of the whole first chapter of his History and gave many details of the encounter between Ennassir and King John’s two envoys [Thomas Hardington and Mathew Fitz-Nicholas] to the court of Morocco. The first Moroccan Ambassador to London, Kaid  Jaudar ben Abdallah, was sent by Mohamed Ech-Cheikh to King Charles I with a message of peace and friendship in 1637.  It appears Abdallah left a good impression in London.See  P. G. Rogers, A History of Anglo-Moroccan Relations to 1900, pp.1-5. Citing Moroccan British Relations A Survey by Mohammed Laamiri  

“The King published an account of him shortly after his reception describing him (Abdallah) as having “an innate inclination to anything that is noble”, and also as “courteous, bountiful (sic), charitable, valiant, “and for “humanity, morality and generosity hee (sic) is a most accomplish’d gentleman” [quoted by Rogers op.cit; pp34-35] In 1661, the King of Portugal gave Tangier to King Charles II of England as part of a marriage dowry. On 29 January 1662, 3000 English soldiers arrived in Tangier Bay under the Earl of Peterborough; British-Moroccan relations lived a period of tensions during the English occupation of Tangier from 1662 to 1684. When Moulay Ismail became Sultan, Tangier had been a British colony for 10 years and the Moroccan-British relations were already marred by the thorny question of British captives in Morocco. This period knew a dynamic and sometimes tense diplomatic activity between the two countries. Moroccan forces under Moulay Ismail made life so difficult for the garrison that the English decided to abandon Tangier in 1684.” Citing Moroccan British Relations A Survey by Mohammed Laamiri  

“Kaid Mohamed ben Haddu Ottur [El-Attar], Moulay Ismail’s famous emissary and Morocco’s second ambassador to England arrived to London in December 1681 and was received by King Charles II on 11 January 1682.  Ben Haddu impressed Londoners by his exotic dress and his horsemanship; this event was immortalized by a famous painting of the Moroccan Ambassador on his horse in Hyde Park by Sir Godfrey Kneller. In fact, the first publication in a European language fully devoted to Morocco was Leo Africanus’ Description of Africa published in Latin in 1526 and translated into English in 1600 See Leo Africanus, A geographical historie of Africa… Translated From Latin by John Pory, London, Georg Bishop, 1600. The text became a classic and the main reference for British travelers to Morocco for the following three centuries.” Source: Moroccan British Relations A Survey by Mohammed Laamiri  

Certainly, there were periods of tension but there were much of the time long periods of mutual respect, friendship, alliances, and cooperation. Despite occasional disagreements and misunderstandings, mutual interests and alliances against their common enemies brought the two countries to close cooperation and the signing of many peace and trade treaties. Throughout the shared history between Morocco and Britain, many peace treaties were signed and British ambassadors encouraged the Moroccan Makhzen to make deep reforms to its old territory administration and trade policies especially by opening its frontiers to European commercial exchange and by the modernizing of its governance methods. (Ambassadors Kirby Green and Charles Ewan Smith worked hard to that effect.)

Source: Moroccan British Relations A Survey by Mohammed Laamiri