Reimagining Religious Identity: The Moor in Dutch and English Pamphlets, 1550-1620

Gary K Waite. Renaissance Quarterly. Volume 66, Issue 4. Winter 2014.

Introduction: Religious Conflict and Tolerance in Northwestern Europe

This essay examines how Dutch and English vernacular writers portrayed the Moor in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when their respective governments were engaged in diplomatic and trade discussions with Morocco. It aims for a better understanding of the difference in religious attitudes and cultures between these two Protestant realms by arguing that their respective approaches to internal religious toleration significantly influenced how their residents viewed Muslims. Dutch writers adopted a less hostile tone toward the Moor than English writers due to the republic’s principled defense of freedom of conscience, its informal system of religious toleration in the private sector, and its merchant Realpolitik. Unlike in England, Dutch conversos were allowed to be Jews. A number of Moroccan Muslims also resided in Holland, lobbying on behalf of the Muslim King of Morocco. The Moroccan Jewish Pallache family played prominent roles with the government and in two of the pamphlets examined here, including one that interprets a Moroccan civil war through the lens of demonic sorcery. So too did Jan Theunisz, a liberal Mennonite of Amsterdam who collaborated with both Jews and Muslims in his home. As Dutch citizens were adapting to a new religious environment that effectively privatized religious practice, they were better equipped than their English counterparts to acclimatize to Jews inside and the Moor outside their borders.

Reporting from the Dutch Republic in 1673, the French Protestant Jean-Baptiste Stouppe asked “is this really a Protestant country that we have occupied?” His consternation focused on the “unlimited freedom to all sorts of religions, which are completely at liberty to celebrate their mysteries and to serve God as they wish.” These included not only the usual Christian varieties, but also the Polish Socinians, who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity; the English Quakers, Libertines, and others who were “seeking a Religion and they do not profess any of those established”; and, most shockingly, “Jews, Turks and Persians.” While there was certainly a measure of truth to Stouppe’s shocked assertion, Benjamin Kaplan appropriately cautions that such references to the toleration of Islam by the Dutch were largely rhetorical exaggeration. They do, however, remain valuable as a mirror reflecting the opinions of orthodox Christians, both within and outside the republic, who were disturbed about how much religious accommodation the Dutch government was allowing, fearing it would contribute to the spread of atheism. Yet most Dutch citizens seem to have been content with the high degree of religious toleration that their Regents encouraged, and while there was a great deal of confessional and doctrinal conflict reflected in the pamphlet literature, there was little of the state-sponsored repression of religious dissent that had been a hallmark of the Netherlands before 1570, or that remained a feature of the religious landscape of the southern provinces still controlled by the Spanish Habsburgs.

Even more interesting was the relative paucity of voices protesting the discovery in 1603 of a Jewish community in Amsterdam or of news that the Regents were negotiating with Muslim principalities around 1610. This essay pursues the question of whether or not the unusual form of religious accommodation followed in the Dutch Republic altered its citizens’ perspective on non-Christian religious groups. Using the Moroccan Moors as a case study, this essay investigates a number of vernacular writings, ranging from correspondence to newssheets to polemical pamphlets, to get a sense of whether this internal religious dynamic influenced in any way how Dutch authors depicted relations with Muslim Morocco, and how this compared with contemporary English writers whose opinions on the Moor have been more extensively studied. It will reveal some noticeable differences in language and tone between English and Dutch publications that cannot be explained solely in terms of economic interest. And it will reveal that the level of acceptance of Jews helped determine how Muslims would be depicted in the popular press. First it will be necessary to set the scene by surveying the religious situation in the two Protestant realms.

Tolerance had not always been the hallmark of the Dutch: until the 1570s, in fact, the Netherlands were a region of extreme religious persecution, accounting for a large number of Europe’s heresy executions. Especially targeted were the Anabaptists, radical religious reformers who were roundly demonized by both Catholics and Protestants, who associated the radicals with sedition and called for their suppression, thanks in large measure to the notorious Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster (1533-35). Yet the moment the northern provinces of the Netherlands were embarked on the war with Spain, their rulers quickly gave up heresy trials altogether, justifying the war as a campaign to rid the provinces of the despised heresy placards of the Habsburg overlords. Hence, when in 1579 the leaders of the new republic came together to sign the Union of Utrecht, they agreed to proclaim freedom of conscience as a founding principle.

A desire for some measure of religious peace and tolerance had been a prominent theme even before the revolt: the magistrates of Antwerp had requested of their archduke, the Habsburg Emperor Charles V, that their New Christian merchants be allowed to reside in peace, since no one could know their inner heart, while Prince William of Orange (1533-84), the future leader of the Revolt, argued similarly that the Netherlands’ economic prosperity required religious tolerance. The prince’s original hope had been to establish complete religious toleration for the Dutch Republic that would include Catholics as well as the Protestant sects: this was, however, frustrated by more conservative Reformed notables. As a compromise, William and the States General approved a national Reformed Church but, unlike the English, did not mandate membership, so that other Christian faiths, including Anabaptists—now called Mennonites for the conservative wings, and Doopsgezinden for the more liberal branch—could worship as they saw fit behind a private façade in schuilkerken, or hidden churches. Members of the Portuguese Nation who had fled Antwerp for Amsterdam in the 1580s soon found to their delight that this situation applied to them as well, and they began a private synagogue that in 1603 became public knowledge—and without a great deal of turmoil, it seems, from most of their Christian neighbors, apart from some Reformed preachers.

England’s path toward religious peace was a bumpier one: the degree of Reform within the national Church of England was, of course, determined by the crown, with Edward VI (r. 1547-53) moving toward a Swiss Reformed model, Mary Tudor (r. 1553-58) restoring Catholicism, and Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) attempting a via media, a reformed church that could, she hoped, encompass both Protestants and Catholics. English citizens continued to witness heresy executions, including the burning of two Dutch Mennonites in London in 1575 under Queen Elizabeth I. In 1582 her Parliament passed a law associating Jesuits especially with treason, while the Conventicle Act of 1593 made refusal to attend the Church of England services a capital offense. Not only Catholics, but also Puritans—who wanted the national church to become fully Calvinist—and more radical dissenters, ranging from the free church Brownists and the spiritualistic Family of Love, among many others, remained in danger, as the Brownists Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood found to their sorrow when they were arrested and hanged in 1593. Most others went underground or fled, and the Dutch Republic was a favored locale.

What they found there was not, however, complete freedom of worship, as Catholics periodically suffered the raiding of their schuilkerken by sheriffs, but such harassment was far removed from the vicious persecution of the preceding decades. Furthermore, the Union of Utrecht’s adoption of freedom of conscience clearly reinforced their merchants’ pragmatism and desire to trade with any and all, regardless of religious difference. Unlike in England, Dutch citizens were acclimating to a form of religious diversity that included Jews, while their merchants and agents were reaching outward to the lesser-known Moor. The important economic contributions of the Sephardic community to the financial health of the Dutch Republic assisted their Christian neighbors in maintaining a positive evaluation of them, although in other places and other times such economic appreciation had proven short-lived. Certainly Spain remained concerned about the economic power of the Dutch Sephardim. The religious environment of the United Provinces of the Netherlands was therefore distinct from its near neighbors, such as England, which continued to enforce a single national church, or the Spanish Netherlands, where anything but orthodox Catholicism was outlawed.

Freedom of conscience proved to be much more than a slogan and was used by Calvinists, Catholics, and sectarians alike to support their own agendas in a wide array of polemical writings. It clearly appealed to the sensibilities of nobles, urban merchants, and artisans who had tired of religious conflict and hoped for peace and good business, aspirations supported for obvious reasons by the growing international merchant class. Before examining the pamphlet literature on the Moor composed by Dutch and English writers, it is necessary briefly to survey more broadly European attitudes toward and relations with both Jews and Muslims, since it is argued here that the two were interrelated. Unless European Christians made a measure of religious accommodation among themselves and some positive alterations in their attitudes toward Jews, who played important roles in Moroccan diplomacy and trade, they would experience greater difficulty in understanding their new Muslim allies. In the first decades of the seventeenth century Jewish agents from Morocco and some Moriscos exiled from Spain lobbied in the Dutch Republic on behalf of the Muslim King of Morocco and even produced two of the pamphlets that will be consulted here. In several respects, the religious adjustments made internally by the Dutch assisted greatly in their diplomatic efforts with the Moors.

Europeans, Moors, and Jews

Unlike the multicultural realms of the Mediterranean, Northern European regions had little experience in dealing with peoples of non-Christian faiths, especially after they had expelled their Jews—the English in 1290, and the Dutch and Flemish on a piecemeal basis through the late Middle Ages. By 1550 there were no Jews residing permanently in these realms, although converso members of the Portuguese Nation were typically regarded as Jews, regardless of their public Catholic identity. Even so, conversos increasingly aided these Atlantic realms in expanding their markets: as Daniel Vitkus has observed, Northern realms such as England were quickly adjusting to the dynamics of global trade and new identities based on nation states, while the old ideal of Christendom was in decline.

England, though, was quicker off the mark when it came to negotiating with Muslim princes. Under Queen Elizabeth I, by the early 1580s England already had trade deals with the Ottoman Turks and had developed firm relations with Morocco. As noted, Elizabeth remained deeply concerned about subversive sectarians and Catholic plots and did not alter the standing of conversos, as witnessed by the notorious case of Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, who was executed in London in 1594 on dubious treason charges. When James I ascended the throne in 1603, he did nothing to alter this situation with respect to the Jews and he actively discouraged further negotiations with Muslim rulers. This gave greater room for the Dutch to carry on independent of the English (under whose flag they were protected in Muslim waters) and develop new trade and diplomatic arrangements on their own. While commercial interests were clearly critical in shaping attitudes toward non-Christians, this was as true of England—especially its political and economic urban powerhouse of London—as it was of the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

As Daniel Vitkus, Linda McJannet, Benedict S. Robinson, Nabil Matar, and others have shown, English writers and playwrights were well aware of the rich variety of cultural and religious variations in the Ottoman world, although they, like their fellow citizens, struggled also with widespread anxieties about the military and conversionary power of Islam. As Protestant merchants and political leaders adapted their thinking to a more global and complex world, they looked for means to justify their trading with previously unthinkable partners, such as Muslim principalities. Doing so also elicited criticism, as when in 1581 Queen Elizabeth I signed a treaty with the Ottomans that was “greeted with outrage and protest by European diplomats, who accused Elizabeth of selling out to the Turkish infidel,” while the pope called her a “confederate” of the Turks. Many devout Christians revived traditional medieval Christian polemics that demonized their Muslim competitors as a means to protest such dealings.

The Christian association between Muslims and the devil appeared even in ceremonial events, such as the 1566 celebration over the baptism of Prince James of Scotland, during which Stirling Castle was ritually attacked by a band of highland men, Moors, and “devillis.” Aside from what it says about Scottish highlanders, this juxtaposition illustrates the ongoing anxiety toward Muslims as the Ottoman Turks continued to advance westward and pirate corsairs made travel in the Mediterranean extremely hazardous. Almost all Christians viewed Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566)—who had besieged Vienna in 1529 and battled Charles V to a humiliating standstill in 1541—as God’s apocalyptic scourge upon a sinful Christendom, the external enemies of Christ comparable to the internal foes, the Jews. Although less preoccupied with such apocalyptic foreboding, learned humanists regarded the Turks as the “new barbarians,” and many humanists, such as Erasmus, maintained a strong antipathy toward the Jews. Some Reformation radicals expressed preference for the tolerant Ottomans over the persecuting Catholics, hence their reputation of being in league with the Muslims. There were other exceptions, of course, both among learned writers and in popular literature.

The Reformation’s splintering of Christendom recast politics as well as religion, and despite the apocalyptic anxiety associated with the Ottomans, some European rulers reached out to the Turks for assistance against the Catholic Habsburgs. German Lutheran princes and the Catholic King Francis I of France (1494-1547) sent representatives to Istanbul (still called Constantinople in European writings), although only the French returned home with a treaty. Later in the century Queen Elizabeth I of England followed suit, adding trade and rescue of English captives to the list of requests and signing a separate treaty with the Ottoman sultan in 1581 and later with the independent Kingdom of Morocco. Such diplomatic efforts revealed that European princes could distinguish clearly among the various Muslim powers, making deals to help Morocco retain its independence from the Ottomans, just as they assisted Shi’ite Persia against the Sunni Ottomans. Even so, their comprehension of the religion of Islam was rudimentary in the extreme and dominated by polemical needs that invariably led to the retelling of hoary stories, for example, about the prophet Muhammad and his affiliation with a heretical monk named Sergius.

In the 1590s a number of publications detailing the horrific Turkish-Hungarian conflict revived latent apocalyptical foreboding in the West and reinforced the Christian stereotype of the cruel Turk. However, in the Dutch Republic the war with Spain inspired propaganda applying the anti-Catholic rhetorical device of unfavorable comparisons to the Turks, with some—and not just Anabaptists—extolling the Ottoman tolerance of Jewish and Christian religious practice. The notorious Dutch Sea Beggars, in fact, adopted the “rather the Turk than the pope” sentiment as their slogan. While late to the diplomatic game, the Dutch in 1609-10 hosted embassies from the Levant and Morocco, and then in 1612 sent their own ambassador, Cornelis Haga (1578-1654) to Istanbul, a trip widely praised in both Dutch and English pamphlets. At around the same time, the Dutch provided a temporary haven for Moriscos (Iberian Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity) who had been expelled from Valencia in 1609.

In answering the original question of the extent to which such interaction and diplomatic repositioning altered popular imagining of the Moor, it must be acknowledged that, as with the English, Dutch writers expressed a variety of responses, including anxiety over the continued conversions of Christians to Islam. A significant number of their publications, however, reveal a growing acclimatization that not only led to a noticeable decline in demonizing language and imagery, but which added several more hues to the palate of popular opinion. In some cases the religious identity of the Moor was deemphasized in favor of political and military factors, while in others decidedly European obsessions, including that of diabolical witchcraft, were superimposed onto Moorish conflicts, perhaps as a means of making them more comprehensible, and indeed more interesting, to European audiences. Of course, many traditional medieval and Renaissance prejudices remained, yet there is evidence of less hostile imaginings in the Dutch popular press in comparison to the English, this in a medium that typically catered to the public’s thirst for eschatological predictions and miracle stories. As with the pamphlet account of Haga’s mission to the Ottoman Sultan, which presents Turkish culture and court ritual as exotic but does not once mention the Muslim faith, many Dutch writers sought to depreciate the considerable religious differences between the two realms. This was, in fact, an approach many writers were applying to the various internal religious divisions within the republic, and it is in the unique system of religious accommodation that the Dutch Regents had crafted for their new nation that a partial answer can be found to the question of why Dutch writers could portray a less negative image of the Moor, making dealing with him less odious for Dutch readers.

English Merchants in Morocco

As a result of Elizabeth’s positive attitude toward Morocco, in April 1567 English merchants trading in Morocco felt emboldened to request the Privy Council to regularize and approve their business, which benefitted London’s millenary trade and provided the gold, spices, and sugar in great demand in England. They also noted, however, that the Jews held a peculiar place in Morocco: “For the merchaunts of that countrye being onely Jewes, wiche twoo only Jewes have all the said comodities of that countrye in ferme of the King, persevyng the great number of clothes brought thither in undew season and time of the yere,” a monopolistic advantage that allowed them to offer the English lower prices for their goods, “for the said Jewes, perseyvinge the hast of these unskilfull merchaunts in selling, or the gredines of them in buying, have compacted and agreed toogether not to geve above a certayne price for clothes, farr under the accustomyd price.” In other words, these Moroccan Jews were taking advantage of inexperienced English merchants impatient to make a deal, hence the writer requests that the queen forbid such “unskilful merchants” from plying their trade in Barbary. Even as they sought to reduce anxiety over dealing with Muslims, many English merchants found it difficult to change their prejudicial view of Jews.

This is seen is other correspondence from English merchants, such as the memoir composed in 1577 by the English envoy John Williams, who was sent to Morocco on behalf of his merchant master Edmund Hogan to negotiate the purchase of saltpeter. It seemed that the only commodity Morocco’s King Muley Abu Abdallah Mohammed II (r. 1574-76; called by Williams the “Black King”) wanted in return was iron shot, which in essence meant dealing in material for weapons on both sides. Samples were sent and permission granted, but before trade could begin, Muley Mohammed’s government was overthrown by his uncle, Muley Abd el-Malek. The latter, seeing the sorry state of his artillery, apparently asked Williams for the same trade deal to which his nephew had agreed. He promised access to any Moroccan commodities that the English desired, since he had a “good leekinge” of the English nation and guaranteed safe passage through Moroccan waters, pledging not to deal with any other Christian nation and noting that Morocco was a staging post for all Christian goods traveling overland to Constantinople. The implication was that the English could thereby replace the Italians as the favored transporters of European material to The Porte. For their part, the English negotiator agreed to the terms so long as no portion of the saltpeter would fall into Spanish or Portuguese hands, noting furthermore the benefits of being able to unload a great deal of dyed cloth besides, since the new Moroccan king favored Turkish styles.

The queen, while asking Hogan to express her pleasure at the agreement with the King of Morocco, also requested him to bring forward her complaint about the roadblocks the Moroccan authorities had erected when it came to trading in Moroccan sugar. She also refused to yield to the Moroccan request for armaments as part of the deal, since this would be in contravention of England’s relations with other Christian principalities, such as Portugal. She hoped the Moroccans would understand England’s dilemma. In May 1577 Hogan arrived in Marrakesh and was pleased at the grand reception he received as Queen Elizabeth’s envoy: he met with “all the christian marchauntes” and the king’s council, which assured him of the king’s good intentions. Brought into the royal chamber, Hogan observed that the king’s councilors arrayed about him included both “Moores” and Christians, to whom he delivered the queen’s letters and spoke in Spanish, which was then translated into the “Arrabian language,” not for the king’s sake, for he could understand Spanish, but for the other “Moores.” Both sides agreed to hold further discussions.

That very night Hogan was called back from his lodgings to the court, where King Abd el-Malek informed him that Philip II of Spain had requested postponing Abd el-Malek’s conference with the English until a Spanish envoy could meet with the Moroccan court. What the Muslim ruler then apparently told Hogan, and Hogan’s reaction to this, is very illuminating. Abd el-Malek intended to “make more acoumpt of you [Hogan] coming from the Queene of England then of anie from Spaynne: for I will use him after the use of somm places in Christendom,” to make the Spanish envoy cool his heals for twenty days before granting him an audience, for, he continued, the Spanish king is unable to rule his own country, which is instead governed “by the Pope and Inquisition.” Hogan claims the king also expressed his strong dislike for the Catholic religion, a response that Hogan jumped on to indicate that Abd el-Malek was “a vearie earnnest Protestant,” of “good religion and living, and well experimented as well in the Old Testament as New, bering great affection to Godes trew religioun,” just as it was practiced in England. He describes the Moroccan ruler this way: “I finde him to be one that liveth greatly in the feare of God, being well exercised in the Scriptures, as well in the Olde Testament as also in the New, and he beareth a greater affection to our nation then to others because of our religion, which forbiddeth worship of our idols, and the Moores called him the christian king.” Ignorance of the religion of Islam was obviously central to this misunderstanding: because Abd el-Malek, like any educated Muslim, knew the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as well as his own, and expressed contempt for the Catholic faith, Hogan interprets the king’s faith within the strictures of European confessional definitions.

This misunderstanding at this early stage of English-Moroccan diplomacy helped shape the fairly positive image that the queen and her court had of Muslim principalities, reinforcing hopes that Muslims might be proto-Protestants. Certainly the fact that Morocco was frequently in conflict with Catholic Spain—although King Muley Abd el-Malek was energetically pursuing a treaty with Spain at this very moment—was a significant factor explaining why Protestant realms were willing and able to negotiate with this Muslim realm. Clearly a case of seeing what one wants to see, such creative misunderstandings would be replicated time and again. These early contacts between Protestant merchants and Moroccan Muslims were definitely fraught with misunderstanding and prejudicial perspectives. These, however, were not always with negative effect, as Edmund Hogan’s misconception of the Moroccan king as a proto-Protestant helped ease negotiations with him on the part of the English.

Hogan also reflects elements of the traditional stereotype of the avaricious Jew, as when he requested and received from the king the forgiving of all the debts owed by English merchants to the Jews. A comparable attitude is expressed in an anonymous English account of the infamous Battle of el-Ksar el-Kebir, also called the Battle of Three Kings, fought in August 1578 in Morocco between the Portuguese and the Moroccans. Both sides suffered devastating casualties, including the Portuguese and Moroccan kings, setting off a dynastic crisis in Portugal and establishing in Morocco the new Sa’dian dynasty, headed by Ahmed al-Mansur (1578-1603). In his efforts to explain this disaster for Christendom, the English pamphleteer discourses on the nature of “Barbary” in a fashion that clearly reveals his Protestant prejudices, especially when he claims it is inhabited by a “barbarous people observinge the lawes of Mahomet, geven (for the most part) to idlenes, and sundry supersticions.” Moreover, in this country “are manie Jewes enhabiting, in whose handes consisteth the most parte of the trafique of the country,” especially in sugar and molasses, and for which the Jews paid heavy duties. The implication seems obvious: a lazy population of Muslims was at the mercy of unscrupulous Jewish merchants. Whether or not Jews were depicted in such accounts as the principal agents of deceit or themselves as exploited by Muslim rulers, the picture painted by English correspondents on the relationship between the two religious Others remained negative.

The Enemy of My Enemy

A number of other English writers clarified the political-religious advantages of diplomacy with Morocco, such as the 1579 memoir of Captain Roger Bodenham, composed in response to a French book extolling the sea victory of Don Juan (presumably the Battle of Lepanto in 1571), which made reference to a league “defensive and offensive betwene the King of Spaine and Barbarie,” which Bodenham castigated as “Mahomeit for the one syde, and infydelytie on the other.” Negotiations for such an arrangement were indeed in the works, as Spain sought a regional ally against the Turk. The remedy for such a threat for England was its own treaty with Morocco, one that would have the added benefit of using Morocco as a staging post to threaten Spain with invasion, deprive it of the Barbary fishery, impoverish its treasury, and encourage a revolt in Spain’s Indies colonies. Bodenham justified such an alliance with a non-Christian prince against a Christian realm by quoting the Dutch Prince of Orange, who apparently affirmed that it is “not onely lawfull in Christians, but necessarye in all estates, for defence of there relygion, countrey, and libertie, to use the ayd of anye, for the tyme, to repulce and beate downe the vyolence and tyrannye offred them bye the common enemye: makinge smale deference betwene Poperye and Paganisme in this case, or betweene Maranes [Marranos] and Mahomettes, in the nacions where the Romishe churche and inquisycion doth nowe governe, whoe, in justifienge, accordinge to ther faith borne to us of ther relygyon, the horible massacre of Paris, affirmed that yt was simulatio sancta et dissimulatio pietatis plena, to have brought these poore men professinge God soe happely into that treacherous trappe.” That the English Captain Bodenham quotes the Dutch prince implies that he saw the two Protestant nations as confronting the same problem, and that Dutch policy might be useful as a model in international relations relating to the dangers Spain presented Protestant countries, so that the enemy of one’s enemy would be one’s friend.

Bodenham, however, defines the problem of Spain in particularly religious terms so that, as a Catholic nation, Spain could not be trusted, as illustrated in the deception used by the Catholic Cardinal of Lorraine to entrap the Huguenots in Paris for the bloody St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572. Such behavior, he concludes, justified allying with Muslims against Catholic forces. In the face of the Inquisition, Bodenham moreover suggests that differences between the ostensibly Christian Marranos and the Muslims were of no account. An anonymous memoir from 1581 reinforced this view that, at least as far as these English Protestants were concerned, the Spanish king was “an infidell,” hence making a treaty with a different infidel against the Spanish eminently justifiable.

Two years later the English merchants trading in Morocco expressed their displeasure to the English Privy Counsel at the illegal trade in munitions with “infidels” from which some of their countrymen were profiting, a trade that caused their “most trew and pewar [pure] relygyon to be broughte in questyon,” especially since some merchants were sending such material to Spain. They also complained about how the Moroccan Jews, who controlled the sugar trade in Barbary, had tricked them out of a considerable amount of money, although they were unable to press their case in Morocco itself, fearing to displease its king. This English reporter made dealing with Muslim Morocco more palatable by recourse to anti-Semitism: while trading with the Moors was indeed dealing with the infidel, it was the Jews who were most directly blamed for the exploitation of English merchants. There remain, however, real dangers to one’s religious identity in working with the Moor, dangers that could be ameliorated only by better organization and control of England’s merchant adventurers.

As tensions between Philip II and the English mounted, the term infidel was used more pointedly against him than against Muslim allies. Moreover, in a 1585 request of English merchants in Morocco for permission to incorporate themselves as a company, the comment was made that without such legal protection, if faced by a lawsuit at home, English merchants in Morocco might have to “of a Christien become a infidell” and abandon their homeland to avoid punishment. Here conversion to a non-Christian religion is a means of avoiding legal prosecution, the recommended solution for which was not deeper religious instruction or a well-trained minister on the ground, but the formal incorporation of the merchant adventurers. On 15 July 1585, Queen Elizabeth granted the petitioners’ request for a monopoly control of the trade with Morocco for a period of twelve years.

Elizabeth’s Moroccan agents continued to express frustration, for example, John de Cardenas, who in 1589 was engaged in ultimately fruitless negotiations with Morocco’s King Muley Ahmed over a military alliance against Spain. He interpreted Muley Ahmed’s tactics of frequent delays in arranging meetings and sending his court Jew and renegados (Christians who had converted to Islam) in his place as evidence that the Moroccan king’s allegiance was really with Spain, to which was added “the naturall hatrid he beareth to Christians, and his cowardly and extreeme covetous disposicion.” Instead, De Cardenas surmised, Muley Ahmed was hoping to draw England into an all-out war with Spain while he could remain safely at home. De Cardenas’s antipathy toward Muley Ahmed reached so far that he was willing to excuse the Jews for absconding with the goods of English merchants, for “the Moore doth robbe the Jewes and maketh them so bare as they are forcid to breake and runne awaye daily with the merchauntes goodes.” As for Moorish demands for English munitions, De Cardenas seethes at the notion that “Christians should furnishe the sworne ennemyes of Christ” with firearms. His solution was to move the English trade in North Africa to the coastal towns of Sus, “where the ingennes be, lyke as other Christians do trade with the Indians and with other negros,” rather than continuing to trade at the discretion “of an infidell, voyde of honnor and honesty,” and in a country subject to so much civil discord. In De Cardenas’s intriguing blend of Realpolitik and religious antipathy is implied a preference to deal with “irreligious” Amerindians and black Africans rather than with infidel Muslims and Jews in Morocco. Here too is obvious the power that religious beliefs and prejudices could have in making tricky trade negotiations even more difficult, and how they could even trump the profit motive.

In these official records covering just over a decade in time, there appear quite wide variations in opinion about Moroccans: from the Moorish king as a proto-Protestant to an infidel unworthy of English trust and support, the image of this often difficult ally varied dramatically. So too did opinions diverge about Jews in Morocco, as some of the early reporters believed that Moroccan Jews were responsible for the difficulties faced by English merchants, though not all English merchants were contemptuous of Moroccan Jewry: in 1585 Henry Roberts, the official English agent of the Barbary Merchants in Morocco, described the Jewish quarter of Marrakesh as “the fairest place and quietest lodging in all the citie,” and he makes no disparaging comments about either Muslims or Jews. Even so, there is always a hint that the Jews deserved whatever hardships they faced because of their avaricious nature.

Such argumentation reinforces a point made by Benjamin Kaplan: the internal religious divisions within Christendom remained the primary focus for Europeans as they conversed with non-Christians elsewhere on the globe. He writes, “the form of ‘otherness’ that challenged and engaged Europeans most forcefully was still the religious differences among themselves.” In their retelling of interactions with the Moor, English writers transplanted their own internal conflicts onto the Muslims, just as they superimposed traditional Christian anti-Semitism upon their reading of Jewish-Muslim relations within Morocco, unable to interpret these as anything other than exploitive. Such prejudices were, however, usually tempered by the need for new markets for their goods, especially cloth, and the need to maintain a confederate against Spanish power and ambition. Such negative attitudes toward Jews could hinder negotiations with Morocco’s king, since he relied so heavily on them in terms of both economics and diplomacy. These English examples provide a comparison to the attitudes expressed by Dutch agents, who were similarly engaged in a quest for new markets and allies against Spain.

The Dutch Republic Joins the Fray

Documents relating to relations between the Protestant Dutch Republic and Morocco are not extant until 1596, when the Regents received a copy of a translated letter addressed from Muley Ahmed el-Mansour to Don Christoph, claimant to the Portuguese throne. In this missive the Dutch were given a window into the complex relationship between Morocco, Portugal, and England. At the same time, a group of Amsterdam merchants petitioned the Regents to obtain the same trading privileges in Morocco that the English had, especially freedom from captivity. They also wanted to begin negotiations to release enslaved countrymen and to make sea travel in the region somewhat safer. Muslim trading partners were apparently suggesting that as the Dutch were “friends of the English who are our friends, and conduct war against the Spanish,” it seemed logical to consider the Dutch “also our friends.” According to these merchants, the Moroccan king was also deeply impressed that so small a nation as the Dutch Republic should be able to wage such an effective and long war against mighty Spain. In response the States General commissioned the merchant Jacob Bartholomeusz to deliver a letter to Muley Ahmed to prepare for formal negotiations. Among other things, this letter affirmed that the Dutch had signed an accord with England and France against Spain, expecting success “with the help of God.” To reinforce their desire for an alliance, the Dutch were sending a Moroccan subject whom they had delivered from Spanish captivity, hoping that this grateful man, Mahumeth Oachia, would bring word of how well he was treated by his rescuers.

Having to adjust to a largely unknown culture for which they possessed little accurate information, Dutch agents to Morocco also had to contend with the instability and volatility of the local political scene. They could not act like their fellows in the New World colonies, where some agents so immersed themselves in the native society they became cultural intermediaries between Amerindians and European powers. Turning native in the Moroccan context risked the charge of “renegadoism,” since Islam was a clear alternate religion and society to Christianity, rather than a vaguely defined paganism. When Europeans “turned Turk,” they legally lost any role they could play with their home governments and even in the tolerant Netherlands, where conversos and Moriscos were welcomed, but renegados were threatened with capital punishment. Even so, Dutch pamphleteers writing about their countrymen fighting in the Moroccan armies do not identify them explicitly as renegados, even though many of them undoubtedly were.

Such challenges aside, the practical benefits of relations with Morocco reached a Dutch audience first as a result of English actions. In 1600 three envoys of the Moroccan king visited the court of Queen Elizabeth and the queen’s Secretary, Robert Cecil, invited Noel de Caron, the Dutch ambassador to England, to attend the meeting, since the envoys had brought a particularly relevant gift: nine Dutchmen who had been enslaved in Morocco. De Caron’s letter of 23 August 1600 to the States General describes the ways in which the queen sought to impress visually upon the Moroccans the glory that was England and reveals the complexity of the process of communication, as the Moroccan’s words were translated from Arabic into Spanish, then into English for the queen, who then spoke in French to the Netherlandic prisoners while De Caron translated her words into Dutch. Elizabeth was willing to receive the prisoners as a gift from Morocco, but noted that out of Christian charity she would immediately hand them over to the Dutch ambassador. The gift, she explained to those ransomed, also reflected the glory of the nation because the “Barbary Nation was willing to come so far to her, a Christian princess, to do their homage.” The audience concluded, De Caron noted some other peculiarities, including the envoys’ turbans, which De Caron described as “like a night cap which they always have on their head,” and their diet, since they ate no meat “that they had not slaughtered themselves.” Instead of wine they drank a mixture of water and spices they had brought with them. Apart from adding (at the beginning of this published account) the hope that God would open the eyes of the foreigners to the knowledge of his word, De Caron himself makes no disparaging comments about any of the Moroccans’ habits, apart from humorously noting that their dietary restrictions were surely saving money for the English crown. He does, however, report on a comment made by the English (one presumes the nobility gathered at the event), that the envoys were clothed “like their old women in the Province of Kent.” The contrast between De Caron’s restraint and the comments he puts in the mouths of the English is noteworthy and will be seen again.

Henri Chérif

In 1602, the same year as the horrific siege of Oostende, the Regents were distracted from more serious discussions with Morocco by an alleged pretender to the Moroccan throne who called himself Muley Bamet or Henri Chérif, claiming to be the son of Muley Mahomet (presumably Ahmed al-Mansur), the Moroccan king. In that year the treasurer of Utrecht paid the alleged prince three pounds to cover his travel costs and it seems that government officials accepted his claims to his princely identity. This became especially obvious when in 1603 Henri Chérif converted publicly to Reformed Christianity. The thirty-nine-year-old prince then requested a commission in the cavalry of Prince Frederick Hendrik of Nassau, the brother of Maurice, which the Regents happily endorsed in view of the supplicant’s “quality”; Reformed ministers attested also to the sincerity of his conversion. The Hague therefore provided him with fifty gulden and letters of recommendation to the prince that included their desire that this princely convert be provided weapons, two horses, and a monthly income. In April 1604, the city of Leiden published the marriage banns of “Henricus Charif, prince of Morocco” with Trijntgen Barthelmees from Sluys. The States Treasurer noted payments of 18 gulden on 26 March 1604 to Henri Cherif, “the Cheriff of Morocco” so that “he would not trouble the States,” and of 6 gulden on 15 June so that he could travel to the army. After this reference the trail goes cold, although it can be assumed that the convert became a member of Prince Frederick Hendrik’s army.

It seems unlikely that Henri Chérif was anything like what he claimed, but was instead one of many adventurers seeking to profit from the intense desire of Reformed leaders to display prominent examples of converts from Islam. One should not be surprised at the credulity of these officials, for there trod throughout Europe many prophets and pretenders to exotic thrones who had beguiled notable Europeans, such as David Reuveni, who in the 1520s had deceived the papal court with his claims to be the brother of King Joseph, ruler of the Lost Tribes of Israel, until he was proven a fraud. It appears that the Dutch Regents were spared such a humiliating revelation, and their success with the alleged prince may have added to their self-identity as God’s chosen nation and encouraged their efforts to forge alliances with Muslim princes. Cherif’s story was part of a broader genre of conversion narratives from both Catholic and Protestant presses aiming to prove that their church was the true church, having won over various prominent members of the opposing confession, or Jews, or in this case a Muslim prince.

European Reports on Morocco’s Civil Wars, 1603-09

When their focus returned to Morocco, the Dutch Regents sent the merchant Peter Merttensz Coy to Barbary in May 1605 to return 135 Moorish captives from Sluys to their homeland and to negotiate a free trade deal, the release of Dutch prisoners, and an agreement allowing Dutch ships free use of the port of Larache as a base from which to attack Spanish shipping. The captives were to act as a pledge that the Dutch, having freed themselves by God’s grace from their own Spanish tyranny, would maintain the fight against their common enemy. Further negotiations, however, were delayed by another Moroccan civil war.

Such political and social strife was a hallmark of Morocco after the death of Ahmad I al-Mansur in 1603. European reports on Moroccan affairs at this time focused on European combatants, usually renegados. While one English reporter, R. Cottington, castigated Muley Zaydan for consulting his “sorcerers and astrologers” before a battle, a sign of the “verie suspicious” nature of “a Barbarian,” he avoids explicitly demonizing rhetoric. He instead praises the recently deceased Ahmad I as a great ruler who “was not too tyrannicall,” and “was alwayes of minde to keepe peace with Christendome, with Spaine, who was his next potent neighbour, but oboue all loued the English Nation,” admiring especially the late Queen Elizabeth. His three contentious heirs suffered from an abundance of ambition but with only modest talents for governing, while one of these, Muley Sheck (Mohammed esh Sheikh el Mamun, r. Fez 1604-13), was unfortunately influenced by a feckless Spanish renegado who taught him how to drink wine.

Cottington also notes that the early battles lacked any real ferocity, since “they were all Mores of one country, and one religion and howsoeuer the Kings might be affected one to the other, yet between the cominality of each side was no hatred onely for their paye, came into the field to fight one against an other.” Evidently Cottington still believed that people of the same nation and religion would not engage in vicious warfare against each other, hardly a realistic expectation for a Protestant living during the Wars of Religion. As with his critique of Muley Sheck’s propensity for wine and Muley Zaydan’s for soothsaying, this remark was surely intended as a criticism of contemporary English behavior. Cottington also applied Machiavellian theory to explain that one of the combatants had lost because he had desired to be loved rather than feared by the Moroccans.

Similar to Cottington, an anonymous Dutch pamphlet-writer concentrates on the fates of European combatants in this civil war, but also notes that as troops from Fez were plundering Marrakesh, the Moroccans complained that the Fez people were barbarians and “no better than Jews,” a telling statement given the low esteem that the Muslims of Fez accorded their Jewish neighbors. In both accounts sympathy for fellow countrymen competes with anger over their renegado status. Commenting on the nasty end of most of the renegados, Cottington moralizes: “this was the ende of them, who had liued in the Streights of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea, not as Marchants by honest trading, but hauing committed spoyle vpon diuers Seafaring men, felt the bloody hande of a barbarous Natien (as a deserued punishment sent from God) to execute iustice for their manifold committed wrongs and outrages.” These two European writers found themselves in a difficult position when seeking to explain the victory of one aspiring king over the other; they could not, as Christians, imply that God was on either side in the Moroccan civil war, as they would have done had the battles been fought in Europe. Instead, they had to find nonreligious explanations, resorting to bad decisions or personal vices on the part of the participants, or to Machiavelli’s political theory. It remains an open question whether these writers were able to apply such secular reasoning to events closer to home.

Moors, Jews, and Doopsgezinden in Amsterdam

Having won the day, Muley Zaydan set about to normalize relations with European merchants and governments, in 1609 and 1610 sending embassies to the Dutch Republic who succeeded in negotiating a formal trade agreement, although Zaydan’s desire for a military alliance against Spain was frustrated when the Dutch signed a twelve-year peace with Spain in April 1609. The Dutch Regents therefore rebuffed the Moroccan ruler’s plans for a joint attack on Spain, although a more limited treaty was eventually signed on 24 December 1610. Among those helping Zaydan in these negotiations was his agent to the Dutch Republic, the Moroccan Jewish merchant Samuel Pallache, who had first arrived in Amsterdam in 1608, and who accompanied the Moroccan ambassador Ahmed ibn ‘Abdallah on his official visits. The Moroccans’ tour of Holland in December 1610 provoked considerable interest, as noted by the contemporary Mennonite chronicler Pieter Jans Twisck: “King Mulay Sidan of Morocco, sent an ambassador to the United Netherlands, who sought to make a firm and certain neighborliness and correspondence with the United Lands, at land, at sea and upon the rivers, so that they might do business freely with each other, whereto were concluded Eighteen Articles at The Hague.” He insinuates no criticism of the decision to sign a treaty with a Muslim prince or of using a Jew as intermediary, in large measure because Morocco and the republic shared a hated enemy in Catholic Spain. This conservative Mennonite, moreover, expresses no discomfort with the presence of Jews in Holland; instead, the greatest threat to the hard won “freedom of conscience” that Mennonites extolled was neither Judaism at home nor Islamic foreign powers, but the Black Legend of the Spanish Inquisition. This made dealing with the Moors much easier.

Pallache himself was a controversial figure who dealt in a variety of items, including arms and munitions, and who was later forced to defend himself in an English court on charges of piracy against the Spanish. He was also involved in later efforts to create a Dutch-Turco-Moroccan alliance, using his nephew Moses as an agent in Istanbul. Some of his plans failed, while at times his family’s interests clashed with those of the Dutch Regents; it did not help that Samuel was often playing a double game with the Spanish, although the States General never caught wind of this. Despite several setbacks, Samuel, along with his brother Joseph and nephew Moses, were indispensible in establishing formal relations between Morocco and the Dutch government. Samuel also assisted the new Jewish community in Amsterdam, helping to establish a second Sephardi congregation, the Neve Salom, which met in his home. While relations between Samuel and Stadholder Prince Maurice of Nassau had become strained in Samuel’s last years, Maurice served as a pallbearer at Samuel’s funeral in 1616. Jews therefore were the central mediators between the Christian Dutch Republic and Muslim Morocco. For northern Protestants unacquainted with the multiethnic Mediterranean, having the well-connected and multilinguist Pallaches as go-betweens meant that the Dutch could move well beyond a trade deal in their relations with the Moor.

Even before Pallache arrived in 1608, the Dutch Regents tacitly allowed conversos to revert to Judaism, and this may have been part of a broader diplomatic strategy toward Muslim rulers. Whatever their motivation, the Regents found ways to appease the complaints of Reformed ministers about tolerating Jews by making essentially surface changes to the system of informal toleration. For example, in 1616, some Remonstrants—those of the Reformed who desired an inclusive national church rather than the narrower version promoted by the Calvinists—complained that the government was tolerating Jews while allowing their own repression, despite being fellow Reformed Christian citizens. In response, Amsterdam’s magistrates drafted a bylaw forbidding Jews from expressing contempt for Christianity, seeking to convert Christians, or having sex with Christian women. However, three years later the States General gave each city the leeway to decide for itself how to treat Jews, and Amsterdam now openly welcomed them, but without formal citizenship rights.

It is certainly difficult to imagine how the kind of open negotiations among Jews, Christians, and Muslims taking place in early seventeenth-century Holland could have succeeded without a strong measure of religious toleration. Other Christian realms relied on the ostensibly Catholic members of the Portuguese Nation to assist in negotiations with Muslim governments. However, negotiating with conversos added an extra layer of subterfuge to such dealings since the true identity of the converso agents had to remain hidden and their allegiance left in some doubt as they acted as honest brokers. By according their Sephardim public status as Jews, the Dutch Republic simplified the process. Here the multicultural interaction occurred not just within the quasi-private arena of the Estates General but also in the private and public spaces of Amsterdam.

At the critical moment when the Dutch Regents were reaching out diplomatically to Morocco and the Ottomans, three important actors met in Amsterdam, all with a strong interest in deepening understanding and relations between Muslims and Christians: the Jew Samuel Pallache; his Muslim colleague ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Muhammad al-Taghlibī, who was Mulay Zaydan’s Morisco secretary; and the liberal Mennonite (Doopsgezind) Jan Theunisz. While scholars have detailed their individual stories, there has been no serious effort to explore how their interaction both illustrates the distinctive religious situation in Amsterdam and influenced how other Dutch citizens perceived Muslims and Jews both within and outside the realm.

‘Abd al-‘Azīz was one of a small number of Muslims (especially ex-Moriscos) who encouraged the study of Arabic in the United Provinces and discussed theology with Dutch politicians and theologians. Part of the Moroccan embassy to Holland in 1610, ‘Abd al-‘Azīz stayed behind in Amsterdam after his colleagues had returned to Morocco. He resided with Theunisz, one of the city’s most intriguing citizens. A distiller, innkeeper, printer, and intellectual, Theunisz was a member of the Waterlander Doopsgezind fellowship, which, in contrast to Twisck’s conservative group, deemphasized adherence to formal confessions of faith and promoted discussions with other religious groups that stressed personal piety and nonviolence, including the English Brownists (who joined with them in 1611), the Remonstrants, and in some cases the refugee Polish Socinians, who denied the doctrine of the Trinity. Some of Theunisz’s coreligionists moved in spiritualistic directions, but Theunisz preferred an intellectual stance more in keeping with the university elite, associating with scholars from a wide variety of religious and confessional backgrounds. Waterlander Doopsgezinden such as Theunisz emphasized religious toleration and an ecumenical approach that ultimately contributed to the skeptical and rational climate of seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Above all, Theunisz, like Twisck, was a principled proponent of freedom of conscience, and he applied this broadly indeed.

After Theunisz bumped into ‘Abd al-‘Azīz, the two struck up a conversation and Theunisz invited his Muslim counterpart to reside with him. They became friends, and for four months the two conversed in Arabic as ‘Abd al-‘Azīz helped hone the Doopsgezind‘s linguistic skills until he became the most accomplished Dutch scholar of Arabic in Holland at that moment. In 1612 Theunisz convinced the regents of the University of Leiden to provide him with a probationary lectureship in the language, until the younger Calvinist scholar Thomas Erpenius alerted them to Theunisz’s religious identity as “a Holland Anabaptist,” hence the professorship was handed to Erpenius. Theunisz was also a capable Hebraist, eventually teaching this language at the Amsterdam Academy. He was also one of the earliest printers of Hebrew works in Amsterdam and became a key member of an intriguing network of English and Dutch scholars interested in matters Arabic and Hebrew, beginning with Theunisz’s first teacher of Arabic, the Polish converso Philippus Ferdinandus, who died in 1599 having just accepted the post of Professor of Arabic at the University of Leiden. Theunisz also befriended the English rector of the Latin School in Amsterdam, Mattheus Saldus, and the English nonconformist John Paget, who since 1607 was preacher of the English Presbyterians in Amsterdam. Theunisz was also acquainted with the English Puritan Hugh Broughton, who came to Amsterdam to dispute with Jews and who had at least one of his works translated from Hebrew and printed by Theunisz.

Meetings with such nonconformists were often held at Theunisz’s home, and collaborative work sometimes resulted. One of these was a polemical treatise on the nature of Christ that Theunisz composed with ‘Abd al-‘Azīz and that Theunisz used to convince the States General that he was worthy of the Arabic teaching position. It appears that this Doopsgezind had the rare talent of being able to work with people across the religious spectrum. Theunisz’s skills in both translation and multicultural collaboration were quickly appreciated by the stadholder and the States General.

This is evident in another collaborative work that the stadholder commissioned of Theunisz: a translation of a letter sent from the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603-17) to the Dutch government, none of whose members could of course read Turkish. Theunisz succeeded in this task only thanks to the multicultural network he had established. In the foreword to his version of the letter, Theunisz explains to the Regents the process of translation that was required, since Theunisz knew Arabic rather than Turkish. So thanks to a “Hebrew … coming here [to Theunisz’s home] each day” the Turkish original was transliterated into Hebrew letters, but keeping the Arabic vocabulary. This the “Hebrew” knew how to read and pronounce well. H. F. Wijnman identifies this Jew as the Venetian merchant Joseph Pardo of Salonica, who just happened to be visiting the city. Once converted into the blend of Hebrew and Arabic, the letter’s contents were translated into Spanish and interpreted by Samuel Pallache, who was likely the contact between Pardo and Theunisz. It was then delivered to the States General, but was printed, it seems, without the permission of either party.

At this critical juncture in relations between the Dutch Republic and Muslim principalities, the Regents clearly benefitted from their policy of religious toleration, permitting, if not actively encouraging, previously persecuted religious groups, in this case Anabaptists and Jews, to work together on government-sponsored projects. While not quite the convivencia of medieval Spain, it is hard to imagine any other locale in Northern Europe where this open collaboration could have been possible in the early seventeenth century. At this moment the Doopsgezind Theunisz was at the center of Muslim and Jewish activities in Amsterdam, and undoubtedly helped both Levantine and Sephardic Jews to feel at home in the city.

In his preface Theunisz too presents the details about the involvement of Jews in the translation without any hint of concern, nor does he seek to cover up their religious identity. If not intended for publication, then his editorial comments were meant solely for the Regents who had come to respect and rely heavily on Pallache for their relations with Muslim rulers, both Moroccan and Ottoman: they even provided assistance to him when in 1615 he was on trial in London for piracy. Moreover, whoever was responsible for the Turkish letter’s publication did not fear a backlash over the news that a sectarian was working openly with non-converso Jews on a state document. In Theunisz’s case, interpersonal contact and discussion helped undercut some of the older stereotypes that impeded dialogue with non-Christians and made alliances with them against a common enemy more conceivable. A few years later, in 1613, Erpensius himself hosted another Morisco agent of Morocco, Ahamd ibn Qasim al-Hajari, who resided for several months as a friend at Erpensius’s home in Leiden and who, unsurprisingly, made positive comments about the Reformed faith in contrast to the Catholic when visiting The Hague.

Attitudes toward Jews acted in some ways as a barometer of just how far a realm could go in relations with Muslim princes, given the extent to which the latter relied on Jews economically and politically. A survey of the correspondence between Dutch diplomats, such as De Caron, and the States General reveals a decided lack of negative epithets applied to Jews, such as the Pallaches, a clear contrast to the reports of English statements included in these records. While space does not permit an exploration of Dutch relations with the Ottomans, it must be noted that Jews and Muslims who had experienced the tolerance and generosity of the Dutch, especially in Amsterdam, helped open doors for the Dutch agent Cornelis Haga’s admission to The Porte, especially in the persons of Moses Pallache and a number of exiled Moriscos who seem to have been permitted to hold an informal mosque in Amsterdam. It is also important to reiterate here that the Dutch pamphlet detailing the story of Haga’s mission and meeting with the Sultan’s court makes not one reference to the religion of the Ottomans. Here then is further evidence that the strategy of the Regents in crafting their system of informal tolerance, in which non-state-sponsored religions could worship freely behind the fiction of private space, was creating a public atmosphere in which religious differences were becoming commonplace and evoking much less anxiety and demonizing polemics than elsewhere in Northern Europe. In the Dutch Republic it was even possible to not belong officially to any confessional body, something that a large minority of Dutch citizens took advantage of until the middle of the century. This unusual domestic arrangement greatly assisted the Dutch in dealing with non-Christian principalities outside of their borders. It also reduced demonizing rhetoric against the religious Other within their own borders.

Europeans and the Moroccan “Saint-King”

One of the rare occasions when a Dutch writer used explicitly demonizing rhetoric in reference to the Moor arose as part of a cluster of pamphlets recounting another civil war in Morocco. Three pamphlets on this have survived: a newssheet printed in Delft, an English pamphlet, and another Dutch-language pamphlet composed not by a native Dutchman, but by a Moroccan Jew, Moses Pallache. It is with the latter two that the devil makes an appearance, hence it is important to examine all of these works in some detail, correlating what these writers say about Moroccan affairs with European conceptions of demonology and witchcraft in the early seventeenth century.

At the time of Haga’s famous mission to Istanbul, a new civil war broke out between the European-friendly King Muley Zaydan and a former ally, a charismatic mystic named Ahmed ibn Abū Mahallī (1560-1613), called Muley Hamet ben Abdela by European writers. By 1610 Zaydan had dominated government from Marrakesh, and was identified by European correspondents as the King of Morocco. His rule over the whole kingdom was, however, tenuous and patchy, especially when in 1610 Spain captured the port city of Larache thanks to the connivance of Zaydan’s brother Muley Sheck, who was a guest of Spain and who was seeking help to regain the Moroccan throne. This traitorous action against Islam became widely known, and the reputation of the Sa’dian family as defenders of the faith dropped precipitously, opening the door for a populist uprising led by Abū Mahallī. Calling himself a reformer of true Islam, his followers saw him as the mahdī, the messiah figure whose arrival heralded the last days. European writers admitted that he possessed a reputation for sanctity and strict observance of the Muslim law. The ensuing civil war quickly took on the characteristics of a holy war against the Sa’dian family, as Abū Mahallī condemned Zaydan’s favoring of Christians and depicted the conflict as a battle for pure Islam against syncretizers. The two armies clashed on 12 May 1612 at the entrance to Marrakesh, and Zaydan was forced to withdraw to Safi. He found another southern ally to continue the fight against Abū Mahallī, and during the next battle outside Marrakesh on 30 November 1613, the saint-king was killed by a musket ball. Zaydan’s Portuguese troops rushed Abū Mahallī’s camp and his troops fled. This civil war that focused on the question of Muslim-Christian interaction provoked some intriguing spin in the European press, as Christian European writers could see mirrored in it their own religious disputes.

The first of the three pamphlets describing this conflict was a newssheet printed anonymously in Delft shortly after Abū Mahallī’s amazing May 1612 victory. The translated title of this newssheet reveals much about the author’s perspective: A Wonderful and Strange New Tiding, Written out of Barbary, how that a New King was Raised up Therenamed Muley Hamet ben Abedela, the titular King of the two Seas and of the Sands Passing through to China; Raised up through the Command of God in order to Bring Peace into the World, Believing in the Law of God, a Fighter against the Unbelieving (1612). According to the unnamed merchant correspondent, Abū Mahallī claimed a divine mission against unbelievers, fulfilling a number of written Moorish prophecies, including the finding of a lost drum, which inspired his followers to fight against overwhelming odds. The correspondent describes a meeting between European merchants and the saint-king in his tent on 12 July 1612, after he had won the seemingly miraculous victory over Muley Zaydan. According to this source, Abū Mahallī felt called by God to fight against unbelievers, and his supporters were inspired by an old prediction of a prophet originating from the Sahara who would first bring war, then peace. Beginning two years earlier with just “three or four servants, two horses, a mule and two camels,” he had called out for all those wishing to “fight for the truth” to join him. The first conflict with one of Zaydan’s governors had been against overwhelming odds, yet Abū Mahallī’s troops were motivated by “their faith,” while their opponents panicked and fled. This was, of course, regarded as a miraculous sign of Abū Mahallī’s verity as a prophet, as were other indicators. By May, he had tens of thousands of troops from across the Saharan region, a people, this correspondent says, much tougher than the Moors and “an enemy of all other nations.”

The Dutch reporter then tells the reader that once the prophet Abū Mahallī had gathered his forces on the outskirts of Marrakesh, he emboldened his troops with assurances that they would be fighting Christians, whose artillery and musket balls would not hurt them. “Keeping their laws more than other Moors,” Abū Mahallī’s troops prayed instead of drinking wine on the eve of battle and their zeal won the day, forcing Zaydan to flee to Sus. During a 12 July meeting, the new king told European merchants that they were “welcome in my land; keep yourselves pious, [and] you will find with me good justice and policies, for God has sent me to protect the oppressed, eradicate evil from the world, [and] restore and reestablish his laws.” They also saw the bodily marks predicted in the Moorish prophecies, and were told of the king’s ambition to conquer all the Christian lands as far as Rome. To his departed rival he wrote a letter calling Zaydan “Chitan,” or devil, boldly challenging him to finish the fight and not “run away like a Jew.” Despite the obvious Dutch affinity for Zaydan, the writer does not demonize the saint-king. This was certainly a pragmatic stance, given that, as far as the writer knew, Europeans would have to accommodate themselves to this new ruler. Despite Abū Mahallī’s pretensions at world dominance and his foreign religion, this reporter is impressed with the new king’s piety, and there are no aspersions cast on Islam in general, nor in the prophet-king’s particular version of it. Instead, piety, unattached to doctrine or confession, is highlighted. This is an interesting example of quasi-objective reporting, one made possible thanks to the writer’s experience with the Dutch schuilkerk tradition, in which each religious sect was responsible for its own affairs, and citizens therefore no longer had to concern themselves with the possibly heterodox opinions of neighbors.

This sympathetic posture was not pursued by the author of the English newssheet, printed in London at least twice in 1613. The author’s source was a merchant called R. S., writing from Morocco on 9 September 1612. Unlike the Dutch account just cited, this work—written while the prophet-king was still in power—strongly imputes a diabolical motivation to Abū Mahallī’s ostensibly pious appearance and actions. While admitting that several of his prophecies were fulfilled, such as his assurances to his troops that the enemy’s artillery would not hurt them, the writer is affronted by Abū Mahallī’s claim that God had called him to conquer Southern Europe and rule Morocco for forty years, when “Christ must come to judgment.” R. S. suggests that “diabolical witchcraft” may have been behind the prophet’s success, while the newssheet’s editor hopes that his work “may serue to some good vse also for vs Christians of these last daies, vpon whom the ends of the world are come: to see how busily the Deuell acteth his last part, how in this last age of the world … for that he knoweth he hath but a short time, 40 yeers by his own calculation.” The editor describes the “miserable Moores” as blinded by the devil and given over, “beyond measure,” to “superstitious vanities … blind prophesies, dreams, necromancie and such like,” by which means this “fanaticall” saint has entrapped them. The moral is clear: for “whether Christian or Heathen, the vse is generall to all, beware of these Saints for all their hypocriticall shewe of Holinesse.”

Here, then, are two contemporaneous news accounts of Abū Mahallī’s amazing victory over Muley Zaydan, both printed before the latter’s resurgence and return to the throne, but which make contrasting observations. One factor explaining this difference was that the Dutch government was actively pursuing closer relations with Morocco while England’s King James I was actively discouraging such efforts, hence the Dutch reporter had to be more careful in his exposition. It is also possible that the English account was composed as a satirical device to critique English adherence to superstition and magic by comparison to the “superstitious” practices of the Moors, but there is no perceivable irony or signs of such satire in what appears to be a straightforward account. Instead, this is a writer with his own eschatological obsessions who is affronted that a Muslim would claim similar prophetic authority. His assertion that Abū Mahallī’s inspiration was diabolical was a means of reinforcing his own message that the true Messiah was indeed coming soon. Moreover, since Catholicism was for English Protestants the religion of the Antichrist, the author of the English newssheet may also have been seeking to warn James I away from both Catholic influences and those sectarians who, like the Moorish prophet, were proclaiming their own prophecies and miracles that the writer believed would be proven false. Given how other contemporaneous English travel writers were associating the religions of the Amerindians, the Chinese, and the Turks with devil worship, such demonizing of the Muslim saint-king should not be surprising.

The last of the known newssheets on this saint-king is on a number of fronts even more extraordinary. Printed twice in 1614 in Rotterdam, this work appeared after Abū Mahallī’s defeat at the hands of the resurgent Zaydan in November 1613. Although it is not known whether or not the writer of this work had read (or had had a hand in composing) the English newssheet with its hint of diabolical witchcraft, it appears that the rumors of such had developed considerably since 1613. The editor lists as the author of this pamphlet Moses Pallache (Mose Palatse), the “son and nephew of Muley Zaydan’s ambassadors,” Joseph and Samuel Pallache, although the original publication by Moses seems not to be extant. In this account Abū Mahallī was a “sorcerer [Toovenaer] and deceiver named Bumchii,” a false holy man who learned from a Saharan necromancer how to use a set of tiny drums to call up a demon and make a pact with him in exchange for military success; the prophetically recovered drum has now become a Satanic percussion instrument. After honing his new sorcery skills, Bumchii began preaching to the gullible Moors, cementing his authority by “many false signs and miracles.” Muley Zaydan is the story’s hero, whose flight to Sus was not cowardice but prudence, and after rebuilding his forces, “as a good and valiant soldier,” he again confronted the sorcerer, finally winning the day after a vicious battle during which the sorcerer king was slain, and on whose corpse were allegedly found letters of sorcery and pacts with the devil. The sympathies of this pamphleteer are obviously with Zaydan, “whom God Almighty had exalted, having an alliance and friendship with the Noble Mighty Lords of the states of the United Provinces.” This, Moses Pallache concludes, was a warning that no “subjects should rebel and raise themselves against their rulers, for at the last God will chastize them again, giving each one what they deserve.”

Appended to this pamphlet is another newssheet describing the “treason” committed by Jesuits in Aachen, Germany, and the two works together prove that rebellion against a duly constituted ruler is treasonous, and divine providence will always win out. In the story about Bumchii, the protagonist selected for praise and divine sanction was Muslim, but one favorably inclined to Dutch interests. To be on the side of the Dutch was to be on God’s side and to be an enemy of the devil and his earthly agents. Here, then, are examples of an Englishman and a Moroccan Jew using demonizing rhetoric to condemn one Muslim side against the other. There is evidence, in fact, that Moses Pallache’s story of the Moroccan necromancer king had earlier influenced the attitudes of the Dutch Regents in the desired direction. In the States General records of 16 August 1612, the Regents request the French government to provide a safe conduct for Moses Pallache, who was overseeing the transport of munitions and supplies from the Dutch Republic to Morocco to assist Muley Zaydan, “the king of Barbary,” after “the disaster of the battle he lost against a sorcerer.” The French rejected the request, since the Moroccans had yet to restore property taken from French residents in Morocco.

It is important to note also the timing of the publication of this pamphlet for its relationship with the history of witchcraft prosecution in Holland. The last judicial execution for the crime was in 1603 in Nijmegen, while the last formal witch trial to be conducted in Holland was still underway as the civil war raged in Morocco, having begun in 1608 but ending shortly after 1613 when the accused, whose charges included making a pact with the devil, was released from prison in Gorinchem. This sudden ending of witch trials was through an explicit decision of the republic’s Regents, who, after consulting with their university professors and jurists, put a halt to legally sanctioned executions for witchcraft, well in advance of most other principalities and in clear contrast to their Catholic neighbors to the south, where witch panics were in full bloom.

Moses Pallache’s pamphlet is not the work of a European Christian, but of a Moroccan Jew who lived in both the North African Muslim and Dutch Protestant worlds. In it there is not the same sense of competing eschatological schemes as seen in the English pamphlet. Like his uncle Samuel, Moses was engaged in a broader enterprise of improving relations between Moors and Christians while at the same time building up the family’s international trade business. Why he took such an extreme position with respect to the short-lived reign of the saint-king remains an intriguing question. He was clearly seeking to make his Moroccan sponsor, Muley Zaydan, look like a rational and safe trading partner by comparison to what he depicts as the extreme fanaticism and, indeed, diabolical affiliation of his opponent. Moreover, in the light of the era’s dominant binary perception of the cosmos, by associating Abū Mahallī with the devil, Moses was strongly implying that Zaydan was on God’s side. Moses too must have been aware of Europeans’ obsession with diabolical witchcraft, despite Dutch courts turning away from witch hunting. By implication, then, both the Dutch and Moroccans had in some respect defeated the superstition of sorcery, in contrast to the Spanish Netherlands. Having given up both heresy and witch prosecution, the Dutch remained willing to see other realms as infected with diabolical sorcery. As seen in this and other pamphlets, Dutch readers seemed poised to interact with other cultures on a more or less secular footing that required less demonizing of alternate cultures, even if particular individuals within them could still be defined in such negative terms.

After the flurry of pamphlets relating to the Moor between 1600 and 1614, interest in the subject in the Dutch press seems to have waned, as attention for the next few years focused on the Ottomans. Accounts of dynastic disputes in Istanbul and fictive declarations of war continued appearing off English presses, and Dutch printers produced translations of Ottoman correspondence. Dutch pamphlets were dominated over the next few decades by in-house Reformed polemics (the Remonstrants versus the Counter-Remonstrant Calvinists), which were of course linked to internal political disputes, as well as to accounts of Dutch explorations in the East Indies and their search for the Northeast Passage to China, all of which proved much more popular subjects for printers than Moroccan affairs. Judging from this review of the surviving pamphlet literature, there was little public anxiety about the Dutch entering into trade, diplomatic negotiations, and relationships with the Moor.


Not every realm was so sanguine when it came to relations with the Muslim Other. Spain and its allies, including the Southern Netherlands, retained an attitude of intense hostility and viewed Protestant efforts at negotiating with Muslim princes as a sign of their heretical, even diabolical nature. Spain of course had its own internal problems with residual Muslim and Jewish beliefs and customs that incited fears of religious contagion that the Spanish Inquisition sought to alleviate. Spanish Flanders and Brabant therefore forbade any explicit Jewish presence, although only rarely conducting trials against offending conversos. In the Dutch Republic, on the other hand, citizens were adapting to a new religious environment that effectively privatized religious practice, hence they were able quite quickly to acclimate to the Jews living openly among them and essentially to ignore the complaints of some of their preachers. A scan of pamphlets published in the Dutch Republic confirms too that there was a significantly reduced level of demonizing on the domestic front, and even in their quite heated theological battle over control of the state church, Remonstrants and their Calvinist opponents rarely utilized the devil in their polemical literature. Similarly, when the Dutch government began negotiating with Muslim princes, there was no concerted effort to oppose such dealings on the basis of religion, never mind by demonizing Islam. Of course, economic incentive and political need featured heavily in this transition from traditional religious animosity to a dialogue of partners, but such motivation was also present in England. Its populace was also adapting to global commerce, but their religious culture continued to focus on the suppression of Protestant nonconformists and Catholics, a situation that figured heavily in England’s Civil War (1642-51).

It is useful to return to Kaplan’s astute observation that in the early seventeenth century Europeans remained obsessed with their own internal religious conflicts, and that these deeply informed how they viewed the rest of the world. The inner dynamic of religious conflict and accommodation within a particular early modern state was important in determining how its citizens would regard the peoples outside of their borders: if they had learned to tolerate religious alterity or otherness at home, they could more readily apply that same reasoning to other peoples, such as Muslims and Jews, although this was not always put into practice. If no longer afraid of the devil at home, travelers might be less likely to fear him in other locales. This conclusion should be tested in other contexts: for example, comparing what Dutch writers say about Muslims with what they report about the non-Christian peoples they encounter in their voyages to the East Indies, the Americas, and the Northeast Passage, could prove very valuable, and act as a counterpoint to Nabil Matar’s intriguing comparison of English attitudes toward Muslims and Amerindians.

The rhetorical restraint shown by Dutch writers reviewed in this essay was not yet possible everywhere else: residents of the Spanish Netherlands, for example, witnessed no religious accommodation internally; continued to read provocatively drafted polemics linking heretics to the devil; were still preoccupied with diabolical conspiracies, especially witchcraft; and remained in conflict externally with both Muslim Morocco and The Porte. Their conversos knew well enough to keep their Jewish practices secret and to maintain the façade of Catholic identity. Neighbors might very well have suspected members of the Portuguese Nation of covertly practicing Judaism, and local officials often winked at such illegal practices, but this was a far cry from the environment in Holland, where conversos brazenly reverted to Judaism without fear of serious consequences. The essentially spiritualistic approach of the Dutch Regents, which ostensibly outlawed a number of dissident religious groups from the public sphere, but which at the same time defended freedom of conscience and allowed sects to worship in the private space, not only helped reduce demonizing rhetoric, but more positively encouraged the rethinking of religious identities and the crossing of confessional boundaries, or ignoring them as a significant factor altogether. In many respects confessional identities were increasingly blurred, as many members of the Reformed Church—Remonstrants—sought to expand its membership to include most, if not all Christians, while the Calvinists fought to maintain more narrow criteria. While the latter side won the day, the Remonstrants reached out to other non-Reformed groups, such as the Doopsgezinden, in their attempt to craft an inclusive church. Such efforts helped make confessional boundaries more traversable, while even committed Calvinists, such as Arnoldus Buchelius, could count among their close friends Remonstrants and other non-Reformed. Such inter-confessional relationships surely helped in reshaping attitudes toward those of other religions. While there were Jews (as conversos) and Muslims in Protestant England and the Spanish Netherlands both, there was no possibility of the kind of open and frank display of convivencia as witnessed, for example, at the Amsterdam home of Jan Theunisz.

Based on the works examined here, Dutch writers were much more ready to shake free of demonizing Muslims as a people in favor of condemning the enemy of their particular Muslim allies. The principled defense of freedom of conscience and the Realpolitik of the Dutch Regents and merchants helped mute apocalyptic Christian fears of Muslim conquest and increase willingness to understand the Moor. One of the differences between English and Dutch contexts was the public presence of a few prominent Muslims, and especially of a number of Jews in the Dutch Republic and the explicit absence of the latter—except as ostensible conversos—in England. The role played by the Doopsgezind Jan Theunisz and the Jewish Pallache family in shaping attitudes of the Dutch Regents and magistrates is particularly noteworthy. Moses Pallache’s ability to play to Christian desires and fears about the demonic on behalf of Muslim rulers—which perhaps also helped make Moroccan affairs seem more comprehensible to a European audience—while at the same time smoothing relations with the Moor and calming fears of Islam, seems in this case to have been quite effective.