Portraits of Moroccan Ambassadors in Early Modern England

There have been a number of works in recent years that have highlighted the close diplomatic relations and cultural exchange between England and Morocco during the early modern period. Although the relationship between the two monarchies varied considerably between 1570 and 1800, including both periods of friendship (as in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and Aḥmad al-Manṣūr) and tensions/hostility, there was nevertheless a maintenance of commercial links and diplomacy throughout the entire period.  As a result of this political context, Islam and Muslims were interwoven into the broader cultural history of early modern England just as European Christians were an integral part of the story of early modern Morocco. Among the treasures that have survived from this period that attest to the evolving mutual perceptions and representation of these societies are portraits of five Moroccan ambassadors who were tasked with securing trade agreements or political-military alliances between the 16th and 18th centuries.  They were:

‘Abd al-Wāḥid ben Mas‘ūd ben Muḥammad al-Nūrī

‘Abd al-Wāḥid ben Mas‘ūd was sent as the ambassador of Aḥmad al-Manṣūr of Morocco (r. 1578–1603) to Elizabeth I of England (r. 1558–1603) in 1600–1601. He was formally tasked with securing a trade agreement, but it appears that he was also involved in negotiating a possible military allegiance between Morocco and England against Catholic Spain. The painting was completed around 1600 by an unknown artist and is preserved in the University of Birmingham.


(Source: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/east-west-objects-between-cultures/east-west-room-1)

Jawdar bin ‘Abd Allāh

Jawdar bin ‘Abd Allāh was the ambassador of Muḥammad al-Shaykh al-Saghīr of Morocco (1636–1655) to Charles I of England (1625–1649) in 1637. His arrival was a festive event, recorded in detail and was described as follows: “the reception of the ambassador in London by a crowd of thousands, led by merchants of the Barbary Company and city officials, “all richly appareled . . . with such abundance of Torches and Links, that though it were Night, yet the streets were almost light as Day.”[1] Jawdar bin ‘Abd Allāh was praised in the strongest terms as “a Man of more respect, or higher account and estimation the [Moroccan] Emperour (his Master) could not have sent.” The ambassador was a Portuguese convert to Islam. As J.A.O.C. Brown notes, “it is significant that the whole [English] account [of Jawdar’s diplomatic mission] begins with an exhortation of the benefits of trade between nations, ‘though they are far remote from each other in Religions, Realmes, Regions and Territories; yet they are conjoyned in leagues and friendship together.’ Evidently, the influence of trade and diplomacy made the Moroccans more than simply a putative ‘Other.’”[2] This portrait was engraved by George Glover.


Jawdhar ibn Abdallah


(Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawdar_Ben_Abdellah)


Muḥammad bin Hadou

Muḥammad bin Hadou was the ambassador of Muley Ismā‘īl of Morocco (r. 1672–1727) to Charles II of England (r. 1660–1685) in 1682 (apparently accompanied by an English convert to Islam as interpreter).  He spent Dec. 1681-July 1682 in Britain traveling to various towns. Muḥammad bin Hadou was praised in the London press for his horsemanship in Hyde Park.  On April 26 1682, he was elected to the Royal Society, England’s most prestigious learned society.[3]


BenHaddou Royal Society


The diarist Sir John Evelyn recorded a dinner with Muḥammad bin Hadou and his retinue, who

“behaved themselves with extraordinary Moderation & modestie, though placed about a long Table a Lady between each two [Moroccans].” Despite the immodest dress of the women (a mixture of the king’s mistresses and illegitimate daughters), the Moroccans “did not looke about nor stare on the Ladys, or expresse the least surprise; but with a Courtly negligence in pace, Countenance, & whole behaviour, [and] a great deale of Wit and Gallantrie . . . In a word, the Russian Ambassador still at Court behaved himself like a Clowne, compar’d to this Civil Heathen.”

While emphasizing his Islamic faith and foreignness as distinguishing markers of his identity, this account, alongside the portrait of the ambassador, reflects an image of Muḥammad bin Hadou as a well-mannered, cultured and respectable gentleman.[4] The portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723) and is preserved in Chiswick House in London.



(Source: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-moroccan-ambassador-178923/view_as/grid/search/keyword:mohammed–actor:kneller-godfrey-16461723/page/1)


Hājj ‘Abd al-Qādir Pérez

Hājj ‘Abd al-Qādir Pérez was the ambassador of Muley Ismā‘īl of Morocco (r. 1672–1727)to England in 1723. He was an admiral descended from Andalusi Muslim refugees. The portrait was painted in 1724 and is preserved in London.



(Source: http://benelwes.co.uk/exhibit/portrait-admiral-abdelkader-perez)


Muḥammad ben ‘Alī Abgali

Muḥammad ben ‘Alī Abgali was the ambassador of Muley Ismā‘īl of Morocco (r. 1672–1727) to George I (r. 1714–1727) of England between 1725 and 1727. Interested in the arts and sciences, he participated in numerous cultural, intellectual and social events while in London, famously attending a number of plays.[5] In March 1726, he was elected and admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society.[6] He also corresponded with the renowned English numismatist and mathematician Martin Folkes (d. 1754).[7]


abgali royal society



(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Ben_Ali_Abgali)


Further Reading

J.A.O.C. Brown, “‘Orientalism’, ‘Occidentalism’ and Anglo-Moroccan relations in the 16th and 17th centuries: a case study in historicizing concepts of discourse.” https://www.soas.ac.uk/research/rsa/journalofgraduateresearch/editon1/file58311.pdf

Mercedes García-Arenal. Ahmad al-Mansur: The Beginnings of Modern Morocco. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009.

Gerald Maclean and Nabil Matar. Britain and the Islamic World, 1558-1713. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Nabil Matar. Britain and Barbary, 1589-1689. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

_________. Europe Through Arab Eyes, 1578–1727. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

_________. In the Lands of the Christians: Arabic Travel Writing in the 17th Century. New York: Routledge, 2003.

_________.  Islam in Britain, 1558-1685. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

_________. Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.



[1] J.A.O.C. Brown, “‘Orientalism’, ‘Occidentalism’ and Anglo-Moroccan relations in the 16th and 17th centuries: a case study in historicizing concepts of discourse,” p. 5 https://www.soas.ac.uk/research/rsa/journalofgraduateresearch/editon1/file58311.pdf

[2] Brown, “‘Orientalism’, ‘Occidentalism’ and Anglo-Moroccan relations in the 16th and 17th centuries,” p. 6 https://www.soas.ac.uk/research/rsa/journalofgraduateresearch/editon1/file58311.pdf

[3] Thomas Thomson, History of the Royal Society: From Its Institution to the End of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1812), “Appendix: List of the Fellows of the Royal Society,” pp. xxviii.

[4] Taken from Brown, “‘Orientalism’, ‘Occidentalism’ and Anglo-Moroccan relations in the 16th and 17th centuries,” p. 6 https://www.soas.ac.uk/research/rsa/journalofgraduateresearch/editon1/file58311.pdf

[5] https://en.yabiladi.com/articles/details/67064/moroccan-diplomats-mohammed-abgali-ambassador.html

[6] Thomson, History of the Royal Society, “Appendix: List of the Fellows of the Royal Society,” pp. xxxvi.

[7] R.E.W. Maddison, “A Note on the Correspondence of Martin Folkes, P.R.S.,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 11 (1964), p. 102.

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