Helen Gloag, captured by corsairs to become Morocco's Scottish empress

Helen Gloag is a Scottish redhead beauty whose fate brought her to the Kingdom of Morocco in the 18th century. Daughter of a blacksmith, Helen was captured by Moroccan corsairs only to become later the empress of the North African empire and Sultan Mohamed ben Abdellah's favorite consort. History.

White women in North African harem./Ph. DR
Estimated read time: 2'

The story of Helen Gloag is living proof of the slave trade and piracy in the 18th century. Bringing two distinct lands together, Morocco and Scotland, Helen was a Scottish redhead who was captured by corsairs to become the empress of the Alaouite dynasty.

Born in January 1750 at Wester Pett near Muthill, a village in Perthshire, Scotland, Helen was the daughter of a blacksmith who remarried when her mother died. The unfortunate beautiful, confident and green-eyed girl had to face an abusive stepmother. In an account provided by «Skull and Saltire» (Black and White Publishing, August 2005), a book written by Jim Hewiston and Lan Black on the history of Scottish piracy, Helen is described as «an attractive and fine-featured women».

Captured by Barbary corsairs

The book continues narrating that «while in her teens, Helen came to the conclusion that her relationship with her stepmother was never likely to improve». She then took one of the bravest decisions ever: the 19-year-old young woman, decided to flee from her family and village to start a new life in the New World. «One of the most popular targets for Scots was the Carolinas and Helen signed on to make the journey to the eastern seaboard», the same book mentioned.

Indeed, and as confirmed by several historical accounts, Helen's ship left the harbor in London to sail for America in May 1769. Hewiston and Black report that «the first couple of weeks of the voyage proved uneventful until one morning when sails were sighted on the Atlantic horizon». In fact, the ship carrying Helen and other Scottish immigrants was taken by «a shoal of pirate ships out of that notorious pirate port of Sale» as described by the book.

Captured by Moroccan pirates, all men were killed and women were taken slaves. Helen was brought to North Africa and sold in the slave market. «She was purchased by a rich merchant who, seeking to impress, then handed her over to the Sultan as a gift», point out the two writers.

A Scottish empress in Morocco

Ruled back then by the Alaouite Emperor, Mohammed ben Abdellah, Helen entered the Palace, and most precisely the Sultan's Harem. Her Western beauty made of her one of the sovereign's favorite consort. Quickly, the Scottish woman managed to impress those around her. Hewiston and Black indicate that «from then on, stories began to filter back from Morocco of the legendary white queen and unexpected releases especially those female captivity».

Other accounts suggest that Helen knew how to make her way to the Sultan's heart, influencing his decisions, particularly when it comes to slavery and piracy. According to Undiscovered Scotland : «her intervention was said to be behind a number of releases of seafarers and slaves captured by the Salé pirates. She was also able to write home and was visited on a number of occasions in Morocco by her brother Robert, who was largely responsible for her story finding its way back to Scotland». Other sources, believe that the Moroccan Sultan made her his fourth wife and elevated her to the rank of Empress. It is also believed that she gave birth to two sons.

Helen's unfortunate fate

However, Helen's later life remains a mystery to historians. After Sultan Mohamed ben Abdellah passed away in 1790 and was succeeded by his son Moulay Yazid, Helen and her two sons were killed under unkown circumstances. Skull and Saltire states that «Helen and her two sons were deposed» after their father's death. «A British envoy answering Helen's calls for help is reported to have found that the boys had been killed» , said the same source adding that later on «Helen vanished completely from scene».

Although her story is quite famous in Scotland, few Moroccans know about the «redheaded empress». Helen Gloag's story, however, remains part of Morocco's history.

Be the first one to comment on our articles...