Moroccan diplomats #21 : The Republic of Salé' s ambassadors to London

In 1627, the newly founded Republic of Salé sent two ambassadors to London to negotiate a treaty. England was planning to turn the republic into a military base for a joint action against Spain.

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Morocco and England maintained active diplomatic relations even when the Kingdom was in the middle of a civil war. Saadi Sultan Zidan Abu Maali lost control of Salé, a powerful harbor that attracted corsairs from all over the Mediterranean. The city was declared a republic in 1624 and London did not hesitate in using that against one of its biggest enemies, Spain.

Historical records suggest that the Republic of Salé was also entitled to ambassadors that it sent to discuss treaties overseas just like the Saadi Sultan. In 1627, England’s «John Harrison, the agent in Morocco who had appealed for the release of British captives under James, was keen to create alliance with all factions in the country», wrote David Thomas and John A. Chestworth in their book «Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History. Northern and Eastern Europe 1600-1700», (Brill, 2016).

Mutual enmity against Spain

During the same year Harrison took «six cannons and ammunition» to the Kingdom to help the Republic of Salé in its fight against Spanish corsairs. «It was subsequently reported that six pieces of artillery had been supplied to the Moroccan rebel Sidi al Ayachi by Harrison, which had not been sanctioned by the Moroccan ruler», added the same source.

London’s interest in the republic was driven by the mutual enmity the two powers had against the Iberian Kingdom. In fact, al Ayachi was attacking Spanish ships and used the city’s harbor as a «strategic» location against Spaniards in the spring of 1627.

His military campaigns against Spain were translated into an agreement with London. «Harrison negotiated a treaty with al-Ayachi, and the summer of that year, shortly before the death of Mulay Zidan, he accompanied the Salé ambassadors» to England.

The Republic of Salé's ambassadors to London

Indeed, the Republic of Salé sent ambassador Mohammed ben Saad and Ahmad ben Hussein to London «to discuss using Salé as a base for a joint action against Spain», recalled the two historians.

The same diplomatic voyage was mentioned by Lebanese historian Nabil Matar. In his book «Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery» (Columbia University Press, Oct 25, 2000), he wrote that «in June 1627, two ambassadors from Salé arrived in London, Mohammed ben Saad and Ahmed ben Hussein, accompanied by Harrison».

The mission was involved, according to Matar, around the idea of a «possible use of Salé as a base of operations against Spain».

Although it is unknown whether the Republic of Salé and London signed the treaty against Spain or not, it is recorded that the two parties maintained good diplomatic relations afterwards. According to Peter Lamborn Wilson’s book «Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes» (Autonomedia, 2003), in 1637 another ambassador from the Republic of Salé was sent to London.

A British journalist has even dedicated a newspaper article to describe the weird costumes and attitude of the Moroccan diplomat. He even explained some notions of Islam that appeared very interesting to him.

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