Isaac de Razilly, when a member of the French navy blockaded Rabat and Salé

In 1629, French navy member Isaac de Razilly sailed to Morocco to free Christian subjects, enslaved by Rabat and Salé’s corsairs. Razilly blockaded the two cities, leading to a civil war that weakened the country’s pirates.

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The corsairs of Salé./ Ph. DR

Isaac de Razilly was a member of the French Navy, and a noble man who sailed to Morocco several times, carrying colonial plans. Under the orders of King Louis VII, who reigned France from 1223 to 1226, Razilly left for the Kingdom on a military observation in 1619.

A few years later, the French Knight returned to Morocco, heading to Salé to free Christian subjects enslaved by the city’s corsairs. Unfortunately, Razilly’s mission to Morocco was not that innocent.

Once near the Bou Regerg river, which separates Rabat from Salé, Razilly’s plot was revealed and a civil war ravaged the flourishing cities that relied heavily on piracy. Razilly’s voyage was thoroughly narrated by George Joffe, a professor at the University of Cambridge.

The blockade

In his book, «North Africa : Nation, State, and Region» (Routledge, 2015), Joffe explained that Razilly’s sailed to Salé, not only to free French slaves, but to also put an end to the calamities cause by Morocco’s corsairs.

Isaac de Razilly./Ph. WikipediaIsaac de Razilly./Ph. Wikipedia

«While the corsairs generally spared the English and Dutch, they ravaged Spanish and French shipping and towns on the Spanish and French coasts, bringing prizes and captives back to Rabat», wrote the British professor.

To put it in other words, the French admiral sailed to North Africa to do what Spain couldn’t do and «react against (Salé’s) corsairs».

Razilly’s trip to the Moroccan coast started on June the 27th, 1629. According to the same book, the French colonist «sailed with ten ships for the Moroccan coast under restrictions to obtain the release of French captives».

Once in Rabat, Razilly was faced with the objection of the Diwan (council), a government that ruled the Republic of Salé (1624–1668). This was mentioned by George Joffe, who wrote that upon his arrival the «Diwan in Rabat refused to deal with Razilly unless he presented them with arms and money». In this case, the Diwan asked for 100 cannons and one million livres.

The situation angered the French Captain, who deployed his ships and barricaded the port cities. Joffe recalls that Razilly’s «squadron seized and burned seven corsair ships during the first month and a half of the blockade».

Moreover, the distinguished member of the French Navy freed a considerable number of French and Spanish subjects that were captured by Salé and Rabat’s corsairs and took Moroccan captives too.

A civil war in the Republic of Salé

Razilly’s blockade weakened the Bou Regreg Republic and led to a civil war in the two cities. As enlisted by Joffe, the civil war in Rabat erupted because of the «losses Razilly and his squadron inflicted, the shortage of foodstuffs caused by the blockade, and the Diwan’s refusal to deal with the French admiral».

In fact, the French blockade, which lasted for several months, tightened the belt on the cities’ inhabitants, who depended heavily on their sea activities. By sealing off the two cities, Isaac de Razilly prevented the entry of the English and Dutch traders and supply ships, coming from Asilah.

Faced with the worrying circumstances that followed Razilly’s blockade, the Diwan decided to surrender and negotiate a truce with the French.

On October the 2nd, 1629, Razilly and the Diwan in Rabat signed a five-month truce. «The terms included release of all French captives in Rabat-Salé, an end to the blockade and French harassment of Rabat-Salé’s shipping, an end to corsair raids against the French, and free trading privileges for the French in Rabat and for Rabatis in France», wrote Joffe.

When the blockade ended, corsairs in Salé and Rabat were left wrecked and weakened. The size of their fleet shrunk and the number of corsairs operating for the Diwan decreased due to imprisonment.

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