England: A Perfect Mix of a Virgin Queen, Islamic Kingdoms, Shakespeare and Sugar

England faces a bitter and angry Islamophobia, but Once Upon A Time England was abandoned by her neighbours, and desperately sought help from Islamic Kingdoms.

When Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, after the death of her half-sister Queen Mary, Mary’s husband King Philip II of Spain wanted to maintain the Anglo-Spanish ties, and immediately proposed to Elizabeth. The Virgin Queen rejected Phillip and many other men. With the discourse of time, a few military threats, an ex-communication and the perpetual reminder of Elizabeth’s rejection alone by her standing, England became vulnerable to a sudden attack by Spain who was determined on becoming a dominating power in Europe.

In the year 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated (kicked out) the Virgin Queen, separating Protestant England from Catholic Europe. English tradesmen were banned from trading in the markets of the Spanish-Netherlands. In 1580, Spain annexed Portugal, and forced Portugal’s King Don Antonio to seek asylum in England. Elizabeth experienced decades fighting for the safety and security of her kingdom. She realized without an external and reliable ally, England would enter economic disaster and potentially, a fatal military offence by Spain.

A Muslim Ally… Or Three

Desperate for an ally and striving to pursue her political interests, Elizabeth cemented her relations with the Sultan of the Moroccan Saadi dynasty, Mulay Ahmad al-Mansur.

Al-Mansur dreamed of re-conquering al-Andalus, the Arabic title of an ancient Islamic ruled territory in the Iberian peninsula ruled between the 6th and 15th century. It was once a center of intellectual and cultural merit. The golden age of al-Andalus is a glorious chapter of history, desired to revive by al-Mansur, and still being recognized by the Muslims of today.

When Al-Mansur became Sultan, he was not interested in England. England was not prosperous nor was it a dominating power in Europe. His dream to reconquer the lost Islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus, and Elizabeth’s struggle in maintaining the security of England was complicated by the Spanish. Their mutual antipathy towards Spain became the basis for their interchange for the next two decades. (The two other Muslim allies are written later on, for now take a guess)

Moroccan Sugar & Elizabeth’s Black Teeth

In July 1885, the Barbary Company, a trading licence between regions in North Africa and England was established. England was able to monopolize on Moroccan trade for 12 years. By the 1580’s thousands of Elizabethan merchants, diplomats and sailors entered a prosperous market in Morocco. English traders ventured into Moroccan markets, trading English fabrics and firearms for ostrich feathers, saltpeters and Moroccan sugar – that was widely known for causing Queen Elizabeth’s teeth to become black.

Sugar itself was considered an ‘Arab product’, American anthropologist Sidney Mintz wrote “Sugar, we are told, followed the Koran.”. When the crusades returned to Europe with suqqar, the Arabic word for sugar (recognize the etymology?), the French adapted the term de sucre, and English coined the term sugar.

Al-Mansurs interest in Elizabeth was reinforced by the English victory over the Spanish Armada in the Summer of 1588, which  prompted al-Mansur to view the queen as a competent military and diplomatic ally.

Elizabeth is seen as a ‘Sultana’

Al-Mansur did not undervalue Elizabeth’s ruling status because she was a woman or came from a different religious background. Infact, Al-Mansurs rhetoric towards Elizabeth in his letters displayed more praise than his letters to Ottoman nobles.

At the same time the Scottish Reformer John Knox was arguing Elizabeth’s ruling authority because she was a woman, al-Mansur looked beyond her womanhood and saw a ‘sultana’, honoring her with terms such as sultana al-asila, al-mathila, al-athila, al-khatira [true-blooded, exemplary, high-born, great] in his letters.

If Elizabeth Didn’t Refuse al-Mansur, would America have been an Islamic Country?

Al-Mansur fantasized of introducing Islam to America; he wanted to build an empire however Elizabeth wanted his troops to fight against Spain. In 1601 he states to Elizabeth in a letter that he will underwrite a joint military venture with her not just to fight Spain but also colonize America. Elizabeth refused, and focused on defending herself from her European neighbours.

Did A Moroccan Ambassador inspire Shakespeare?

During the visit of al-Mansur’s Moroccan ambassador to London in the early 1600’s, al-Wahid bin Masoud bin Muhammad al-Annuri, whose Moorish appearance is said to have been Shakespeare’s inspiration for ‘Othello’, he proposed to Elizabeth to seize the Spanish possessions in America. She dismissed this idea and needed troops to fight against Spain.

Al-Annuri, was one of al-Mansurs muriskiyyun, Moriscos. Moriscos are Spanish-born Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity, reverted to Islam, and were living in Morocco. Elizabeth tried to convince Al-Annuri to gather a Morisco contingent and come to England and serve on her fleet in a battle against Spain. When al-Mansur discovered Elizabeth’s plot , he  angrily threatened her. This letter can be found in the National Library of Rabat.

And so ..

English historians chronicle a desperate al-Mansur who begged Elizabeth for an English fleet to defeat Spain. Al-Fishtali, the only non-European chronicler of the al-Mansur-Elizabeth rapport, summates “in al-Mansur’s eyes, the imperial virgin was not imperial at all’. They did need each other, Elizabeth needed Al- Mansur more than he needed her and his resources. His antipathy towards Spain was crucial for the protection of her kingdom. For al-Mansur, Elizabeth had opened a door for him to reconquer Al-Andalus – which he never achieved in the end.

Would there have been a Protestant-Muslim confederation ruling Latin America if Elizabeth joined al-Mansur in colonizing the New World?

From Shakespeare to sugar and revolutionizing inventions adopted by the Elizabethan merchants, who once lived in the ports of the North African coast, these inventions may have very well laid the foundation for the Industrial Age. The Moroccan alliance was crucial to upholding England for centuries to come. Morocco was not the only Islamic kingdom supporting Elizabeth, Elizabeth also received support from the Ottoman Sultan Murad and the Shah of Iran.

In a time England is suffering from a recent wave of anti-Islamic sentiment, it is important to ask oneself where would England be if al-Mansur, or the other Muslim leaders, did not support the Great Imperial Virgin?

Written by Rima Chahrouk

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Rima Chahrouk is a biomedical student from Sydney, Australia. She began studying and researching Islamic History as a child and enjoys writing about it. She enjoys history, poetry, photography and vanilla soy lattes.