Shakespeare may have been inspired by the visit of the Moroccan ambassador to Elizabeth I as he created the ‘noble Moor’ in Othello. The Moroccan king’s ambassador, Abd al-Wahid bin Messaoud bin Mohammed al-Annuri, and his party arrived in Dover on this day in 1600. They travelled to the queen’s court in London and stayed in England for six months. In his role as Legate of the King of Barbary to England, the ambassador met with Elizabeth I twice in the first two months of his arrival. The ambassador and his party were lodged near the Royal Exchange and, as contemporary accounts show, attracted much attention due to their religious customs and private investigations:
They killed all their own meat within their house, as sheep, lambs, poultry, and such like, and they turn their faces eastward when they kill any thing: they use beads, and pray to saints. And whereas the chief pretence of their Embassy was to require continuance of her Majesty’s favour towards their King, with like entreaty of her naval aid, for sundry especial uses, chiefly to secure his treasure from the parts of Guinea…yet the English Merchants held it otherwise, by reason that during their half year’s abode in London, they used all subtitle and diligence to know the prices, weights, measures, and all kinds of differences of such commodities, as either their Country sent hither, or England transported thither.
While Al-Annuri was in London, he had his portrait painted. He was depicted carrying a richly decorated scimitar, and dressed in a white turban and long white garment which was covered with a black robe. Al-Annuri and his party were also present for the festivities that took place to celebrate the queen’s coronation on 17 November that year.
After Elizabeth I was excommunicated by Pius V in 1570, she began to develop communications with the wider Islamic world, which had hitherto been prohibited by the pope. In the 1580s, the English queen corresponded with the Ottoman sultan and English diplomats and merchants were received at the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. In 1582, William Harborne received diplomatic credentials from Elizabeth I and was installed as the English ambassador in the Sublime Porte. In 1599, Thomas Dallam, a celebrated organ maker, was sent to the Ottoman capital to present a gilded, gem-encrusted clockwork organ to Sultan Mehmet III.