Tuesday, 6 March 2012


 The portrait of the Duchess of Portsmouth, one of Charles II’s three favourite partners, is intriguing on account of her young black attendant (whose identity is unknown).  Recently I came across a differently interesting record of a fancy party held in her apartments, written by John Evelyn, which describes a diplomatic delegation finding themselves in the midst of luxurious Restoration licence and, being Muslims, not knowing where to look:
24 January 1682: This evening I was at an entertainment of the Moroccan Ambassador at the Duchess of Portsmouth's glorious apartments at Whitehall [Palace] where there was a great banquet of sweetmeats and music; but at which both the Ambassador and his retinue behaved themselves with extraordinary moderation and modesty, though placed about a long table, a lady between the Moors, and among these were the King's natural children, namely Lady Lichfield and Sussex, the Duchess of Portsmouth, Nelly [Gwyn] etc, concubines and cattle of that sort, as splendid as jewels and excess of bravery could make them; the Moors neither admiring nor seeming to regard anything, furniture or the like, with any earnestness, and but decently tasting the banquet.  They drank a little milk and water, but not a drop of wine; they also drank of a  sorbet and jacolatt [chocolate]; did not look about or stare at the ladies, or express the least surprise, but with courtly negligence in pace, countenance and whole behaviour, answered only to such questions as were asked with a great deal of wit and gallantry; and so gravely as to leave with this compliment that God would bless the Duchess of Portsmouth and the Prince, meaning the little Duke of Richmond [Charles's son].  The King came in at the latter end, just as the Ambassador was going away...

Evelyn also related how the Ambassador went sometimes to the theatres, 'where any foolish or fantastical action he could not forbear laughing but he endeavourd to hide it with extraordinary modesty and gravity.'

The Moroccans impressed their hosts in other ways too:
The Ambassador went often to Hyde Park, where he and his retinue showed their extraordinary  activity in horsemanship and flinging and catching their lances at full speed; they rode very well and could stand upright at full speed, managing their spears with incredible agility.

 Finally on 31 May the Ambassador became an honorary member of the Royal Society 'subscribing his name and titles in Arabic', which is also interesting, reflecting Moroccan knowledge of science and medicine.  His and later envoys' signature are shown on the Royal Society website, which gives his name anglicized as Muhammed Ibn Haddu. 

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