Reimagining Religious Identity: The Moor in Dutch and English Pamphlets, 1550–1620

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University of Chicago Press


This essay examines how Dutch and English vernacular writers portrayed the Moor in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when their respective governments were engaged in diplomatic and trade discussions with Morocco. It aims for a better understanding of the difference in religious attitudes and cultures between these two Protestant realms by arguing that their respective approaches to internal religious toleration significantly influenced how their residents viewed Muslims. Dutch writers adopted a less hostile tone toward the Moor than English writers due to the republic’s principled defense of freedom of conscience, its informal system of religious toleration in the private sector, and its merchant Realpolitik. Unlike in England, Dutch conversos were allowed to be Jews. A number of Moroccan Muslims also resided in Holland, lobbying on behalf of the Muslim King of Morocco. The Moroccan Jewish Pallache family played prominent roles with the government and in two of the pamphlets examined here, including one that interprets a Moroccan civil war through the lens of demonic sorcery. So too did Jan Theunisz, a liberal Mennonite of Amsterdam who collaborated with both Jews and Muslims in his home. As Dutch citizens were adapting to a new religious environment that effectively privatized religious practice, they were better equipped than their English counterparts to acclimatize to Jews inside and the Moor outside their borders.