The Sultan and the Queen

The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam by Jerry Brotton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book gives a fascinating insight into the alliances Elizabethan England forged with the Muslim World to counter the might of Catholic Europe, most notably Spain.

While England was cut off and isolated from the rest of Catholic Europe due to their own Protestant religious beliefs, forming international connections became of the highest priority. We read of explorers and international businessmen who struck up deals with the Shahs of Persia and the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. What was most intriguing was the alliance between the Muslims of Morocco and Christian England.

Both countries had a common enemy in Spain, who had newly completed the conquest of the country from the Muslims and were looking to unite Europe under Catholicism to counter the might of the Ottomans. There were even instances where the two sides fought alongside each other against Spanish and Portuguese interests. Ideas floated around where Morocco might even be supported with the reconquest of Spain away from the Spanish.

Sadly, with the death of Elizabeth, most of the policies favouring international Muslim relations ceased and the story of unlikely friendships mostly ends there. Nevertheless it is an important part of English history which must be preserved. This all occurred at the same time England successfully fought off the Spanish Armada. Knowing the full story allows us to appreciate the complex nature of diplomatic alliances, and to appreciate the historical alliances that existed in times long since passed.

My biggest gripe with this book was that page after page at intermittent intervals throughout the book were focused on the cultural effect the interaction with the Muslim World had on England. While I can understand this is an entire subject of analysis that is worthy of its own field, I feel that too much of this book was focused on just that. It did open my eyes however, to see exactly how much was influenced by contact with Muslims, even within Shakespeares own plays.

A beneficial read, but heavily bogged down with descriptions of the cultural effects it had on England.

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