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EN2L7/EN3L6 England and the Islamic World, 1550-1660

Convenor: Dr Natalya Din-Kariuki (

This module examines England’s encounters with the Islamic world from 1550 to 1660. These encounters, which were both actual and imaginative, took a variety of forms: the formalisation of diplomatic and trade relationships with the Ottoman, Mughal, and Safavid Empires; collaborations between English and Ottoman pirates along the Barbary coast in joint opposition to Catholic Europe; enslavement; religious conversions, from Christianity to Islam and vice versa; representations of Islam and Muslims on the English stage; and the baptism of “strangers” in English churches. Such encounters had an important impact on the literature of the period, prompting acts of formal and stylistic experimentation, including attempts to capture Muslim (or “Turk” or “Mahometan”) voices in print, as well as interpretation, such as the publication of the first complete English translation of the Qur’an in 1649.

In the first half of the module, we will read travel writing by figures such as the ambassador Thomas Roe, the chaplain Edward Terry, and Mariam Khan, Teresa Sampsonia Sherley, and Ann Bromfield Keeling, all women associated with the East India Company. From these descriptions of “actual” encounters with the Islamic world, which nonetheless contain fictive elements, we will turn to works of the imagination, reading plays such as Robert Daborne’s A Christian Turn’d Turk (1612) and William Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven (1601), as well as accounts of “stranger” baptisms such as those described in Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives (2008). As we do so, we will consider the literary significance of these transcultural encounters, and deepen our understanding of the histories of diplomacy, religion, slavery, colonialism, empire, race, and "Englishness" itself.

This 15 CATS term 2 module can be paired with Early Modern Drama: Home and Away to make a coherent 30 CATS two-term option which deals with early modern literature in context. The works studied on this module provide contexts, sources, and analogues for some of the plays studied on Early Modern Drama.

The website of the Medieval and Early Modern Orients project ( will give you a sense of the kind of material you will encounter on this module.



Assessment will be: EITHER one 4500-word essay (for final year students) OR one 3800-word essay (for second year/intermediate year students), based on original research, discussing an aspect of the module. Titles will be formulated in consultation with the tutor.

Indicative Syllabus

Week 1: selections from Edward Said, Orientalism (1978), Nabil Matar, Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery (1999), Gerald Maclean, The Rise of Oriental Travel: English Visitors to the Ottoman Empire, 1580-1720 (2004), and Julia Schleck, Telling True Tales of Islamic Lands: Forms of Mediation in English Travel Writing, 1575-1630 (2011).

Week 2: Account of William Harbourne’s embassy to the Ottoman Empire in Richard Hakluyt, The Principall Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1598-1600).

Week 3: Accounts of Robert Sherley’s embassy to the Safavid Empire in Thomas Herbert, A Relation of Some Years Travaile (1634) and Thomas Middleton trans. Sir Robert Sherley his Entertainment in Cracovia (1609)

Week 4: Accounts of Thomas Roe’s embassy to the Mughal Empire in Embassy of Sir Thomas Roe to the Court of the Great Mogul, 1615-1619 ed. William Foster (1899) and Edward Terry, A Voyage to East-India (1655)

Week 5: Writings about Mariam Khan, Teresa Sampsonia Sherley, and Ann Broomfield Keeling, all women associated with the East India Company, in Letters Received by the East India Company from its Servants in the East ed. William Foster (1902) and The East India Company Journals of Captain William Keeling and Master Thomas Bonner, 1615-1617 eds. Michael Strachan and Boies Penrose (1971).

Week 6: Reading week.

Week 7: Robert Daborne, A Christian Turn’d Turk (1612), based on English pirate John Ward’s conversion to Islam.

Week 8: William Percy, Mahomet and His Heaven (1601)

Week 9: On the baptism of “strangers”, as described in Thomas White, A true relation of the conversion and baptism of Isuf the Turkish chaous, named Richard Christophilus in the presence of a full congregation (1659) and in Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible (2008).

Week 10: The Alcoran of Mahomet…newly Englished (1649), including commentary by Alexander Ross.

A sketch of the English traveller Robert Sherley.
Anthony van Dyck's sketch of the English diplomat Robert Sherley, dressed in the "Persian habit". (British Museum, 1957,1214.207.62).