The white slave trade and the harem whipping
Posted on 2 October, 2009
I’ve been reading the quite fascinating “White Gold” by historian Giles Milton – the story of the white slave trade. Did you know (for example) that, in the early 17th century, fleets of corsairs from Barbary attacked the English coast? Take the third week of July in 1625, for example:
“They slipped ashore at Mount’s Bay, on the south Cornish coast, while the villagers were at communal prayer. Dressed in Moorish djellabas and wielding damascene scimitars, they made a terrifying sight as the burst into the parish church…
They were merciless in their treatment of the hapless congregation… sixty men, women and children were dragged from the church and carried back to the corsairs’ ships.”
From there, they’d be taken back and “put through their paces at the great slave markets of Morocco”, where “thousands of Europeans were sold to the highest bidder.”
Perhaps inevitably, there are some rather interesting anecdotes describing their fate:
“The sultan’s harem often contained European slave girls who had been captured at sea by the Sale corsairs. Francis Brooks had watched the arrival of four English women seized aboard a vessel bound for Barbados. The chief eunuch informed the sultan that there was ‘a Christian virgin amongst the rest of the women’, and a delighted Moulay Ismail [the sultan] urged her to renounce her faith, ‘tempting her with promises of great rewards if she would turn Moor and lie with him’.
The girl refused to apostatise, earning herself the full force of the sultan’s wrath. ‘[He] caused her to be stript, and whipt by his eunuchs with small cords…”
She was then taken away and imprisoned, fed on ‘nothing but rotten bread’. Needless to say, “the poor girl’s spirit was eventually so broken that she had no option but to ‘resign her body to him, tho her heart was otherwise inclined’. The sultan, gratified, ‘had her wash’d and clothed… and lay with her’.”
Sounds like one of the darker scenes Haron and I might play. Mmm, now there’s a thought: bring me my scimitar!