Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Liberal Myth Gets Half Way Round World

It was way back in 2004 that I spotted what appeared to be a new liberal myth, decanted by an English lecturer called Jerry Brotton at the Hay literary festival.

"Of course what we're seeing here is a liberal myth in embryo - that the Turks rather than Drake and Effingham beat the Armada."

This embryonic myth was repeated by Trevor Phillips a couple of months later (along with the "Islamic King Offa" myth). No one took any notice. He seems to have got a bit more attention this time.

British history should be rewritten to make it "more inclusive", says Trevor Phillips, the head of the new human rights and equality commission. He said Muslims were also part of the national story and "sometimes we have to go back into the tapestry and insert some threads that were lost".

He quoted the example of the Spanish Armada, which was held up by the Turks at the request of Queen Elizabeth I.

"When we talk about the Armada it's only now that we are beginning to realise that part of it is Muslims," Mr Phillips told a Labour fringe meeting. "It was the Turks who saved us, because they held up Armada at the request of Elizabeth I. Now let's rewrite that story, let's use our heritage to rewrite that story so it is truly inclusive. "That's the reason for this so we have an identity which brings us together, which binds us in the stormy times that we are going to have in the next century."

As far as I know, the only "evidence" for this theory is that Queen Elizabeth's security head, Francis Walsingham, sent a letter to her ambassador at the Ottoman court, asking him to do all in his power to get the Turks to threaten Spain in the Mediterranean :

The letter, which ordered the ambassador, William Harborne, to incite the Turks to harry the Spanish navy, was written in the mid-1580s and has been buried in archives ever since because it did not apparently relate to any major historical event.

But Mr Brotton told the festival: "Walsingham's plan was ultimately successful. Ottoman fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean fatally split Philip II's armada - So alongside all the stories we're told at school about why the Spanish Armada failed to conquer Britain and destroy Protestantism, we should add another reason: the Anglo-Ottoman alliance brokered by Elizabeth, Walsingham [and others]."

In his letter to Harborne, Walsingham wrote: "Her Majesty being, upon the success of the said King of Spain's affairs in the Low Countries, now fully resolved to oppose herself against his proceedings in defence of that distressed nation, whereof it is not otherwise likely but hot wars between him and us, wills me again to require you effectually to use all your endeavour and industry in that behalf."

Walsingham hoped that Islamic forces might keep the Spanish forces "thoroughly occupied" by "some incursions from the coast of Africa", or by attacking his Italian territories from the sea.

Now between Walsingham's letter and "Walsingham's plan was ultimately successful. Ottoman fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean fatally split Philip II's armada" lies the small question of some missing evidence.

Is there evidence that Harborne persuaded the Turks to any action they might not otherwise have taken ?

Did these actions have any impact on the Armada ? There are many possible impacts - manpower, ship-power, weapon-power, stores and supplies.

On these questions the Guardian report is silent. I've mailed Dr Brotton to ask him.

My knowledge of this period's naval history is limited to copies of Garret Mattingley's The Spanish Armada and Ernle Bradford's The Great Siege. From this admittedly limited base a few reasonably solid conclusions can be drawn.

1/ Any impact of Ottoman naval movements was unlikely to have affected the Armada as far as its complement of ships was concerned. Mediterranean fighting vessels on both the Ottoman and Spanish sides were oar-driven galleys, and as such totally unsuited to Atlantic and North Sea warfare. Original plans for the Armada called for forty galleys, but in the end only four were sent. All four were turned back in the Bay of Biscay by the storm of July 28th, one being lost. Five galleasses - higher-built galleys with a gundeck - fared ill, three (Mattingly says two) being lost. The Spanish could probably have sent their entire Mediterranean galley fleet for no greater result than lowering the price of firewood along the French coast.

2/ Most historians conclude that the battle was lost because

a) the Spanish tactics - of attempting to close and board - could not cope with the English tactics of standing off and using their superior range cannon at distances where the Spanish could not reply.

b) a Spanish failure either to take the few opportunities the English offered - when the fleet held the weather gauge on July 30th, or to wait in the shelter of the Isle of Wight for the Duke of Parma's forces to be ready. Instead they found themselves waiting off Gravelines for Parma - and they couldn't wait long enough without being attacked.

Unless the Turks managed to divert a large number of ship-smashing cannon away from the Armada - unlikely given that the galley's main armament was a single long gun at the bow and light deck anti-personnel guns for closing and boarding, I'm not sure that either of these reasons would have been affected by anything the Ottomans did.

You never know though - I may be completely wrong. Let's see what Dr Brotton has to say.

UPDATE - no reply as yet.


Anonymous said...

You spotted that all the way back in 2004! That's impressive, do you have any predictions for what nonsense they'll be spouting in 2010?

Anonymous said...


'Not a sheep' blog, has something to say on this.

I would love to hear what Bernard Lewis thinks of Phillips' proposition.

Anonymous said...


If this was wouldn't the Turks have mentioned somewhere down the line?

Anonymous said...

The Moroccan girl who was mistaken for Maddy McCann is the daughter of a Berber farmer.

According to the Daily Mail many Berbers are blonde. I wonder why? Is North Africa close to Scandinavia?

Anonymous said...

Given that there are a couple of policeman ensuring "community cohesion" outside the Chatham primary school Trev and the Ministry of Truth will have to rewrite an "inclusive" history whereby if it wasn't for the Slovenians we would all be talking Chinese now.

Excellent point about the galleys btw. I gather that the purpose of the Armada could not have been fulfilled anyway as the draught of their ships was too deep, they did not have a deep water port in Flanders, and Parma's army would have have been vulnerable to attack by the Dutch "sea-beggars" during embarkation.

Though obviously it doesn't fit the drivelling PC agenda to claim that the Dutch saved us.

Not that it would have been true anyway. Drake put fireships into Calais Roads, the Armada came out in panic and the English ships were able to get in amongst them, raking them with fire at close range(Battle of Gravellines - a fine victory). The Armada was beaten off to the north to its destruction.

Another thing about the drooling lib-left is that they will maintain that Drake was a "pirate". He wasn't, he was a privateer, operating under letters of marque from the government.

Fidothedog said...

Jockney, although we don't normally assume north africans to be blond, some of them are.

In the 4th century Vandals, originaly from Germania headed first to Spain and then crossed over to north Africa, where they then settled.

Laban said...

There are some remarkably Ruropean-looking people outside Europe. You get a lot or red-headed Syrians, for example, and blond bue-eyed types in NE Afghanistan.

I blogged about them a couple of years ago.

As for ancient China - google "Tocharian mummies" or search this blog.

Anonymous said...

Several reasons why you might get blue eyes and blond hair. For example when the muslims had to be expelled from Spain this included any native converts. Also over a million europeans were taken as slaves into the Arab world, particularly north africa.

JohnM said...

Are you sure about your comment Britain was never allied to the Ottoman Empire back in your 2004 post - surely we were allies in the Crimea?

JohnM said...

Anon wrote:

Also over a million europeans were taken as slaves into the Arab world, particularly north africa.

This is misleading. Giles Milton writes in "White Gold" (p304):

The subject of the white slave population of North Africa has been addressed most recently and comprehensively in Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800 by Robert C. Davis, 2003. Davis has made a detailed study of corsair activity between the 16th and 18th centuries and has also compiled a list of all the available slave counts for this period. Furthermore, he has looked at the death rate of captives - whether through torture or 'sickness -and the numbers redeemed by padres and ambassadors. He concludes that between 1530 and 1780, 'there were certainly a million, and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary coast.' See part one, chapters one and two.

Thus there were one million in the North African area alone. The rest of the Muslim world would have had more. Indeed given the role of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and southern Russia, many more.

Ross said...

"You get a lot or red-headed Syrians"

Iraq's former deputy President Al Douri, who is currently the most senior Saddam official still on the run, is a ginger. You would have thought that it would make him easier to catch.

JohnM said...

According to the Daily Mail many Berbers are blonde. I wonder why? Is North Africa close to Scandinavia?

Berbers are the aboriginal inhabitants of North Africa west of Egypt. They preceded the Arabs and if you like were conquered by them. There is discrimination by Arabs against Berbers in countries like Algeria.

There were contacts between the Berbers and the Roman rulers of the coastal regions but only a few Berber areas became part of the Roman Empire. It is known that Vandal (Germanic) tribes settled in North Africa and eventually evicted the Romans. They seem a likely source of blonde hair.

Ross said...

Vandal origins for Moroccan blondes seems unlikely to me, because the Vandals themselves were a coastal elite whereas the Berbers have traditionally lived further inland. Furthermore the Canary Islands which were first settled around 3000 years ago from North Africa also had a lot of blond haired and blue eyed natives when the Spanish first discovered them, despite the fact that they weren't invaded by the Vandals and weren't launching slaving expeditions overseas.

JohnM said...

Vandal origins for Moroccan blondes seems unlikely to me


Wikipedia has Amongst the people who had entered and settled with the autochthonous people of North Africa, are the 80,000 families of Germanic Vandals also referred to as "The Barbarians" by the Romans and the Mediterraneans in general who neither perished nor returned to Germania

Anonymous said...

I think that a much more recent event accounts for many blonde Berbers:the Second World War.

Millions of European men spent years in North Africa. Perhaps they donated DNA to the local gene pool.

Anonymous said...

European looking people in Syria:
This can be explained easily.
The Vikings used to rape and pillage very far-afield and its known they had trade routes to what is now Turkey, which ofcourse is near Syria. Also a lot of Europeans went through Turkey & Syria on the way to the Crusades.

There are a group of people in Pakistan who speak a Europeanish language and its been suggested they are something to do with Alexander the Great. He spread himself about right across the middle east so its certainly possible.

Anonymous said...

The Greek Kingdom of Bactaria covered what is now called afganistan. It was a successor kingdom of Alexander's empire. It lasted a couple of hundred years.

Anonymous said...

Caucasoid people migrated to India eons ago and mixed with the darker skinned locals -- that's why they look like us -- except they are brown. Some of them still have vestiges of our looks, i.e. non-brown eyes, like the actress Ashwaraya Rai.

Anonymous said...

I meant, "vestiges of our coloring", otherwise that sentence doesn't make any sense. Sorry.