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A Man of Three Worlds

, 200 pages
March 2007



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A Man of Three Worlds

Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe

In the late fifteenth century, many of the Jews expelled from Spain made their way to Morocco and established a dynamic community in Fez. A number of Jewish families became prominent in commerce and public life there. Among the Jews of Fez of Hispanic origin was Samuel Pallache, who served the Moroccan sultan as a commercial and diplomatic agent in Holland until Pallache's death in 1616. Before that, he had tried to return with his family to Spain, and to this end he tried to convert to Catholicism and worked as an informer, intermediary, and spy in Moroccan affairs for the Spanish court. Later he became a privateer against Spanish ships and was tried in London for that reason. His religious identity proved to be as mutable as his political allegiances: when in Amsterdam, he was devoutly Jewish; when in Spain, a loyal converso (a baptized Jew).

In A Man of Three Worlds, Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers view Samuel Pallache's world as a microcosm of early modern society, one far more interconnected, cosmopolitan, and fluid than is often portrayed. Pallache's missions and misadventures took him from Islamic Fez and Catholic Spain to Protestant England and Holland. Through these travels, the authors explore the workings of the Moroccan sultanate and the Spanish court, the Jewish communities of Fez and Amsterdam, and details of the Atlantic-Mediterranean trade. At once a sweeping view of two continents, three faiths, and five nation-states and an intimate story of one man's remarkable life, A Man of Three Worlds is history at its most compelling.

Mercedes García-Arenal is a research professor at the Higher Council of Scientific Research in Madrid. Gerard Wiegers is a professor of comparative religion and Islamic studies in the Department of Comparative Religious Studies at the University of Nijmegen. Translator Martin Beagles teaches in the Department of Modern Languages at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

"A fascinating account of the way in which a Jewish family survived and flourished while living at the heart of three warring cultures... The book illuminates a little-known side of the 17th-century world."

"Samuel Pallache has gone down in history as an honorable figure, a slightly less successful version of Disraeli's Jewish hero Sidonia... This fascinating little book, however, based on research in the Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, and Portuguese archives, reveals a very different sort of man—a ruthless adventurer, whose duplicity was only matched by his audacity."

"Using a micro-historical approach, Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers reconstruct the complicated life of Samuel Pallache, a 'stateless' Jew of Sephardic origin who used his considerable linguistic talents to become an international arms-dealer, double-agent, merchant, smuggler and spy as he moved regularly between Morocco, Spain, Portugal, England and the Low Countries. Examining both Pallache and his family, Garcia-Arenal and Wiegers address a number of important scholarly issues relating to the role of Sephardic Jews in the early modern Mediterranean world. This is a fascinating book, and the material, much of it drawn from archives in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, including those of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, is new, fresh, and definitely worth reading."

"Well referenced, with many vignettes that help to paint for the reader a vivid picture of the times."

"A coherent and revealing picture of [Samuel Pallache's] complex career... Generally judicious in its conclusions and shrewd in its utilization of detail... Along the way, it explores a hitherto unobserved pattern of ties between North African Jews and moriscos active in Christian Europe... A significant contribution to the history of the political information web of early modern Europe and the men behind it."

"Fascinating... A valuable snapshot of the 'new world order' of global powers and grand alliances at the time, and the way in which the members of a relatively poor and socially marginalized family managed to play them to their advantage."

"A significant study which opens a window on a culture that was necessarily often submerged. "

"García-Arenal and Wiegers have brought to life not only one Jewish merchant in the age of mercantilism but his entire culture."

"A fascinating study."