Sunday, April 26, 2009


The word piracy comes to us from the Latin pirata, which has its own root in the Greek word for attack, peirao. Until the recent prominence given to the activities of the pirates off the Somalia Coast, the word conjured up notions of the romantic freebooting Caribbean buccaneers - from the French word boucan, a barbecue that the early Hispaniola settlers used to smoke the meat of wild pigs - portrayed by the classic Hollywood movies of the 1950’s. In reality, however, this notion of sea-going Robin Hood characters has its origin much further back in antiquity.

Records from the First Egyptian Dynasty (c.2600BCE) document forty ships leaving Byblos in Lebanon and bound for Egypt laden with cedar for Pharaoh Snefru’s building projects. They record that all efforts were taken by the Egyptian ships to sail in tight convoy so as to protect themselves from attack by Tyrrhenian pirates. A millennium later an Egyptian papyrus of the reign of Ramses XII(c.1100BCE) records the trouble that Wen-Amon - the royal architect who was also on his way to buy wood in Byblos - encountered with pirates from Thekel on the Syrian Coast.

Writing about 700 years later Thucydides - the Athenian Historian (c.455-c.400 BCE) - succinctly stated that from ancient times, as soon as sea-borne travel and commerce began, coastal communities encouraged their most powerful men to turn to piracy with a view ‘both to their own gain and to maintenance for the needy’ and that ‘this employment did not yet involve any disgrace, but rather brought with it somewhat of glory’. Greek legend had the figure of Nauplius whose profession was that of wrecker, slaver and pirate and it is this concept of trade in human cargo that was to encourage Mediterranean piracy for the best part of three thousand years. The increasing success and profitability of capture and ransom of people by pirates soon meant that the threat from the sea dominated the lives and architecture of the coastal communities. With the success came the concept of reprisal. Julius Caesar when taken by pirates at Pharmacussa was so indignant at his captors willingness to ransom him for the measly sum of twenty talents -they increased it later to fifty - that on release he pursued them relentlessly until the pirates were caught, had their throats cut and were nailed to a cross. 

Caesar's was an individual response and the first organised attempt to rid the Mediterranean of its pirates was made in 67BCE when the Gabinian law was introduced. Pompeius was given pro-consular power over the whole of the Mediterranean and Black Sea for three years. He divided the territory into thirteen commands with two hundred and seventy ships and one hundred and twenty thousand men at his disposal. In a co-ordinated strategy he isolated all known pirate havens and driving the pirates landwards onto the waiting legions cleared the coasts in about forty days. With the demise of the Roman Empire piracy however soon made a comeback and very few states had a standing navy or army big enough to take on the task again. 

Because of the logistics involved from earliest times smaller states began to licence ships to undertake reprisal raids on their behalf, particularly when their commerce was affected, and the distinction between these corsairs and pirates was merely a question of status. The granting of a letter of marque - a commission for extraordinary reprisals usually in time of war - to privateers and corsairs was a legally sanctioned weapon, which was not relinquished by the powers of Europe until 1856. The United States on March 3, 1815 the sanctioned the use of privateers in the US Congress passed act for the protection of the commerce of the United States against the Algerian Barbary pirates. (See Blog 5 Jan 2009)

Nothing has changed! The UN Security Council in December 2008 in Resolution 1846 ( and reinforced by the later Resolution 1851) invoking Chapter VII powers decided that:
[F]or a period of 12 months from the date of this resolution States and regional organizations cooperating with the TFG in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, for which advance notification has been provided by the TFG to the Secretary-General, may: 
(a) Enter into the territorial waters of Somalia for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with such action permitted on the high seas with respect to piracy under relevant international law; and 
(b) Use, within the territorial waters of Somalia, in a manner consistent with such action permitted on the high seas with respect to piracy under relevant international law, all necessary means to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea;

Because Somalia is in the midst of an ongoing enormous humanitarian crisis the distraction and impact of the piracy of its coast can no longer be tolerated by the international community. The other significant danger, sensed by the United States, is that the harnessing of Somalian piracy as a weapon of war in the region and not simply that of economic gain is even greater. A new fleet of modern-day privateers have been issued 'letters of marque' by the UN Security Council to deal with the problem. Unfortunately for all their efforts, as Rome experienced, the problem will not go away. 

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 17)

Ergi Kapi - The Crooked Gate

Chapter 30 
11th November 1637

It had become almost a ritual for Catherine, after returning from the new nearby Egyptian bazaar - where every pod, root, stem and leaf known to be used in the healing of human ills was available - to wander, like the Sultana Roxelana, among the 60 columns of the mosque of the Hassiki. Touching the cool marble, she marvelled at the hues and shapes that the veins made. The beauty of the building reminded her of the loving indulgence and passion the great Soleyman had had for his wife and this thought somehow brought her closer to her absent Djivo. Her solitary thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the cry of the mu ’azzin calling the faithful to the midday prayers. Catherine slipped quietly out a side entrance knowing she would have to hurry if she was to meet Murad at the arranged time.
The journey on foot took the best part of an hour given the throngs of people entering the city. She reached the egri kapi entrance in the city walls - called from ancient times the Crooked Gate because of its unique double non-opposing arches - to find Murad walking in the graveyard which adjoined the outer wall. He looked relieved as she approached.
“Salaam Catherine. You were delayed.”
She smiled at his polite rebuke. “Salaam Murad. Yes, I am sorry. Have you waited long?”
Murad was tracing with a finger an inscription carved on one of the nail-like headstones. “No, not really, but we will have to hurry. Do you know that this is the spot where the Conqueror directed his first assault against the city? He was repulsed by the double walls and its valiant Frankish defenders.” He did not wait for her response, and after stopping for a quick word with the guards of the gate, rushed ahead. 
Catherine was relieved, given the fast pace he was setting, that it was only a short walk to the ruined Palace of the Blachernai. Entering the yard of the Mosque of Ivaz Effendi, which perched on the palace ruins some 60 feet above them, Murad made for one corner where two musket-carrying Janissaries were guarding what appeared to be a concealed wooden door. At their approach one of the soldiers opened it and taking a flickering torch from its wall bracket led them both into a dark, narrow tunnel. A short distance in she was suddenly startled by a loud trumpet-like bellowing noise that shook the air. It was answered by a series of shorter blasts. She pulled at Murad’s tunic. “What was that ?”
Murad laughed. “It is only the Sultan’s elephants. They are housed in the far part of these ruins. Come, let us continue.” The passageway descended and ascended in a spiral fashion until they reached an arched entrance thrown into relief by the light flickering within its chamber. 
Catherine whispered to Murad. “What is this place?”
Murad prodded her forward. “Do not be afraid. This is the guard room of the ancient Prison of Anemas. It has been all but forgotten by the city’s inhabitants and that ignorance serves our purpose well. This tekke is like no other, as you will soon find out, and secrecy is essential.”
He stepped ahead of her and after ordering the torch-bearing soldier back to his station at the entrance beckoned her in. The room was reasonably lit and about forty feet long. There appeared to be, in the far corner, a circular hole in the ground. In the centre of the chamber was a small raised pedestal. Beneath Catherine’s feet leading to the centre lay a tightly woven Kerman carpet, its azure wool emblazoned with star shapes embroidered in gold thread. Against the walls stood a number of shadowy figures, their anonymous faces covered by silk veils. At a signal from Murad, Catherine knelt down and it was only then she realised that the woven golden stars were not a random design but represented the constellations of Orion and Canis Major. Bowing her head fully her lips kissed the star Sirius. Ahead of her she heard someone take their place on the pedestal.

Hajjî Bektãshî

‘Ashiq, announce your self.”
“I am Catherine Cullen. A freewoman and surgeon, of Ireland.”
“Why do you wander amongst the sand dunes?”
Sahibdil . . .” Catherine paused for a moment before continuing. “I am no prodigy among the apostles; nor do I know what will be done with me or you. I follow only what is revealed to me, and my only duty is to give plain warning.”
The pedestal voice softened. “We have sent down to you revelations showing you the right path.”
Catherine thought she could hear Murad cough. She knew the answer. “Light upon light. God guides to his light whom he will.”
The pedestal voice strengthened. “The Lord of the two Easts, and the Lord of the two Wests. Which of your Lord’s blessings would you deny.”
“It is the Merciful who has taught the Quran.”
“By the light of day, and by the dark of night, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor does he abhor you.”
Catherine was unsure of the appropriate response and searched for inspiration. At that very moment a shadow moved and a shaft of light dazzled off the embroidered star of Sirius. “I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak from the mischief of his creation.”
The pedestal voice was quietened but after a few minutes of murmuring amongst the shadows it beckoned her. “You that are wrapped up in your cloak arise and give warning.”
Catherine stood up and walked slowly towards the pedestal where an elderly man, with silver flowing hair, sat shoeless. On reaching him she knelt once more and kissed his feet. “I long to be a disciple, accept me and make me one of your slaves.”
The elderly man’s hand touched her on the shoulder. “I am not worthy to be a master. There are others greater than I, go and be a disciple of them.”
“No it is you that I seek. You will be my master.” Catherine’s tone was adamant.
“That it is a grave burden you place on my shoulders. Are you worthy? Tell me of the black flag.”
Catherine leant back on her calves and looking up saw for the first time the tattered black flag that was suspended above the pedestal. “It is the Banner of Abu Muslim the glorious avenger of Hasan and Husein. It is the totem of the khorram-dinan brought out of Khosan by our glorious saint Hajji Bektash. It is the flag that flies on the winds of revolution.” At this point she felt the shadows surrounding her draw near and she was gently lifted to her feet. The pir - the elderly man whose questions had been testing her - descended from his pedestal and handed her a belt of saffron coloured cloth. 
“We will hear you recite your dhikr.”
Catherine took the belt and tying it around her waist, chanted.
“I tie up greediness . . .”
She fully loosened it again
“I loosen generosity . . .”
Catherine repeated the same process six more times.
“I tie up anger, I unbind meekness, 
I tie up avarice, I unbind piety,
I tie up ignorance, I unbind the fear of God,
I tie up passion, I unbind the love of God,
I tie up Hunger, I unbind contentment,
I tie up Satanism, I unbind divineness.”

When she had finished the pir handed her a small goblet of liquid. “Partake of this cup filled from the waters of the fountain of Zanjabil. You are welcome as a true murid of our tekke.”
Catherine took a sip of the ginger-flavoured water and passed it to her shadow companions who each in turn lifted their veils to drink and thereafter left their faces uncovered. A great weight suddenly lifted and she felt she was floating just above the ground. It seemed like an age before she felt the pir take her arm.
“Come Catherine of Ireland. You can now relax. The first initiation formalities are over. I must say however that your answers to my probes elevate you to a degree of understanding that I have rarely seen in an initiate. Even amongst the exalted company of this room. You are a true daughter of the Path. It is unfortunate that your destiny does not lie with us.”
Catherine was taken aback, puzzled at the old man’s words. “Hakkim. What do you mean?”
He looked at her gently. “Do not trouble yourself, sister. You are a rahrav or wayfarer and it will be my duty to equip you for the remainder of your journey. I will explain all this to you later but for now let us go and celebrate your presence with us. There are some fine wines awaiting our attention before we continue with the sama.”

Thomas Roe and Sir Peter Paul Rubens at Elewijit

Chapter 31
Elewijit, Spanish Netherlands. 
11th November 1637

There was a constant stream of cold rain beating into the faces of the horses and driver of the coach that came at speed along the muddy driveway. For the portly man waiting at the steps the warmth afforded by his paint covered cloak was not enough to prevent his joints aching in the damp. As the carriage drew up two of the house servants ran down to open its door and unfurl an umbrella to keep the visitor dry on his short walk.
“You are welcome Thomas. How do you like my new house?” The portly man bellowed with a deep laugh. 
The visitor laughed back. “Out of my way you fat fool. I am anxious to greet that lovely young wife of yours.”
The two men embraced and the visitor was led by his good- humoured host up the steps and into a large drawing room where a roaring fire banished the day’s damp. On a couch near the window a young woman with the fresh face so often seen in many of her husband’s paintings sat with her needlepoint. Helena Fourment accepted the visitor’s effusive greetings. She then excused herself as the visitor turned back to speak to her husband.
“Sir Peter. My King sends you his warmest regards and says that your panels in the Royal Banqueting Hall have attracted nothing but praise.”
Peter Paul Rubens - the pre-eminent artist of his age -accepted the compliment graciously. “Enough of the formality Thomas. We are old friends. How goes it with you in your well deserved retirement?”
Sir Thomas Roe - once ambassador to Constantinople - sat by the fire to warm his hands. “No longer retired Peter. I have been appointed by His Majesty to the Chancellorship of the Knights of the Garter and once again have become a roving emissary. I am envious when I see how much you are enjoying the fruits of a young wife and a new house. Returned to landscapes I am told.”
Rubens removed his painting smock and threw it casually over a nearby chair. “My greatest love Thomas. Painting the vistas and pageantry of the countryside that is, although gout is affecting my brushstroke.”
Roe looked up at the Dutchman and felt some sadness at hearing of any possible handicap of his dear friend’s genius. 
Rubens noticed the look of sympathy. “No pity, Thomas. I have lived the lives of many men and can still keep Helena well satisfied. I do therefore deserve your envy.”
Roe laughed. “Always the idle boast, Peter.”
Rubens fetched some wine and handed an overflowing goblet to Roe. “A modest one, Thomas, on account of my characteristic humility.”
Roe nearly choked. “Humility! Poppycock.”
Rubens drew a chair up and sat opposite his friend, their faces reddening with the warmth of the fire. “Thomas. What does bring you here at such short notice?”
Roe leant back. “I am here to ask for your help. Your famed diplomatic skills rather than the brushstrokes of a genius are urgently required. You know that His Majesty regards you most highly in this regard.”
Rubens said nothing and Roe was forced to continue. “We are attempting to set up a conference in Hamburg early next year to try and bring a resolution to this interminable war. We need your good offices to open a dialogue with Philip of Spain.”
Rubens stood up to refill his goblet. Roe had hardly touched his. “Thomas. You and His Majesty know that I worked for nearly ten years to broker the Peace Treaty of 1630 between England and Spain and where did it get us. Seven years later we are still at each other’s throats. My days of diplomatic shuffling are over. I have earned and been granted my respite.”
Roe slumped slightly in face of the resolute tone. “I understand Peter. I was only conveying His Majesty’s wishes.”
Rubens placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly. “You have done your duty, Thomas. Please convey my deepest regards . . . and apologies to His Majesty.”
Roe finally drank his wine. Rubens sat down opposite him again. “Tell me, Thomas. On a completely different matter. When you were envoy to the Turk, did you get to know the Patriarch Kyril Loukaris well ?”
Roe was instantly alert. “Yes, we were good friends. It was he who gave me the Codex. Why do you ask? ”
Rubens hesitated for a moment. “I know that he is also a correspondent of Laud. It’s just that . . .”
Roe looked up at his friend. “What is it Peter? Has something happened to him? ”
Rubens shook his head. “No at least not yet. Its just that I overheard a conversation recently where two French courtiers were discussing a Richelieu plot to have Loukaris killed. They joked about a deal with the Austrians. Some dispute with the Franciscans over the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, I understand. I thought that you might be able to warn him.”
Roe said nothing. Rubens took his hand. “Come on, my old friend. Enough of the intrigues of mere mortals. Let me show you some of my more recent poor attempts to capture God’s light and then we will eat.”
The two walked, linked arm in arm to the door. Rubens was laughing. “Don’t you think that this new found humility becomes me, Thomas? ”
His friend could only smirk. “Poppycock.”

©R.Derham 2001, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 16)

Chapter 28 
Palais Cardinalle, Paris. 
7th July 1637

The far corner of the room was dark for the evening light filtering through the tall windows had little chance to illuminate before being absorbed by the heavy drapes that lined the walls. On a chaise-longue tucked into the same corner a small thin man was reclining. He was reading a page taken from a sheaf of papers that lay on the floor beside him. On his lap two small kittens scurried back and forth in an endless game of chase. Occasionally his hand would stretch out to stroke their mother as she nestled close to his side. The matriarch became instantly alert however as the door at the other end of the room opened allowing her kittens to dive in beneath her for protection. Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal and Duke de Richelieu - known as the Red Eminence - the 51 year-old chief minister of Louis XIII’s France stopped reading and watched as his visitor approached. The shafts of fading sunlight cast an orange glow on the rich carpet. He  retrieved one of the kittens and soothed with gentle hands its spitting defence. “Thank you for coming Pere Joseph. We have much to discuss. Would you mind lighting the lamps please?”
The visitor, dressed in the brown-hooded habit of a Capuchin monk, picked up a tinder box from the side table and after igniting a taper moved in sequence to light the candle lamps that were placed on low tables around the chaise-longue. Pere Joseph was a heavily built man with small, piercing eyes surrounded by swollen lids and a sallow face. His ragged grey-red beard protruded through the hood. He wore little ornamentation apart from a small dagger and a set of rosary beads tucked into the double wrapped hemp waist cord. Once the gloom had lifted he sat on a chair that was placed beside a small table in front of the nearest window. Outside, in the gardens of the old Hotel Rambouillet, Pere Joseph could hear the faint laughter of what he imagined to be courtiers and courtesans catching the final embers of the day. They would soon fade as the Palais gates were locked for the night. He sat down and placed a ledger in front of him and turned to face the Cardinal. “It has been a busy day, Your Eminence. Where shall we start?”
Richelieu swung his legs out and sat up to look directly at his visitor. Although having worked since dawn with only small rest periods - imposed on him by his niece Mme d’Aiguillon for the little food he consented to partake of - his mind was completely alert. “Tell me first of the Parliament.”
Pere Joseph to all intents and purposes worked as the Cardinal’s Foreign Secretary but was used to dealing with matters closer to home that were particularly dear to Richelieu’s heart. “The Judges of the Parliament of Paris have finally obeyed and registered your Letters Patent of 1635 establishing the French Academy. One of the august judges, however, was overheard to remark that ‘he thought that the time wasted to date on the matter could only be compared with the deliberations of the Roman Senate on the proper sauce for a turbot’. Shall I have him censured?”
The Cardinal smiled. “Yes. Make him a member of the Forty. Now what of the King’s mistress?”
The monk blushed slightly. “Mademoiselle de la Fayette has finally entered the Convent of the Visitation.”
Richelieu made a note in a journal that he pulled from beneath the cushion he had been resting on. “A good riddance. I must be more careful in the companions that I choose for His Majesty in future.”
One of the kittens was brave enough to venture forth and was playing with the hem of Pere Joseph’s habit. He tried to gently push it away with his foot but desisted when he saw Richelieu’s disapproving frown. He returned to his report. “On the matter of de Cesy’s recent communiqué from Constantinople. I have had a discussion with the Austrian ambassador and we have both agreed that it would be prudent to dispatch the Patriarch Loukaris. They, the Austrians, have agreed to arrange the plot but I understand that a good deal of money might be required. I need your approval to dispatch these funds to de Cesy.”
Pere Joseph handed a sheet of paper to the Cardinal who after a quick appraisal nodded his assent and attached his seal. Richelieu then moved onto the next item. “Have you heard anything more of these supposed secret Scrolls?”
Pere Joseph continued to be distracted by the kitten. “Sorry Your Eminence . . . No. Although it is rumoured that the Duchesse de Cheuveuse has some knowledge concerning their whereabouts and has been in communication with both the English and the Venetians.”
Richelieu stood up and walking to the window leant down and retrieved the kitten from beneath the Capuchin’s habit. He brought it across the room to an ornate, gilded, hardwood side-table that stood against the opposite wall. Here a small silver bowel of milk had been left. His voice was harsh as he spoke and the kitten tried to scurry away, “That traitorous bitch. I should have killed her when I had the opportunity. Instruct de Cesy to proceed with all haste and try to find out more of these Scrolls.”

As usual, the two men’s evening discussion lasted for a couple of hours before the Capuchin monk was able to retire to say his office. For him sleep came quickly although he knew that the Cardinal would still be pacing the floor of his apartment - at the far end of the building - for many hours yet. 

Chapter 29
Castel Gondolfo, Colli Albani, Italy. 
11th August 1637

The doors to the terrace were open and the fragrant aromas of the castle’s gardens wafted on the evening breeze into the reception room. After the long journey in the choking summer heat of the dusty plains below the visitor - dressed in the robes of a simple country priest - savoured the refreshing and cooling wind of the Colli Albani. The door opened and a thin man wearing the white Papal robes entered and crossed the room quickly. The visitor immediately knelt on one knee and brushed his lips on the proffered ring. “Holy Father. You do me great honour.”
Maffeo Barberini, the Florentine Pope Urban VIII, withdrew his hand and moved right past the kneeling man to walk onto the terrace. He called back to his visitor without turning, “Father Panzani please join me.”
Gregorio Panzani - lately the Pontiff’s secret agent in London - rose stiffly to his feet and came and stood beside Urban who was looking out over the gardens.
“Beautiful. Is it not?” Urban watched for Panzani’s reaction.
“Incomparable, Your Holiness. Your architect Bernini has created a splendid and deserved Villa for your recreation. If God were to need repose He would find it here.”
Urban smiled. “Did you know that it is built on the foundations of Domitian’s own villa?” He indicated a chair for Panzani to sit on. The priest shook his head. “That is of little importance.” Urban waited until a servant appeared from the shadows and held out another chair for him to sit on. The servant then poured them both wine and disappeared as silently as he had come. Urban swilled the liquid in his mouth before swallowing. “I have read your report. There were some aspects that you indicated that you did not wish to commit fully to paper. Please elaborate.”
Gregorio Panzani had expected today’s summons and although prepared, his mouth at this moment felt very dry. “The Jesuits are very aggrieved about our proposals and feel that I have marginalized them in my efforts to reconcile the secular and religious interests of the Catholic brethren in England. I am sure they will try to undo the gains we have worked hard to achieve.” Panzani stopped but Urban urged him onwards. “Through the good offices of your god-daughter Queen Henrietta Maria I was granted a secret meeting with King Charles.”
Urban’s face lit up. “How did you find him?”
Panzani decided that truth and accuracy would be the best policy. “Highly intelligent and perceptive . . . much smaller in stature than I expected and I found his Scottish accent hard to understand.”
Urban frowned as if angry at Panzani’s frankness. “What did he say to My proposal?”
“He welcomed your offer of support against Richelieu and France but will not accept it with conditions of conversion to the Catholic Creed. He did, however, promise to relax some of the restrictions.”
Urban shook his head slowly. “The fool! ” He then sat there saying nothing.
Feeling awkward Panzani decided to continue. “I fear he will have major problems within his own faith in trying to impose a new rite on the Scottish dissenters. King Charles faces increasing opposition in his own country and unless handled carefully the Crown is in true jeopardy.”
Urban became more pensive. “I see . . . I see . . . By the way. There was one other matter you alluded to in your report. Something about ancient Scrolls.”
Panzani was surprised. He had only mentioned the fact in a footnote, by way of complete accuracy. “Near the termination of our meeting King Charles asked me if I had any intelligence of some ancient manuscripts, that had recently surfaced in the hands of the Constantinian Order, purporting to be a report of the trial of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I said, truthfully, that I had not and it was only when Archbishop Laud also pressed me with a similar question some time later that I felt it important to include the matter. Hence the footnote in my report.”
Urban was looking at his agent intensely to detect any hesitancy. He saw none. “Thank you Father Panzani. You have been a most valuable servant to the Church. I have arranged for you to become a canon of San Lorenzo in Damaso and a Bishop’s mitre will quickly follow. Conn will replace you in England and I want you to brief him fully particularly with regard to the Jesuits. Make no mention of your conversation with King Charles or of the manuscripts. Do you understand?”
Panzani was embarrassed. “Yes your Holiness. Thank you , your Holiness.”
Urban stood up and again proffered his ring hand. Panzani knelt obediently. “It is little for your efforts. There are quarters made ready for you to stay here tonight. We will dine together later.” Urban clapped his hands and watched as one of the Papal guards came in and escorted Panzani off the terrace and through the door at the far end of the reception room. 
Once the door had closed behind them another figure stepped from the shadows to join Urban. “Did you hear all that?” Urban turned to look at his new visitor.
“Yes Holy Father.”
“What do you make of it?”
Dom Fajardo Diego de Saavedra - Ambassador of Philip IV of Spain in Rome - touched the rim of the glass of wine that Urban had given him. He leant back against the low marble terrace wall. “It confirms the intelligence passed on to my Liege by Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse, detailing what was discussed in Chapter by the Garter Knights. King Philip although Administrator of both Sant’Iago and Calatrava is not privy to all their secrets. But because he recognised that if these manuscripts exist and if they were to fall into the wrong hands it might place us all in difficulty. He wished that I inform your Holiness.”
Urban thought for a moment. “Where is the de Rohan woman now? I should like to meet her.”
“In Spain. She fled there after Richelieu accused her and Queen Anne of maintaining treasonous contact with King Philip. I will see what can be arranged.”
Urban threw up his hands. “Cardinal Richelieu. That thorn in my side! The sooner he gets taken to his reward the better. I’m unsure though, Fajardo, as to whether Our Divine Lord will be waiting to greet him.”
De Saavedra smiled. “What will you do Holy Father?”
Urban was beginning to feel the evening chill and he shivered. “Keep a patient watch. If the manuscripts do exist I will wait for them to surface and then pounce. I have a trusted agent in the Constantinian Order.” 

©R. Derham 2001,2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 15)

Chapter 26 
April 10th 1637

Catherine was annoyed by the summons to the reception rooms at the far end of the hospital but was surprised however when she was greeted warmly by a tall dark-haired man. It took a moment or so for her to recognise the Janissary officer as he had grown a very full beard and had aged noticeably. “Murad. It is good to see you. I heard that you had gone to Persia with the army. Are you well?”
Black Murad watched as she dismissed the eunuch who had accompanied her. “You look very well Catherine, although a little pale. The sea air suited you better.”
Catherine brought him a glass of sherbet from a nearby table. “Thank you Murad. It has been a busy winter here in the hospital. The plague has been cruel on the women and children. The tears of Allah!” She sat down on one of the rug-covered divans. He joined her saying very little. “What is it Murad? Have you news of Djivo or Murat Reis? I have heard nothing this last season.”
Murad looked at her warmly. “No Catherine. I am not here with news of your young Ragusan. I am sorry...” He paused for a few seconds, “I hear that you are considering converting to Islam and that you continue to test the best of the ulema and cadi, with your enquiries and your understanding of the shariah law.”
Catherine realised that it was futile to hide anything from the corbasi. His information could only have come from the very highest sources. “It is true Murad and my decision is imminent. It is not a difficult course to accept the farz and it is one that I embrace.”
Murad smiled. “God by his Grace guided the Believers to the Truth, concerning that wherein they differed. For God guides whom He will, to a path that is straight.” He looked at her with understanding eyes. “I knew that this day could possibly come Catherine. Rabbi Joseph had intimated as such and now my role is to help you fulfil the destiny of your path.”
Catherine had recognised the quotation from the second Sura of the Quran and then remembered the words of Rabbi Joseph on the ship in Smyrna and how they had confused her at the time. Their meaning was now suddenly clear. 
Murad continued, “I have been instructed by our patron, the Valide Sultana, to ask whether you would consider becoming an asik or candidate for membership of the Bektasi order. As an ’arif of the organisation I will be your guide to becoming a muhib or friend.” He sipped the sherbet while trying to gauge Catherine’s initial response. “What do you say?”
Her thoughts were racing. She knew that of all the Sufi Orders, the Bektasi was the only one that fully included women. This would be a great honour but unlike her freemasonry initiation, would accelerate her contemplated departure from her Christian roots. “Murad. Do not take what I say as a rejection but it is my nature to try and fully understand before stepping forth. Are you able to explain what is involved?”
Murad relaxed, this he had expected and Catherine had not said no outright. “As you aware in earlier times the frontier societies were served by semi-mystical clerics known as baba’s. From these men arose a number of teachers whose individual piety and learning elevated them to sainthood. They carried with them the inheritance of millennia of knowledge and aspired to formalise this in such a way that would provide a meaningful structured experience for society. With each generation certain individuals are chosen by God’s intercession to tread the Path to perfection so that by their example all our lives become enhanced. Whether you wish it or not, Catherine, this is your destiny.”
Catherine’s eyes flickered brightly. 
Murad continued. “The Bektasi order was founded by the Saint - Hacci Bektas. For an individual to attain the summit he or she must pass through the Four Doors of the Path.”
Catherine stood up to refill their goblets. “The Four Doors. Whatever do you mean?”
Murad looked puzzled for a second, searching for a cohesive explanation. “The First Door, called the seriat, challenges the candidate with the task of understanding orthodox shariah law. A challenge you have already overcome Catherine. The Second Door, the tarikat, when opened demands that the candidate learn the body of the religious teachings of the Order. When these two pathways have been travelled and the candidate is deemed suitable then the marifet door is opened. The steps of this avenue reveal, progressively, the experience and knowledge of the baba’s such as ibn-al’-Arab and al-Sutirawandi and it initiates the candidate into the mystical secrets of God. This is the area that Rabbi Joseph was instructing me in, as the similarities with the Cabbal and freemasonry are striking. The final door and one that is opened to very few is the hakikat . This is where the candidate carrying the keys of the marifet can finally attain the immediate experience of God. The Truth. The journey’s end of the Path.”
Catherine looked at the Janissary soldier. “Have you attained this Murad?”
His face became passive and a sense of deep calmness settled in the room. “To be truthful I am not sure that anyone apart from the saints truly attains the hakikat but I do at times feel the warmth of Allah’s hand on my shoulder. I am a seyh and you, in time, could become my khalifah or successor. What is your answer Catherine?”
She smiled at him warmly. “I will accept your offer of guidance Murad. It is the will of Allah.”
Murad came and embraced her. “You will be surprised by some of the people that you will meet at the tekke and its only fair that I warn you now. For instance the Patriarch Loukaris is also a member of our lodge. For him the Path is an intellectual exploration rather than a route to Islam. His curiosity, however, carries with it great danger. I understand that the spies of France have an inkling of his involvement and plan to use it against him with Beiram Pasha, the Grand Vizier.”
Catherine looked at her companion for a long time before asking. “Do you wish that I use this information to warn the Patriarch?”
Murad had turned to leave the room but stopped short of the doorway. “Perhaps. You will have to judge for yourself Catherine. I know that you and Loukaris have become friends. I will talk with you again next week when I will introduce you to our tekke for the first time.”

Chapter 27
Archbishop’s Palace, Lambeth, London 
30th June 1637

There was a loud knock on the door of the study and William Laud - the Archbishop of Canterbury since 1632 - was visibly irritated at the disturbance. His small oval face, pushed up by the high frilled clerical collar he wore, reddened quickly. In addition the continuous flapping motion of his arms gave a fin-like motion to his hands. The overall effect was, as one observer said, like ‘looking at a mullet’. 
“Come in,” Laud barked. “I thought I left instructions that we were not to be disturbed.”
The door opened and his secretary’s apologies were cut short by the figure of Bishop Matthew Wren pushing past him and into the room.
“I am sorry my Lord Archbishop but I have hastened here from the Palace Yard at Westminster where there was an unruly commotion at the pillorying of Prynne, Burton and Bastwicke.”
Laud did not rise and accepted Wrens formal kiss of his outstretched ring finger. His other guest got up to leave. “If you so wish my Lord Archbishop, I will go and let you and Bishop Wren have your privacy.”
Laud motioned for him to resume his seat. “No Pococke. Stay! This will be instructive and it has pertinence for our own discussions.”
The Archbishop then turned back to face Wren and it was only at that point he saw how agitated he was. Laud stood up to get a glass of wine for his guest indicating at the same time a chair for Wren to sit in. “What ails you Matthew? What’s happened at Westminster?”
Wren slumped into the chair and accepting the wine, gulped it down unceremoniously. It was some time before he recovered his composure and was able to speak. “There was a huge crowd gathered at the Yard in support of the seditious three. As they were marched to the pillory these supporters scattered the leaves of rosemary and sweet herbs ahead of their path. They were also offered cups of wine and agua-vitae to fortify their spirits and . . .” Wren paused for a moment then slowly raised his eyes to meet Laud’s, “...worst of all was when Burton’s wife got up on a stool to kiss him to great acclaim from the rabble. The three then stood in the hot sun for two hours each giving a sermon. Prynne the longest of all.”
The Archbishop’s face had reddened again and he spluttered into his own wine glass. Wren stopped talking but Laud waved him on.
“When at last the executioner approached to cut off their ears, Bastwicke, the physician, took the trouble to instruct the man in how to do it properly. He even produced a new surgical scalpel for the purpose. The executioner was particularly rough with Prynne before taking his ears but once done the mob surged forward to dip their handkerchiefs in the spilt blood. The rabble by this time had become very angry and I had to make my exit. As I left I overheard someone remarking that Papists would not have been treated worse. It was an ugly scene and, I fear, bodes ill for our efforts.” Wren appeared to crumple, exhausted by the effort to suppress the frightened tremor in his voice. 
Laud said nothing for a while but then looked directly at his fellow Bishop. “Wren. Steady yourself. I was right to prosecute those men for speaking against the Bishops and if I need remind you, you in particular, if we do not take the Puritans and the Calvinists head on then our beloved Church in England will sink without trace.”
Wren sat erect with the rebuke ringing in his ears. “My Lord Archbishop. I am your most fervent champion but even in Norwich I sense the rising tide of popular hostility against our deliberations.”
Laud stroked his goatee with rapid strokes. “I am also concerned Matthew but it must not deflect us from our course. Return to Norwich with my blessing. Stoke the fires and put today’s events behind you.” There was a sudden lull and unsure Wren stood up and made to leave. Laud called after him in almost a detached voice. “Tell me was Prynne branded as ordered.”
Wren was no longer suprised by his Lord Archbishop’s single-minded pursuit of justice as he saw it. “Yes with the letters SL on his face.”
Laud smiled for the first time. “Good. Now Matthew. Do not let me detain you any longer. I thank you for the information. We will meet again in August at Oatlands with the King. By that time today’s commotion will be forgotten. Good night to you.”

The Archbishop and Pococke watched as Wren departed. Laud waited for the door to close behind him before turning back to face his other companion. “You look somewhat bemused Pococke.”
The younger cleric nodded his head. “I have been out of touch for sometime but since returning have heard rumours that you are negotiating with Rome. Is it true?” Pococke was pensive, unsure of what Laud’s reaction would be.
The Archbishop appeared nonplussed but replied in a reasonable tone. “My young friend. While you have been abroad in the east, the Puritans and the Calvinists have tried to stymie all my attempts to revive the Church in England which, as you know, has fallen into a sorry state of physical and moral decay. Some of these measures are as innocuous as the wearing of surplices or having a communion altar at the east end of church naves. Of more radical consequence however, is the re-introduction of the Book of Cannons for services in Scotland. This plan has been delayed for a year but next month will see its resolution.” Laud stopped to study his visitor carefully, then continued, “It is true that I have had discussions with leaders of the Catholic Church, such as Franciscus of Santa Clara but I am also in communication with leaders of many other Christian Churches. This exercise is intellectual however and not some errant popish plot. My foremost duty is to the King and his desire to formalise the workings of the Church he is responsible for. Regardless of the rumours you hear do not misjudge my intentions.”
Edward Pococke moved uneasily in his chair as Laud continued. “As you are aware the King’s beloved queen is the god-daughter of the Pope and she has gathered about herself an influential group of Catholics and converts. She dislikes me but in the interests of His Majesty I have maintained good relations with Panzani the Vatican envoy and with Hamilton the Queen’s envoy to Rome.”
Pococke was by now remorsefully embarrassed. “I am sorry, my Lord Archbishop, if I implied any wrongdoing.”
Laud was conciliatory. “It is not necessary to apologise Edward. I have always appreciated your forthrightness and the sincerity of your views. Indeed, it is my respect for your integrity that prompted our meeting today. I have an important mission for you to undertake.”

Pococke although relieved had a puzzled look on his face. “Mission, my Lord Archbishop! What do you have you in mind?”
Laud dithered somewhat before coming to the point. “I want . . . I want you to return to the Levant.”
Pococke sat bolt upright in his chair. “But my Lord, I have only just taken up the Chair of Arabic Studies that you created for me in Oxford. Why return now?”
Laud motioned for Pococke to relax. “As you are now aware the King and I are been assailed by our detractors and it is essential that we collect ammunition with which we can suppress their rantings. There is news of an ancient manuscript in the hands of Patriarch Loukaris in Constantinople which might be all the gunpowder we would need to blow those pestilent Puritans out of their righteous waters. I want you to go back there and try and obtain it.”
Pococke’s face suddenly beamed with obvious excitement. Laud knew he had chosen well and his young protégés legendary appetite for sourcing and collecting old manuscripts was obviously true. “What manuscript?”

Laud took a great deal of time to detail what information he had concerning the provenance and purported contents of the Scrolls. It was late in the night as he finished explaining, “This mission is extremely urgent as I fear for the King’s rule. The country’s mood is becoming ugly firstly at losing their parliamentary voice and secondly at the reintroduction of ship-money. Despite the undoubted brilliance of the King’s lawyer, the late William Noy, and his master-stroke of developing the concept of royal patents to replace monopolies, and his advocacy of ancient ship-money levies to further line the royal purse, has left us with a legacy which has alienated much of his Majesty’s support. Our Church reforms are further fanning the fires. The Scrolls could offer salvation.”
In truth Pococke was little interested in the politics but the thought of retrieving the Scrolls excited his agile intellect. “Of course I will go.”
Laud smiled indulgently and shook his hand. “Good man Pococke. I knew I could count on you. I must warn you, however, that you must be on your guard as there are others who also seek the manuscripts. I also want you to impress on Loukaris that his life is endangered. I have it on good authority from Santa Clara that the French are anxious to dispose of him. Some dispute regarding the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, I am informed. I count Loukaris and Wentworth among my most intimate confidants.”

©R.Derham 2001,2009

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Rihla (Journey 4): Alamut – A Valley of Beauty and Death

Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.

This one is about Alamut, Iran.

Alumut Fortress
'And he called it Aluh Amut, which in the Daylami language means the eagle's teaching.'
The Kamil fit-Tarikh of Ibn al-Athir

I have long had a fascination with the famed militant 11th Century Shiite Assassin sect (so-called by the Crusaders for the political murders they undertook and thought to be a derogatory derivative, used by their enemies, of the Arabic for hashish user, haššāšīn – for a presumed prerequisite ritual drug taken to embolden the work of the fedayeen operatives) and its’ headquarter mountain fortress in Alamut, Iran. The fortress is located at about 2100m on an isolated rock formation at the end of a beautiful narrow valley high above the town of Rudbar in the western mountain range of Gilan province in Iran. I travelled there on March 19, 2009 from Tehran, a journey made particularly long by the huge volume of traffic on the road to Qazvin caused by the mass exodus from Tehran of the No Ruz (New Year) holiday. Once there we stayed overnight in the very welcoming small hostel located in front of the Alamut research station.

The Alborz mountain ranges between Qazvin and the shores of the Caspian rise and fall in a sequence of peaks and valleys to heights of 4500 meters and in ancient times must have been some of the most isolated areas of Iran. Inhabited from about 2000BCE by an Iranian ethic group (they still speak Tati ) this particular area became the location for the Daylami people, part of the confederation of Gilan. These mountain tribesmen were always feared as warriors and were early converts to Shiite Zayid missionary zeal. A fortress was established about 84oCE and rebuilt about 860CE by Alid rulers. On the 4 September, 1090CE Hasan-I Sabbah, a Nizari (Ismaili) Shiite da’wa missionary, was secretly brought to the castle and ejected by subterfuge the castle ruler. He never left the castle again living piously and almost hermetically for thirty years. He concentrated his energies on intellectual studies and establishing the methodology and initiation of Assass (foundation) secret-society disciples to be a murderous thorn in the Sunni Seljuq political machinery who were bent on eradicating the Ismaili faith. Each operative would know their actions would almost certainly result in their own deaths, a form of suicide. One of their first victims was Nizam al-Mulk in 1092.

“Hulagu Khan went up to look at Alamut and from the greatness
of the mountain, astonished, he took the finger of surprise in his teeth,”

The fortress survived numerous attempts to be overwhelmed. Hasan was succeeded by seven more Lords of Alamut until the final Lord, Rukn al-Din b. Muhammed (1255-1256) surrendered the castle to Hulegu the Mongol (grandson of Jengiz Khan), in December 1256. The castle and its famous library was levelled and Rukn while on his way to negotiate with the Great Khan for the safety of its unique books was murdered.

The castle is undergoing excavation and renovation but it is possible to examine the extensive remains of the main keep and library as well as the three very deep water cisterns that ensured the fortress could hold out under siege for a very long time. We watched the sun go down on a very still and magical day and the following morning while driving back through the valleys and mountain passes again I wondered at the physical effort required to organise and convert to a militant cause in such a geographically challenging environment. I was also struck by the similarity in militant missionary zeal, in such a beautiful yet deadly environment, of Hasan-I Sabbah and his Assassins and that of Maulana Fazullah and his murderous, Taliban supported jihadism in the Swat valley of Pakistan almost 1000 years later.

For a suicide-assassin of the 11th century substitute the suicide-bomber-assassin of the 21st. The beauty of these valleys of death are but a mirage.