Ismail Ibn Sharif

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Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif
Mulay Ismail.jpg
Portrait of Ismail ibn Sharif
King of Morocco
Reign 1672–1727
Coronation 14 April 1672[1]
Predecessor Al-Rashid
Successor Abu'l Abbas Ahmad
Born 1634
Rissani, Emirate of Tafilalt
Died 22 March 1727
Meknes, Morocco
Spouse 1) Khnata bent Bakkar
2) Lalla Aisha Mubarka
3) Lalla Umm al-Iz at-Taba [Umelez Ettaba] (d. after 1721)
4) Lalla Bilqis
5) Lalla Halima as-Sufianiya [Hazezas]
6) a lady from the al-Taligiyya clan
7) Lalla Alwa
8) Mrs. Shaw, an Irishwoman [2]
Issue 525 sons and 342 daughters
House Alaouite Dynasty
Father Sharif ibn Ali
Religion Sunni Islam

Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif (1634– 22 March 1727), reigned 1672–1727.[3] (Arabic: مولاي إسماعيل بن الشريف ابن النصر‎‎) was the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. He is also known in his native country as the "Warrior King".


He ruled from 1672 to 1727, succeeding his half-brother Moulay Al-Rashid who died after a fall from his horse, at the age of twenty-six, Moulay Ismaïl inherited a country weakened by internal tribal wars and royal successions. After al-Rashid's death on April 9, 1672, the city of Marrakesh refused to swear allegiance to Ismail, who at the time served as vice-roy in Meknes. Instead, the people of Marrakesh opted for his nephew Ahmad ibn Muhriz,[4][5] this prompted Ismail to march south where he defeated Ahmad and entered Marrakesh in June 1672. But Ibn Muhriz escaped and fled to the Sous region in southern Morocco, whence he would return in 1674 and retake Marrakesh. Once in control he set about fortifying the city.

Ismail was forced to return and lay a two-year siege on the city. Marrakesh finally fell to assault in June 1677, and this time Ismail sacked the city.[5][6] Ibn Muhriz, however, again escaped to the Sous; in the following years he would make several more attempts to retake Marrakesh, before he was finally tracked down and killed in 1687.[5]

Moulay Ismaïl is also known as a fearsome and bloodthirsty ruler who abused many thousands of white Christian slaves - many of whom died from the horrendous conditions of the Matamores (underground dungeons each accommodating fifteen or twenty slaves, the only light and ventilation for which was coming from a small iron grate in the roof which was also the only access to the outside world) where the males were kept as well as the brutal treatment and tortures they daily had to endure in addition to being forced to work fifteen hours a day (as well as often at night) whilst wearing leg manacles attached to heavy chains weighing up to fifty pounds - during the forced construction of his many palaces (such as the Dar Kbira and Dar el Makhzen) in his capital of Meknes using the extremely hazardous material "pise" (a mixture of earth and powdered qucklime) which they were forced to mix without any protection resulting in many slaves being badly burnt by the lime. Female white Christian slaves were sent to his harem where they were forcibly converted to Islam before being forced to service him, it is estimated that he had 2,000 concubines. The eighteenth century Moroccan historian Ahmed ez-Zayyani reckoned that at any one time there were at least 25,000 white slaves in his capital, his white Christian slaves were often used as bargaining counters with the European powers whom he only infrequently ransomed them back to - usually for inflated sums and for rich gifts (such as £15,000 and 1,200 barrels of gunpowder for which he disputed the terms of the agreement therefore he only released 194 English slaves and retained another 30 English slaves in December 1701). He realised that capturing large numbers of white slaves would provide him with precisely the leverage he wanted over the great powers of Christendom. French priest Father Dominique Busnot wrote that "He takes a pride, and sometimes boasts before the captives, that he commands all the nations of Europe in the persons of his slaves". Most of his white Christian slaves were obtained for him at the very low price of £15 per slave, because of his decree that such captives must be sold to him, by the Barbary pirates who raided Western European coastal villages in addition to piracy against European and North American merchant shipping as well as the Newfoundland Banks fishing fleets.[7] [8]

He has been given the epithet "The bloodthirsty"[9] for his legendary cruelty; in order to intimidate rivals, Ismail once ordered that his city walls be adorned with 10,000 heads of slain enemies. Legends of the ease in which Ismail could behead or torture laborers or servants he thought to be lazy are numerous, during the half century of Ismail's rule, it is estimated to have killed 30,000.[10]

Ismail ibn Sharif receiving ambassador François Pidou de Saint Olon from Louis XIV of France, by Pierre-Denis Martin (1693)

During Moulay Ismaïl's reign, Morocco's capital city was moved from Fez to Meknes where he carried out an extensive building program - using the forced labour of his thousands of white Christian slaves - that resulted in the construction of numerous gates, mosques, gardens and madrases. Some of the stones were taken from the ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis.[11]

Military campaigns[edit]

Mausoleum of Mouley Ismaïl in Meknes

Moulay Ismaïl is noted as one of the greatest figures in Moroccan history, he fought the Ottoman Turks in 1679, 1682 and 1695/96. After these battles Moroccan independence was recognized. Another problem was the European occupation of several seaports where in 1681 he retook al-Mamurah (La Mamora) from the Spanish, which he renamed the city al-Mahdiya,[12] his representative Kaid Omar had told the Spaniards that they would not be sold into slavery if they surrendered unconditionally "Although they would be captives they would spend their days without working, until the first redemption." However Moulay Ismaïl saw no reason to honour Kaid Omar's promises and had no intention of allowing the 2,000 Spanish captives from al-Mamurah to be redeemed so they, including fifty "poor girls and women", were forced to walk to Meknes as booty along with their possessions, arms and artillery (88 bronze cannon, 15 iron cannon, fire-pots, muskets and gunpowder) which was wrote Germain Mousette "more than he had in the rest of his kingdom". [13]

Later in 1684 he also conquered Tangier from the English (after they demolished their fortifications and harbour in the winter of 1683 then abandoned the former Portuguese colony in February 1684 because of his assaults on it) and in 1689 captured Larache from the Spanish. To celebrate the triumph Moulay Ismaïl issued an edict banning the wearing of black shoes because the Spanish were said to have introduced the custom into Morrocco when they first acquired Larache in 1610, the mufti of Fez was so elated by the victory he wrote " How many infidels at dusk have had their heads severed from their bodies! How many were dragged away with the death rattle in their throats! For how many throats have our Lance's been as necklaces! How many lance-tips were thrust into their breasts!"

Over 150,000 men from sub-Saharan Africa served in his elite Black Guard,[14] which helped Ismail to conquer the whole Morocco from European kingdoms except two fortresses in peninsula, Ceuta and Melilla.[15] By the time of Ismail's death, the guard had grown tenfold, the largest in Moroccan history.[citation needed]

He also founded Jaysh al-Rifi, an independent army of Berber tribesmen from the eastern Rif. Jaysh al-Rifi played an important role in the 17th century Moroccan wars against Spanish colonization.[16]


It is claimed Moulay Ismaïl had excellent relations with Louis XIV of France, the enemy of Spain, to whom he sent ambassador Mohammad Temim in 1682. However, throughout his reign he held many thousands of French white Christian slaves and concubines as a result of the Barbery pirates piracy whom he refused to release without exorbitant amounts and rich gifts, so this is doubtful, it is claimed there was cooperation in several fields including having French officers training the Moroccan army and advised the Moroccans in the building of public works but this is equally doubtful unless the officers concerned were captive slaves who co-operated to avoid the day-to-day tortures Moulay Ismaïl employed to force Christians to"turn Moor" (convert to Islam). One European visitor told him if he wished to imitate the King of France he should not have his subjects and slaves killed in his presence to which he is said to have responded "This is true but King Louis commands men whereas I command beasts". [17]

Mohammed bin Hadou, Mulay Ismail's Moroccan ambassador to Great Britain in 1682[18]

In 1682 he sent Mohammed Tenim as an ambassador to Louis XIV, and he even made an offer of marriage to Louis XIV's beautiful "legitimised" daughter Marie Anne de Bourbon. Marie Anne refused.[citation needed]

Ambassador Admiral Abdelkader Perez was sent by Ismail ibn Sharif to England in 1723.


Moulay Ismaïl is alleged to have fathered a total of 867 children, including 525 sons and 342 daughters, was noted by 1703 and his 700th son was born in 1721, it is estimated that he had 2,000 concubines - many of whom were white Christian female slaves supplied to him by the Barbary pirates who raided Western European coastal villages as well as Western European and North American merchant shipping..[19][20][21][22][23][24] This is widely considered the record number of offspring for any man throughout history that can be verified.

After Moulay Ismaïl's death at the age of eighty (or around ninety by the 1634 birthdate) in 1727, there was another succession battle between his surviving sons, his successors continued with his building program, but in 1755 the huge palace compound at Meknes was severely damaged by an earthquake. By 1757 his grandson, Mohammad III moved the capital to Marrakech.[citation needed]

Ismail ibn Sharif is mentioned in chapter 11 of Voltaire's Candide, the character of the sultan in the novel "The Sultan's Wife" by Jane Johnson is based on Moulay Ismaïl. In Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind "Sultan Mulai Ismael, Emperor of all Morocco" sends six Arabian horses to Louis XV, "the boy King of France."[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kingdom of Morocco's (Alaoui dynasty) according to the "Almanach.Be" web site
  2. ^ "MOROCCO3". 
  3. ^ Abun-Nasr, J.M., A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period, page 230. Cambridge University Press, 1987
  4. ^ Julien (1931: p.228-9); El Fasi (1992: p.114)
  5. ^ a b c Cenival (1913-36: p.303; 2007: p.328)
  6. ^ Julien (1931: p.229); El Fasi (1992: p.114)
  7. ^ Milton, Giles (2004). White Gold : the Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million European Slaves. Hodder. p. 352. ISBN 0-340-79469-0. 
  8. ^ "Tragic Inventory". 
  9. ^ "Some magical Moroccan records". Guinness World Records. Guinness World Records Limited. March 3, 2008. Retrieved March 20, 2010. 
  10. ^ Lawrence, Paul R. (2010). Driven to Lead: Good, Bad, and Misguided Leadership. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-470-62384-5. 
  11. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Volubilis, Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham (2007)
  12. ^ Lévi-Provençal, Evariste. "Al Madīya". In Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor. E. J. Brill's First Encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913 – 1936, Volume 5, L – Moriscos (1987 reprint ed.). p. 122. ISBN 978-90-04-08494-0. 
  13. ^ Vitkus, Matar, Daniel J., Nabil I. (2001). Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England (Illustrated, Annotated ed.). Columbia University Press; Quoting Al Qadiri's Nashr al Mathani. p. 139. ISBN 0231119054. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  14. ^ "...A la fin du règne de Moulay Ismaïl, qui resta au pouvoir pendant 57 ans, la garde noire comptait 150000 combattants...", p39 of "Des Tranchés de Verdun à l'église Saint Bernard" by Bakari Kamian edition KARTHALA
  15. ^ Fage, Tordoff, John, William (2013). A History of Africa (revisioned ed.). Routledge. p. 182. ISBN 1317797272. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  16. ^ * James Brown (2001). ''Crossing the Strait: Morocco, Gibraltar and Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries''.
  17. ^ ({cite book | last = Milton | first = Giles | authorlink = | coauthor = | title = White Gold: the Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million European Slaves | publisher = Hodder | location = | pages = 316 | url = | doi = | Id = | ISBN = 0 340 89509 8})
  18. ^ In the lands of the Christians by Nabil Matar, back cover ISBN 0-415-93228-9
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Henry, Marguerite (2006). King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian. Aladdin: Reissue edition. pp. 48, 50. ISBN 1416927867. 


  • Abum-Nasr, Jamil M. (1987). A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period.
  • Pennell, C.R. (2000). Morocco Since 1830.
  • Bakari Kamian. (2001). Des Tranchés de Verdun à l'église Saint Bernard.
  • Vitkus, Matar, Daniel J., Nabil I. (2001). Piracy, Slavery, and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Sultan of Morocco
Succeeded by