Travellers in the Golden Realm: How Mughal India Connected England to the World by Lubaaba Al-Azami - review by Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

Ambassadors Behaving Badly

Travellers in the Golden Realm: How Mughal India Connected England to the World

By

John Murray 320pp £25
 

One contender for the title of centre of the civilised world in the early 17th century is the Mughal Empire. Lubaaba Al-Azami describes it as ‘a global capital and commercial hub’. The Mughal Empire reached its zenith between the reigns of Babur, the first emperor, who established the ‘golden realm’ in 1526, and his great-great-great-grandson the sixth emperor, Aurangzeb, who died in 1707. This was a time when the artists of the fabulously wealthy Mughal dynasty were building the Taj Mahal and writing and illuminating the Padshahnama. 

The territory over which the Mughals, with efficient authority, ruled was vast and richly diverse. By comparison, England at the time was a dingy barbarian nation so remote and unimportant that the visits of its first two ambassadors to the Mughal court barely merited a mention in the official imperial histories. Certainly, there was no thought that a Mughal ambassador might be sent to London. Sir Thomas Roe (in India between 1615 and 1619) and Sir William Norris (whose embassy lasted from 1699 to 1702) were the sorts of Englishmen abroad who make the rest of the world despair – prickly, prejudiced and pompous. It is perhaps kindest to say that they were unfortunate choices as diplomats. Astonishingly, Anglo-Indian relations survived the tenures of this hapless pair. 

Travellers in the Golden Realm is an account of the contacts between English travellers and traders and their Mughal hosts in the 17th century. Although it is full of engaging pen-portraits of the likes of Roe and Norris, as well as lesser-known figures, its strength lies in its explorations of

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