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The Taj Mahal at Agra

Chapter 11 – Sir Thomas Roe’s First Audience with the Great Mogul

Sir Thomas Roe is one of the most distinguished and picturesque figures in the history of international diplomacy, and his presence at the court of Jahangir, the Great Mogul, as accredited ambassador of King James of England, gained advantages for England that were of the greatest value, as has been pointed out in a previous volume (vol. iv, pp. 67–79). His diary is well known, but its value consists in its record of court life at the Moghul capital, and not in its meagre account of the country in general An event of great import for English history was the meeting of Sir Thomas, as a royal envoy, with the Great Mogul. Roe had been seriously ill at Ajmir, but the emperor was so desirous of seeing him that he sent a special messenger to inquire whether his condition would not allow him to come to court. The emperor gave strict orders to his messenger and, as Roe says, “chardged him to see mee, so that I was forced to admitt him into my Chamber, wher he saw my weaknes and gave satisfaction

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to the king.” This was on December 31, 1615, and on the following day, New Year’s, Sir Thomas opens his diary as follows:

‘January 1- 4, 1616. – I began to recouer and sitt vp. January 5. – Master Edwardes departed for Suratt. January 6 - 9. – I prepared to see the king.

January 10. – I went to Court at 4 in the euening to the Durbar, which is the Place wher the Mogull sitts out daylie, to entertayne strangers, to receiue petitions and presents, to giue Commandes, to see, and to bee seene. To digresse a little from my reception, and declare the Customes of the Court, will enlighten the future discourse. The king hath no man but Eunuchs that Comes within the lodgings or retyring roomes of his house: His weomen watch within, and guard him with manly weapons. They doe Justice on vpon another for offences. He comes every Morning to a wyndow called the Jarruco looking into a playne before his gate, and showes him selfe to the Common People. At noone hee returns thither and sitts some howers to see the fight of Eliphants and willd beasts; vnder him within a rayle attend the men of rancke; from whence hee retiers to sleepe among his woemen. At afternoone he returnes to the Durbar before mentioned. At 8 after supper he Comes downe to the Gazelcan, a faire Court, wher in the middest is a Throune erected of free stone wherein he sitts, but some tymes below in a Chayre; to which are none admitted but of great qualetye, and few of these without leaue; wher he discourses of all matters with much Affabilitye. Ther

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Sir Thomas Roe, Ambassador to the Great Mogul

is noe busines done with him Concerning the state, gouerment, disposition of warr or peace, but at one of these two last Places, wher it is publiquely propounded, and resolued, and soe registred, which if it were woorth the Curiositye might bee seene for two shillings, but the Common basse people knew as much as the Councell, and the Newes euery day is the kings new resolutions tossed and censured by euery rascall. This Course is vnchangeable, except sicknes or drinck preuent yt; which must be known, for as all his Subjects are slaues, so is he in a kynd of reciprocall bondage, for he is tyed to obserue these howres and Customes so precisely that if hee were vnseene one day and noe sufficient reason rendred the people would mutinie; two dayes noe reason can excuse, but that he must consent to open his doores and bee scene by some to satisfye others. On Tuesday at the Jarruco he sitts in Judgment, neuer refusing the poorest mans Complaynt, where hee heares with Patience both parts: and some tymes sees with too much delight in blood the execution done by his Eliphants. 11 meruere; sed quid to vt adesses?

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At the Durbar I was led right before him, at the enterance of an outward rayle, where mett mee two Principall Noble slaues to conduct mee nearer. I had required before my going leaue to vse the Customes of my Country, which was freely granted, soe that I would performe them Punctually. When I entred within the first rayle I made a reuerance; entering in the inward rayle a Nother; and when I came vnder the king a theird. The Place is a great Court, whither resort all sorts of people. The king sitts in a little Gallery ouer head; Ambassidors, the great men and strangers of qualety within the inmost rayle vnder him, raysed from the ground, Couered with Canopyes of veluet and silke, vnder foote layd with good Carpetts; the Meaner men representing gentry within the first rayle, the people without in a base Court, but soe that all may see the king This sitting out hath soe much affinitye with a Theatre – the manner of the king in his gallery; The great men lifted on a stage as actors; the vulgar below gazing on – that an easy description will informe of the place and fashion. The king preuented my dull enterpreter, bidding me welcome as to the brother of my Master. I deliuered his Majesties lettre translated; and after my Commission, wheron hee looked Curiously; after, my presents, which were well receiued. He asked some questions, and with a seeming Care of my health, offering me his Phisitions, and aduising mee to keepe my house till I had recouered strength; and if in the interim I needed anything I should freely send to him, and obteyne my desiers. He dismissed me with

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more fauour and outward grace (if by the Christians I were not flattered) then euer was showed to any Ambassador, eyther of the Turke or Persian, or other whatsoeuer.

January 12. – Hee sent a gentellman for my Commission to show his queene the seale, which he kept one night, and returned yt with such care that the bringer durst not deliuer it but to my owne handes.

January 14. – I sent to the Prince Sultan Coronne, his third sonne by byrth but first in fauour, that I determined to visitt him, not doubting that he would vse me with due respect; for I was enformed he was enemy to all Christians and therfore feared some affront. He answered I should be welcome, and receiue the same Content I had from his father. Hee is lord of Suratt, our cheefe residence, and his fauour important for us.

January 15 - 21. – These Dayes I stirred not abroad, the king and Prince beeing often a hunting, from whom I receiued two wild hoggs, part of their quarry.

January 22. – I visited the Prince, who at 9 in the Morning sitts out in the same manner as his father, to dispatch his business and to be seene of his followers. He is Proud Naturally, and I feard my entertaynment. But on some occasion he not resoluing to come out, when he heard of my arrivall, sent a Principall Officer to meete mee, who conducted mee into a good Roome (neuer before done to any), and entertayning me with discourse of our own business halfe an hower vntill the Prince was ready; who came abroad on purpose and

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The Moghul Emperor Jahangir and his son, Prince Khurram, afterwards Shah Jahan

From an old print.

used me better then his promise. I deliuered him a Present, such as I had, but not in the name of his Majestie, it beeing too meane; but excused it that the king could not take knowledge of his beeing lord of Suratt so lately conferred on him, but hereafter I doubted not his Majestie would send to him according to his woorth: This was the respect of the Merchants, who humbly recommended themselues to his fauour and protection.

He receiued all in very good part; and after opening of some greauances and Iniuries suffered at Suratt by vs from his Gouernors, of which, for respect to him, I had forborne to Complayne to the king off, He promised mee speedy and effectuall Justice, and to confirme our securytye by any propositions I

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should offer; professing to be ignorant of anything past, but what hee had receiued by Asaph Chan deliuered by mee; especially of any Command to dismisse us, which the Gouer-nor had falsly Coyned and for which he should dearly answer. Soe he dismissed mee full of hope to rectifye the decayed estate of our reputation, with promise of a firmaen for Suratt effectually.

January 24. – I went to the Durbar to visitt the King, who, seeing mee afarr off, beckned with his hand, giuing signe I should not staye the Cerimony of Asking leaue but Come vp to him; where hee appoynted me a place aboue all other men, which I after thought fitt to mayntayne. I gaue him a small present, it beeing the Custome when any body hath business to giue somewhat, and those that cannot come neare to speake send in or hould up their guift, which hee eccepts, bee it but a rupie, and demands their bussines. The same course hee held with mee. Having looked Curiously and asked many questions of my present, he demanded what I required of him. I answered: Justice: That, on the assurance of his Majesties Firmaen sent into England, the king my Master had not only giuen leaue to many of his subjects to come a dangerous voyadge with their goodes, but had sent mee to Congratulate the amytye so happely begunne betweene two soe mighty Nations, and to Confirme the same: But that I found the English seated at Amadauas34 enjured by the Gouernor in their Persons and goodes, fined, exacted upon, and kept as prisoners: That at euerie Towne new Customes

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were taken of our goodes passing to the Port, contrarie to all Iustice and the former Articles of trade. To which hee answered hee was sorry; it should be amended; and presently gaue order for two firmanes very effectually according to my desire to be signed, one to the Gouernor of Amadavaz to restore mony exacted from Master Kerridge, and to vse the English with all fauour. The other to release all Custumes required on any pretence on the way, or if any had beene taken to repay it; of his owne accord wishing mee that, if these gaue not speedy remedy, I should renew my Complaynt against the disobeyour, and hee should be sent for to answer there. And soe hee dismissed mee.’


34. Ahmadabad.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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