Renaissance Emir

Renaissance Emir: a Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici

(published April 2013 by Quartet Books of London: paperback published by Interlink USA imprint Olive Branch Press, June 2014)

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The genre is historical biography, the subject (Fakhr ad-Din Ma’n) a very unusual 17th-century Levantine prince.  Unusual, because he defied the mighty Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, had to go into exile, and spent 5 years—from 1613 to 1618—in Europe, one of the very first non-Christian Levantines to reside there.  He first stayed as a guest of the Medici in Florence, at the elegant Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.  He (along with an entourage of several dozen others, mostly Muslim but including some Christians and Druze and one Jew) then went to Sicily and then Naples as guests of the Spanish Viceroy.

The book includes research in original sources, especially one contemporary Arabic memoir, which I have newly translated from the Arabic and draw on extensively in the book.  This is a unique document that makes  fascinating and at times amusing reading today.

Emir

As a source and a read in its own right, the memoir of his stay in Christendom is infinitely richer than the writings of Hassan al-Wazzan—“Leo Africanus”— for example.  Amazingly, there is no biography of him in English, and none in any language for half a century.

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence

Besides his European adventure, a number of things about Fakhr ad-Din make him worthy of attention.  He was a Druze, one of the most enigmatic sects in the Levant, and the story of their faith and relations with the majority Sunni Muslims and the minority Christians is most illuminating about relations across—and in  between—the Christian-Muslim divide.  The book includes a pithy description of the history and beliefs of this fascinating and little-known community.He dreamed of a new Crusade, an attack against the Levantine domains of the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine), one that would wrest the Holy Land back from the Turks and see him crowned King of Jerusalem and Syria in his own right, not as an Ottoman vassal.  In this he grievously underestimated the deep-seated divisions within the Christian world, as well as the limits to Ottoman patience with such a loose cannon as a vassal.

His discussions with the Medici princes and Pope Paul V, recorded in the Medici archives, are enlightening both as to the geopolitics of the time and the complex personality of this most unusual Levantine. His Crusade never got off the ground, but he learned Italian and when he returned to Lebanon, he brought with him not just ideas but artisans, sculptors and gardeners, even bakers and whole families of farmers—all  of whom provided a heady dose of cultural cross-pollination that certainly added to the personality of the fascinating and diverse country that is Lebanon today.

The story ends badly, with Fakhr ad-Din and his son strangled and decapitated by royal mutes in the Sultan’s palace in Istanbul, in 1635.  Beyond the intrinsic interest of the character, his life provides a fascinating vignette of international relations around 1600, when the European powers were establishing consulates and factories in the Asian domains of the Ottoman Empire at its peak and making treaties with the Porte (while talking secretly about Crusades), and the Persia of Shah Abbas was reaching its own apogee.

All these currents and more are woven into this story, which provides the reader with a banquet of colourful anecdotes about the elusive Druzes, Ottoman society, inter-Christian rivalry and machinations, and much  besides.  Like the European discovery of bananas, for instance; or the first bank that was “too big to fail”.

NOTE: By clicking on the following highlighted phrases, you can browse the Table of Contents or see Reviewers’ Comments, read the Prologue, or follow my musings about who Fakhr ad-Din “really” was.  Or buy the paperback by clicking here.

The Book was officially launched on 1st May 2013, at Daunt Books Holland Park (London).  A great party:

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Photo: The happy author between son Alex and wife Andree and novelist Hanan al-Shaykh.

Which means…  you can now acquire a copy from Daunt’s beautiful London bookstores, as well as Amazon UK  or US. Hurrah!

Poster for Florence Festival Play about Fakhr ad-Din’s Stay in Tuscany

15 thoughts on “Renaissance Emir”

  1. ted, wonderfully crafted description of your exciting book. brent

  2. I look forward to reading this! It sounds fascinating.

  3. thanks! it sounds fascinating!!

  4. Fuad George said:

    Not impressed at looking at people of the Levant as a Christian-Moslem divide. The druze were not at a religious conflict with the Sunni. Actually many Sunni were fighting the Turkish regime and not for religious reasons. The wording used in this book adds to the invented conflict in the Levant for the sake of keeping Isreal at ease.

  5. Have you read the book? it does not sound like it, as the book, in fact, makes the opposite point.

    For example, “he never harmed or persecuted anyone simply because of their religious beliefs or ethnic origin. The Druze knew full well the sharp end of that stick; but everything one knows about him speaks to his total lack of vindictive sectarianism. In any age, that is a noble quality; in his, an outstanding, indeed an astonishing one.”

    He spent his life trying to further the dynastic aims any prince would have pursued at that time. NEVER in my book did I say or imply that he or the Druze were “at a religious conflict with the Sunni”, a statement (insofar as Fakhr ad-Din is concerned) that can only be based on ignorance and/or some sort of anachronistic political hobbyhorse (probably both, to judge from your comment about “Isreal”).

    But then, if you had read the book you would know that.

  6. As a descendent via my father’s side of the Fakr al-Din family, my family was quite surprised to have discovered this enlightening volume. I plan to purchase it when it becomes available here.

    • How nice! I hope you find it interesting. Where do you live? If in Lebanon, Librairie Antoine has it in their online store as well as in the bookstores. I acquired a great respect for the Emir while researching the book, you come from distinguished stock!
      Ted Gorton

    • S Maani said:

      We are all thrilled.

  7. Elias Ziade said:

    I stumbled upon the book while searching for a biography of Emir Bashir Shehab and boy was it a pleasant surprise! The book is wonderful, it reads like a novel, it is very enticing and is very well referenced! Thank you

  8. S Maani said:

    Being one Maani family, i thank you for this attractive book. I bought 5 to distribute to my father and uncles, they will be thrilled. Can’t wait to receive my shipment.

  9. i read the book…a great work, highly recommended notably in lebanon where history books reflect only one point of view and lack generally the much needed academic and scientiific approach.

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