Open menu


Open menu


Open menu
three pairs of lovers with space



In 1598, the adventurer Sir Anthony Sherley led a party of Englishmen on a private expedition to Persia with the dual objectives, in his own words of endeavouring “to prevail upon the King of Persia to unite with the Christian princes against the Turks” and of establishing “a commercial intercourse between this country [England] and the East”.[1] They travelled through the Ottoman Empire and stayed five months in Persia, which they left in May 1599.

Of the four witness accounts of their travels, the most informative and interesting was A True Discourse of Sir Anthony Sherley's Travel into Persia, what accidents did happen in the way, both going thither and returning back, with the business he was employed in from the Sophi: written by George Manwaring, Gent, who attended on Sir Anthony all the Journey. It was finally published in full in The Three Brothers; or the Travels and Adventures of Sir Anthony, Sir Robert, and Sir Thomas Sherley, in Persia, Russia, Turkey, Spain, etc. (London, 1825) pp. 23-96, from which the following extracts touching on Greek love are taken. Nothing is known of the author after his return to England.[2] 


Of our usage in Turkey, and the dangerous attempts we had from the Turks.

Sir Anthony Sherley, ca. 1601

Sir Anthony’s party having just landed at the town by mouth of the river Orontes in the Ottoman province of Aleppo which was commanded by a Spahi (horseman):

This Spahi came to us, with certain Janisaries and others, which, at the first, did use us kindly, but in the end they altered their kindness, using reproachful words unto us, then offering to take from us some commodities, giving blows to some of us, which we durst not resist, but to endure them with patience; because they have a law in Turkey, that if a Christian do strike a Turk, he must either turn Turk, or lose his right arm, which law did cause us to endure many stripes with patience: well, these fellows could not content themselves with striking of us, nor in taking away some of our commodities from us, but they would needs have a boy from us, which was Sir Anthony's page; whereupon Sir Anthony vowed before he would lose him or any of his company, in that sort, he would first lose his own life: but, in the end, because we would be quit of uncivil Pagans, they were content to take twelve pieces of gold, which be called in Venice chiqeens, and so they let us go. [p. 32]

Describing their time in the city of Aleppo:

As in England we use to go to the tavern, to pass away the time in friendly meetting, so they have very fair houses, where this coffee is sold; thither gentlemen and gallants resort daily, where the owners of these houses do keep young boys: in some houses they have a dozen, some more, some less, they keep them very gallant in apparel; these boys are called Bardashes; which they do use in their beastly manner, instead of women, for all the summer time they keep their women very close in their houses, and have the use of boys. [pp. 38-9]


Now I will treat of the manner, condition, and fashion of the Persians.

Shah Abbas enjoying wine and (contrary to Manwaring's misunderstanding) boys

The men have only one wife, but as many concubines as they can keep: a woman that is married, and is proved to commit adultery, she is presently burnt: and as it is allowed in the Turks' kingdom for the men to have the use of boys, it is not so here, for the Persians do severely punish that vice, for I saw a notable example: — at my being in the country, there was a great nobleman, called Peer Calliberg, and allied to the King, which did offer that abuse to one of the King's pages, offering him a large gift, but the boy did acquaint the King with it; which when the King heard of it, he sent presently in a rage for the lord, and caused the boy to cut off his head with his own sword.[3] [pp. 84-5]


[1] The Three Brothers; or the Travels and Adventures of Sir Anthony, Sir Robert, and Sir Thomas Sherley, in Persia, Russia, Turkey, Spain, etc., London, 1825, p. 22.

[2] See ‘Othello’s  “Malignant Turk” and George Manwaring's “A True Discourse”: The Cultural Politics of a Textual Derivation’ by Imtiaz Habib in Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England, Vol. 26 (2013), pp. 207-239. His origins are also unknown, though Habib thinks he was probably of Edstaston Hall in Shropshire.

[3] Manwaring, unable to understand Persian and so dependent on the whim of an interpreter to understand what he saw, got the wrong end of the stick here as to the cause of the anger of the King, Abbas I. The Carmelite friar John Thaddeus, who arrived in Persia in 1607, knew him well over many years, and was proficient enough in the language to translate the Psalms for him, reported that the King was especially partial to boys and kept more than two hundred (A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia, qv.). Likewise, Thomas Herbert, who wrote about his time with the English embassy that met Abbas in 1628 in his Some Years Travels, qv., attested both that pederasty was tolerated in Persia and that Abbas especially appreciated ‘Sodomiticall Boyes’. The fate of anyone foolish enough to get caught trying to seduce a concubine or loved-boy of such a king was unlikely to be gentle.
     Moreover, Manwaring had personal reasons for finding fault with the Turks and for seeing only the best in the Persians, as he generally does, and thus being willfully blind to their sharing with the Turks what he saw as a "beastly" vice. The first purpose of their adventure was to make friends of the Persians in order to use them against the Turks. Sherley's party had only passed through Turkey, where they were badly treated and Manwaring himself was badly assaulted without provocation (pp. 34-5). In Persia, they were treated as honoured guests.




If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to greek.love.tta@gmail.com, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it.