Commonly represented in contemporary texts and modern historiographical accounts as a dangerous and alien region, characterised by piracy and barbarism, the history of the early modern Maghreb and the cultural impact it had on British society is one highly limited by indirect sources, cultural, political, and religious biases, and the distorting influence of Orientalist and colonial historiography. Historians have drawn on a wide range of popular media and government-held archival material, each with its own limitations, but one important corpus has been neglected. Drawn from up-to-date and trusted sources and distributed to vast audiences from a wide range of social groups, periodical news publications provide a vast and fruitful body of sources for evaluating popular and elite English viewpoints on Maghrebi piracy. This paper draws upon a corpus of 3385 news items comprising over 360,000 words relating to the Maghreb and its people, drawn from Stuart and Republican English news publications, with a view towards examining the discourse and reality around Maghrebi maritime combat, diplomact and trade in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England. To what extent did maritime combat dominate coverage of the Maghreb, over other social, political and military events? Why did news writers use the word ‘pirate’ so infrequently to describe Maghrebi ships? Was Maghrebi piracy chaotic and unfettered, or did peace treaties and consular presence lead to stable trade relations? Were Maghrebi economies seen to be fundamentally built on naval predation, or was real benefit available from peaceful engagement with the Maghrebi states? Examining these and other questions from English news coverage, this paper argues that the material in English periodical news is generally consistent with what we know of the military, diplomatic and economic conditions of the time, surprisingly neutral in tone with a possible emphasis on positive stories when dealing with British–Maghrebi relations, and increasingly after the Restoration played a significant role in influencing British popular discourse.
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