If you have not heard of Helen Gloag, a Scottish woman who became Sultana of Morocco, you are not alone. Her story recently surfaced in an article for I News.
She was born on 29 January 1750 in Perthshire, Scotland, to Andrew Gloag, a blacksmith, and Anna Kay. Helen, a traditional Scottish redhead, was the eldest of Andrew and Anna’s four children. Tragically, Anna lost her mother when she was a child, and her father remarried. Her relationship with her new stepmother was said not to be very good, and as a result, Helen left home when she was just 19-years-old in May 1769 to travel as an indentured servant to the New World – the British colony of South Carolina to be specific.
Helen, who was travelling with some female friends, would not make it to the New World. After sailing for just two weeks, her ship was attacked off the coast of Spain by the Barbary pirates from Morocco. Along with the other women, Helen was taken to a slave market in Algiers in what is today Algeria. The men on the ship were all murdered.
The beautiful green-eyed Scottish woman was sold to a wealthy Moroccan who then handed her over to Sultan Sidi Mohammid ibn Abdullah of Morocco (a member of the Alaouite/Alawi Dynasty that still rules Morocco to this day) as a gift. Due to her beauty, the Sultan added her to his harem. Before long, she became his fourth wife and would go on to be the principal wife who was given the title of Sultana of Morocco.
She was called Lalla Zahra; ‘Lalla’ is a term used in Morocco, ahead of the person’s given name, to show respect and is often used by noble and royal women.
Reportedly, the Sultana was instrumental in convincing the Sultan to have seafarers and slaves, who had been captured by pirates, released. As a favourite of his, she was able to write and send gifts back home to Scotland; the Sultan, who was the first head of state to recognise the United States, even allowed her brother, Robert, to visit her in Morocco on occasion. Robert was responsible for her story being brought back to her homeland.
Sultan Sidi Mohammid died in 1790, and one of his sons, by a German woman in his harem, Yazid took the throne to become Sultan of Morocco. Not wanting to have any competition for the throne, he ordered the killing of his two brothers, who he is said to have been incredibly envious of, by Helen – even though she had attempted to keep them safe by sending them away to a monastery in Tétouan (a town where his first order of business was to persecute the Jews). She reportedly sent out a plea to the British Navy for assistance, but they would not make it to her sons before the new Sultan’s troops would discover and murder both boys.
What exactly happened to the Scottish Sultana of Morocco has never been clear, as nothing was heard from or about her after the death of her sons; however, it has been assumed that she was killed by Yazid or his forces in the two years – known to be full of unrest – after he took the throne.