Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Emperor Tewodros letter to H. Rassam, Queen Victoria’s Envoy

Blogger's Note: This is a reprint from 2005 E.C. edition of my publication 'Ethiopian Calendar with primary sources'. The note preceding the letter is by Professor Ted Vestal, Editor of the publication. Bonne lecture! Enjoy reading! 





Emperor Tewodros or Theodore (1818-1868) was one of the most remarkable African rulers of his era. His reign marked the beginning of modern Ethiopia. He unified, for the first time, much of what is now central Ethiopia. He sought to reunite the country and modernize it and restore the glories of past Ethiopian empires. By force of arms, he brought various break-away provinces under his power. At the same time Tewodros unintentionally created a brouhaha with the British over what he felt was a royal snub by Queen Victoria, who did not reply to his letter proposing an alliance between the two countries. He chained and impris-oned the British consul and other foreigners at his court. In response, Queen Victoria sent Sir Robert Napier, commander in chief of the Bombay Army, to rescue them in 1867. The ensuing battle between the Napier expedition and Tewodros’ army at Magdala ended in the defeat of the Ethiopian forces and the death, by suicide, of the Emperor. The victorious British and Indian troops looted the fortress and shipped vast amounts of booty, much of it religious artifacts, to Great Brit-ain. Having accomplished his mission of freeing the European captives, Napier marched his troops back to the coast and sailed for home. 
Dr. T Vestal

Emperor Tewodros letter to H. Rassam, Queen Victoria’s Envoy
Written in the year of Luke, Saturday TAHSAS 28 (January 5, 1867)


…Mr. Flad has written to me again, and the letter which I send it to you herewith. Now in order to prove good friendship between you and me, show it by writing and by getting those skillful artisans, and make Mr. Flad come to us via Mettema. This will be the sign of our friendship. 
…Even Solomon, son of David, the great King …when he wished to build the Temple in Jerusalem, was humbled.  Falling at the feet of the King Kiram of Tyre, he begged him for carpenters and skillful artisans to assist in building the Temple. And now, when I fall at the feet of the great Queen, her nobilities and people, I found that Mr. Stern and his party abused & belittled me.  Also when I sent friendly letter to the great Queen of England, the defender of our faith, ..Victoria, Mr. Cameron refused to bring me answer. Then you Mr. Rassam came to me saying you had been sent by the Queen. Consenting, I received you with love & respect and to the best of my ability. When I saw the letter you brought, I found words saying “for my sake, release & pardon the Europeans with whom you have quarreled and imprisoned”. Without letting one day go, I complied, and with our Creator’s power I sent for their release and in order to please You my friend, the Queen together with her nobles made the released prisoners come here to be handed to you without even being presented to me.  You, however sent them off without asking them what offense they had committed which made them sent to prison, “before I make amends if I were found to have done wrong, or before you could arrange for me to obtain redress from the Queen  if I were found to have been wronged, and before you would let them meet me.”  Then I also heard you had said that England & Turkey have come together and loathed me. While saddened with this but remaining quiet, Flad sent me a letter of joy & love of friendship. Again, like Solomon who fell at the feet of Kiram for the sake of friendship, so do I, beneath God and at the feet of the Queen, your nobles and allies. So that you make  the artisans come via Metema and show me arts craftsmanship & wisdom.  Once this is done, with God’s power, I make sure you have all the joy and will send you back with escort.

Source: The Amharic Letters of Emperor Theodore of Ethiopia to Queen Victoria and her Special Envoy. Preserved in the India Office Library and the Public Record Office.

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