I first saw the tale of Helen Gloag, Empress of Morocco in the New Statistical Account of Scotland which was published in the nineteenth century.The piece about Muthill was written by a clergyman and this was added as a footnote thereby implying its authenticity.
The facts are that Helen was christened on 14 February 1750 – this information appears in the parish records for Muthill.Her father, Andrew Gloag, was a blacksmith at Mill of Stepps near Muthill.Her mother’s name was either Ann Key or Ann Rey (a difficulty with transcription of the handwriting).She had at least one brother, Robert, and two sisters, Alison and Ann.Helen appears to be the oldest child but one cannot depend on the accuracy of the parish records.
The story goes that her mother died and Andrew remarried.Helen apparently did not get on with her stepmother and ultimately decided to emigrate to the Carolinas to join relatives already there.To this end she boarded a ship to set sail for America.However the ship was attacked by Barbary pirates and the passengers were taken hostage and landed in Morocco.It is said they were taken to the market to be sold as slaves.A vizier, visiting the market, was said to be much taken by Helen’s good looks, her red hair and her fair skin.He decided that this girl would make a good gift for the Emperor and thereby the vizier would gain favour in his eyes.He bought Helen and presented her to the Emperor who was in fact apparently much impressed.So much so that ultimately he is supposed to have taken her as his fourth wife.They had two sons.When the Emperor died there was a power struggle which is common to that part of the world.Helen contacted the British Government and it is said that a naval fleet was sent to her aid to help her claim the throne for her son(s).However the fleet was diverted to Gibraltar and never arrived.The two sons were murdered by the eventual successor and so more was heard of Helen.And that is the story.
I have for many years been researching the Gloag family history.I have tried to verify this story but have had no success.I have contacted Moroccan experts here and in America and they all think the story is extremely far fetched since it is highly unlikely she would have survived the initial attack.I also cannot find evidence to suggest that a British fleet was sent to help her out.What the truth of the matter is I don’t know.It is said that her brother, Robert, was a sea captain and traded between Morocco and Britain and often brought news of her.Again I have no verification of this.I wonder if the true story is that she ran away and the family made up this story to cover up a more sordid adventure – who knows.
An author, Olga Stringfellow, wrote a book called ‘A Gift for the Sultan’ in the early 1960’s which was a fictionalised account of the story which you may or may not enjoy.That is if you can find a copy of the book.I don’t have one although I have read it.
A Mrs Joyce Turnbull of Muthill claims to be descended from Helen’s family.If she is then I think it must be through a brother or sister of Andrew.I cannot, with any certainty, go back further than Andrew although I have a tentative family tree which there is no chance of authenticating.
So in the end it is up to you to decide what you think.I would be interested to hear your comments.