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The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre

Security, Trade and Society in 16th- and 17th-century Southeast Asia

Peter Borschberg

Publication Year: 2013

A native of Bruges (now part of Belgium), Jacques de Coutre was a gem trader who spent nearly a decade in Southeast Asia in the early 17th century. In addition to a substantial autobiography written in Spanish and preserved in the National Library of Spain in Madrid, he wrote a series of memorials to the united crown of Spain and Portugal that contain recommendations designed to remedy the decline in the fortunes of the Iberian powers in Southeast Asia, particularly against the backdrop of early Dutch political and commercial penetration into the region. Translated into English for the first time, these materials provide a valuable first-hand account of the bigger issues confronting the early colonial powers in Southeast Asia, and deep insights into the societies de Coutre encountered in the territory that today makes up Singapore, Malaysia,Thailand and the Philippines.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

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Half title, full title, frontispiece, copyright

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pp. i-vi

All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced inany form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to beNational Library Board, Singapore Cataloguing-in-Publication DataThe memoirs and memorials of Jacques de Coutre : Security, trade and ...


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pp. vii-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiv

List of Illustrations

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pp. xv-xxii

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

This book is an annotated source translation that brings an important eyewitness account of early modern southeast asia closer to a contemporary, general asian readership. The documents contained in this volume are by Jacobus van de Koutere, alias Jacques de coutre (and later also Jaques do couto), who was a native of Bruges in present-day Belgium. Jacques ...


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pp. xxv-xxvi

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

...1572/5 estimated date of birth of Jacques de coutre in Bruges, flanders, 1591 (22 June) farewell at sluis; proceeded to flushing via Middelburg.1591 (after 1 august) Brief stint fishing for cod in the north sea.1592 (spring) headed for lisbon; met his older brother Paul; proceeded with his brother Joseph to Goa via the abrolhos islands and the ...

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pp. 1-60

In the autumn of the year 593, a young Fleming from Bruges in his early twenties named Jacobus van de Koutere, alias Jacques de Coutre or Jaques do Couto, disembarked in the Portuguese-held port of Melaka. The first person to greet him after disembarking was one Sequin Martinela, whom de Coutre described as a gem merchant from Venice, residing in Melaka. The ageing Italian took Jacques under his wing and through the ...


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pp. 61-62

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Chapter I: How I left my parents' house and my homeland, and what happened to me until I reached Spain

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pp. 63-67

I was born in the noble city of Bruges, in the county of Flanders, and my parents were Jacques de Coutre and Anna van Houven, citizens and natives of the said city. Shortly after my father died, my mother decided to send me to Spain, seeing that I was inclined toward a military career, and to spare me the wars that were then raging in those states, since most of my relatives and siblings had been killed in these wars. Before saying ...

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Chapter II: My voyage to the East Indies in the company of my brother in the year 1592

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pp. 68-74

Finding myself in Lisbon with such few resources and subject to the work and misery of Europe, my brother and I decided to journey to remote lands where the cost of living was more economical. We chose the East Indies, and to this end we banded together with two companions, one of whom was called Lu?s L?pez, and the other Christ?val Homen. We assembled our provisions by scrimping and saving. Finally, we embarked as ...

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Chapter III: The journey I made to the kingdom of Pahang in the year 1594 and the events that I experienced

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pp. 75-79

Six months later I went to the kingdom of Pahang on the orders of Captain Francisco de Silva de Meneses, not just to accompany an embassy that he was sending in the name of Your Majesty to that kingdom but also to buy diamonds and bezoars, because I had some knowledge of such wares. From that point onwards I began to make my fortune, being a soldier and a merchant whenever an occasion presented itself. I set sail aboard ...

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Chapter IV: The reception extended to the embassy and other things that happened to us in the city of Pahang

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pp. 80-85

The king learnt of our arrival; he ordered that our ambassador be received with all his knights and his guards, bearing spears. We all went accompanied thus to his palace. He was seated at the highest point of a stage made of cane and mats, and all his knights arrayed themselves below in two rows: one row with swords embellished with gold in their hands and the other row with swords adorned with silver. We climbed up and the king ...

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Chapter V: Other events that happened before we reached Melaka

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pp. 86-88

I must describe an incident that happened to me because of a clergyman [who was] the chaplain of our galliot. When I was in the city, the clergyman came to me saying that one of his slaves had escaped and that he had run away and hidden in the house of a prominent Muslim; he asked me to go with him to get him because he did not dare to go alone. Another slave had also escaped from me. Convinced that we would find the two ...

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Chapter VI: The voyage I made from Melaka to the kingdom of Johor in 1594 and what happened to me

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pp. 89-94

One month after having returned from the kingdom of Pahang, I went to Johor with a consignment of textiles, part of which belonged to me and the other part to the captain [of Melaka], Francisco de Silva de Meneses, to exchange them for diamonds and bezoar stones on behalf of It so happened that while I was there three Castilian frigates, com?manded by Captain Gallinato,5 came from the kingdom of Cambodia,6 where ...

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Chapter VII: How I went to the kingdom of Siam, accompanying an embassy that the captain of Melaka sent in the name of Your Majesty. What happened to us before we reached the port of the said kingdom in the year 1595

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pp. 95-99

A fter I had returned to Melaka from Johor it so happened that the king of Siam captured the kingdom and the city of Cambodia, where there was a Christian community, and many Portuguese, and Franciscan, Augustinian and Dominican monasteries and clergymen. All of them were captured and taken to Siam along with all the finest things in that kingdom. Amongst the Dominican friars, there was one who was called Friar Jorge de ...

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Chapter VIII: In which the story continues until the point when the embassy arrived; the reception the embassy received

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pp. 100-104

Then, once we were anchored off the coast of Siam, after the friar had received this news, he no longer wished to enter the [Chao Phraya River] and neither did the ambassador; for both of them were of the same opinion, which was to go to Cochinchina. I and the other companions got together as one group and spoke with a unanimous voice, telling the friar and the ambassador that, after having come to Siam with that embassy, ...

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Chapter IX: The arrival of the embassy and the reception the embassy received, a continuation of the previous chapter

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pp. 105-111

When the time came for the embassy to disembark, Friar Jorge said to the mandarins?who were the leading men of that kingdom ?that he had brought a letter from the embassy in Portuguese which was to be translated into Siamese and read before the king when he received the embassy; and the letter in Malay which had been sent in a golden document tube could be presented in the state in which it had been sent since it ...

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Chapter X: The entourage that accompanied the king when he ventured out and how he wished to send an ambassador to the King, Our Lord, and how the embassy’s hoax was discovered, a continuation of the previous chapter

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pp. 112-118

When the king ventured out he did so with great pomp and was accom?panied by a grand entourage as described herein. He was preceded by the entire royal guard, walking in two rows. He went out [virtually] naked, with just a loincloth that hid his private parts, without any other clothes. On his head he wore a mitre similar to those worn by bishops, slightly closed at the top, made of solid gold with a lot of precious stones and other jewels; ...

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Chapter XI: How we tried to escape from the kingdom of Siam and how we were again given permission to leave, with which we returned to Melaka

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pp. 119-123

A lthough Friar [ Jorge de Mota] was my enemy, he sent me a message saying that for the love of God I should have a word with him because it was important for all of us. Sim?o Peres advised me not to go, however, I went just to see what he wanted from me. I found him in a foul mood. He told me, crying uncontrollably, that we had no other remedy than to flee, because it had become common knowledge that the king would order ...

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Chapter XII: What befell me on the voyage from Siam to Melaka and how the ambassador ordered 14 men to treacherously injure me despite his words of friendship, in revenge for the stab wounds I had given him in Siam

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pp. 124-128

The junk aboard which the ambassadors were sailing accompanied us up to the islands of Cambodia, where we became separated. The islands were very green and had many fruit trees. I went ashore on many of them and I killed some snakes and cobras that were as thick as a man and even more. As soon as we came to the Mekong estuary 3 we entered [the river].4 In the city  at that time there was a Castilian and a Portuguese ...

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Chapter XIII: The barbarities and some things that I saw in the kingdom of Siam over the course of the eight months when I was a captive of that king

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pp. 129-138

I witnessed countless barbaric incidences in the kingdom of Siam that astounded me because they were unbelievable, owing to which I am not It is already known that the kingdom is large when compared to its neighbouring kingdoms and is very rich, abounding in everything that is necessary for human life, and it has many lush trees, and elephants, and all kinds of animals. King [Naresuan] has his court in the city of Ayutthaya,2 ...

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Chapter XIV: The justice meted out by the king of Siam and his tyranny, and how they cremated an elephant that had died, and how they worshipped it, because the king said that it was his father

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pp. 139-145

Since that king of Siam, whose captive I had been, was so capricious and volatile and a tyrant in his governance I thought it opportune to All the sentences that he ordered to be implemented were issued verbally and were very often executed in his presence. I saw him in one of the towers, at the foot of which inside his palace could be found a wooden gate, behind which were eight ferocious mountain buffaloes.2 He ordered that ten men ...

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Chapter XV: How I went from Melaka to Manila in the year 1597. The events that I experienced before I arrived

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pp. 146-154

Nothing affects a man more in his life as not having resources; and I cannot put in words what I felt when my house burnt to the ground with all my possessions. However, the enthusiasm that I always had to improve my circumstances remained undiminished. A few days after that, an opportunity presented itself when a junk captained by Martim Afonso was sailing to Manila. I embarked aboard the vessel. Then, as there is inevitably ...

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Chapter XVI: What happened to me in Manila, and the events that took place with Doctor Antonio de Morga and the Dutch; and what happened to me on the voyage while returning from Manila to Melaka

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pp. 155-164

A s soon as I arrived in the city of Manila, Our Lord immediately showered me with bountiful blessings, so much so that in a few days I had many ducats and was received very favourably by Governor [Francisco de Tello de Guzm?n], who often used me when an opportunity arose to serve the king, and [this] ensured that I made a great fortune, as did all the gentlemen and citizens, no more no less. I sought to establish myself ...

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Chapter XVII: The journey that I made to the kingdom of Patani and what happened to me during [this journey] before the Dutch sank one of my junks laden with wares, an incident in which I lost all the fortune that I had in the year 1602

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pp. 165-173

Owing to a shortage of baxeles I was unable to pursue my intention of going to the city of Goa to get married. When I arrived at the port, there were some ships that were waiting for the fleet from China. They waited so long that they missed their voyage, and the [China] fleet did not arrive that year; they postponed their voyage to the next. When I saw this, I sold all the cloves?that is to say the edible ones:2 there were equivalent to ...

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Chapter XVIII: The story continues and how the natives of Patani tried to kill me on the orders of the [Dutch] general; and how they killed António de Saldanha; the reason why and the manner in which they did so. How the Muslims on th

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pp. 174-179

The following night eight men entered the house of Ant?nio de Saldanha?who had sold me the junk?and they killed him. The same men also went to my house on that same night. As they sensed that I was not asleep and was on my guard and accompanied by some Japanese they did not dare to attack me. They went away to get reinforcements. At this point a heathen woman who I knew came to warn me about how ...

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Chapter XIX: Why the king of Johor gave orders to kill some 50 Portuguese and many other native Christians from Melaka, from amongst whom two of my slaves and I escaped. A description of the same journey until I reached Melaka

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pp. 180-185

When I disembarked I came across my companion J?lio de Barros and in the city there were some 50 or more Portuguese and many native Christians from Melaka, who told me that the monarch of that kingdom of Johor was very angry ever since the captain-major, Francisco de Silva de Meneses, had seized a junk belonging to the king and had killed an ambassador that he had sent to the king of Perak, his brother-in-law, ...

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Chapter XX: The vast commerce that used to exist in the city of Melaka at the time when I lived there, and how I returned to India from the South and married in the city of Goa in the year 1603

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pp. 186-192

After I returned from Johor, I took steps to go to the city of Goa to wed, even though I was without a penny in my pocket since I had lost all my goods in Patani, which I had striven so hard to earn, and despite the fact that I was exhausted on account of the many journeys I had made. During the period when I resided in the city of Melaka, apart from the aforesaid [territories] I went to the kingdoms of Indragiri,5 Jambi,6 ...


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pp. 193-194

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Memorial I: How one can do great damage to the Dutch if Your Majesty will give Your vassals, who are merchants, permission to outfit carracks to go to the East Indies, where they can capture booty and trade their wares.

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pp. 195-220

It is necessary, however, that Your Majesty allow the merchants to trade in pepper; with this we will be able to wage great wars on the Dutch, because the carracks will also bring large quantities [of pepper] to Spain, and the rebels will have less profits. This is the main commodity in which Firstly, an armada of 1 well-equipped carracks, powerful carracks intermingled with men from Dunkirk, Flanders5 and Spain; and all the 1 ...

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Memorial II: About the commerce that used to take place in India, especially in Melaka, before the Dutch went to that state.

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pp. 221-226

To inform Your Excellency about the commerce that used to take place in India, especially in Melaka, before the Dutch went to that state.Firstly, with reference to the South: some years ago, in the harbour or port of Melaka, a fortress of His Majesty, there used to be over 500 vessels, some large and others small; namely, ships, junks, balas, lancharas,2 and all kinds of trading vessels. The junks used to come from the Banda ...

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Memorial III: Information about building some castles and fortresses in the Straits of Singapore and other regions of the South, etc.

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pp. 227-241

The coast of Melaka extends to the north and south nearly as far as the Strait of Singapore.2 Many ships sail to Melaka and return through this strait, these large and small baxeles are from the following kingdoms: from the kingdoms of Johor, Pahang, Patani, Ligor, Siam, Cambodia, Champa, Cochinchina; carracks and junks from China, Zhangzhou, from Manila and Japan; and some baxeles from the Malukus; and from the kingdom of ...

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Memorial IV: Information for Your Majesty to remedy the Estado da India

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pp. 242-272

If Your Majesty were to dispatch 40 galleons to India with Castilians and Portuguese, like the armada that Your Majesty sent to Brazil,2 well equipped with men and artillery and good gunners and munitions and sufficient supplies, and if in the next year 20 galleons were sent in the same way, the aforementioned Estado can be remedied in the following manner, because the rebels are firmly entrenched there and have many ships and very ...


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pp. 273-274

Appendix I: Affidavit of Admiral Jacob van Neck concerning his dealings in Patani in the year 1602.

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pp. 275-282

Appendix II: Affidavit of Jacob van Heemskerck concerning the atrocities committed by the Portuguese in the East Indies and the execution of several mates of Jacob van Neck’s crew at Macao.

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pp. 283-293

Appendix III: Affidavit of Simon Lambertsz. Mau confirming that the senior merchant Lambert Biesman of Nijmegen was garrotted in prison in Manila, etc.

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pp. 294-296

Appendix IV: Second letter by Fernão de Albuquerque, Governor of Melaka, to the Dutch Admiral Jacob van Heemskerck, dated 26 March 1603

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pp. 297-299

Glossary of Non-geographic Names, Currencies, Measures and Commodities

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pp. 300-348

List of Place Names and Geographic Terms

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pp. 349-385


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pp. 386-400


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pp. 401-453

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696832
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971695286

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 34 images
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: New