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The Memoirs and Memorials of Jacques de Coutre: Security, Trade and Society in 16th- and 17th-century Southeast Asia

Edited by Peter Borschberg. Translated by Roopanjali Roy

Jacques de Coutre was a Flemish gem trader who spent nearly a decade in Southeast Asia at the turn of the 17th century. He left history a substantial autobiography written in Spanish and preserved in the National Library of Spain in Madrid. Written in the form of a picaresque tale, with an acute eye for the cultures he encountered, the memoirs tell the story of his adventures in the trading centres of the day: Melaka, Ayutthaya, Patani, Pahang, Johor, Brunei and Manila. Narrowly escaping death several times, De Coutre was inevitably drawn into dangerous intrigues between the representatives of European power, myriad fortune hunters and schemers, and the rulers and courtiers in the palaces of Pahang, Patani, Siam and Johor.

In addition to his autobiography, De Coutre 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.

Annotated and translated into English for the first time, these materials provide a valuable first-hand account of the issues confronting the early colonial powers in Southeast Asia, and deep into the societies De Coutre encountered in the territory that today makes up Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. The book is lavishly illustrated with 62 maps and drawings of the period, including many examples not previously published.

«The carefully illustrated, impeccably translated and eruditely annotated edition of some of Jacques de Coutre's most valuable and unpublished manuscript works ... is both an exquisite human self-portrait d'epoque and a remarkable contribution ... for the understanding and better knowledge of South East Asia ... [and] an invaluable depiction of a crucial and strategic section of Maritime South East Asia ... [that was] masterly and vividly painted by an extra-ordinary eyewitness and active participant in the "great game" of those days in the region.»
- Antonio Vasconcelos de Saldanha, University of Macau
«Scholars and teachers will welcome this translation of the travels of Jacques de Coutre in Southeast Asia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Both informative and entertaining, it records a young man's experiences as he encountered societies very different from his own ... Richly illustrated and extensively annotated, it will be a valuable resource not merely for specialists, but for all those anxious to bring the past to life in the classroom.»
- Barbara Andaya, University of Hawaii at Manoa
«... The Vida ... includes a vividly detailed eye-witness account of Ayutthaya under the rule of King Naresuan ... Although his work has been described as picaresque in style and manner, full of exotic tales of pagan despotism, De Coutre did at least visit the places in Asia which he describes... His anecdotes about King Naresuan and his descriptions of the city of Ayutthaya contain much data which is unique ...»
- Dhiravat na Pombejra, Chulalongkorn University
«This book is an invaluable compendium of documentation of the journey of Jacques de Coutre to the East and is a long overdue publication ... Many of these pieces of information given ... are not available in any of the Portuguese and Dutch source materials of this period ... Historians of early modern South Asia will find it indispensable.»
- Pius Malekandathil, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Peter BORSCHBERG is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the National University of Singapore.
Roopanjali ROY is an independent translator living in Lisbon.

publication year: 2013
488 pages
ISBN: 978-9971-69-528-6  Paperback  US$36.00  S$45.00
ISBN: 978-9971-69-783-9  Hardback  US$58.00  S$72.00

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Last modified on 14 November, 2013 by NUS Press