The Commentary of Father Monserrate, Society of Jesus, on His Journey to the Court of Akbar


Antonio Monserrate (1536‒1600) was a Portuguese priest who accompanied two other priests, Father Rodolfo Acquaviva and Father Francisco Enriquez, on the first Jesuit mission to the court of the Emperor Akbar (1542–1605; reigned 1556‒1605), also known as Akbar the Great. Monserrate left Goa on November 17, 1579, and arrived at the Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri on March 4, 1580. The missionaries had been invited by Akbar and were warmly received at the court. Father Monserrate soon was appointed tutor to Murad, the second son of the emperor. He also accompanied Akbar on his military expedition to Kabul in 1581, proceeding as far as Peshawar with the emperor and to Jalalabad with the rear guard of the Mughal army. Monserrate remained at Akbar’s court until April 1582, when he returned to Goa. Presented here is an English translation of Monserrate’s Commentarius, an account of his time at the Mughal court that he began writing shortly after his return to Goa and finally completed in December 1590, as he was being held prisoner by the Turks in Arabia. The text of the work was never sent to Europe but somehow made its way to Calcutta, where it was discovered in the early 20th century. The Latin text was first published in 1914 by the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Monserrate’s account is an important primary source for the study of Akbar and his court and empire. His detailed account of the Mughal army and its composition and organization is especially valuable. Monserrate describes Akbar as physically imposing—“of a type of countenance well-fitted to his royal dignity, so that one could easily recognize, even at first glance, that he is the King”—accessible to his subjects, and a great patron of learning. Monserrate claims that Akbar absorbed knowledge through having manuscripts read to him, and that he himself could neither read nor write. Monserrate concluded his manuscript with 23 pages of information on Akbar’s ancestors going back to Genghis Khan and Timur (Tamerlane). The editors regarded these passages as unreliable and not germane to Monserrate’s time at the court and relegated them to an appendix.

Last updated: August 31, 2016