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

$45.00 SGD

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, Cambodia, 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 crowns 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 insights into the societies De Coutre encountered in the territory that today makes up Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines. The book is lavishly illustrated with 62 maps and drawings of the period, including many examples not previously published.

" fills an important gap for an English language audience interested in early modern Southeast Asian history and global history." - Koh Keng We, Nanyang Technological University

"...reads like a swashbuckling Hollywood tale...a treasure trove of historical nuggets and gems. Students and history buffs will dig into this and emerge richer from encountering this Flemish trader and gem merchant's life and times." - Colin Goh

"This fine book is a major addition to the early accounts of European visitors to Siam...The editor provides a long introduction, detailed annotations, very full glossaries of places and things, a timeline, and many old maps and prints. What historians ought to make of De Coutre’s memories is another matter, but it is great to have this source in clear sight." - Chris Baker

“Much of the book’s achievement rests on Roopanjali Roy’s accomplished and fluent translation, which retains a certain flavor of the age. The book contains a glossary of general terms, currencies, measures and commodities and a most needed updated list of toponyms, both glossaries important contributions in their own right... Peter Borschberg’s brilliant introduction summarizes earlier scholarly work on Jacques de Coutre’s life and manuscripts, including previous modern editions in Spanish and Flemish-Dutch, and explains the historical context.” - Juan Jose Morales

“The publication of this well-annotated English translation of de Coutre’s Memoirs, together with four of his Memorials to the Spanish crown and the Portuguese viceroy at Goa, should be celebrated by all scholars of early modern Southeast Asian history.” - Dhiravat Na Pombejra


Peter Borschberg is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and teaches history at the National University of Singapore. He is a also a Visiting Professor at the Asia-Europe Institute at the University of Malaya as well as a Guest Professor in Modern History at the University of Greifswald. He has authored The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, Security and Diplomacy in the 17th CenturyJacques de Coutre's Singapore and Johor 1594-c. 1625Hugo Grotius, the Portuguese, and Free Trade in the East Indies and Journal, Memorials and Letters of Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge: Security, Diplomacy and Commerce in 17th-century Southeast Asia.

Roopanjali Roy is an independent translator living in Lisbon.

Publication Year: 2013
488 pages, 254mm x 178mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-528-6, Paperback
ISBN: 978-9971-69-783-9, Hardback

NUS Press