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A tapestry still hanging in Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire shows the start of England’s discovery of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad lies at the feet of a personification of Faith (resembling Queen Elizabeth) about to be converted to Christianity. This triumphant image hid the truth: at the time, the Queen was engaged in negotiations with the Ottomans to form an anti-Spanish alliance—with England the junior partner.

As Jerry Brotton explores in his well-researched new book, Elizabeth had always been keen on dealing with the east. Soon after she was crowned, she…

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