Mohammed Bey

Mohammed Bey—the Counterfeit Viscount De Cigala

In the miscellaneous writings of John Evelyn, the diary-writer, there is an account of this extraordinary impostor, whose narration of his own adventures outshines that of Munchausen, and whose experiences, according to his own showing, were more remarkable than those of Gulliver. In 1668 this marvellous personage published a book entitled the "History of Mohammed Bey; or, John Michel de Cigala, Prince of the Imperial Blood of the Ottomans." This work he dedicated to the French king, who was disposed to favour his pretensions.

In this remarkable book the pretender sums up the antiquity of the family of Cigala, entitling it to most of the crowns of Europe, and makes himself out to be the descendant of Scipio, son of the famous Viscount de Cigala, who was taken prisoner by the Turks in 1651. He pretends that Scipio, after his capture, was persuaded to renounce Christianity, and, having become a renegade, was advanced to various high offices at the Porte by Sultan Solyman the Magnificent. Under the name of Sinam Pasha, he asserts that his father became first general of the Janizaries, then seraskier, or commander-in-chief of the whole Turkish forces, and was finally created Grand Vizier of the empire. He also maintains that various illustrious ladies were bestowed as wives upon the new favourite; and among others the daughter of Sultan Achonet, who gave himself birth. According to his own story he was educated by the Moslem muftis  in all the lore of the Koran, and by a series of strange accidents was advanced to the governorship of Palestine. Here, in consequence of a marvellous dream, he was converted, and was turned from his original purpose of despoiling the Holy Sepulchre of its beautiful silver lamps and other treasures. His Christianity was not, however, of that perfervid kind which demands an open avowal; and, continuing to outward appearance a Mussulman, he was promoted to the governorship of Cyprus and the islands. In this post he used his power for the benefit of the distressed Christians—redressing their, wrongs, and delivering such of them as had fallen into slavery. From Cyprus, after two years made brilliant by notable exploits (which no man ever heard of but himself), he was constituted Viceroy of Babylon, Caramania, Magnesia, and other ample territories. At Iconium another miracle was performed for his benefit; and thus specially favoured of heaven, he determined openly to declare his conversion. At this important crisis, however, his father-confessor died, and all his good resolutions seem to have been abandoned. He repaired to Constantinople once more (still preserving the outward semblance of a true believer, and ever obedient to the muezzin's call), and was created Viceroy of Trebizonde and Generalissimo of the Black Sea. Before setting out for his new home on the shores of the Euxine, he had despatched a confidant named Chamonsi to Trebizonde in charge of all his jewels and valuables, and his intention was to seize the first opportunity of throwing off the yoke of the Grand Signior, and declaring himself a Christian. But Chamonsi proved faithless; and instead of repairing to the place of tryst, plotted with the Governor of Moldavia to seize his master. Mohammed Bey fell into the trap which they had prepared for him, but succeeded in making his escape, although grievously wounded, after a wonderful fight, in which he killed all his opponents. In his flight he met a shepherd who exchanged clothes with him, and in disguise and barefoot he contrived to reach the head-quarters of the Cossacks, who were at the time in arms against Russia.

In the Cossack camp there were three soldiers whom the quondam  Ottoman general had released from captivity, and they, at once penetrating the flimsy disguise of the stranger, revealed him to their own commander in his true character. At first he was well treated by the Cossack chief, who was anxious that the honour of his baptism should appertain to the Eastern Greek Church; but our prince, designing from the beginning to make his solemn profession at Rome, and to receive that sacrament from the Pope's own hands, was neglected upon making his resolve known. He, therefore, stole away from the Cossacks, and, guided by a Jew, succeeded in reaching Poland, where the queen, hearing the report of his approach, and knowing his high rank, received him with infinite respect and at last persuaded him to condescend to be baptized at Warsaw by the archbishop, she herself standing sponsor at the font, and bestowing upon him the name of John.

After his baptism and subsequent confirmation, this somewhat singular Christian set out on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loretto, and afterwards proceeded to Rome, where he was received with open arms by Alexander VII. On his return journey through Germany he found that the emperor was at war with the Turks; and, without hesitation, espoused the Christian cause against the circumcised heathen, slaying the Turkish general with his own hand, and performing other stupendous exploits, of which he gives a detailed narration.

As a reward for his services the German emperor created him "Captain Guardian" of his artillery, and would have loaded him with further honours, but a roving spirit was upon him, and he started for Sicily to visit his noble friends who were resident in that island. On his route he was everywhere received with the utmost respect by the Princes of Germany and Italy; and when he arrived in Sicily, not only did Don Pedro d'Arragon house him in his own palace, but the whole city of Messina turned out to meet him, acknowledging his high position as a member of the noble house of Cigala, from which it seems the island had received many great benefits. Leaving Sicily he next came to Rome, into which he made a public entry, and was warmly received by Clement IX., before whom, in bravado, he drew and flourished his dreadful scimitar in token of his defiance of the enemies of the Church. At last, after touching at Venice and Turin, he arrived in Paris, where he was received by the king according to his high quality, and where he published the extraordinary narrative from which we have taken the above statements, and which honest John Evelyn, who was roused by his appearance in England, sets himself to disprove.

Right willingly does Evelyn devote himself to the task of stripping the borrowed feathers from this fine jackdaw. After inaugurating his work by quoting the Horatian sneer, "Spectatum admissi risum teneatis, amici ?" he at once plunges in medias res, and not mincing his language, says:—"This impudent vagabond is a native of Wallachia, born of Christian parents in the city of Trogovisti;" and throughout his exposure employs phrases which are decidedly more forcible than polite. From Evelyn's revelation it appears that the family of the pretended Cigala were at one time well-to-do, and ranked high in the esteem of Prince Mathias of Moldavia, but that this youth was a black sheep in the flock from the very beginning. After the death of his father he had a fair chance of distinguishing himself, for the Moldavian prince took him into his service, and sent him to join his minister at Constantinople. Here he might have risen to some eminence; but he was too closely watched to render his life agreeable, and after a brief sojourn in the Turkish capital returned to his native land. Here he became intimately acquainted with a married priest of the Greek Church, and made love to his wife; but the woman, the better to conceal the familiarity which existed between herself and the young courtier, led her husband to believe that he had an affection for her daughter, of which she approved. The simple ecclesiastic credited the story; until it became apparent that the stranger's practical fondness extended to the mother as well as the daughter, and that he had taken advantage of the hospitality which was extended to him to debauch all the priest's womankind. A complaint was laid before Prince Mathias, who would have executed him if he had not fled to the shores of the Golden Horn. He remained in Constantinople until the death of the Moldavian ruler, when he impudently returned to Wallachia, thinking that his former misdemeanours had been forgotten, and hoping to be advanced to some prominent post during the general disarrangement of affairs. His identity was, however, discovered; his old crimes were brought against him; and he only escaped the executioner's sword by flight. For the third time Constantinople became his home, and on this occasion he embraced the Moslem faith, hoping to secure his advancement thereby. The Turks, however, viewed the renegade with suspicion, and treated him with neglect. Therefore, driven by starvation, he ranged from place to place about Christendom, and in countries where he was utterly unknown concocted and published the specious story of his being so nearly related to the Sultan, and succeeded in deceiving many. Of his ultimate fate nothing is known.