An Englishman in Genghis Khan’s Empire

Posted by on Nov 2, 2023 in Stuff You Should Know, World History

Stories of people leading glamorous lives full of adventure are not just for movies: there are real-life examples throughout history, including this one from the 1200s about an English citizen who served as a diplomat for the Mongol Empire. 


During the early 1200s, Genghis Khan formed an empire in the area of present-day Mongolia. The Mongol Empire became one of the largest empires in world history. Its armies seemed unstoppable. The empire eventually covered about nine million square miles (23 million square km) and extended from the Pacific Ocean to Europe’s Danube River and the Persian Gulf.  

Mongolian warrior statues in Mongolia, Asia.
Mongolian warrior statues in Mongolia, Asia.

It is within these early years of empire building that a story emerges of an Englishman who helped the Mongols conquer new territories. Chronica Majora describes the Englishman’s story. Matthew Paris was a monk who wrote Chronica Majora, a history that covers the beginning of the world to 1259, the year Paris died. Although the Englishman’s name is not known, Chronica Majora states that he was exiled from England in his early twenties. (To be exiled means a person is forced to leave their homeland and live somewhere else.) 

The Englishman’s Journey 

Chronica Majora does not give the reason the Englishman was exiled. He left Europe and traveled east, even though the eastern lands of the Mediterranean Sea were raging with conflict. Christian Crusaders battled with Muslims for control of Jerusalem. Rival Muslim groups fought for control over their own empire. In addition, the Mongols were expanding swiftly into the region. 

The Englishman traveled to the city of Acre, in present-day Israel, along the Mediterranean coast. Acre was a bustling port city where goods from Asia, Africa, and Europe were exchanged. The Englishman lost his money gambling and fell into poverty. He left Acre in search of employment. The Englishman moved farther east and encountered the Mongols in the 1230s.  

We know that the Englishman possessed a great skill that changed his life: he spoke numerous languages. The Mongols needed interpreters to help them conquer and govern lands, so they hired the Englishman as a diplomat as they continued to march west. The Englishman used his language skills to communicate to leaders about what the Mongols wanted from them. Often the Englishman threatened leaders that they either give up their lands to the Mongols or face battle.  

When the Mongols failed to conquer Hungary and retreated from Eastern Europe, Crusaders captured the Englishman. They pressured him to tell them everything he knew about the Mongols. Some storytellers who knew the Englishman labeled him a traitor. Historians do not know what happened to the Englishman after he was captured.  

Why the Englishman’s Story Matters 

Although there is much information that historians do not know about the Englishman, his story is an example of how far-reaching the Mongol Empire was. The story also provides useful details about what life was like for people living in Europe and Asia during this period of world history. 

Dig Deeper What information might the Crusaders have wanted from the Englishman?