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Published in 1916, the novel Greenmantle was a wartime bestseller written by the English author John Buchan who also worked as a high-ranking propaganda official at the British propaganda office, Wellington House. From 1917 onwards, he led the Department of Information at the Foreign Office. While it remains unclear if the novel was commissioned by Wellington House, Greenmantle is a clear example of fictional ‘orientalist’ propaganda (McEvoy 2016, 255-258). To read fragments of the original novel, please click on the sources above.


In the novel Greenmantle, Buchan presents two British spies - the former British soldier Richard Hannay and the anti-German Boer Piet Pienaar - who travel on behalf of the British Foreign Office via the neutral Netherlands, through Berlin and on to the Ottoman Empire and Asia to unmask German-Ottoman, pan-Islamic strategies that threatened British rule in Asia and Africa. They pretended to be Boers who hated the British, so as not to arouse suspicion. Interestingly, the core of the novel appears to be based on the very secret official British efforts to undermine German plans for a global jihad in 1916. The novel can be seen as a clear example of British imperial ambitions, a British fear of German dominance, and prevailing contemporary British ideas about Germans and Muslim subjects (Sadia McEvoy 2016, 364-365).

In the first extract 'A mission is proposed', Buchan's expertise as a spy novelist and propaganda agent coincide. This fictional 'mission proposed' largely mirrored contemporary fears that the British Foreign Office had with regard to German-Ottoman ambitions, as explained by the Foreign Office official Bullivant, to incite Muslims against British imperialism. As a high-ranking propaganda official, Buchan was most likely very much aware of the British intelligence concerning Germany's plans for Asia, which were seen as a serious threat for British rule in India.

In the second extract, Hanny and Pienaar travel as pro-German Boers to obtain more in-depth information about Germany's strategies in the East and in South Africa. Disguised as Boers, their aim was to reveal another aspect of Germany's imperial ambitions, namely the revolt of the Boers against the British in South Africa. The Germans targeted the Boers with cultural propaganda produced by Dutch agents (among others), in which a racial and cultural unity between the Dutch, the Boers, the Germans, and the Flemish was promoted.