Pallache was born in Fez, Morocco. His family originated from Islamic Spain, where his father had served as rabbi in Córdoba. Sometime in the first half of the 16th Century, following the Christian conquest of Islamic Spain (the Reconquista), the family fled to Morocco, where Jews, like Christians, were tolerated as long as they accepted Islam as the official religion. This allowed a vibrant Jewish community to emerge in Morocco, serving as a bridgehead between the Islamic, Christian and Jewish worlds.
After a delegation from the Dutch Republic visited Morocco to discuss a common alliance against Spain and the Barbary pirates, sultan Zidan Abu Maali in 1608 appointed the merchant Samuel Pallache to be his envoy to the Dutch government in The Hague. Officially, Pallache was his "agent", not ambassador.
On June 23, 1608, Pallache met stadholder Maurice of Nassau and the States-General in The Hague to negotiate an alliance of mutual assistance against Spain. On December 24, 1610, the two nations signed a treaty recognising free commerce between the Netherlands and Morocco, and allowing the sultan to purchase ships, arms and munitions from the Dutch. This was one of the first official treaties between a European country and a non-Christian nation, after the 16th-Century treaties of the Franco-Ottoman alliance.
The story goes that, one day, Pallache's horse-drawn carriage met the carriage of the Spanish ambassador in The Hague. The two carriages were unable to pass one another and, to cheers from onlookers, the Spanish ambassador's carriage had to make way for Pallache's carriage.
Research has shown that Pallache secretly acted as a double agent. He maintained close ties with the Spanish court and passed classified information about Dutch-Moroccan relations on to the Spanish. At the same time, he was passing information about Spain back to the Dutch and Moroccans. When this eventually came to light, he fell out of favor with the sultan.
In addition to his diplomatic affairs, Pallache also continued his activities as a merchant, actively trading between the Netherlands and Morocco. He also got permission from Prince Maurice for privateering activities. The goods obtained through these pirating activities were sold along the Moroccan coast.
In 1614 he captured a Portuguese ship and, unable to bring its cargo ashore in Morocco, sailed for the Netherlands. A heavy storm forced him to seek refuge in an English port where, by request of the Spanish ambassador, he was arrested and imprisoned. Eventually prince Maurice came to his aid and managed to bring him back to the Netherlands. However, he had lost all his money by then and fell ill shortly thereafter. On February 4, 1616, he died in The Hague, and was buried in the Sephardi-Jewish cemetery Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, near Amsterdam.
- A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, by Mercedes García-Arenal, Gerard Albert Wiegers, JHU Press, 2003 on Google books, ISBN 9780801895838
- A-13-174 location record for burial monument in Gemeente Amsterdam Portuguese Israelite Congregation burials database dated 1616/02/04 for Samuel Palache on website of Dutch Jewry
- Anno: Joodse Marokkaan onder christenen (Dutch)
- Universiteit Leiden: Openingscollege 400 jaar Marokkaans - Nederlandse betrekkingen (Dutch)
- Review van Gerard Wiegers en Mercedes García-Arenal, Man of three worlds. Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe (Dutch)
- Wereldomroep: Diplomaat, handelaar, kaper en geleerde (Dutch)