January 2: Granada falls to Christian conquerors.
The king of Granada rose early…and made his person ready in the way that Moors do when faced with danger of death.” His mother clung to him despairingly.
“Leave me, my lady,” he said. “My knights await me.”
As he rode to confront the enemy camped outside the walls of his capital, after eight months of siege, throngs of starving citizens assailed him, with weeping mothers and howling babies, “to shout out that…they could no longer bear the hunger; for this reason they would abandon the city and go over to the enemy camp, allowing the city to be captured, and all of them to be taken prisoner and killed.” So he relented of his determination to fight to the death, and decided to try to negotiate an honorable surrender.1
Working in the year Granada fell, illustrators of Diego de San Pedro’s Cárcel de amor unmistakably depicted the siege, under a commander with King Ferdinand’s features.
Woodcut from D. de San Pedro, Cárcel de amor (Barcelona: Rosembach, 1493).
Presumably, the chronicler who told this impressive but improbable tale—with its chivalric touches and heart-tweaking sentiments—was romanticizing. For most of the previous ten years of warfare in Granada, Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad—Muhammad XI, or “Boabdil,” as Christians called him—had not behaved with exemplary valor but had relied on conspiracy, compromise, and a series of tactical alliances to stave off what seemed like inevitable defeat for his realm at the hands of the hugely bigger neighboring kingdoms of Castile and Aragon.
Granada already seemed an anachronism—the last Muslim-ruled state on the northern shore of the western Mediterranean. Muslims lost Sicily three centuries earlier, and by the mid–thirteenth century, Christian conquerors from the north had swept up all the remaining kingdoms of the Moors—as they called Muslims—in what are now Spain and Portugal. Ferdinand and Isabella, joint monarchs of Aragon and Castile, or, as they preferred to say, “of Spain,” justified the war with religious rhetoric in a letter to the pope:
We neither are nor have been persuaded to undertake this war by desire to acquire greater rents nor the wish to lay up treasure. For had we wished to increase our lordships and augment our income with far less peril, travail, and expense, we should have been able to do so. But our desire to serve God and our zeal for the holy Catholic faith have induced us to set aside our own interests and ignore the continual hardships and dangers to which this cause commits us. And thus we may hope both that the holy Catholic faith may be spread and Christendom quit of so unremitting a menace as abides here at our gates, until these infidels of the kingdom of Granada are uprooted and expelled from Spain.2
In a sense what they said was true, for they could have saved the costs of the war and exacted handsome tribute from the Moors. But other considerations impelled them, of a nature more material than they admitted to the pope. Granada was a rich country. It was not particularly populous. Despite wildly excessive guesses in the traditional literature, it is hard to make the total population add up to much more than three hundred thousand. But it could feed many more with its prodigious harvests of millet, which Christians would not eat. The products of Granada’s industries—silk, leather wares, arms, ceramics, jewel work, dried fruits and nuts, almonds and olives—were bountiful, and increasing demand for silk in Europe boosted the economy. About a tenth of the population lived in the capital, served by the 130 water mills that ground the daily millet.
The kingdom of Granada represented a source not only of revenue but also of patronage. Many of the nobles who fought for Ferdinand and Isabella in the civil war that inaugurated their reign remained inadequately rewarded and potentially restive. The royal patrimony had shrunk, and the monarchs did not wish to relinquish more of it to already overmighty subjects. The towns of the kingdoms had resolutely opposed attempts to appropriate their lands. Acquisition of Granada would solve the monarchs’ problems. According to the laws, rulers were not allowed to alienate their inherited patrimony but could do what they liked with conquered lands. By the end of the conquest of Granada, more than half the surface area of the kingdom would be distributed among nobles.
Thanks to Granada’s economic boom, the Moors’ strength to defy and attack their Christian neighbors was greater in the late fifteenth century than for a long time previously. The lords of neighboring lands responded with mingled fear and aggression. But the war was not only a matter of frontier security or territorial aggression. It has to be considered in the context of the struggle against the rising power of the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, whom the Spanish monarchs perceived as their most formidable enemies in the long run. The pressure of Islam on the frontiers of Christendom had mounted since the midcentury, when the Turks seized Constantinople. The loss of Constantinople ratcheted up the religious content of Christian rhetoric. The Ottoman Empire, meanwhile, launched a huge naval offensive, invaded Italy, and developed relations with Muslim powers in North Africa and with Granada itself. Ferdinand was not just the ruler of most of Christian Spain. He was also heir to wider Mediterranean responsibilities as king of Sicily, protector of Catalan commerce in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and hereditary stakeholder in the legacy of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. He was apprehensive of the Ottoman advance and eager to clear what seemed like a Muslim bridgehead from Spain.
Meanwhile, each side in the potential conflict over Granada was succoring the other’s enemies. In the 1470s, rebel refugees from Ferdinand’s and Isabella’s vengeance took shelter at the court of the ruler of Granada, Mulay Hassan, while Ferdinand encouraged and negotiated in secret with dissidents in Granada. For Mulay Hassan’s crown, too, was disputed. Doubts of the propriety of his accession (for the rules of succession in Granada were never clearly defined) disturbed the scruples of members of his dynasty. Court intrigue and seraglio conspiracies bedeviled the throne, and rebellions were common.
Finally, among the causes of the conflict, Ferdinand and Isabella hoped that war would distract their nobles from their own squabbles and bring internal peace to Castile. Although, in the opinion of at least one chronicler, Christians who made allies of the Moors “deserved to die for it,” and although the law expressly forbade it, the practice was common, and the private wars of the aristocracy in regions bordering Granada thrived on the exotic diet of infidel support. As a device for getting Spanish nobles to cooperate against a common enemy, the war worked. Once the fighting began, such inveterate foes as the Marquess of Cadiz and the Duke of Medina Sidonia—“my enemy incarnate,” as Cadiz called him—joined forces and exerted themselves in each other’s support. Isabella’s secretary reminded her that Tullius Hostilius, one of the legendary kings of ancient Rome, had made unprovoked war merely in order to keep his soldiers busy. The enterprise against the Moors would “exercise the chivalry of the realm.” 3
The war fed on religious hatreds and generated religious rhetoric. But more than a clash of civilizations, a crusade, or a jihad, the war resembled a chivalresque encounter between enemies who shared the same, secular culture. Throughout the fighting, as always in medieval wars between Spanish kingdoms, there were warriors who crossed the religious divide.
Fighting began as an extension of business by other means. For most of the fifteenth century, Granada’s internal struggles weakened the kingdom and invited conquest, but Castilian kings reckoned that it was easier and more profitable to collect tribute. Traditionally, Granada bought peace by paying tribute to Castile every three years. The sources are imperfect, but contemporaries—presumably exaggerating—reckoned the value of the tribute at 20 to 25 percent of the revenue of the king of Granada. Even at more modest cost, the system was inherently unstable, because in order to sell truces, the Castilians had to keep up raids, and Granadines exploited breaches of the peace to launch counterraids of their own. Renewals of the truce were therefore always tense. Both sides appointed arbitrators to settle disputes arising from breaches of the peace, but the machinery seems to have been ineffective. Instances were repeatedly referred to the Spanish monarchs, who could respond only by making overtures to the king of Granada; and he, on the Moorish side, was one of the worst offenders in the matter of truce breaking. The Moors, the chronicler Alonso de Palencia thought, were “more astute in taking advantage of the truce”—by which he meant that the balance of profit from raiding accrued to their side.
Mulay Hassan committed his greatest outrage in 1478, when he sacked the Murcian town of Cieza, putting eighty inhabitants to the sword and carrying off the rest. The helplessness of Ferdinand and Isabella in the face of such action was disturbing. They could not obtain the hostages’ release by diplomacy and could not afford ransom. Instead, to those families too poor to pay the price they gave permission to beg alms for the ransoms, and relieved them of the need to pay dues, tolls, and taxes on money sent to Granada to obtain the Ciezans’ release.
By the end of the 1470s, however, Ferdinand and Isabella no longer needed peace on the Moorish front. War with Portugal and Castile’s own war of succession subsided. Unemployed warriors turned to the Moorish frontier, where Castilian noblemen were waging private war for profit. Mulay Hassan tried to quell them by seizing frontier strongholds. On a moonless and unsettled December night in 1481 they lunged forward against Záhara and other fortified places. The Christians were unprepared for an attack that was no longer a mere raid but an attempt to occupy permanently the assailants’ targets. At Záhara the attackers
scaled the castle and took and killed all the Christians whom they found within, save the commander, whom they imprisoned. And when it was day they sallied forth…made captive one hundred and fifty Christian men, women, and children, and sent them bound to Ronda.4
Perhaps Mulay Hassan thought he could get away with it because the lord of the place was one of Isabella’s opponents. The Spanish monarchs, however, reacted with anger
both because of the loss of this town and fortress and, even more, on account of the Christians who died there…. And if we can say we find any cause for pleasure in what has happened, it is only because it gives us an opportunity to put into immediate effect a plan which we have had in mind and which would one day surely come to fruition. In view of what has happened, we have resolved to authorize war against the Moors on every side and in such a manner that we hope in God that very soon not only will we recover the town that has been lost, but also conquer others, wherein Our Lord may be served, His holy faith may be increased, and we ourselves shall be well served.5
The king of Granada is supposed to have explained to his courtiers how the Christians would beat them bit by bit, like rolling up a carpet from the corners. The story is a literary commonplace—the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II is said to have used the same image to explain his own strategy for conquering Europe a few years earlier. But it does describe what happened: a slow war of attrition, in which the invaders devoured the kingdom inward from the edges, slowly, exploiting internal conflicts among the defenders to make up for the deficiencies in their own strength.
For although the Christian kingdoms were hugely bigger than Granada, with opportunities for mobilizing far more men and ships, the aggressors could never make the disparity in resources work to their advantage as they should. At the height of the war, the aggressors numbered ten thousand horse and fifty thousand foot.
Armies on this scale were hard to gather and keep in the field, and harder still to keep supplied. The struggle for money, horses, men, siege equipment, arms, and grain dominates the surviving documents. Diego de Valera, a chronicler who was the monarchs’ household steward, advised King Ferdinand to “eat off earthenware, if necessary, and melt down your tableware, sell your jewels, and appropriate the silver of the monasteries and churches, and even sell off your land.”6 The monarchs were entitled to interest-free loans from their subjects, and sometimes delayed repayment. As security for a sum raised from the city authorities of Valencia in 1489—a particularly tough year for the war budget—Isabella deposited a crown of gold and diamonds and a jeweled necklace. The Church was a willing source of subsidies for so holy an enterprise. Papal bulls from November 1479 authorized the monarchs to use some of the proceeds from the sale of indulgences for the expenses of the war. Early Christian victories convinced the pope to renew the grant until the end of the war. The Jews, who were exempt from military service, paid a special levy.
To some extent, medieval wars could help to pay for themselves. Booty was an important source of finance. A fifth of it belonged to the crown by law, while the captains responsible divided the rest between them. The capture of Alhama, the first Christian sortie of the war, yielded
infinite riches in gold and silver and pearls and silks and clothes of silk and striped silk and taffeta and many kinds of gem and horses and mules and infinite grain and fodder and oil and honey and almonds and many bolts of cloth and furnishings for horses.7
Prisoners could be ransomed for cash. The size of the booty determined the scale of a victory, and it was no praise for Alonso de Palencia to say of the Marquess of Cadiz that he gained “more glory than booty.” Only the nobility and their retainers served for booty. Most soldiers received wages, some paid by the localities where they served as militia, others directly out of royal coffers.
The money available was never enough, and Ferdinand and Isabella fell back on a cheap strategy: divide and conquer. In effect, for much of the war, the Spanish monarchs seemed less focused on conquering Granada than on installing their own nominee on the throne. The Granadines fought each other to exhaustion. The invaders mopped up. The most important event of the early phase of the war was the capture in 1483 of Boabdil, who was then merely a rebellious Moorish prince. He was the plaything of seraglio politics. His mother, estranged from the king, fomented his opposition. His support came at first from factions at court but spread with the strain and failures of the war. A conflict that Mulay Hassan hoped would strengthen his authority ended by undermining it. A combined palace putsch and popular uprising drove Mulay Hassan to Málaga and installed Boabdil in his place in Granada. But the upstart’s triumph was short-lived. The internecine conflict weakened the Moors. Boabdil proved inept as a general and fell into Christian hands after a disastrous action at Lucena.
The Christians called Boabdil “the young king” from his nineteen years and “Boabdil the small” for his diminutive stature. His ingenuousness matched his youth and size. He had little bargaining power in negotiating for his release, and the terms to which he agreed amounted to a disaster for Granada. He recovered his personal liberty and obtained Ferdinand’s help in his bid to recover his throne. In return he swore vassalage. In itself, this might have been no great calamity, as Granada had always been a tributary kingdom. But Boabdil seems to have made the mistake of disbelieving Ferdinand’s rhetoric. Except as a temporary expedient, Ferdinand was unwilling to tolerate Granada’s continuing existence on any terms. Boabdil’s release was merely a strategy for intensifying Granada’s civil war and sapping the kingdom’s strength. The Spanish king had tempted Boabdil into unwilling collaboration in what Ferdinand himself called “the division and perdition of that kingdom of Granada.”
Boabdil’s father resisted. So did his uncle, Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad, known as el Zagal, in whose favor Hassan abdicated, while the Christians continued to make advances under cover of the Moorish civil war. Boabdil fell into Ferdinand’s hands a second time, and agreed to even harsher terms, promising to cede Granada to Castile and retain only the town of Guadix and its environs as a nominally independent kingdom. The Granadine royal family seems to have retreated into a bunker mentality, squabbling over an inheritance no longer worth defending. It is hard to believe that Boabdil can ever have intended to keep the agreement, or that Ferdinand can have proposed it for any reason other than to prolong Granada’s civil war.
For the invaders, the most important success of the succeeding campaigns was the capture of Málaga in 1487. The effort was costly. As Andrés de Bernáldez, priest and chronicler, lamented, “[T]he tax-gatherers squeezed the villagers because of the expenses of that siege.” The rewards were considerable. Castile’s armies in the war zone could be supplied by sea. The loss of the port impeded the Granadines’ communications with their coreligionists across the sea. The whole western portion of the kingdom had now fallen to the invaders.
Even in the face of Ferdinand’s advance, the Moors could not end their internal differences. But Boabdil’s partial defeat of el Zagal and return to Granada, with Christian help, had the paradoxical effect of strengthening Moorish resistance, although Boabdil’s was the weaker character and weaker party. Once Granada was in his power, he found it impossible to honor his treaty with Ferdinand and surrender the city into Christian hands. Nor was it in his interests to do so once el Zagal was out of the running.
By 1490 nothing but the city of Granada was left, occupying a reputedly impregnable position, but highly vulnerable to exhaustion by siege. Yet at every stage the war seemed to take longer than the monarchs expected. In January 1491 they set a deadline of the end of March for their final triumphant entry into Granada, but the siege began in earnest only in April. At the end of the year they were still in their makeshift camp nearby. Meanwhile the defenders had made many successful sorties, seizing livestock and grain-laden wagons, and the besiegers had suffered many misadventures. Hundreds of tents in their camp burned in a conflagration in July, when a candle flame in the queen’s tent caught a flapping curtain. The monarchs had to evacuate their luxurious pavilion.
The Kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula, 1492.
The militant mood of the city’s inhabitants limited Boabdil’s freedom. The ferocity with which they opposed the Christians determined his policy. His efforts, formerly exerted in the Spaniards’ favor, were now bent on the defense of Granada. There was no way of supplying the city with food, and by the last stage of the war refugees crammed it to bursting. Yet even in the last months of 1491, when the besiegers closed around the walls of Granada, and Boabdil decided to capitulate, still the indomitable mood of the defenders delayed surrender. The last outlying redoubt fell on December 22. The Spanish troops entered the citadel by night on the eve of the capitulation in order to avoid “much scandal”—that is, the needless bloodshed a desperate last resistance might otherwise have caused. Did Boabdil really say to Ferdinand, as he handed over the keys of the Alhambra on January 2, 1492, “God must love you well, for these are the keys to his paradise”? 8
“It is the extinction of Spain’s calamities,” exclaimed Peter Martyr of Anghiera, whom Ferdinand and Isabella kept at their court to write their history. “Will there ever be an age so thankless,” echoed Alonso Ortíz, the native humanist, “as will not hold you in eternal gratitude?” An eyewitness of the fall of the city called it “the most distinguished and blessed day there has ever dawned in Spain.” The victory, according to a chronicler in the Basque country, “redeemed Spain, indeed all Europe.” 9 In Rome, bonfires burned all over the city, nourished into life in spite of the rain. By order of the pope, the citizens swept Rome’s streets clean. When dawn broke, the bell at the summit of the Capitoline Hill in Rome began ringing with double strokes—a noise never otherwise heard except on the anniversary of a papal coronation, or to announce the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin in August. But it was a cold, wet morning in early February 1492 when the news of the fall of Granada was made public. Equally unseasonally, celebratory bullfights aroused such enthusiasm that day that numerous citizens were gored and killed before the bulls were dispatched. Races were held—separately for “old and young men, boys, Jews, asses and buffaloes.” An imitation castle was erected, to be symbolically stormed by mock assailants—only the ceremony had to be deferred because of the rain. Pope Innocent VIII, already so old and infirm that his entourage were in permanent fear for his life, chose to celebrate mass in the hospital of the Church of St. James the Great, the patron saint of Spain. A procession of clergy joined him there from St. Peter’s, in a throng so irrepressibly tumultuous that he had to postpone his sermon because of the noise they made.10 The pope called the royal conquerors “athletes of Christ” and conferred on them the new title, which rulers of Spain bore ever after, of “Catholic Monarchs.” The joy evoked in Rome echoed through Christendom.
Yet every stage of the conquest brought new problems for Ferdinand and Isabella: the fate of the conquered population; the disposal, settlement, and exploitation of the land; the government and taxation of the towns; the security of the coasts; the assimilation and administration of the conflicting systems of law; and the difficulties arising from religious differences. The problems all came to a head in the negotiations for the surrender of the city of Granada. The Granadine negotiators proposed that the inhabitants would be “secure and protected in their persons and possessions,” except for Christian slaves. They would retain their homes and estates, and the king and queen would “honor them and regard them as their subjects and vassals.” Muslims would enjoy the right to continue practicing Islam, even if they had once been Christians, and to keep their mosques with their schools and endowments. Mothers who converted to Christianity would have to renounce gifts received from their parents or husbands, and lose custody of their children. The native merchants of Granada would have free access to markets anywhere in Castile. Citizens who wished to migrate to Muslim lands could keep their belongings or dispose of them at a fair price and remove the proceeds from the realm. All clauses were to apply to Jews as well as Muslims.
Astonishingly, the monarchs accepted all these terms—on the face of it, an extraordinary departure from the tradition established by earlier Castilian conquests. Except in the kingdom of Murcia, to the east of Granada, Castilian conquerors had always expelled Muslims from land they conquered. In effect, this meant scrapping the entire existing economic system and introducing a new pattern of exploitation, generally based on ranching and other activities practicable with small populations of new colonists. Initially, the deal struck with Granada more resembled the traditions established in the Crown of Aragon, in Valencia, and in the Balearic Islands, where the conquerors did all they could to ensure economic continuity, precisely because they lacked the manpower to replace the existing population. Muslims were too numerous and too useful. In the kingdom of Valencia, the running of agricultural estates depended on the labor of Muslim peasants, who continued to be the bedrock of the regional economy for well over a hundred years. Granada, however, was not like Valencia. It could prosper even without the Muslim population, whose fate, despite the favorable terms of surrender, remained insecure.
By Granada’s terms of surrender, the Moors, as subjects and vassals of the monarchs, not only could remain to keep the economy going, but also incurred obligations of military service. Ferdinand and Isabella even attempted to organize them to provide coastal watches against invasion, but that part of their policy was outrageously overoptimistic. If Maghrebis or Turks invaded, most Christians were in no doubt of whose side the defeated Moors would favor. As Cardinal Cisneros wrote during his stay in Granada, “Since there are Moors on the coast, which is so near to Africa, and because they are so numerous, they could be a great source of harm were times to change.”
At first, the conquerors seemed anxious to act in good faith. Ferdinand, despite his reluctance to have more Muslim subjects, acted as if he realized that the ambition of an all-Christian Spain, “constituted to the service of God,” was impractical. The governor and archbishop of Granada shared power with Muslim “companions,” and for a while their collaboration kept the peace. The companions ranged from respected imams, such as Ali Sarmiento, who was reputedly a hundred years old and immensely rich, to shady capitalists, such as al-Fisteli, the money lender who served the new regime as a tax collector. In 1497, Spain offered refuge to Moors expelled from Portugal. So expulsion was not yet imminent.
Yet if the monarchs had kept to the terms of the bargain they made when the city fell, it would have been honorable, but it would also have been incredible. Ferdinand, as we have seen, declared in correspondence with the pope their intention of expelling the Muslims. In 1481 he wrote in similar terms to the monarchs’ representative in the northwest of Spain: “[W]ith great earnestness we now intend to put ourselves in readiness to toil with all our strength for the time when we shall conquer that kingdom of Granada and expel from all Spain the enemies of the Catholic faith and dedicate Spain to the service of God.” 11 Most of the conquered population did not trust the monarchs. Many took immediate advantage of a clause in the terms of surrender that guaranteed emigrants right of passage and provided free shipping. Granada leeched refugees. Boabdil, whose continued presence in Spain the monarchs clearly resented, left with a retinue of 1,130 in October 1493.
Indeed, the policy of conciliating the conquered Moors, while it lasted, was secondary to the monarchs’ main aim of encouraging them to migrate. This had the complementary advantages of reducing their potentially hostile concentration of numbers and of freeing land for resettlement by Christians. The populations of fortified towns were not protected by the terms negotiated for the city of Granada. They had to leave. Their lands were confiscated. Many fled to Africa.
Eventually, Ferdinand and Isabella abandoned the policy of emigration in favor of expulsion. In 1498, the city authorities divided the city into two zones, one Christian, one Muslim—a sure sign of rising tensions. Between 1499 and 1501, the monarchs’ minds changed as turbulence and rebellion mounted among the Moors and most of them evinced unmistakable indifference to the chance to convert to Christianity. The fate of former Christians provoked violence when the Inquisition claimed the right to judge them. There were only three hundred of them, but they were disproportionately important: “renegades” to the Christians, symbols of religious freedom to the Moors. Muslim converts to Christianity were exempt from the Inquisition’s ministrations for forty years. The new archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera, procured that concession for them, partly because he disliked and mistrusted the Inquisition, and partly because he realized that converts needed time to adjust to their new faith. Apostates, however, were in a special category. It was hard to fend the Inquisition off. In 1499, Ferdinand and Isabella sent the primate of Spain, Cardinal Cisneros, to sort the problem out.
Cisneros might have been expected to take a sympathetic line. He was an admirer and probably a practitioner of mysticism. He was a great patron of humanist scholarship. His reputation for learning, piety, reasonableness, and diplomatic skill was unexcelled. However, whereas Talavera and the governor of Granada, the Conde de Tendilla, tried to attract former Christians back to the fold, Cisneros sought to bribe or pressure them into conversion. He suspended teaching in Arabic. He also took advantage of a loophole in the terms of Granada’s surrender that allowed Christians to interrogate Muslims’ formerly Christian wives and their children to see whether they wanted to return to their former faith. He did not, he declared, want to force them: that was against canon law. Their response to pressure was in their own hands. But the line between coercion and force was blurred, and Cisneros’s methods seemed to the Muslims generally to be forcible in effect and therefore in breach of the terms of the surrender of Granada. A report drawn up for the monarchs explained what happened. “Since this was a case in which the Inquisition could take an interest,” Cisneros, the report said,
thought he could find some way to get them to admit their fault and bring them back to our faith, so that perhaps some of the Moors would be converted…and our Lord was pleased to grant that, thanks to the archbishop’s preaching, and his gifts, some of the Moors did convert…. Because slight pressure was being applied to the renegades to make them admit their errors and convert to our faith, as is legally permissible, and also because the archbishop’s men were converting the renegades’ sons and daughters at a tender age, as is legally permissible, the Moors…, concluding that the same thing would happen to them all, rioted and killed an officer of justice who went to arrest one of them, so they rose up, barricaded the streets, brought out their hidden arms, made new ones for themselves, and set up a resistance.12
The first riot broke out when a woman, seized by interrogators, called for help. The rioters desisted, in obedience to Archbishop Talavera, but Cisneros imposed a new condition: they had to submit to baptism or leave the city. This was man-on-the-spotism: an extemporized decision that forced policy makers’ hands. Fifty or sixty thousand people, if we can believe the claims of Cisneros’s propagandists, were received into the Church.
Following on the erosion of their culture by the large-scale emigration and conversions that followed the conquest, the new turn of events scared some of the Muslims into rebellion. Berber raiding parties took part. Outside the city of Granada the scale of the uprising was enormous. Chroniclers estimated at up to ninety-five thousand the number of troops needed to quell it. The king himself took command. Atrocities multiplied. When rebel villages refused to submit to terms that now always included the demand to accept Christianity, they were bombarded into submission and the defenders were enslaved. At Andarax the Christians put three thousand rebel prisoners to death and blew up a mosque to which hundreds of women and children had fled for refuge. The rebels dealt harshly, in their turn, with anyone in their communities who would not join them. One petitioner who survived complained to the monarchs of how the rebels burned his home and granary and carried off his wife, daughter, and livestock.
The monarchs, still fearful of collusion with the Turks, grew alarmed when the rebels appealed to the Ottomans to help them. In 1502, after a series of measures restricted Muslims’ freedom of movement, those who refused baptism were expelled from Castile, including Granada. In acknowledgment of the fact that the economy in Valencia depended on Muslim labor, they were allowed to remain in the Crown of Aragon. The rebels’ terms of surrender show what conversion meant in real terms. Though the monarchs promised that former Muslims would have clergy to instruct them in Christianity, doctrine hardly featured: rather, the victors demanded a modified form of cultural conversion in which the vanquished submitted to what nowadays would be called “integration.” Their former crimes were pardoned. They could keep their traditional dress “until it wore out.” They could have their own butchers, but meat had to be slaughtered in the Castilian fashion. They could record legal transactions in Arabic, but only the law of Castile would apply in the courts. They could keep their baths. They would pay only Christian taxes, but at a special—effectively punitive—rate three times higher than that of “old Christians.” Their charitable endowments were to continue, though no longer for maintaining mosques and Islamic schools: highway repairs, poor relief, and the ransoming of captives would be the only permitted objectives. The past would be confined to oblivion, and to call someone “Moor” or “renegade” became an offense.13
The conquest of Granada and its aftermath changed the profile of Europe for a half a millennium. Outside the range of Ottoman conquests, no Muslim-ruled state ever reemerged in Europe. Until the creation of sovereign Albania in 1925, there was no state with a Muslim majority. It became possible—though perhaps not convincing—to claim that the culture of Europe, if such a thing exists, is Christian. The habit of identifying Europe with Christendom went almost unchallenged until the late twentieth century. Only then, with large-scale Muslim migrations and the emergence, in Bosnia, of another European state with a Muslim majority, did Europeans have to recraft their self-image to take the Muslim contribution to the making of Europe into account.
The events of 1492 did not, however, contribute much to the making of modern political institutions. Spain did not become a modern state in any of the ways usually alleged: not unified, not centralized, not subject to absolute rule, certainly not bureaucratic or “bourgeois.” Only in one respect did Ferdinand and Isabella practice a new technique of government: they used printing to distribute their commands faster and more efficiently around their realms. In other respects, they ruled a typically chaotic, heterogeneous medieval state, in which the monarchs shared power with the “estates” of Church, nobility, and towns.
Monarchs were “natural lords” over their people. Their leadership was as the head’s over the limbs of the human body—and everyone knew that the human body was a microcosm of the universe. Nature was a hierarchy: even the most cursory examination of different creatures and natural phenomena made that obvious. Church windows depicted the ranks of creation, from the heavens to the plants and creatures beneath Adam’s feet, with a place for everything and everything in its place. Sacred writings and the traditions of mystical theology portrayed a similar establishment among God and the various orders of angels. The same state naturally characterized human affairs.
Although Aragon and Castile remained separate states, the monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabella derived a new and exalted dignity from the union of the monarchs. “You shall hold the monarchy of all the Spains,” Diego de Valera assured the king, “and shall renew the imperial seat of the Goths, from whence you come.” 14 The Goths whom Valera had in mind were the last rulers of a state that covered the whole—or almost the whole—of the Iberian Peninsula back in the sixth and seventh centuries. But Ferdinand and Isabella could not re-create a peninsula-wide state and probably never even thought of trying to do so. Even their personal union was an emergency measure—a political solution improvised to meet temporary problems.
The fact that Isabella was a woman created some of the problems. Until the mid–sixteenth century, when Falloppio sliced women’s bodies open and saw how they really work, medical science classed women as defective men—nature’s botched jobs. Isabella needed Ferdinand at her side in a calculated display of essential equipment. Earlier queens in Castilian history, moreover, had been condemned as disastrous. The image of Eve—seducible, fickle, willful, and selectively subrational—dogged women and made them seem unfit for rule. Works intended for young Isabella’s edification included Juan de Mena’s Laberinto de Fortuna, first printed in 1481, which stressed the importance of female self-discipline for a well-ordered household and kingdom, and Martín de Córdoba’s Jardín de nobles doncellas, which paraded exemplars of feminine virtues. As well as of sexual coquetterie, Isabella was the target of misogynistic pornography. A work from probably a few years after her death, the Carajicomedia, frankly aligns her with whores and sluts.15
The monarchs’ conflicting pretensions made matters worse. The rivalry is apparent between the lines of the address Isabella delivered at the conference in 1475 that settled their differences over how they would share power: “My lord,…where there exists that conformity that by God’s grace ought to exist between you and me, there can be no dispute.” By implication, the conformity was lacking and the dispute obvious. In exchange for parity of power with Isabella in her lifetime, Ferdinand had to renounce his own claim to the throne in favor of his offspring by his wife. Isabella made him her “proctor” in Castile, with power to act on her behalf. He made her “co-regent, governor, and general administrator in the kingdoms of the Crown of Aragon…in our presence and absence alike.” 16
The image of unity papered over the cracks in the monarchs’ alliance. Almost all the documents of the reign were issued in the monarchs’ joint names, even when only one of them was present. They were said to be “each other’s favorite,” “two bodies ruled by one spirit,” “sharing a single mind.” Theirs was the equality of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. To mask their differences, their propaganda made a display of mutual love. Love knots and yoke-and-arrows were their most favored decorative motifs. The conjugal yoke bound the weapons of Cupid. Pictures of the monarchs exchanging rather formal kisses illuminated presentation copies of royal decrees.17
Were the king and queen in love? Their biographers seem unable to abjure this silly question. The coquetterie in which she encouraged court poets was part of Isabella’s armory. Ferdinand’s dislike of her favorites is well attested, and Isabella responded by gutting her husband’s mistresses out of the court. “She loved after such a fashion,” said one of the court humanists, “so solicitous and vigilant in jealousy, that if she felt that he looked on any lady of the court with a look that evinced desire, she would very discreetly find ways and means to dismiss that person from the household.” 18 Her object in persecuting her husband’s floozies was, however, according to the same source, her own “honor and advantage” rather than amorous satisfaction. A document often cited as evidence of her affection for her husband is the letter she wrote to her confessor describing Ferdinand’s escape from an assassination attempt in Barcelona in December 1492, but the incident reveals feelings deeper, in Isabella, than love. A knife-wielding maniac, “long crazy and out of his mind,” as an eyewitness observed, took advantage of one of the regular Friday audiences, at which petitioners were allowed to confront the monarch in person. On the face of it, the sentiments the queen declared at the time seemed admirably, lovingly selfless. “The wound was so big,” she bleated,
so Dr. Guadalupe says, for I hadn’t the heart to behold it—so wide and so deep that four fingers’ lengths would not equal its depth and its width was a thing of which my heart trembles to tell…. and it was one of the griefs I felt to see the king suffer what I deserved, without deserving the sacrifice he made, it seemed, for me—it quite destroyed me.
Yet for all her expressions of tenderness for her spouse, it was evidently for herself that Isabella most grieved and feared. She made her sorrow seem worse than her husband’s affliction. A professional court flatterer, Alonso Ortiz, told her that her suffering “seemed greater than the king’s.” She congratulated herself on persuading the would-be assassin to confess, thereby saving his soul. And she took up most of her letter to her confessor with reflections on her own unpreparedness for death. Ferdinand’s plight convinced her “that monarchs may die from any sudden disaster, the same as other men, and it is reason enough to be ready always to die well.” She went on to ask her confessor to prepare a handy list of all her sins, including especially the vows she had broken in the pursuit of power.19
The monarchs’ affection for each other may have become a fact, but it began as an affectation. The language of love the king and queen exchanged in public had little to do with real sentiments and much to do with the courtly ethos that made the monarchs’ style of government seem far removed from modernity: the cult of chivalry, which was probably the nearest they got to an ideology. Isabella’s mental image of heaven is suggestive. She saw it as a sort of royal court, staffed by paragons of knightly virtue. Chivalry could not, perhaps, make men good, as it was supposed to do. It could, however, win wars. Granada fell, said the Venetian ambassador, in “a beautiful war…. There was not a lord present who was not enamored of some lady,” who “often handed warriors their weapons…with a request that they show their love by their deeds.” The queen of Castile died uttering prayers to the archangel Michael as “prince of the chivalry of angels.” 20
To see how important chivalry was, the best measure is the frequency and intensity of jousting. (The joust was chivalry’s great rite—a sport of unsurpassed nobility, which afforded many opportunities for political jobbery.) In April 1475, in the midst of war with Portugal, the monarchs held a tourney at Valladolid that the local chronicle acclaimed as “the most magnificent that had ever been seen, men said, for fifty years and more.” The host and master of the joust, the Duke of Alba, exhibited the value of valor. He “fell from his horse on his way to risk himself at the tilt and was rendered dumb, unable to speak, and he hurt his head, and they bled him. Yet he still came out armed and jousted twice.” The king displayed a tribute on his shield that read, “I suffer without making sound / For as long as I am bound.” The king’s secretary, however, confided the underlying purpose of assembling the monarchs’ most powerful supporters: they had to know who was with them and who against them. The magnates had their own agenda, according to Alonso de Palencia: they intended to exploit the occasion to distract Ferdinand from matters of state and lure him into expenditure and concessions.
Not all the nobility upheld the standards of chivalrous behavior. One of the most barbarous cases on record concerned Don Fernando de Velasco, brother of the highest courtier in the kingdom, who burned to death some yokels who, in their drunkenness, had mistaken him for a Jewish rent collector and abused him accordingly. The king replied to subsequent complaints that he regretted the wretches’ deaths, without benefit of prior confession, but that Velasco had acted nobly in exacting satisfaction for the outrage they had committed against him.
Noble scions began to throng Castile’s many universities. Education, as well as arms, conferred nobility. “My lineage is for me enough, / Content to live without expensive stuff” was Alonso Manrique’s motto, but he was an accomplished poet. With the expansion of taste came an increased interest in the accumulation of wealth. The Admiral of Castile (whose title was a hereditary dignity, not a naval office) obtained a dyestuffs monopoly from the crown, though he employed an agent to run it for him: a wealthy Genoese merchant in Seville—Francisco da Rivarolo, who was one of Columbus’s financial backers. The Dukes of Medina Celi, who were in the vanguard against Granada, had their own merchant fleet and tuna fishery and processing plant. Their neighbors and rivals, the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, invested heavily in another growth industry of the time—sugar production. All noblemen had to be good estate managers in order to keep pace with inflation, which was beginning to be a normal feature of economic life. The Medina Celi dexterously increased their income from food rents and seigneurial taxes, and the record books of monastic and clerical lordships show how they increased incomes to match rising costs.
Some writers questioned the true nature of nobility, pointing out, under the influence of Aristotle and his commentators, whose works were easily accessible in every serious library, that gentility lay in the cultivation of virtue. “God made men, not lineages” was a theme of Gómez Manrique, knight, poet, warrior against the Moors, and close courtier of the king and queen. This did not mean that all men were social equals, but that humble men could rise to power if they possessed the requisite merit. The king could ennoble those who deserved it. The merits that earned ennoblement could be intellectual. “I know,” declared Diego de Valera, “how to serve my Prince not only with the strengths of my body but also with those of my mind and intellect.” Alonso de Palencia’sTreatise on Knightly Perfection personifies Chivalric Practice as a Spanish nobleman in search of Lady Discretion. He finally encounters her in Italy, the homeland of humanism.
These modifications of noble behavior and language should not be mistaken for a “bourgeois revolution.” Although they spread their wings economically and culturally, nobles remained true to the traditions of their class, whose virtue was prowess and whose pursuit was power. As Isabella’s secretary wrote to a magnate wounded in battle with the Moors, “The profession you make in the order of chivalry obliges you to undergo more perils than common men, just as you merit more honor than they, because if you had no more spirit than the rest in the face of such affrights, then we should all be equals.” 21
Because of the court’s obligation to impress, ostentation and pageantry were an important part of court daily life. The monarchs learned from Burgundy, and from the northern artists they employed at court, the importance of rich and impressive display in affairs of state and the usefulness of pageant that emphasized symbolically the preeminence of the king. Large numbers of observers detailed the apparel the monarchs wore on every occasion, because every gold stitch was significant. Isabella felt guilty about the opulence of her garb and liked to stress its relative simplicity. “I wore only a simple dress of silk with three gold hem bands,” she protested on one occasion in a letter to her confessor. Her affectations of austerity deceived no one.
Her biggest expenditure was on clothing and furnishings. Prodigious quantities of black velvet were used for mourning clothes, for death was a frequent visitor to the family and the court. Jewels, especially those of a sacred nature, figure largely. From 1488 Isabella’s chapel must have been a veritable thesaurus of jeweled golden crosses, encrusted as they were with diamonds and rubies. Political expenditure thrust its way into these intimate ledgers. When Granada was conquered, Isabella contributed to the campaign for forcible acculturation of the Moors by providing cash for them to be reclothed in Castilian fashion. When the son of the king of Granada was a prisoner in 1488, she equipped him with the right clothes. She gave fat tips—bribes, in effect—to foreign ambassadors. She paid to rebuild the walls of the town of Antequera. And seven of those bolts of black velvet went to the messenger who brought news that Ferdinand had captured the Moorish town of Loja in 1486.
Alongside this sort of expenditure one finds the record of purchases of sweets for the children, wages for the masters who taught them Latin, and the upkeep of a painter to do their portraits. The monarchs liked to keep Christmas as a family occasion. They would stock up with quince jelly well in advance and buy presents to exchange at the end of the holiday. In 1492 they gave their daughters painted dolls with changeable blouses and skirts. Prince John, who as a man child and heir to the throne was meant to be above such things, got an embroidered purse and four dozen bolts of finely spun silk. For the family generally, the king supplemented the Christmas sweetmeats with plenty of lemon preserves.
As far as government was concerned, the most important feature of court life was mobility. The monarchs ruled not as later Spanish kings did, from a fixed central capital, but led a peripatetic existence as they crossed the country from town to town, taking the court with them like a menagerie on a lead. They were Spain’s most-traveled rulers, penetrating parts of the kingdom that had not seen the sovereign for decades. Some areas were better frequented than others, according to their importance. They spent most time in the heartlands of old Castile between the central mountain ranges and the river Duero, but they often visited New Castile and Andalusia. They would go to Extremadura when Portuguese affairs were prominent, and made excursions into Aragon and Catalonia. In this way not only was the monarchs’ contact with their subjects and personal role in government maintained, but the monarchs also spread the burdensome cost of entertaining the court, which fell on the localities where the court resided or the lords who acted as hosts. However, they had to meet the cost of transporting their own cumbrous and colorful caravan. The baggage that Isabella took with her wherever she went filled sixty-two carts.
Ferdinand and his wife were distinctly unmodern monarchs. They helped usher in the modern world by accident, as they adjusted to emergencies and reverted to traditions. Their conquests and “cleansings”—as we now say—of hated minorities were too cruel to be called Christian, but they were religious. The monarchs used credal differences to identify enemies, religious rhetoric to justify their campaigns. They reigned in a time of aggressive religious fervor, induced by the alarming territorial gains Islam had made in the previous years. It was natural that Ferdinand’s Aragonese counselors, bred in fear of the Turks, would brim over with excitement at the hope their master’s new Castilian connection would bring the accession of strength they needed to strike a decisive counterblow for Christendom, while Castilians in their turn expected Aragonese help to be valuable in the continuing war against the Moors. Mingled with these expectations was millennial fever. Nothing Ferdinand and Isabella did can make perfect sense except against the background of renewal of the long-persistent belief that a Last World Emperor would appear who would defeat Islam and face the Antichrist. They were consciously preparing for the end of the world. Instead, they helped bring into being a new order, in which credal boundaries coincided with the frontiers of civilizations.
For a moment, in the aftermath of the fall of Granada, it looked as if a “concert of Christendom” and a crusade against the Turks were about to take shape. Islam and Christendom clawed at one another across the sea, at times exchanging rhetoric, at times overtly waging war, at times merely struggling to win the outlying and uncommitted peoples of the world to their cause. A local victory seemed to have acquired global importance. And while Ferdinand and Isabella struggled to cope with the consequences of their success, events—to which we must now turn—across the Strait of Gibraltar combined to settle the future limits of Christendom and Islam in Africa.