Ferdinand II, king of Aragon (1479-1516), and Isabella I, queen of Castile (1474-1504), became through marriage joint rulers of the central and eastern kingdoms of Spain. The two sovereigns were granted the title of “Catholic Mon- archs,” or literally “Catholic Kings” (Sp. Reyes Catôlicos) by Pope Alexander VI in 1496 as a reward for their extension of the Christian faith, especially for their conquest of the last Muslim enclave in the Iberian Peninsula, the Nasrid kingdom of Granada.
Ferdinand and Isabella were married in 1469. After the struggle over the Castilian throne following the death of Henry IV was decided in favor of Isabella in 1474, she and her husband started preparations for a campaign that would wipe out the Muslim presence in the peninsula. Their main concern was to find ways of financing the war. As early as September 1477, they approached Pope Sixtus IV, and in November 1479 they obtained a first crusading bull, which was limited to the granting of a plenary indulgence to those participating in the war. Further negotiations produced a new and far more generous bull in August 1482, which followed a previous agreement in June 1482 on the division of crusade revenues between the pope, who was to attack the Turks, and the monarchs of Castile and Aragon. The accord and the subsequent bull came after the first serious clashes between Christians and Muslims had already taken place. In December 1481 the frontier castle of Zahara was stormed by Moorish contingents. There was a swift Christian response. At the end of February 1482 the fortress of Alhama to the southwest of the city of Granada was taken. Ferdinand and Isabella exploited civil strife in Granada between King Abu’l-Hasan ‘All and his son Muhammad Abû ‘Abd Allah (Muhammad XII, known to the Christians as Boabdil), and later between the former’s brother al-Zaghal and Muhammad.
After severe setbacks at Loja and La Ajarquia in the winter 1482-1483, Ferdinand and Isabella managed to capture Muhammad XII at the battle of Lucena in April 1483. Cunningly they set him free to foment disunion in the Granadan court, while they put pressure on Muslim fortresses in the western part of the Nasrid kingdom; Alora was taken in June 1484, while Ronda and its encircling mountain range (the Serrania) fell in 1485. Pope Innocent VIII renewed his predecessor’s bull in January 1485; in August of that year he renounced his third of the crusade revenues in favor of the Crown, and later he extended the preaching of the crusade to other Iberian kingdoms. Increasing revenues made the war of attrition against the Muslims possible. As Castilian pressure grew tighter and the economic basis of the Nasrid kingdom feebler, the crisis within the Granadan court reached higher levels. Al-Zaghal rose to prominence, and Muhammad XII had to take refuge in Christian Cordoba, where Ferdinand and Isabella offered him support to reorganize his party.
Meanwhile, the slow Christian advance proceeded. Loja was taken in May 1486, and the city of Malaga a year later. Among the participants in the campaign of the year 1486 were Edward Woodville, Lord Scales, with 300 English knights, showing the extent and success of crusade preaching outside the Iberian Peninsula. The fall of Malaga meant the final loss of the western section of the Nasrid kingdom; its eastern part was attacked from 1488 onward. In December 1489 Al-Zaghal surrendered and ceded Baza and Almeria to the Christians. Only the central part of the Nasrid kingdom around the city of Granada remained in Muslim hands. In November 1491, Muhammad XII was forced to capitulate, and in January 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella entered Granada. The initially tolerant treatment of the vanquished population by Hernando de Talavera, the first archbishop of Granada, was followed by the uncompromising attitude of Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, archbishop of Toledo, who took responsibility for conversions in 1499. Harsh measures led to a Muslim revolt in 1500, which was suppressed in May 1501, and the archbishop forced the conversion or expulsion on the Granadan Muslims. That alternative was extended to all Castilian Muslims in 1502 and to the Muslims of other Iberian kingdoms in 1522, thus bringing about an acute Morisco problem until this minority of converts was expelled in 1609. Before and after Isabella’s death (1504), crusader activities were extended to the North African coast (Melilla and Alcazarquivir among other points). Aragonese Mediterranean interests promoted these efforts to control both sides of the straits.
The use of the crusade by the Catholic Monarchs to promote territorial expansion over the last Muslim Iberian territories showed how contemporary monarchies used prestigious medieval institutions to foster their own policies. Castilian military orders, which had experienced monarchical encroachment since the fourteenth century, were finally brought under the direct authority of the Crown by the Catholic Monarchs. The orders of Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcantara began to be ruled by the monarchs, first as temporal and later as perpetual administrators.