Military history


“Vile Weeds”


SPAIN UNDER THE SUCCESSORS TO THE CATHOLIC KINGS—FIRST their grandson Charles, and then their great-grandson Philip II—had many enemies. There were ancient antagonisms with her neighbors France and the Muslim states of North Africa. Then there were doctrinal enemies, among whom Christian reformers such as Luther and Calvin and the followers of Erasmus appeared the most menacing. Finally, there was the ever-present threat of the Ottoman Empire and, insidiously, the internal danger of the “New Christians”—former Jews and the once-Muslim Moriscos. Las Casas, writing in Spain in the latter years of his life, could see at first hand what Old Christians feared as the invisible taint of Judaism and the threat posed by the Moriscos who stubbornly refused to become like other Christians. The conviction that neither group had converted sincerely to Christianity was widespread. Both were believed to threaten the faith of Christians and thus ultimately the security of Spain. Yet it was the Moriscos who were eventually considered too dangerous to live on the soil of Spain and who, regardless of whether they were sincerely Christian or not, were expelled between 1608 and 1614. Las Casas died in the convent of Atocha in Madrid in 1566, so he did not live to see the outcome of “perpetual hatred and rancour” in the second revolt of the Alpujarras that began just before Christmas 1568.

The “hatred and rancour” between Old Christian and Morisco was reciprocal. As the Spanish state pressed ever harder on its convert minority, the capacity and will of the Moriscos to resist hardened and grew. The two terrible wars between Christians and Moriscos (in 1499–1501 and 1568–70) were avoidable; contemporaries also saw them as pointless and unnecessary. Both stemmed from victors’ justice, not only from the ten-year war for Granada but from the centuries-old desire within Castile to right the wrongs inflicted upon its legendary Visigothic ancestors. The myths that mobilized Castilian society during hundreds of years of Islamic power had also inculcated a spirit of revenge. Ferdinand and Isabella both desired the ancient goal of a pure Spain, but their political sense told them that it should be achieved by gradual rather than radical means. But as we have seen, they found the lure of a sudden, decisive, and dramatic gesture irresistible. First came the solution to the “problem” of the Jews, offering them exile or adherence to the cross. Next came mass conversion in Granada, which took place under the eyes of Isabella. Finally the royal writ applied the conversion formula to all the Muslims of Castile in the wake of the first war of the Alpujarras.

Nothing on this scale had ever been attempted in Christendom since the mass conversion of the Balkan Slavs and of the Baltic tribes centuries before. In Spain, conversion of the Jews and the Muslims was a state enterprise, pushed forward by the Catholic Kings and their successors for the glory of God and of Spain. The Spanish church and the Spanish Inquisition were largely instruments of the state. Neither Charles V nor Philip II allowed the papacy any controlling role within their lands, and they were both at odds with the popes who tried to constrain them. The troops of Charles V sacked Rome itself in 1527. In 1556, the violently anti-Spanish Pope Paul IV excommunicated both Philip and his father, and Philip sent his troops against the papal territories. After Paul IV’s death, Philip (restored to the company of the faithful) sought to rebuild his bond with the Holy See; by 1591 forty-seven out of seventy cardinals had been paid pensions by Spain.1 Thereafter, both Philip and the Holy See avoided confrontation. But conversion of the masses first developed in Spain against papal protests. Under Charles V and to a greater degree under Philip II, the equation between a good Catholic and a good subject became an underlying determinant of state policy. The northern Netherlands, under Spanish rule, became a nest of Protestant heretics and rebels who would never become dutiful subjects until they were, once more, faithful Catholic Christians. Similar criteria were applied to the Moriscos in Spain after 1502.

Like all administrative categories, the term Morisco concealed within it many subdivisions and local differences. Four generations separated the conquered of 1492 from those expelled in 1608, and much changed over that long period.2 In the old Kingdom of Granada, in the first year, there were initially few Old Christian immigrants, but by the 1560s these “repopulators” made up more than 45 percent of the population.3 Throughout Castile, Aragon, and Valencia, “Moors” and then Moriscos were viewed as the natural allies of Spain’s various enemies: Valencian Moriscos were seen as being in league with the North African pirates or the Turks. The Moriscos of Aragon, living in the foothills of the Pyrenees, were in contact with the French Protestant Huguenots on the other side of the mountains.4 In the eyes of most officials, Moriscos were an undifferentiated, menacing mass. But in reality the scattered communities of former Mudejars in Castile were very different from the large population in the Kingdom of Valencia, where in the highlands they formed the majority. In Granada the problem was, in Christian eyes, acute. This was a newly conquered country and this battle for the “hearts and minds” of the population was fought like an extension of the war. The objective was pacification.

The two alternatives in Granada after 1492 were the cautious and painstaking approach offered by the archbishop of Granada, Talavera, and the robust strategy of the primate of Spain, Cardinal Jiménez de Cisneros. For Talavera, well-trained clergy, well versed in the language of the converts, would then bring them to Christ, but by persuasion, not force.5 Jiménez de Cisneros preferred to bring Moors as quickly as possible within the embrace of the church and then to use the Inquisition and other means of social control to prevent dissidence. Cisneros won the debate, and once forced conversion had taken place, the kingdom was divided up into parishes, and priests dispatched to the larger centers of population. There they waged a largely fruitless battle to turn token Christians into true Christians.

The dilemma was not new. In the twelfth century, Peter the Venerable had already urged that Muslims could better be won for Christianity “not as our people often do, by weapons, not by force but by reason, not by hate but by love.”6 It is worth recalling that an example of a slower and more evolutionary model had already taken place in Iberia, but in Muslim Al-Andalus. There had been no systematic campaign of forcible Islamization in Spain after the Muslim conquest. Yet within two centuries the Christians of Al-Andalus had for the most part adopted Islam. The vigorous methods pioneered by Jiménez de Cisneros were dictated by political motives and they seemed to succeed in the short term. By law, and on paper, Islam was ended and the whole nation made officially Christian. But the instruments of control and repression ultimately proved inadequate. They could not overcome the passive resistance of the Granadine Moriscos, however strenuously they were applied.

Surreptitiously, the Granadine Moriscos continued to recite the Holy Qur’an, gave their children Muslim names, and circumcised their sons. The authorities underestimated the Moriscos’ capacity to resist and attempted to destroy their faith by means designed to work on Christian heretics and Jews. Their first method of control was to eradicate the texts of Islam. In 1499, Cisneros had ordered that all copies of the Holy Qur’an and other religious works should be collected, and then decreed their destruction. This was a deeply symbolic act. While the Inquisition lit slow fires under the heretics and conversos of Spain, Jiménez de Cisneros provided his own auto-da-fé in the main square of Granada: he burned the holy books of Islam.7

This was not quite the act of crass barbarism that it now seems. Cisneros was the greatest patron of scholarship in Spain, who almost single-handedly pushed forward the production of the Biblia complutense, which printed the texts of the biblical sources in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and “Chaldean” (or Syriac) in parallel columns. Just as Jiménez de Cisneros believed in the power of the written word and that Christianity would be advanced through this monumental edition of the Holy Bible, so he was convinced Islam in Spain would be mortally wounded by destroying its sacred texts. He was well aware of the reverence with which Muslims regarded the Holy Qur’an and the extraordinary esteem in which they held the Arabic language. The book burning was an essential part of his policy of accelerated conversion, in cutting off newly converted Muslims from the possibility of reversion. In his eyes there would be a natural propensity for Muslim converts to seek the light of Christ, and only the agency of “Islamizers” could draw them back into their old ways. There were no printed versions of the Holy Qur’an and the manuscript texts consumed in Granada could not easily be replaced.

Certainly, the archbishop of Toledo’s biographers saw the book burning as a supremely potent and meritorious act, evidence of Jiménez de Cisneros’s determination (rectitud) to achieve the purposes of God. So they inflated the number of volumes to more than a million, an unlikely figure that allowed more than three manuscript texts for every inhabitant of the Kingdom of Granada. This total was more metaphor than fact, like the improbably heroic scale of early Christian victories over the infidel on the battlefields of the Reconquest. In the eyes of his advocates, Jiménez de Cisneros had accomplished a majestic triumph in a spiritual war being waged by every means possible. To find a parallel within Christian terms, we need to look to the Catholic horror and revulsion at the Protestant destruction of images and relics in the Netherlands later in the sixteenth century. The bonfire in Granada was an act of purposeful iconoclasm. It was also unsuccessful, because the books themselves were only the apogee of the Muslim structure of belief in Granada. The majority of the Morisco population in Granada lived not in the cities but in the country, where few of the people could read the texts. But the message was known and taught orally, rather as most contemporary Christians learned their faith by ear rather than by eye. So the true strength of Islam resided in the minds and memories of children. Since the days of the Prophet Mohammed they had learned the Holy Qur’an by rote. Thus even within poor village communities there was a human resource of knowledge.

We are now beginning to understand the importance of the written Morisco texts, passed from hand to hand and copied, hidden from the eyes of neighbors and from the spies of the authorities. They were written in a variety of languages and scripts. Some were in Arabic, some in the Morisco dialect of Romance called alajamiado, meaning “foreign.” Sometimes alajamiado would be written in Arabic script and sometimes with a Latin alphabet. It suggests a community restricted in its use of Arabic, because to speak Arabic in public risked attracting the attention of the Inquisition. But the written script was created, so they believed, expressly for the writing of the Holy Qur’an. It was a badge of their heritage and identity, and anything penned in it was an act of faith. So the manuscript texts, in Arabic or in alajamiado using Arabic characters, were vital for scholars and for the unity of belief. But they were also prized throughout the Morisco communities as symbols of their hidden faith and true origin. The written and the spoken word were complementary. If the faith were transmitted only through memory and speech, over time this knowledge would become altered or corrupted. But so long as there were those who could read the verses of the Holy Qur’an, write them down, and pass them on, burning the books would have only a limited effect.

The Moriscos were officially Christian, and monks and priests were drafted into the kingdom to bolster their new faith. For ten years, until 1511, powerful efforts were made to make these notional conversions real. However, they failed to make any tangible inroads with a population that evinced no positive interest in Christianity. Gradually the officials in Granada recognized that the Moriscos could be “Christianized” only by changing every aspect of their lives. In May 1511, and over the following years, sets of rules were promulgated to regulate Morisco life. These embraced all customs that had a specifically religious origin, such as ritual ablutions, marriage practices, methods of ritual slaughter. All Morisco infants were to have an Old Christian godfather and godmother. Every Morisco marriage was to take place with an Old Christian witness.8 At the same time, attempts were made to stop the Moriscos of the city and the plain from fleeing to the “un-Christian” villages of the Alpujarras. In 1513, orders were issued that Old Christian men should not have intimate relations with Morisca women.9 Later, this hedge of restrictions was broadened to include the food Moriscos ate and the conduct of family life.10 In 1526, there was “a pause in the repression of the Moriscos.”11 Charles V came to Granada and ordered the building of a magnificent new palace, of pale stone and gleaming white marble, high on the hill over the city amid the ruddy walls of the Moorish fortress. When the emperor arrived, he quickly saw the scale of the social and political problems and he put in hand an inquiry into the position of the Moriscos. The report made it clear that they had not received proper religious instruction, and that they had been grossly exploited. As a result, it came to the startling conclusion that there were no more than seven true Christians among the considerable number of Moriscos interviewed.

Charles, who prolonged his stay in Granada for six months through the autumn of 1526, sought to bring about a definitive solution. In the Edict of Granada of December 7, 1526, he ordered that forty major injustices inflicted upon the Moriscos be ended, but he also imposed many new restrictions. They were to be prohibited from using Arabic or wearing what was defined as Moorish dress. Women were to be unveiled. They could not wear jewels or carry any weapons; the doors of their houses should be kept open on Fridays and during weddings lest they engage in Islamic practices. And Muslim names were forbidden. Finally, he defined the meaning of the word and status of Morisco and he ordered a program of preaching and instruction under the aegis of the archbishop of Granada, Pedro de Alba.12

This was Charles in the role of arbiter of the faith that he had assayed five years before at the Diet of Worms. Then he had been frustrated by Martin Luther, but his efforts were no more successful in Granada. However, the decrees generated revenue. Accepting a payment of 90,000 ducats for six years from the Moriscos, he agreed to a suspension of the punitive decrees, an arrangement that lasted (with several additional payments) until he abdicated in favor of his son Philip in 1556. It was, though, an unbalanced truce: in fact the instruments of conversion and repression were strengthened. In 1529 the Inquisition of Jaen was transferred to Granada and set up in a fine building in the city; formerly, the Inquisition in Granada had only functioned as a suboffice of the Inquisition of Cordoba. More and more priests were sent into the kingdom, and a manual for conversion was produced in the 1530s.13

However, this increased pressure to convert had an unintended consequence. It heightened the sense of Muslim identity among the people of Granada, who developed particular skills in resisting the overwhelming power of the church. Through the half century after the first war in the Alpujarras, we can see two parallel and connected developments. On one side, there was frustration at every level within Old Christian society at the extraordinary intransigence of the Moriscos, most of whom, people held, were Christian in name only. More than that, they were seen to be becoming ever more dangerous. They seemed to be increasing in numbers faster than the Old Christians, and this impression was often true. This increase was put down to their inherent lustfulness. Even their virtues, like industriousness, now had a negative connotation. They worked hard, but only because they were avaricious: gaining money and never spending it except in their own community. In 1602 the archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, reflected what had long been the common view: “Since they are generally covetous and avaricious and love most of all to save money and not to spend it, they have chosen to take on the easiest jobs, shopkeepers, peddlers, pastry cooks, gardeners … they are the sponge that sucks the wealth out of Spain.”14

But more than anything else they were seen to be vicious. Moriscos conspired with the external enemies of Spain, while inside the country more and more of them were retreating beyond the limits of the law, becoming bandits or highway robbers (monfies). At an official level, this frustration appeared in increasingly stringent legislation designed to break down the resistance of the Moriscos, but often, these laws were never put into practice. In Valencia, noble landowners relied on Moriscos to farm their estates and so protected them as far as was possible.

The other line of development took place inside Morisco society. In Granada and in the rest of Spain, the Morisco community had been largely deprived of its natural leaders, who had departed for North Africa. However, a sufficient number of the educated and religious classes remained to sustain the fundamentals of Muslim belief, and the community also began to develop a new elite. Many of these men, like the scholar Alonso de Castillo, were genuine converts to Christianity, but nonetheless they did not lose their sense of connection to their families and origins.15 The Moriscos quickly became adept at occasional and reluctant conformity to Christian belief. When pressed, they would bring their children for baptism, but after the ceremony, returned home and carefully washed away all traces of the infidel’s holy water. Given Christian names, they never used them amongst themselves. If they attended Christian services, they said the wrong words or spoke at inappropriate places in the ceremony, pleading ignorance. Outraged Old Christians referred to this scandalous irreverence and grave offenses against the holy sacrament. Moriscos continued to give the alms ordained in the Qur’an, to say their prayers when possible, and had their children learn to read the holy books. When someone died the relatives bribed the grave diggers not to bury their Morisco dead in the churchyard but in open and unconsecrated ground. They had no truck with Christian authority. The confessors working in the Morisco community in Tortosa found that they completed their work extremely rapidly, because “when confessing them, they never reveal any sins so they find nothing to confess.”16 We can gain a sense of how they resisted from the formal decree issued in Ottoman-ruled Oran in 1563, which legitimated various compromises with the strict observance of their faith:

Continue to pray, even if you may have to do so silently or by signs.

Fulfil the obligation to pay the alms tax by whatever means of doing good to the poor, remember God is not concerned with externals, but with the inward intention of your hearts.

To fulfil the laws of purification, bathe in the sea or the river; and if that is forbidden, do it at night and that will be as good as doing it by the light of day.

Make the ritual ablutions before prayer if only by rubbing your hands on the wall.

If at the hour of prayer you are compelled to venerate the Christian idols … look at the idols when the Christians do, but think of yourself walking in God’s path, even though you are not facing the qibla [the niche in a mosque indicating the direction of Mecca].

If you are forced to drink wine, drink, but set yourself apart from all intention to commit evil.

If you are forced to eat pork, do so, but with a pure mind and admitting its unlawfulness, as you must do for any other prohibited thing.

If you are forced to take interest [forbidden under the laws of Islam] do so, purifying your intention and asking pardon of God.

If you are being adjudged by infidels, and you can dissimulate, do so denying with your heart what you are saying with your words, which are forced from you.17

Nowhere was the Morisco determination to resist stronger than on the issue of circumcision. Male Christians were not normally circumcised, while Muslims and Jews invariably were. It was a defining and ineradicable point of identity, an act of blood utterly unlike the pure and cleansing Christian ritual of baptism.18 It was prohibited by Charles V in person in Granada in 1526, except with the permission of the bishop or the senior magistrate of the kingdom. The penalty for circumcising was permanent banishment and loss of all property. Strong efforts were made to track down those who carried it out. Morisca midwives were officially forbidden and Old Christian midwives were instructed to report to a priest if they found an infant had been circumcised.19 But according to Bernard Vincent, the vast majority of males in Granada continued to be circumcised in the decades between the first and second wars of the Alpujarras. Inquisition records in Valencia indicate that in three villages in 1574 almost 80 percent of the male population were circumcised. But whenever the authorities tried to discover who was responsible, they met with a wall of silence or misleading information. A Morisca in Valencia said she did not know who had done it: her son had been taken from her and when he was returned, he had been circumcised. Others blamed it on unknown persons or on those who were already safely dead. The Christian authorities sought to catch the circumcisers but usually failed; when they did succeed, the circumcisers often suffered the ultimate penalty: one was condemned to be burned alive in Valencia in 1587.20

However, provided the Christian authorities did not seriously compromise their social and religious identity, the Moriscos remained outwardly pacific. They were content to wait, for they believed that they would be revenged on their enemies, who had been guilty of bad faith in 1499, breaking their sworn word. In Granada and perhaps elsewhere in the Morisco communities of Spain it was believed that the Christian dominion would not last forever. Under Christian rule the Moriscos continued to flout the legal prescriptions that hedged them about. In Christian eyes it was an increasingly insupportable anomaly, as by their dress, language, and demeanor the Moriscos seemed to spurn everything that was offered to them. The rise in hostility at a popular level occasionally entered the historical record. At one trial in Cordoba, an Old Christian was reported to have shouted at Moriscos in the street, “Dogs, who have burned the images and the crosses and the churches and put the Holy Sacrament in a cowpat.” Another cried out, “May these sodomites die who turn from the faith of Jesus Christ.”21

The effective compromise that had existed since Charles V’s visit in 1526 ended in 1556. Many explanations have been produced for this sudden hardening of attitudes toward the Moriscos. Spain had a new king, and “what could be bought under Charles V could not under Philip II.” The rising power of the Ottomans in the western Mediterranean and the clear evidence of Morisco contacts with their coreligionists further heightened fears of the “enemy within.” The authorities began to hear reports that Moriscorenegades in the mountains were beginning to form large war bands, and were attacking even well-armed groups of Christian travelers on the roads, and small isolated communities.22 The Inquisition throughout Spain became more active, and on May 4, 1566, the long-suspended edicts of 1526 for Granada were revived and strengthened. The newly appointed president of the Royal Chancellery in Granada, the supreme legal body in the kingdom, was Pedro de Deza. He had instructions to enforce the new decree to the letter. So that there should be no ambiguity or uncertainty, he had copies of the new restrictions printed and planned to publish them on January 1, 1567, in commemoration of the capture of the city by Ferdinand and Isabella.

In 1568, Francisco Nuñez Muley, a Morisco and a sincere convert to Christianity, pleaded against the edict of 1567, which called for the summary abolition of Morisco customs and prohibited the use of Arabic:

How is it possible to take away people from their native tongue with which they were born and brought up? Egyptians, Syrians and Maltese, and others speak, read and write Arabic and are as Christian as we are … All Moriscos wish to learn Castilian, but it is difficult if not impossible to learn Castilian in their remaining years. In sum the ordinance was contrived to ruin us. Imposing it by force causes pain to those natives who cannot meet such a burden; they flee the land.23

When the Moriscos rose in revolt the following year, one of their leaders, Mohammad bin Mohammad bin Dawud, wrote a popular ballad that reminded his listeners of the contamination that Christianity had brought upon them:

To adore their painted idols,

Mockery of the Great Unseen.

When the bell tolls we must

Gather to adore the image foul;

In the church the preacher rises,

Harsh voiced as the screaming owl.

He the wine and pork invoketh,

And the Mass is wrought with wine;

Falsely humble, he proclaimeth

That this is the Law divine.24

Each element—the clamorous bells, the owl (a bird of ill omen), the unclean wine and pork—reminded his readers and listeners that Christianity aimed to destroy them.25 Moriscos called Spanish priests “wolves, merciless thieves, characterised by haughtiness, vanity, sodomy, laxity, blasphemy, apostasy, pomp, vainglory, tyranny, brigandage, and injustice.”26

The new decree had one clear intention. It was designed finally to obliterate the differences that allowed the Moriscos to maintain their separate identity. It systematically prohibited all those distinctions that defined their social structure. They were to learn Castilian within three years, after which Arabic would be forbidden in public and private. All documents written in it would be null and void—and this included any property document or contract. All Arabic books were to be submitted for inspection, and those deemed harmless could be retained, but not for more than three years. Moorish dress was to be permitted only for a maximum of two years, after which Moriscos would have to dress like Castilians. All Islamic personal and family names and all records of lineage were forbidden, as were all forms of traditional dancing and singing, called zambras and leilas. The most threatening provisions were the prohibition on Arabic documents and language, and the extinction of all marks or mention of lineage. For several years, the authorities in Granada had been examining title deeds and confiscating any land holdings that were not precisely as described in the deeds. Wealthy Moriscos saw the edict as a comprehensive means of stripping them of their assets, to the enrichment of officials and other Old Christians. The prohibition on genealogy cut to the heart of the social structure, for it would make marriages within the old clan system impossible.

The edict was duly issued, and on the same day parties of soldiers entered Granada’s Moorish baths—prohibited under the regulations—and began to destroy them. It was clear that these new laws would not become a dead letter like earlier legislation, and hurried meetings were held in the Albaicin, where it was decided that unless the provisions were eased, the Moriscos would rebel as they had in 1499. Another decree was published ordering that on New Year’s Day 1568 all the Morisco children between three and fifteen were to be taken to the local priest, who would place them in a school where they would be taught Castilian and Christian doctrine. There were many delegations of protest to the president of the Chancellery, Deza, but he told them all that the king was resolved to save the children’s immortal souls and the decision was absolute. There were constant riots during April 1568, in the capital and in the mountains. There was a growing sense that an uprising was planned and the government issued orders to confiscate all the crossbows and harquebuses that had been licensed for hunting.27 The rumors were true, for Moriscos, with the sense of a tightening noose, had made comprehensive plans for a rising on New Year’s Day 1569, both in the city and in the mountains. Eight thousand men, dressed as Turks to arouse fear among the Christians, were to march on Granada, where the Albaicin would close its gates and begin the revolt. But such was the fear and hatred in the countryside that the rising began prematurely. Soldiers and local garrisons were massacred in the villages and small towns. By December 23, 182 places had risen in revolt. A raid into Granada itself was successful but ill-coordinated. The roots and strength of the rising were among the mountaineers of the Alpujarras.

Yet by mid-February 1569, the marqués de Mondejar, who knew both Granada and the Alpujarras, had virtually suppressed the revolt. In each village he offered terms of surrender, and those that submitted were well treated. Those that did not were killed or enslaved. But then his concessions were overruled and he was replaced as commander by Don John, the king’s half brother. The Moriscos now realized that they were faced with death or enslavement even if they submitted to the king. So they fought on with increasing desperation and conceded each town or village only at a high cost in Spanish (and their own) lives. By the time that the last traces of revolt were put down, on May 19, 1570, the campaign had cost 60,000 Spanish dead and 3 million ducats.28 Moreover, as the Venetian ambassador Leonardo Donato observed, had the Turks sent their fleet to support the Moriscos instead of turning on Venice, they “would have kindled a flame almost impossible to extinguish and had the revolt extended to Murcia, Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon, Spanish statesmen expected half the Huguenots of France to pour over the Pyrenees.”29

Not all the Moriscos in the Kingdom of Granada had joined the revolt, but those that survived unscathed were all treated in the same way. On November 1, 1570, the remaining Moriscos were told to assemble in their towns and villages.30 A detachment of troops arrived at each point of assembly, and split the population into groups of 1,500, each with an escort of 200 soldiers. Men and women were expected to walk, and to carry their children and old people. Behind them their personal possessions were piled in carts. As they headed north or west, to their destinations in Castile, they were expected to cover about thirteen miles a day. They were supposed to receive two good meals each day. In practice, the initial expulsion of more than 50,000 over poor roads and in bad weather proved impossible to manage or coordinate. By the time the Moriscos reached their destinations in Old and New Castile, at least 20 percent had died on the road between November 1570 and spring 1571.31 In all some 80,000 were uprooted from their hometowns and villages, and were resettled in communities that had no desire to receive them. A few were left, plus a host of bandits and Moriscos who fled to the mountains rather than submit to Christian justice. But this purgation had been achieved at an enormous cost, for a once prosperous region now became a burden on the Spanish state; Granada was effectively emptied of its former inhabitants. Even when repopulated with Christians from the north, the kingdom never recovered its prosperity.

IN CASTILE, UNDER CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE, THEIR CHILDREN TAKEN from them to live in Old Christian families, the Granadine exiles still excited wild fears among Christians. The former Granadines attracted the special interest of the Inquisition wherever they were settled, and yet despite weekly visits from a priest, many still failed to become “good and sincere Christians.” The people of Granada still perversely followed their old ways, both in religion and in their supposed “wildness.” In 1573, a Morisco from Aranda on the river Duero, deep in the heart of Castile, told his local priests that “the Moriscos who were taken from Granada intend to rise up again and to take to the hills when the time is ripe.”32 The Moriscos of Valencia, Murcia, and Aragon represented an even greater danger, for they could unite with the Ottomans and guide the galleys from Algiers in their attacks on the Spanish coast. In 1580, it was widely rumored that the Moriscos in western Andalucia were in contact with North Africa and were planning a landing of troops from Morocco.33 The danger (built upon rumor and some evidence) seemed pressing and required an immediate solution.

Barely ten years after the depopulation of Granada, Philip II and his advisers met in Lisbon to discuss the Morisco question. In 1580 Philip had gained the throne of Portugal, so that he now ruled all the lands of Iberia. But this achievement seemed threatened by the insoluble problem of the Moriscos. It was accepted that a complete and permanent solution had to be found, for Spain could no longer risk their presence. The king asked for suggestions. One proposal was that the entire Morisco population should be crammed onto old ships that would then be scuttled at sea, drowning all aboard. But the logistical difficulties proved insuperable, and the fleet was needed in Flanders. Over the next two decades other imaginative schemes were suggested as the king extended the inquiry. Another proposal was to work all the males to death in the galleys, to the great benefit of the state. Another, from a priest of Morisco origins, Durrical, proposed a stockbreeder’s solution: the king should command that “no Morisco shall marry a Morisca; but only with Old Christians. The Children will be brought up as Christians, while the adult males would not reproduce and the line would die out.”34

In 1587 the bishop of Segorbe, Martin de Salvatierra, answered Philip’s request for a solution with a program of Swiftean audacity. In Salvatierra’s view it was too dangerous to allow the Moriscos, this “evil and pernicious people,” to go to North Africa, where they would only reinforce Spain’s enemies. The better answer was that all Moriscos, men and boys and all grown women, should be gelded or spayed, and then they could be taken to empty zones of the New World and left there.35 In the following year, Alonso Gutiérrez of Seville proposed a kind of clan system where each Morisco would be branded on the face with a mark, so that they could be identified and then set to work. If the numbers grew too great, some should be selected for castration, “which is what they do in the Indies without any great difficulty.”36 These procrustean solutions had one factor in common: effectively abandoning all hope of conversion and assimilation. While the immediate dangers were political—from the Turks and the Protestants—dealing with the Moriscos was essential because, as had been long suspected, they were by birth pernicious. The bishop of Segorbe bundled Jews and Moriscos together as dangers confronting Spain: “This abominable people is blind and contumacious in its infidelity by its pure malice and spirit of rebellion, as it was and is with the Jews, resisting the holy spirit.”37

There was undoubtedly a political dimension that made fear of the Moriscos appear a reality rather than merely a phantasm. The idea of a conspiracy between the Spanish Jews and conversos and an external enemy (the Jews of Constantinople, the French, or the Protestants) was insubstantial, and although it occasionally surfaced, it had little or no foundation in reality. The Jewish conversos were pursued for sins of the spirit. But the connections between Moriscos and external Muslim enemies were real enough. A contingent of Ottoman soldiers fought with them in the Alpujarras, Morisco pirates raided the coasts, and the crime of “fleeing to Barbary” appears time and again in the records of the Alhambra, the military headquarters in Granada. Inquisitors ordered the “application of the cords,” or sanctioned the slow crushing and fracturing of the leg bones, to extract confessions of the full extent of Morisco intransigence. They learned that Moriscos, many of whom were peddlers or carriers, crisscrossed Spain, carrying with them news and sometimes Muslim books. They brought news of Christian defeats in the Mediterranean, which were greeted with joy, while Ottoman defeats such as Lepanto were received with resignation. Small communities, sometimes only a few families in an Old Christian town or village, or a Morisco living in the same house as Christians, learned the whispered prophecies.

In 1569, in the midst of the war for the Alpujarras, the Inquisition in Granada extracted a confession from a Morisco called Zacharias. He told them that his people were sure that they were about to wreak their revenge upon the Christians. “They have learned,” the secretary to the tribunal wrote, “in the books and stories that they will regain this land, and the ‘Moors’ of Barbary will win.” All the Spanish towns in Africa would fall to them, and then the Moriscos believed “a bridge made of copper would appear at the straits of Gibraltar, and they would pass over, and take all Spain as far as Galicia.”38 Many of these prophecies were entirely new, not ancient traditions. The hopes of revenge grew from the recent successes of Islam elsewhere. Moriscos told themselves that “the Turks would march with their armies to Rome and the Christians will not escape except those who turn to the truth of the Prophet; the remainder will be made captive or killed.”39 The Moriscos seemed persistently to most Spaniards to pose a danger to the faith and a danger to the state.40

It has been observed, however, that the point at which the Moriscos were expelled coincided with the lowest level of threat from the Ottomans in the Mediterranean for many years. The expulsion, though, was designed as a cure not for an acute illness but for a chronic disease. Cervantes expressed the popular attitude to the Moriscos when he wrote through one of his canine characters in his novella The Dialogue of the Dogs, “They are the slow fever that kills as certainly as a raging one.”41 While the Moriscosremained in Spain, so the argument went, the nation could never thrive. Better and more rational cases were made against the expulsion on economic grounds, but in a debate that extended over decades, those opposed to removing the Moriscos could not answer an argument that had no basis in facts and figures. For their enemies, the Moriscos were a disease of the body politic, and they had, like some evil humor, to be drained from it by any means necessary. Although the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 was present in the minds of all concerned, the situation was not exactly parallel. In 1492, the line had been drawn, approximately, between believing Jews and New Christians of Jewish origin. In effect, the Jews went and the New Christians stayed. In recent years there has been an acrimonious debate as to whether the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 was on the basis of race or belief. That question is still open; however, it is clear that the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609–14 was predicated upon the basis of race.42

The polemic that the scholar Pedro Aznar Cardona turned on the Moriscos in 1612 was different from any past vituperation against Muslims. Moriscos were

a pestilence, vile, careless and enemies of letters and the sciences; they bring up their children as animals without any education; they are dumb and crude in speech, barbarous in language and ridiculous in dress; they eat on the floor and live on vegetables, grains, fruits, honey and milk; they do not drink wine nor meat unless it is slaughtered by them; they love charlatanry, stories, dancing, promenading and other bestial diversions; they pursue jobs that require little work such as weaving, tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, and the like; they are peddlers of oil, fish, paste, sugar, eggs and other produce; they are inept at bearing arms and thus, are cowardly and effeminate; they travel in groups only; they are sensual and disloyal; they marry young and multiply like weeds (malas hierbas) overcrowding places and contaminating them.43

Not everyone agreed with him. The complex and often anguished debates recognized the injustice and sinfulness of expelling adult Moriscos who were sincere Christians and sending away innocent children. There were proposals that very young Moriscochildren should be kept in Spain and raised as good Christians, away from the corrupting influences of their parents. But it was eventually agreed, and as the impassioned historian of the expulsion Pascual Boranat y Barrachina later put it,

the law of providence made its heavy weight felt, not only on the guilty individuals, but upon an entire people, on father and sons, on great and small alike: the sin of descent [pecado de raza], the sin of the whole nation that infused the [obstinate] prevarication of the baptised “Moors,” that could not be exculpated by the punishment of an individual, but only through the punishment of all those guilty of complicity in the crime and of solidarity with the common apostasy … The children were paying for the sins of their fathers.44

He was expressing, centuries after the event, the still-violent feelings of nineteenth-century Catholic Spain toward the Moriscos. Of the decree of expulsion of September 2, 1609, he wrote, “We now come, at last, to the hour when the Moriscos root and branch [la raza Morisca] atoned for the interminable sequence of profanations, blasphemies, sacrileges, apostasies and political conspiracies within the breast of our dear country. Alea jacta est [the die is cast].”45

The final decision was for expulsion to North Africa rather than genocide, and to that degree, humanity had triumphed over realpolitik. In exile, the Morisco resentment of their expulsion continued among their descendants. In the twentieth century, some families could still produce ancient keys and said they would open the doors of their old homes in Spain. In the decree, there were some concessions. Not all those of “Moorish” descent were required to go. Moriscos could leave behind children of up to four years to be brought up as Christians. Children of up to six years born to an Old Christian father and a Morisca mother could remain, and their mother with them; but if their father were a Morisco and their mother an Old Christian, then he would be expelled while they could remain. There were possible exemptions for those Moriscos who had lived only among Christians, and those who could obtain from a bishop and a local priest a certificate of their unimpeachable Christianity. These clauses were to salve the conscience of those who could not bear to punish the innocent.46 No time was allowed for Moriscos to make representations. The expectation was that the expulsion should be total.

So, not all the Moriscos were expelled, although the exodus was as comprehensive as any seventeenth-century government could hope to achieve. The Morisco bandits and highwaymen continued to plague Spain, and they occasionally reappeared in the records of the Inquisition. The last trial of Moriscos took place in Cartagena in 1769, where a group was discovered inside a secret mosque.47 For many Spaniards, as much in the nineteenth century as in the seventeenth, the expulsion of the Moriscos seemed necessary or inevitable, a view that also persisted into the second half of the twentieth century. Claudio Sanchez-Albornóz, at the end of his Spain: A Historical Enigma, projected a future in which the Moriscos had not been expelled.

One does not need extensive imagination to calculate the problems that a “Moorish” Valencia, after three hundred years almost superior to the Christian population of the country and a mass of Moriscos not very inferior to the Christians of Aragon, would have caused for Spain in [the] turmoil of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries … The nation avoided grave dangers … that the Morisco majorities would have posed for our historical life and would continue to pose today [1962] for our future.48

Here is the old language of demographic challenge, as voiced by Cervantes’s dog, Archbishop Ribera, and many others at the time of the expulsion. But Sanchez-Albornóz wrote from a perspective not of a distant threat from 300 years in the past, but of a more recent danger. The fear of the Islamic threat remained a strong connection between the past into the present. All the old terrors could be reinvigorated. Thus, military disaster in Morocco in 1922, when a Spanish general lost 12,000 men—killed and mutilated by Berber tribesmen at the battle of Anual—unlocked a torrent of fear and hatred. So too did the rebel General Francisco Franco when he brought the Army of Africa with its “Moorish” contingents to Spain in 1936. He provided the legitimate Republican government with a potent rallying point. Franco had brought the “Moors” back to Spain and, with them, barbarism. Thus, although 900 years of Islam ended with the expulsion of the Moriscos, their spectral presence remained from that point forward into the twentieth century.

HATRED AND FEAR WERE EVER PRESENT IN IBERIAN AS IN ALL SOCIETIES. But in Spain they focused over several centuries on the division between the Christian and Muslim worlds. Nor was this a theoretical abstraction as it was in the rest of Christian Europe. Christianity and Islam were interwoven in the landscape. The two faiths lived side by side, not in amity but in a kind of equilibrium. That changed over less than a century, as the balance was altered, as Judaism and Islam were officially abolished, and a new unitary Christian culture was created. In later centuries this would be described as social engineering, but in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was articulated within a religious argument. Jews, conversos, Muslims, and Moriscos were enemies of Christ, and gradually the Moriscos came to be seen as the most directly threatening. Soon they began to attract the kind of visceral insult that for centuries had been directed at the Jews. This abuse, which developed from the 1570s, had a single end in view: to categorize them all as crypto-Muslims. They were the perpetual enemy within. They were the rampant “weeds” that were choking the state. Thus, the street language of loathing and disgust percolated upward into learned treatises written by scholars and clerics.

These educated men often wrote in the vernacular, Castilian, which made what they published directly accessible to a wide audience within the Spanish lands. But it also allowed them a wider public still. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Castilian was the language of the greatest power in Europe. Books published in Spanish could be read by the educated in much of Europe. Thus polemic written in Spain, whether in Castilian or Latin, had a resonance and influence far beyond the Pyrenees. By this time we should cease seeing Spain as an isolated southern outcrop of Europe but, rather, in terms of ideas and attitudes, as a nodal point. Spain disseminated ideologies that purported to have a universal application but that were often rooted in the particular preoccupations of Iberia. Foreign travelers rightly recognized the Iberian peninsula as somewhere distinct, for reasons that they often ascribed to its “Moorish” and Jewish antecedents. Often, ironically, the literary stereotypes that they applied to Spaniards were those that Old Christians had fixed on the Moriscos. Long after the last “Moors” and Jews had gone, these images and tropes persisted. The Spanish state appeared to some a miracle, a model and ordered Christian state, a pattern for utopia. For others it was just the opposite, a dystopia. Whether the expulsions of the Jews and Moriscos were utopian or dystopian depended upon your inclination or perspective.

However, images and language never remain static. At some point after the expulsion of the Moriscos from Granada in the 1570s and the re-population of the empty towns and villages with Old Christians from the north, fiestas of Moros y Cristianos (“Moors” and Christians) began to appear in these communities. Gradually, also, as the “Moor” became a distant and near-mythical figure, the menacing Turk became the dominant and threatening image of the infidel.49 Sometimes they figured together in the fiesta. In 1533 the Toledo celebrations of the landing of Charles V at Barcelona had centered on a pageant around “a very high tower [made of wood and plaster] filled with ‘Moors’ completely dressed in the ‘Moorish’ style and inside the Grand Turk defending the castle.” Moors and the Grand Turk were roundly defeated and paraded in chains through the town, carrying their banners. This pageant had a clear and direct message of immediate import, but the ceremonial of Christian triumph over Islam survived after its central purpose had been forgotten. To this day, the town of Baza celebrates the Cascamorras on September 6 every year. Men stained brown from head to foot roam the town, while people hit them, shouting that they have come to steal the image of the Virgin. The origin of this ritual is shrouded in mystery; some have suggested (a little improbably) that it recalls the harsh intolerance of the Almohades in the thirteenth century. Even the name—Cascamorras—is obscure. However, Baza was a great victory for the Catholic Kings in the war for Granada, and Cascamorras can easily be read as “smashing the Moors” (cascar los moros).

There are similar celebrations all over what was once Al-Andulus. Although the scripts for these increasingly elaborate events date from the nineteenth century, the “Moros” and “Cristianos” appeared in festivals long before then. At Alcoy in Valencia, St. George’s Day in 1668 was marked with processions through the streets, with some men dressed up as “Christian ‘Moors’ ” and others as “Christian Christians,” in costumes of the previous century. In the stylized battle that concluded the celebration, it was no surprise that the Christians once more proved invincible. The purpose of these ceremonials was not so much to show the superiority of Christianity to Islam, but to

present a scene of ideal unity and an image of the greatness of the city: the “Moors” were no longer presented as frightening or ridiculous figures … The “Moors” in the fiestas are not savage warriors but noble gentlemen: their costumes are almost always more spectacular than those of the Christians, and they appear majestic.50

Over time, these celebrations became increasingly complex and spectacular, with defined roles assigned to particular districts, churches, or brotherhoods. But in the villages and small towns of the Alpujarras, they retained their original form and purpose for much longer. In Valor, where one of the leaders of the second war of the Alpujarras was born, the emphasis was on Christian benevolence. The “Moorish” king offered his sword to the Christian king and knelt at his feet. The Christian replied:

Moors, among Christians clemency

Lives in our hearts, it fills our soul;

Although you are conquered, I set you free

Take your sword and arise.51

There had been no scene of honor and clemency in Valor in 1568. It was a bloody battle for a starving town, where 200 Moriscos died in a fight against trained and hardened infantry. When they abandoned the town to the Spaniards, they hanged their Christian hostages from the church tower. But even in Valor, the mythmaking of Moros y Cristianos successfully obscured the historical fact, as it did throughout Spain. This celebration of unity eventually lost its original purpose and became a folkloric memory during the eighteenth century, a little more than a century after the departure of the last “Moors.” During the nineteenth century the events became formalized, and by the beginning of this century these local events had been transmuted into a mass international tourist attraction.

However, Moros y Cristianos and the language of the Reconquest also appeared in the Spanish colonial territories of the Americas and the Far East.52 There they did not lose their original roots of conflict. The fiestas spread rapidly through Mexico and Guatemala, where no “Moors” had ever been seen. But the indigenous inhabitants took to them. They identified with the Moros, and carried traditional Aztec festivals and mock battles into the fiestas. While the Spanish colonists saw in the fiestas a message of pacification and Christian forgiveness, the local people found in Moros y Cristianos a means of preserving memories of Aztec power and even hopes of an eventual expulsion of the Spaniards.53 Nor were the language and attitudes of the Reconquest restricted to the Atlantic dimension. Later in the sixteenth century, far to the east in the Philippines, the Spaniards found powerful and combative Muslim communities in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago. Instinctively, they called them Moros. They termed the many groups they managed to convert to Christianity collectively Indios, after the pacified peoples of the Americas. It was the intransigents who were generically called Moros. The Muslims of the southern Philippines were never successfully controlled by the Spaniards nor, indeed, by any subsequent government. Thus, the association of “Islam” with wildness persisted as Spaniards took their culture into the wider world.

In this way Spain carried its long conflict with “Islam” beyond the peninsula. I have suggested that the how and why of words and concepts becoming fixed to Aztecs or Malay tribesmen were circumstantial. But the inner intimations of danger and savagery were disseminated with the words themselves. All Spaniards knew what a Moro could and would do. This attitude persisted even in more tranquil contexts. In the Renaissance courts of Europe, there was a frenetic and uncontrolled dance that came to be called the Moresque, or “Moorish” dance. A German poet visiting Nuremberg in 1491 saw a display where the participants moved in a circle, throwing out their arms and legs in jerky spasms, their necks stretched back and wild grimaces on their faces. Sometimes they were called “Madmen” or “Savages,” but most often they were known as “Moors.” You can still see them, for there is a fine set of small gilded wooden figures, the Moriskentänzer, by Erasmus Grasser, in the Stadt-museum of Munich. These little Moors have dark faces, sinewy legs and arms, strong hands, unsmiling faces. They convey an air of power, mystery, and menace.54

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