Child's History of Spain - John Bonner

The Fall of Granada

A.D. 1488-1492

King Ferdinand found ill Malaga, after the surrender, sixteen hundred Christians, men and women, many of whom had been years in captivity;, some with shackles on their legs, with long hair matted and uncombed, with haggard, pale faces, and figures gaunt from famine. They were set at liberty, fed, and clothed, and sent to their homes. Among the Moorish captives were four hundred Jews, chiefly women, who were ransomed by a wealthy Jew of Castile. The others were held for ransom; but whatever they had was taken to the king, and accounted as part of the ransom. Each person—man, woman, and child—stepped singly out of their house, bearing their money, jewels, bracelets, anklets, and whatever they had of value. These were taken and valued. If they amounted to less than the ransom fixed, the owner was confined in an enclosure to be sold as a slave. Some of the most beautiful girls were allotted to Queen Isabella, who gave them as presents to her sister-in-law, the Queen of Naples, or to the ladies of her court.

Meanwhile a bishop was appointed over the chief mosque, which was turned into a cathedral, and the king and queen, with the officers of the army, heard mass in it. While the plain-chant of the mass rose to heaven, the Moors, with their hands bound, chanted outside:

"Oh, Malaga, city so famous and beautiful! Where is now the strength of thy castle? Behold thy children driven from their pleasant abodes to drag a life of bondage in a foreign land, and to die far from the home of their childhood! What will become of the old men and matrons when their gray hairs will no longer be revered? What will become of thy tender and delicate maidens, when reduced to hard and menial servitude? Oh, Malaga, city of our birth! who can behold thy desolation and not shed tears of bitter grief?"

Boabdil and Isabel


Ferdinand spent the winter in preparing for the final conquest of the Moors, and gave his army a rest. It was not till the end of May, 1489, that he moved from the fortress of Jaen into the Granada country. He had to make sure of several castles, and especially of the fortified town of Baza, before he could venture to attack Granada. Granada was in the hands of Boabdil, who acted like a mean hypocrite. His heart was always with his people; but when Malaga fell he sent congratulations and presents to Ferdinand, and assured him of his fidelity and of his intention to pay tribute. Ferdinand received his messenger in grim silence. He knew that the real ruler of the Moorish empire was Boabdil's uncle, old Muley el Zagal, who was at Almeria, at the head of a considerable force. Ferdinand left him there while he laid siege to Baza.

Baza was so strong a place, and was so stanchly defended by the Moors, that the Spaniards beleaguered it for six months before they could reduce it. They would have had to raise the siege for want of food had it not been for the energy of Queen Isabella. The country round the town had been laid bare by the raiders on both sides. It contained nothing to eat. There were no wagons to be had, and no roads to drive them over if there had been. The army was on the point of starving, when long convoys of loaded mules were seen winding down the hill-side, and bearing relief. Isabella had bought all the corn in Andalusia, and all the mules. She loaded each mule with as much corn as it could carry, and day after day started off droves of two hundred mules each to the camp. Her husband and his troops were thus saved by her vigor and foresight.

Not content with victualling the army, the queen resolved to join it, in order to give heart to her husband, and to see personally to the establishment of field hospitals, which were always very near her heart. She journeyed from Jaen with a cavalcade of troopers and attendants, and rode slowly past the Moorish city with gay banners and pennons, and a splendid retinue of cavaliers, as if she were going to make a holiday. When the Moors saw her pass, they knew that the king was there to stay until the city fell, and the commanding officer sent a messenger to old El Zagal.

The white-bearded veteran sat with a scowl on his brow, and said: "How fares it with Baza?"

The messenger handed him a letter, which he read with bowed head.

"There is but one God," said he, "and Mahomet is his prophet; the people of Baza must submit to the decree of fate."

So the city surrendered, and largely through the intercession of Isabella no one was sold as a slave, no one lost his property, and the Moors were allowed to go on praying in their old fashion.

Then other forts surrendered. One of them was commanded by an old soldier, who said that his men refused to stand by him, and therefore he could not hold out. Ferdinand offered him gold, but he refused it, saying:

"I came not to sell what is not mine, but to yield what fortune has made yours."

"But," said Queen Isabella, "can we do nothing for you?"

"You can," said the Moor; "you can give me your royal word that my unhappy countrymen, with their wives and children, shall be protected in the peaceable enjoyment of their homes and their religion."

"We promise it," said the queen.

And the high-minded old warrior took the road to Africa.

Then Almeria fell, the second city in the Empire of Granada, and El Zagal was taken prisoner. He was set free, and given an estate to live on. But he thought he would be happier in Africa, and went there. Unhappily he fell into the clutches of the Sultan of Fez, whose executioner held a basin of molten copper before his eyes; and blinded him. He spent his last years groping about Fez, in rags and penniless.

Then all that remained of the Moorish Empire was the city and plain, or vega, of Granada. Boabdil was there, in the Alhambra, writing cringing letters to Ferdinand—who answered none of them—hated and cursed by his people as a traitor. Suddenly, in the summer of 1490, a Spanish army appeared in the vega of Granada, which was clothed with a rich crop of fruit and grain. The soldiers ravaged it after their fashion: reaped the wheat, and put the grain in their stores, cut down the fruit-trees, and tore up the vines. The bad work done, Ferdinand summoned Granada to surrender. Boabdil tried to argue with him; Ferdinand would not listen to him or deal with him, but wrote to the officers in command at Granada, demanding the surrender of their arms. With one voice they refused. An officer named Muza spoke for them, and said they were ready to die, but they would not surrender. Boabdil, who then once more recovered courage, and said he was loyal to his race, begged to be allowed to lead them against the Spaniards, and they took him into favor once again.

The siege lasted over a year, and though there was no general battle, single combats and feats of daring were of daily occurrence. Between the advanced line of the Christians and the walls was an open space. Almost every day some Christian knight or Moorish warrior rode into this space and challenged any horseman on the other side to meet him in a joust of arms. When these duels took place the two armies looked on; it was esteemed unknightly to interfere.

One of the Moorish warriors, named Tarfe, was famous for his personal exploits. In open day he rode so near to the Spanish lines that he flung his lance almost into the royal tent; when it was pulled quivering out of the ground it was found to bear a card with the queen's name on it. Yet Tarfe rode safely back to Granada. A Spanish cavalier, named Hernan del Pulgar, with a handful of horsemen, rode stealthily at night into the city of Granada, nailed on the door of the chief mosque a placard bearing the words Ave Maria (" Hail, Mary"), galloped furiously through the crowd which tried to stop him, and got safely away. Next day a Moorish warrior of gigantic size appeared before the walls with this very placard tied to his horse's tail. He taunted and jeered the Spaniards till a young hidalgo rode out to meet him. The two cavaliers met with such a shock that their lances were shivered to pieces, and both rolled into the dust. Then the Moor, who was a giant, turned his adversary over on the ground, and drew his poignard to stab him in the throat; but the young hidalgo, shortening his sword, thrust it through a chink in the Moor's armor straight into his heart.

These encounters did not drive the Spaniards away from Granada, and the Moors saw that it was a mere question of time when they must yield from hunger, now that their fields were laid waste. So, after much strife among themselves, they agreed on terms of surrender in November, 1491, and on January 2nd, 1492, the Spaniards marched into the place.

Boabdil met the advance party with a face pinched by grief, and handed them the keys of the city. As he turned to look at his walls he burst into tears, and said:

"God is great!"

His old mother, Ayesha, who had somehow got out of her dungeon, and was spiteful to the last, exclaimed.

"You may well weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man."

The Spanish advance-guard quickly raised the banner of the Cross and the flag of Castile and Aragon over the Alhambra, and in the open street the king and queen fell on their knees to thank God for their victory. The old ballad draws the scene so that you can almost see it:

"There was crying in Granada

When the sun was going down;

Some calling on the Trinity

Some calling on Mahoun.

Here passed away the Koran

There in the Cross was borne

And here was heard the Christian bell,

And there the Moorish horn.

Here gallants held it little

For ladies' sake to die,

Or for the prophet's honor,

And pride of Soldanry;

For here did valor flourish,

And deeds of warlike might

Ennobled lordly palaces,

In which was our delight.

The gardens of thy vega!

Its fields and blooming bowers!

Woe! woe! I see their beauty gone,

And scattered all their flowers.

No reverence can claim the king

That such a land bath lost;

On charger never can he ride,

Nor be heard among the host;

But in some dark and dismal place,

Where none his face can see,

There, weeping and lamenting,

Alone that king should be."

Ferdinand promised that the Moors should continue to pray as they chose in their mosques; that their property should not be taken from them; that they should not be taxed more than they had been under their own kings.

We shall see how these promises were kept.

Boabdil was given a sum of money and a castle. But he was restless. He sold his property and went to Africa. There he was robbed by the sultans, and his children lived to beg their bread.