Child's History of Spain - John Bonner

The Fall of Malaga

A.D. 1483—1488

When King Ferdinand learned that the Moorish king was a prisoner he was puzzled to know what to do with him. Happily he had at his right hand one who was wiser and stronger-minded than he. This was his wife, Isabella. For some time she had been residing at Seville, and though she was barely thirty, she had presided over the royal court of justice there, had heard cases, and decided them wisely. The king had learned to lean upon her judgment for counsel. She now advised that Boabdil be released, on condition of his paying the old tribute to the King of Castile, and of setting free a certain number of captives. The prisoner readily agreed to these terms, and started for Granada.

But Boabdil had not heard the news from his capital. No sooner had his capture by the Christians become known there than his fiery old father dashed into the place at the head of his troopers, proclaimed that he was king once more, and camped in the Alhambra. Boabdil's mother, Ayesha, he drove out of the palace, and bade her find lodgings in the quarter where the workmen lived. She, who was as fierce as her husband, barricaded herself in the quarter which had been assigned her, seized one of the gates of the city, and bade defiance to Muley. When Boabdil, who had left Granada in such glory and splendor, came creeping back under cover of night, cowering and quaking from fear of his terrible father, she let him in, flung herself on his neck, called the workmen to his support, and told him:

"It depends on thyself whether thou wilt remain here a king or a captive."

When day dawned and old Muley Abul Hassan heard that his son was back he foamed with rage and summoned his fighting men. Ayesha summoned hers, and the two parties—father against son—fought all day in the streets. When night came Boabdil cried "Enough!" and ran away to live at Almeria, his mother taunting him as he went with the jibe that a man was not worthy of being called a king who could not hold his own capital city.

King Ferdinand's hope for peace and a revival of tribute were ended when Boabdil was overthrown; so he began again to raid the Moorish country, to carry off booty, and to make slaves of the Moors. At first Muley Abul Hassan watched him from the highest tower of the Alhambra, growling like a tiger and grinding his teeth, because he could not trust his troops; but at last a body of them were collected who were willing to follow the Christian example of fighting for plunder, and they raided Andalusia, while Ferdinand raided the plain or vega of Granada. I do not think that you can feel much sympathy for either. There was very little fighting done in comparison with the amount of robbing. The chief sufferers by the war were the poor peasants and residents of small towns and villages, who lost everything they had, and saw their children carried off to be sold as slaves, Moors by Christians, Christians by Moors. It could not have mattered much to them whether they were despoiled by Moslems or Christians. Whichever race it was, the peasant lost his wheat crop, his vines, his orchard, his orange and olive grove, and his sons and daughters.

But the Christians had the advantage in this border warfare. King Ferdinand took town after town, castle after castle, village after village, and what he took he kept. Muley Abut Hassan took few places, and those he did take were quickly wrenched out of his grasp. During the whole of the year 1484 the Moorish territory was gradually growing narrower and the Spanish territory wider.

Moreover, from repeated defeat, the Moors were losing heart. The old king, who had spent such a life of toil and battle, became blind and bedridden. His son Boabdil, who was always conspiring against him, was chased out of the kingdom by his uncle, El Zagal, and forced to take refuge, like an outcast, with the Christians at Cordova. When El Zagal appeared at Almeria to seize him, Queen Ayesha intrepidly faced him, and called him a perfidious traitor. So El Zagal thrust her into prison, and made an end of her for the time.

Meanwhile, May, 1486, King Ferdinand assembled at Cordova an army of twelve thousand horse, forty thousand foot soldiers armed with cross-bows, lances, and arquebuses, and a park of heavy cannon, which were then called Lombards. With these he marched down against the Moorish strongholds in Southern Spain lying back of Malaga. He took them all, one after the other—Loxa, Elora, Moclin, and others; thus gradually, by slow degrees, he encircled Malaga in his grip.

Malaga lies on the shore of the Mediterranean, and is backed up against a range of sloping mountains, whose sides are clothed with the vines bearing Malaga grapes, which I dare say you have eaten, and with fragrant plantations of oranges, lemons, olives, and pomegranates. Five hundred years ago two of the heights behind the city were crowned, the one with the citadel and the other with a fort called the Gibralfaro. The latter, which was a strong work, was commanded by a dark and fierce-eyed Moor, who was known as Hamet el Zegri, and garrisoned with Moors fresh from Africa. Round the town itself ran a high wall with tall towers at intervals.

Ferdinand fired his heavy guns at the towers, and presently made a breach through one of them by which some of his troops entered; but the Moors attacked them with heavy stones and boiling pitch, and undermined the tower which the Christians had taken, so that it fell in. Then the Marquis of Cadiz massed his men to storm Gibralfaro, but the Moors sallied forth at night, swooped upon the enemy with such fury and threw so many down the cliff-side that the stormers drew off with sore heads. Then the Christians undertook to undermine the walls. Hamet found it out and dug countermines, so that sometimes one tunnel would run into another, and Christian and Moor would engage in a death-grapple under the ground.

Ferdinand held the sea, and Malaga could get no food from outside. Hamet had seized all the food in the city for the use of his soldiers, doling out to them a quarter of a pound of bread in the morning, and half as much at night. Women and children ate what they could get—the flesh of horses and stray remains of dried fruits. And all the while they saw ships arriving with grain for the Chris¬tians, and droves of cattle slowly winding over the hills. Queen Isabella, who had joined her husband in camp, was touched by the stories of suffering in Malaga, and sent word that the most liberal terms would be granted in case of surrender. But Hamet el Zegri replied that he had only begun the fight, and that the sooner King. Ferdinand raised the siege the better it would be for him. Numbers of citizens were ready to surrender, but Hamet threatened then with death if they spoke.

After a time the fathers of starving families climbed up the rock of Gibralfaro, and besought the Moorish chief not to doom so many to die of hunger. He replied that the day of deliverance was at hand. All he asked was a little patience. It seems he had on his staff a crazy dervish, who pretended to be an astrologer; this astrologer said that it had been revealed to him by the stars that an attack made upon the Christians on a certain day, he leading the Moors with a certain white flag in his hand, was certain to make an end of the Spanish army.

Accordingly, on the day set, the dervish led the way with his white flag, and the whole Moslem army in brave array sallied forth and fell upon the Spaniards. It was a foolhardy enterprise. The Christians were at first taken by surprise, but they recovered their wits, and attacked the Moors with such fury that hundreds of them were slain and the rest driven back, wounded and bruised, into Malaga. The crazy dervish had his poor sick brains knocked out by a stone.

The city of Malaga then surrendered, and the starving people were abundantly supplied with food from King Ferdinand's stores. Hamet el Zegri shut himself up in his castle of Gibralfaro. But the Africans had suffered so dreadfully from battle, hunger, and fatigue that there was a dangerous light in their eyes; and when they bade Hamet ask terms of surrender, he did not keep them waiting. He wanted to make special terms for himself and his men; but Ferdinand, like some one else whom you will remember, answered that the only terms he would accept were unconditional surrender. And those were the terms settled. Hamet was imprisoned for life. His Moors were all sold as slaves but one.

That one was Ibraham Zenete. I must close this chapter with the reason why, of all that band, Zenete alone was spared.

When Hamet el Zegri made his great sortie from Malaga, under the guidance of the crazy dervish, Zenete led the advance. In leading the van, he broke into a house which was occupied by Spanish officers, and in a room in that house he found three Spanish boys in a bed sleeping. lie struck them sharply with the flat of his sword, and cried:

"Away to your mothers, brats!"

"Why," said a Moorish officer, "do you not kill the Christian dogs?"

"Because," replied Zenete, "I see no beards on their faces."

This was accounted so chivalrous an act that King Ferdinand declared a Castilian hidalgo could not have been more high-minded; and this was why, when all his comrades were sold into slavery, Zenete was forgiven and set at liberty.

Malaga fell in the year 1488; and when it fell, as the Moorish saying went, the eye of Granada was plucked out.