Child's History of Spain - John Bonner

The Moriscoes

A.D. 1566-1609

You remember that when the Moorish empire of Granada was overthrown by Ferdinand and Isabella the Moors were allowed to remain in Spain on condition that they would be baptized as Christians, and would cease to hold religious ceremonies in their mosques. They accepted these hard terms because they could not help themselves, but in secret they remained Moslems as before.

The Inquisition was not ignorant of their real sentiments, and constantly urged the king to adopt more stringent measures with the infidel. Charles did at one time draw up an edict for the purpose, but he refused to let it be carried out. When Cardinal Espinosa became minister of Philip the Second the clergy were more successful. A royal edict commanded the Moriscoes, as the Moors were now called, to stop using their own Arabic tongue, and to speak and write nothing but Spanish; to change their names for Spanish names; to give up their own dress, and dress like Spaniards; to cease bathing; to stop singing Moorish songs and dancing Moorish dances. More cruel than anything, the Morisco women were forbidden to cover their faces in public, though in all Moorish countries it was and is still considered immodest for a woman to appear in public with her face uncovered. The ordinance was published on November 17th, 1566.

You will not be surprised to hear that the whole Morisco people declared that they would rather die than submit. They armed themselves, and prepared for resistance. King Philip had to send an army into Granada, and the old war began again.

It lasted several years, and, like all wars for race and religion, was carried on savagely on both sides. When the Moriscoes swooped down on a Spanish village they spared no one; when the Spaniards captured a Moorish fort or town every Morisco, young or old, male or female, was put to the sword. In one town, which the Spaniards took after a siege, the gutters ran with blood as they run with water after a rain-storm.

But, as you may imagine, the parties to the contest were too unequal for it to last long. There were not Moriscoes enough to resist the power of Spain. They fought gallantly; and their leaders, Aben-Yumeya and Aben-Aboo, did wonders with their little force; but when John of Austria was sent to the seat of war with a considerable army the Moriscoes were crushed.

The king then scattered the surviving Moriscoes through Spain. Granada was emptied of them. Every day a caravan of men, women, and children was started for some distant place in Castile or Estremadura or Valencia or the North; and as it was nobody's business to see that they were not driven too fast or were fed on the way, numbers of them died on the journey from fatigue and hunger. After a time the rest were settled in new homes among strangers.

I confess I am not as sorry as perhaps I should be that the exile of the Moriscoes from Granada desolated that beautiful city. Nearly all the mechanics and gardeners had been Moriscoes; when they were gone, there were no carpenters or masons or painters or smiths or florists in the place. Neither houses nor tools could be mended, and the beautiful pleasure-grounds, which had been the pride of the city, became wildernesses of weeds.

Nor did the Inquisition find that the dispersion of the Moriscoes put an end to secret heresy, as it had reckoned it would. The little Morisco colonies scattered here and there clung all the more closely to each other, and to their faith and their customs; the country priests reported that they still washed the holy water off their children's faces after baptism, and still talked in Arabic to each other when they were alone. It was found that wherever they went their industry and their skill enabled them to excel the lazy fighting Spaniards in farming and handicraft. Whereupon the Spaniards began to chorus with the priests that the Moors must go.

Nothing came of the cry in the time of Philip the Second. But when his son, Philip the Third, came to the throne, the clergy renewed their efforts. Archbishop Ribera of Valencia never ceased to worry the king, saying that there would never be pure religion in Spain, and the native Spaniard would never be able to make a living, so long as the Moors remained. The Archbishop of Toledo agreed with him, and thought the best way to deal with the Moriscoes was to kill them all, especially the young children, in order to prevent their intermarrying with Spaniards. Ribera and the king rather objected to this, as being too much in the style of King Herod of Judea.

An appeal was taken to the pope, who expressed a view which rather surprised the archbishops. His holiness said that if Ribera and the other priests had done their duty, they would have converted the Moriscoes long ago, and that the idea of killing or exiling them was unchristian. The archbishops had to wait.

But the dull Spanish farmers and workmen, who saw the Moriscoes making a living where they starved, kept harping on the necessity of driving them out, and, in an evil day, Philip the Third consented. On September 9th, 1609, an edict was published requiring all Moriscoes to be in readiness to be carried to Africa in three days.

The edict was carried out to the letter, in spite of opposition from the nobles of Valencia, who knew the value of Morisco labor, and parted reluctantly with the best field-hands and workmen they had. About one million people, the most useful inhabitants of Spain, were put on ship by force of arms, and transported to Africa. Some of the vessels were wrecked on the way, and the passengers perished. Other passengers were murdered by their guards, and their wives and daughters taken as slaves. The property of all was taken from them to defray the expense of their removal.

Irrigating Near Alicante.


What a blow this inflicted on Spain I cannot describe. The great mass of the Spanish people understood war and nothing else. All works of drainage and high farming were conducted by the Moriscoes. They carried on the factories and sugar-mills. They managed the rice plantations. They cultivated the vineyards and the orchards. When they were gone, all the sources of wealth dried up.

A few children of both sexes were stolen at the last moment by priests, who proposed to educate them as Christians, and a few nobles in Valencia obtained permission from the king to keep six out of every hundred Moriscoes to teach the natives how to farm their estates. With these exceptions the whole race was driven out of Spain to lose itself among the savage races of northern Africa.