Isabella of Castile - O. O. Howard

Fall of Malaga

"I have been thinking of the victims bound,

. . . . dying for the lack of air

And sunshine, in their close, damp cells of pain,

Where hope is not, and innocence in vain

Appeals against the torture and the chain!"


Isabella praying


The Moorish War Continued—Army Fleet at Malaga—Hamet El Zegri Defended Malaga, Besieged—Isabella with Her Court at the Camp—The Old Moorish Seer Reinforcing—He Attempts To Assassinate the King and Queen—The Capitulation—Ferdinand's Severity—The Christian Captives—The Mosques Dedicated—The prisoners badly treated—The Return of the Court to Andalusia—Family Life at Cordova.

All the smaller places, villages, hamlets and redoubts along the routes to Malaga, perhaps twenty in number, hastened to capitulate and receive the same privileges as Velez-Malaga. The main road from Velez-Malaga tan westward through an exceedingly fertile valley, an expanse in places of considerable breadth.

Ferdinand's army, after but a short rest, pushed on to the vicinity of the larger city. His forces had been at this time some 40,000 strong, besides the fleet, which already had possession of the port.

This naval squadron, with its armed vessels and its accompanying transports, made of it itself a formidable show to the anxious inhabitants of the city.

Ferdinand, before reaching the suburbs and making junction with his seamen, encountered two main obstacles where the valley narrows and seemingly ascends toward the great town. On his left was the strong fort or citadel, Gibralfaro, situated upon a high bluff; it is between the east end of the city and the sea, and commands all approaches from the east; the other, on the opposite side, was the rugged hill, jagged with sharp rocks and steep—a sort of foothill to the mountains that stretch along the north flank of Malaga.

These the terrible Hamet el Zegri, with his battalions, had occupied in force. The Moor burned all the houses in the suburbs that could afford shelter to his enemy's forces, and met the first assaults of the Spaniards with great vigor. After a hard struggle, with great losses on both sides, the foothill and every other point outside the thick walls of the city except the castle of Gibralfaro were taken. Into this stronghold Hamet el Zegri drew his shattered battalions. This castle. he made the headquarters of his operations. The Spaniards were not long in completely investing the city. The story of the siege of Malaga need not be repeated. It is told by many authors, with all its remarkable incidents. Gradually the forces of the king grew in numbers till finally there were between 60,000 and 70,000 men, "while," says Irving, "a fleet of vessels, freighted with heavy artillery and warlike munitions, kept pace with it at a short distance from the land, covering the sea with a thousand gleaming sails."

Ferdinand had again and again offered favorable terms to the city; but Hamet el Zegri overbore every faint heart, and made such short work with those who counselled prudence or pointed out the uselessness of resistance, that before long no man dared speak his mind. In fact, the citizens of Malaga, with few exceptions, became soldiers, and tried to outdo Hamet's fierce Gomeses in their loyal support.

Indeed, the old warrior himself was sustained by many promises and rumors, which at last proved themselves without foundation. He expected help from El Zagal. Many supplies, designed to come to the besieger by water, had been long delayed; the plague was reported as already breaking out in the neighboring villages; and it was told him that Isabella, hearing the rumor, by her letters had pleaded with her husband to return at once to Cordova.

We recall the previous preparations of the queen to join the army at Velez-Malaga. Just as soon as she was made aware of this obstinate defence and the cause of it, she set out with the ladies of her court, the Cardinal of Spain, and other high officials of the Church and the realm. The Marquis of Cadiz and the Master of Santiago received the queen and her cortege at a short distance from the camp, and escorted her to her beautiful pavilion, already prepared.

The soldiers, who always loved her appearing, standing in groups, watched the novel procession, and filled the region with their loud and joyous greetings. Isabella's arrival infused new life into all the operations of the siege. She begged that new offers for capitulation might now be made. El Zegri, though he felt the change; though he received appeals from the people, who began to suffer from hunger; though he was told that the court of Spain had come to stay, still fiercely answered "No."

His hopes from El Zagal were, however, soon rudely crushed. The old king did set out again from the country beyond Granada with a reasonable body of relief; but this time Boabdil intercepted, and defeated all the reinforcing column, and sent the news of it, with presents and congratulations, to the sovereigns, giving them a renewal of his pledges of allegiance.

From Guadix came 400 more devoted men, with a singular old Moorish seer at their head; by a rush and half surprise, and after a bloody combat, about two hundred succeeded in getting into the city. The old seer was found near the camp; but he was spared on account of the singular sanctity of his manner and appearance. He told the Marquis of Cadiz that he had an important message that he had vowed to deliver to the sovereigns. The marquis brought him to the court. Ferdinand was taking an afternoon siesta, so Isabella put off the interview sought for till he should awaken. Meanwhile, the marquis took the seer to another tent. Here Donna Beatriz, Isabella's early friend, and Don Alvaro, a young Portuguese knight, were sitting conversing. The saintly old Moor mistook them for the king and queen. Seizing his hidden cimeter, as he broke from his guard, he struck down Don Alvaro at one blow and aimed another at Beatriz. Fortunately for her the raised cimeter was caught by some tent hangings and then again by an ornament in her hair, and so did little harm. The old fanatic was instantly caught and slain by the guard and others close at hand, and immediately thereafter his body was shot from a catapult into the beleaguered town.

After this alarming experience the court guards were increased, and every soldier in the army seemed stimulated to redouble his exertions. As the siege went on the force outside still increased, and even distant nations sent there a small representative quota. The discipline at this place was remarkable. Gamblers and women of ill repute were shut out. Dice-throwing and card-playing were prohibited. Profane oaths and blasphemy ceased. There was never a bloody affray and hardly a dispute among the soldiers, who had been assembled from so many classes. At this siege all that military science in this mediaeval time had invented was brought together—wooden towers, with ladders and bridges; pieces of artillery to be buried and used as a mine; catapults and battering-rams, and all the apparatus for shaping stone missiles; the seven lombards, called the "seven sisters of Ximenes," to bombard thick walls and make practicable breaches.

Francis Ramirez finally led the way by his subterranean mines and galleries, and after breaking through all obstacles, and then after a terrific engagement within the city limits, captured the town. El Zegri, sullen still, drew off his relentless Gomeses to Gibralfaro, and left the starving citizens and their families to their fate.

On the 18th day of August, 1487, the city of Malaga, through its wealthy citizen, Ali Dordux, surrendered without conditions to Don Ferdinand, the king, who was himself in person commanding the besieging forces. Ali Dordux and 40 of his relatives were allowed their freedom and their property. This was almost the limit of the clemency of Ferdinand, who was very angry at the long-continued obstinacy of the Malagans—angry at their final reluctance to trust him; at their threat to hang all the Christian prisoners, and to destroy their city and immolate themselves; at their attempts to assassinate his queen and himself; and at their horrid cruelty, shown by their merciless executions during the siege.

There was one Moorish leader, Abrahen Zenete, who was pardoned out and out because in the heat of battle he had shown mercy and spared several youths against the remonstrances of his furious followers. He subsequently answered their charges by saying, "I saw no beard upon their young faces." Indeed, even in the heat of conflict we trace the noblesse oblige.

Hamet el Zegri gave up the castle on the 20th, two days after the capitulation of the city.

It is written that Isabella earnestly desired that the terms for Malaga should be more compassionate and humane. But we may understand some things from the universal resentment that followed the release of those 1600 prisoners. A large tent was prepared and put up outside the city, in which the queen received them. Many had the chains and fetters still clanking on their limbs. All were nearly starved. Some, dazed and stupid from long confinement, with no flesh upon their bones, staggered along half supported by stronger companions. Some, understanding nothing, mumbled meaningless words, but the most wept like children, and many tried to kiss the feet of the sovereigns in their joy at deliverance. Naked, filthy, and broken, a pitiable mass of humanity, these first inspired in the good queen and her friends about her the tenderest compassion, followed by sobs and weeping. Then came a feeling of strong resentment against the Moors, who had inflicted such terrible cruelties. With this feeling upon her, she this time did little to mitigate the severity of her husband's judgments, who himself, his friends must admit, was prone to exceed the Jewish rule of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

First, the city was cleansed of dead animals and decaying corpses. Then the chief mosque of the Moors was washed, scrubbed, and made ready for formal consecration. When all things were ready, the king and the queen made their triumphant entry into Malaga, renamed the grand mosque Santa Maria de la Encarnacion, and passed into it, led by the great Cardinal of Spain, in order to consecrate it forever as a house of Christian worship. They then chanted the usual forms of praise and thanksgiving. How strange that all men, both Jew and Gentile, could not have been embraced in the love of their hearts! The Spanish troops slowly wound their way to the plaza and to all the gates of the city and took military possession. In the spacious courtyard of what was called the "Lower Citadel" were gathered the surrendered soldiers, regular and volunteer, but without their arms; also the people of the neighboring villages, who had come for the same terms as the citizens of the city; and all the remaining population of Malaga, from 15,000 to 20,000 in number. After a few had been set apart for special purposes, the rest were separated into three divisions; the first were kept for exchange with Christian prisoners who were still held in bondage; the second were to be sold into slavery (with privilege of redemption for eight or nine months) to defray the expenses of the war; the third, by a system of allotment, were to be given to the nobles and leaders in the war. One hundred Gomeses were sent to the Pope's guard; the Queen of Naples, Ferdinand's sister, received 5o Moorish maids, and the Queen of Portugal 30; others, it is said, Isabella gave to her own personal friends among the ladies of her court. Four or five hundred of the Jews, who seldom fail each other when in trouble, were saved from slavery by the prompt action of their brethren elsewhere, their ransoms being promptly paid.

In the line of redemption there was a clause which fixed the sum for the whole Moorish people present at the rate of 36 ducats per head. The people were to be kept as hostages for eight months, or till it was finally paid. The poor people gave up everything, but were unable at the end of the eight months to get enough together to meet the demand. These were indeed cruel conditions, but they are perfectly consonant with the character of King Ferdinand. He was often selfish and crafty in his policy and cruel in his exactions; but they do not comport with the usual theory and practice of Isabella. One very friendly author (De Nervo) remarks, after gazing at this picture, "Yes, Isabella joined in this cruelty—even she!" As for her assent to the establishment of the terrible Inquisition, and for her favor to its first beginnings, there are many apologies; for example, the character of the times, the prevailing opinion of heresy, and the influence of churchmen; so there are reasons in extenuation for the severities in which she participated toward the people of Malaga—for example, the cruelty of the Moors themselves, and particularly the strong desires of the sovereigns to inspire such terror throughout the entire Moslem domain that the remaining cities would surrender without the expenditure of money and the horrors of the siege. But still the biographer is disappointed that, in order to render the truth of history, such apologies and extenuations have to be given at all.

Malaga, thus deprived of its inhabitants, was soon repeopled. The so called Christian immigrants, under generous grants, succeeded to the lands and dwellings of the Moors. The rights of the conqueror were not in those days limited and softened by the present law of nations. After the fall of Malaga, Velez-Malaga, and their dependencies, Granada's fate was substantially sealed. From the Moors' standpoint the great capital itself was surrounded by relentless and implacable foes, and almost shut off from exterior communication by the sea. It was clear enough that the Spaniards would take time only for a little rest and recruitment, and then hasten to put the finishing stroke to their work.

The court and army, leaving sufficient garrison, passed on with short marches to Andalusia. Isabella and her consort spent the winter in Cordova. It was a brilliant winter, but as the necessities of a fresh campaign were pressing her, the queen did not encourage either idleness or extraordinary display.

The cares of her own family—for we know how attentive she never failed to be to her children—must at this period have taken no little time and thought.

Her fifth and last child, Catalina, born December 5th, 1485, was now two years old. Her birthplace was Alcala de Henares. However eager to prosecute this to Isabella always a holy war, she derived no small comfort from the little circle around her, upon whom she could lavish a mother's affection and to their tender life give the impress of her own character.