In 711 the peninsula of Spain was invaded by the Saracens or Moors, who were Mohammedans from the northern part of Africa. At first the invasion was intended by their governor, Musa, as a raid for plunder, but under the leadership of his general, Taric, and through the treachery of the Spanish governor of Ceuta, a fortress on the African coast, overlooking the straits of Gibraltar, a horde of Moslem soldiers poured into Spain, and most unexpected conquest followed.
Within the next four years the whole southern part of the Peninsula had been subdued, and the Spanish people driven into the northern mountainous districts.
Elated by their success the Moors hoped for the conquest of Western Europe, and invaded France, where they were for a time victorious; but in 732 they were so completely routed by the French king, Charles Martel, at the battle of Tours that they made no further attempts to enter the country.
For over seven hundred years they remained in Spain, though a constant warfare was kept up between them and the different kingdoms into which the northern part of the peninsula was divided.
In the thirteenth century they had been so far conquered that their rule was restricted to the beautiful and fertile province of Granada, and as a condition of peace they were obliged to pay a yearly tribute of 12,000 gold ducats to their Christian foes.
Here they made a final stand for another two hundred and fifty years, but towards the latter part of the fifteenth century the Moorish king, Muly Abel Hassan, a most cruel and warlike monarch, refused to pay the tribute any longer. He led his army out of Granada and made a raid upon the Christian city of Zahara, which he surprised in the midst of a stormy winter's night. Having overcome the garrison, he plundered the city, laid it waste, slaughtered many of the people, and treated the unfortunate captives whom he brought back with the utmost cruelty. So shocking were his deeds that many of his own people cried: "Woe to Granada! the hour of its destruction is at band." This act so aroused the Christians that from this time the warfare was almost incessant, and in 1491 Boabdil, the last of the Moorish kings, the weak and vacillating son of Muly Abel Hassan, delivered up the keys of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella.
Those who enjoy the recital of the deeds of these stirring times are recommended to read Irving's Conquest of Granada and Lockhart's Spanish Ballads.
The bull fight, the chief pastime of the Spanish people, is a most cruel and revolting sport. It takes place in a large circular arena, surrounded by raised seats. The circus at Madrid is capable of holding 12,000 people and the spectacle is patronized by all classes. The combat is between bulls and men trained to the profession, some of whom fight on foot and others on horseback. Human life is rarely sacrificed, but many bulls, and often horses, are killed at each exhibition.
Don Quixote is the hero of a famous Spanish romance of the same name, by Cervantes (1547-1616). He is represented as a country gentleman, who spends his money in buying, and his time in reading, tales of chivalry, to the neglect of his domestic affairs. Having "his imagination full of all that he had read; of enchantments, contests, battles, challenges, tortures, and impossible absurdities," he determines to set forth, like a wandering knight, to do battle against all sorts of wrongs. He is accompanied by his squire, Sancho Panza, and the two meet with many amusing adventures. The tale was written not only to show the absurdities into which writers on chivalry had been led, but it was also a protest against the prejudice, common to Spain and other countries at that time, against any sort of useful labor, whether of brains or of hands.
About the beginning of the seventh century an Arabian prophet, called Mohammed, began to preach the religion of Islam, or entire submission to the will of God, to his idolatrous countrymen. The Hebrew religion had been carried into Arabia by Jewish colonists, who established themselves in the northern part of the Peninsula, after the destruction of Jerusalem; and Christianity also had its disciples in the country.
The new religion was built upon the teachings of the Old Testament, with additions and alterations. Of the Christian religion Mohammed knew but little; he had, however, reverence for its founder, whom he ranked as the greatest prophet next to himself. He recognized six persons as especially commissioned to proclaim new laws and dispensations, each of which had in time taken the place of the preceding one. These teachers were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed—the last and greatest of them all.
He set forth his doctrines in a series of writings called the Koran—the sacred book of the Moslems or Mohammedans. The two principal articles of belief are contained in the oft-repeated words "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet."
He was born at Mecca, a city some forty miles from the Red Sea, to which numbers of the Arab tribes resorted at that time, on the pilgrimages prescribed by their ancient idolatrous creed. In this city was the Caaba, or Kaaba, an ancient building, in which was set a black stone, said to have fallen with Adam from Paradise. The belief in the sacredness of the Kaaba and the ceremonies of the pilgrimage were incorporated in the new belief; but all former idolatrous practices were strictly forbidden, and fasting, prayer, and almsgiving were enjoined.
For some time after Mohammed began to preach, but little attention was paid to his doctrines by the people of Mecca, but they finally became alarmed, as the number of his disciples increased, and they rose in anger against the prophet who "called their ancient gods idols, and their ancestors fools." Mohammed accordingly fled with his followers from the city, and sought refuge in Medina, and from this flight, or Hegira, the Mohammedan era is dated.
In this city he was better appreciated, and soon rose to the position of law-giver and judge. He drew to himself many disciples and sent his missionaries all over Arabia and into neighboring countries. He then proclaimed a holy war against the enemies of Islam, at first confining himself to attacking caravans of merchants on their way to Syria. As his forces became more numerous, and his power increased, he engaged in many battles, and at last he besieged Mecca at the head of ten thousand men, took the city, and was publicly recognized as its chief and prophet.
Before Mohammed's time the Arabs had been a collection of rival tribes, but he consolidated them into the Moslem people and made himself the master of Arabia.
His followers carried their conquest over Syria, Persia, and as far as Spain, and finally placed the crescent, the emblem of their religion, on the spires of the great Christian cathedral of St. Sophia at Constantinople, where it still remains. To-day about thirty millions of people profess the faith of Islam.
Spain in the time of the Greeks and Romans was known as Iberia or Hispania. Its people were made up from many different races, some of whom had colonized its coasts, and others had from time to time overrun the country and made themselves its masters.
At the time of the Saracen or Moorish invasion, the Goths, the last conquerors of Spain after the fall of the Roman Empire, held the governing power, though the Peninsula was subdivided into many petty kingdoms.
In 1469 Arragon and Castile, two of the most powerful states, were united by the marriage of their sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, names of great interest to Americans, as it was under their patronage, especially that of the queen, that Christopher Columbus sailed forth to the discovery of the New World.
It was to them also that the Moorish King Boabdil surrendered his stronghold, and they rode into Granada the masters of united Spain.
Their grandson Charles V. (1500-1558) was the ablest and most powerful monarch of the sixteenth century. From his father he inherited the archduchy of Austria and the kingdom of the Netherlands; from his grandparents all Spain, increased by the addition of the Two Sicilies (1504) and by the annexation of the southern part of Navarre. In his reign Mexico and Peru were added to Spain's possessions, and his power was further augmented by his election as Emperor of Germany. This was the period of Spain's greatest glory.
Under succeeding monarchs of lesser ability, and after many wars, the power of the country waned, but a fresh period of activity was entered upon when in 1700 the kingdom came to Philip V. , a prince of the house of Bourbon.
After the French Revolution Napoleon invaded the country, deposed the king, Ferdinand VII., and placed his own brother on the throne. The Spaniards revolted, and, aided by the armies of Great Britain, expelled the French from the Peninsula in 1814.
In the Middle Ages emblems or devices were pictured on the shields of knights, and afterwards embroidered on the surcoat or garment worn over the coat of mail—from this came the designation coat of arms. These devices were of practical use, since they identified the wearer, whose face, when in battle, was concealed by the visor of his helmet.
At first every knight chose his emblem according to his fancy, and all sorts of animals, imaginary monsters, plants, and forms of many other objects were used. When possible, the symbol suggested the name, title, or some distinguishing quality of its bearer,—a custom which has its counterpart among the American Indians,
As these coats-of-arms became numerous, great confusion arose, for the same emblem was often taken by different knights. In the course of time it was found necessary to regulate the bearing of coats-of-arms, as they were made hereditary, and descended from their original bearer to his heirs.
This regulation respecting coats-of-arms was intrusted to heralds, who were officers appointed by their sovereigns, and who had various other duties to perform, such as to marshal processions, superintend public ceremonies, hear messages of courtesy or defiance between princes or knights, and to take charge of tournaments, jousts, and all other exercises of chivalry.
An escutcheon represents an old knightly shield, with a coat-of-arms depicted upon it.
Where a family is entitled by inheritance to bear several coats-of-arms, the escutcheon is divided into parts called quarterings, upon each of which the different emblems are emblazoned.