E ARLY in the eighth century the Arabs overran Spain and took almost complete possession of it (see Chapter VII). But although Arabia was the birthplace of Mohammed, the Arabians were less fanatical than any other of the followers of the Prophet. They did not insist on a wholesale conversion of the conquered people. For they loved the Christian's gold more than his conversion. So on condition of paying a tax Christians were allowed to follow their own religion. Nearly all the nobles accepted this condition, but many of the people also became Mohammedan, especially the slaves. For by professing Mohammedanism a slave earned freedom.
But although nearly all Spain came under the domination of the Arabs, a small portion did not. In the extreme north-west, among the Asturian mountains, a few of the inhabitants held out against the invaders. Mountains have always been the last resort of a conquered people, and the Mohammedans were never able to dislodge this remnant from their strongholds. As years passed, indeed, these Spaniards, as we may now call them, strengthened their hold upon the north. Bit by bit they drove the Saracens southward, and at length several little kingdoms were formed, such as Navarre, Leon, Aragon, and Castile, the last taking its name from the many castles built to defend it against the Saracens.
These kingdoms were all small, and all disunited, but by degrees, through marriages between the various royal families and in other ways, several became united in the twelfth century into the kingdom of Aragon, and in the thirteenth century eight little states were united into the kingdom of Leon and Castile.
In the twelfth century also, under Alfonso I, Portugal became a kingdom with a territory less than half its
present size. But both Alfonso and his successors fought persistently against the Saracens, and in 1250
Alfonso III conquered what is now the southern portion of Portugal from them, so that from the middle of the
thirteenth century the boundaries of Portugal have been very much what they are
After the union of the various small Spanish states into kingdoms the conquest of Spain from the Moors went on rapidly, and by 1265 all that was left to them was Granada in the extreme south. And even that was not a free kingdom, for the king of Granada owned the king of Castile as overlord.
For more than two hundred years from this time the king of Aragon and the king of Castile ruled over Spain side by side. But as yet there was little sense of Spanish nationality. The two kings were rivals and often enemies. Their kingdoms were merely a conglomeration of small states, the inhabitants of which spoke different languages and had little in common with each other. There were among them Moriscoes or converted Saracens, Marranes or converted Jews, and Mozarabes, Spaniards who had become Mohammedans. To reconcile all these and make them into one nation was no easy matter, yet slowly Spain moved towards nationality.
At length in 1469 Isabella of Castile married her cousin Ferdinand of Aragon, and thus the two crowns were united. But the union of the crowns alone did not satisfy Ferdinand and Isabella. They desired true national union, and they became persuaded that the only way to ensure this was to unite all their peoples into one national Church. In order to do this the Inquisition was introduced into Spain.
The Inquisition was a tribunal of the Church called into being to find out and punish all heretics. It grew up gradually, and was not instituted with all its cruel methods until the thirteenth century. It was a terrible institution, and one from which there was neither appeal nor escape. Every one accused before the tribunal was presupposed guilty, and those who would not at once confess their guilt were tortured until they did. Fines and imprisonment, the forced undertaking of pilgrimages, or the wearing of opprobrious garments were the lightest punishments to which the guilty were condemned, while hundreds and thousands were burned to death with horrible cruelty.
Until the Inquisition was introduced, Spain, with its strangely mixed population, had been more tolerant in the matter of religion than any country in Europe. In their day of power the Moors and Saracens had been tolerant. When their day of power came, the Christians also were tolerant and allowed both Jews and Mohammedans to follow their own religion in peace.
Zealous religious fervour was not at this time a characteristic of Spain. The Spaniards took no part in the Crusades, and none of the rulers of the many little Spanish states appeared before the walls of Jerusalem. This was partly due to the fact that during the period of the Crusades the Spaniards were busy fighting the Saracens at their own doors, reconquering Spain from them.
But these wars between Spaniards and Saracens were national rather than religious. The Spaniards desired to free Spain from the usurper rather than to convert the infidel. So when the Saracens were conquered they were left more or less in peace to follow their own religion. The rulers, indeed, openly recognized the religious rights of their Mohammedan subjects, and one of the kings of Castile took the title of Emperor of all the Spains and of the Men of the Two Religions. But the popes had long looked upon this tolerance as wicked laxness, and at length Isabella, who was deeply and earnestly religious, was persuaded to allow the Inquisition to be set up in Castile.
In everything else Isabella was a great and wise ruler. But in the eyes of later generations this one act has
dimmed the splendour of her reign. She must, however, be judged not as a ruler of
Besides uniting all Spain into one Church, Ferdinand and Isabella determined to wrest the last inch of the soil from the Mohammedans, and they declared war against the king of Granada. The queen threw herself heart and soul into this war. She appeared in the field fully dressed in armour, encouraging the troops with brave words and reviewing them frequently. She visited every part of the camp, and saw that the soldiers were provided not only with necessaries but with comforts. Above all, she cared for the sick and the wounded.
By her orders large tents known as the Queen's tents were set up in the camps. These were furnished with nurses and medicines, at her expense, and there the sick and wounded could find rest and care. This is believed to be the first attempt at a camp hospital.
For ten years the war with the Moors dragged on, the Spaniards often meeting with reverses. But at length civil war broke out in Granada itself. Weakened by strife within as well as war without, the Moors could no longer stand their ground, and on November 25, 1491, Granada yielded. The last Moorish king gave up the keys of the Alhambra Palace to the conquerors. Then, mounting his horse, he rode away. Upon a hill above the city of Granada he drew rein, and with tears in his eyes turned to look for the last time upon his lost capital.
"Yea," cried his mother scornfully, as she watched him, "weep like a woman for the loss of thy kingdom, since thou couldst not defend it like a man." Crushed by his foes, despised by his friends, the Moor bowed his head, and rode forth into exile.
The long struggle between Moors and Spaniards which had lasted for nearly eight hundred years was thus ended.
Spain from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean was now under Christian rule, and for their zeal in the cause of
the faith the pope bestowed upon Ferdinand and Isabella the title of the Catholic Kings. This title is
Up to this time, because of the continual warfare with the Moors, Spain had entered but little into the life of Europe. It had been untouched by the great movements which had helped to develop the other great states of western Europe. The feudal system had never gained a footing there; as a nation it had never taken part in the Crusades, and had remained unmoved by the tremendous religious enthusiasm which had swept over other countries.
Now late in the day that enthusiasm awoke in the Spanish rulers, and was turned to religious fanaticism and intolerance. With the passing of years this fanaticism increased until, from being the most liberal, Spain became the most intolerant of Catholic states. Persecution began with the Jews.They were offered the hard choice of denying their faith or of leaving the country, and many chose the latter course. Next came the turn of the remaining Moors, they being offered the same hard choice; most of them, like the Jews, chose to go into exile rather than deny their faith. The departure of both these peoples was a loss to Spain. For they were clever and industrious, and much of the trade and any manufactures there were lay in their hands.
This was all the greater loss as now Spain began to be of importance in Europe. The royal family was allied by marriage with other ruling houses of Europe, and Ferdinand is said to have been the first monarch to send resident ambassadors to the courts of other states. By this means friendly intercourse with neighbouring countries was established and maintained, international trade was encouraged, and as the custom increased, quarrels which before could only have been wiped out in blood were settled by negotiation. And however much the maintaining of ambassadors at foreign courts has been abused in later times, in the beginning it was a step towards international understanding and towards lessening the frequency of wars.