Gateway to the Classics: A Child's History of Spain by John Bonner
A Child's History of Spain by  John Bonner

The Last of the Moors

A.D. 1492-1375

The Moors of Granada, who were a common-sense people, made no objections to the rule of the Spaniards so long as their religion was not interfered with, and they were allowed to pursue their several callings in peace. I dare say they were not sorry to exchange the turbulence of the old Moorish times of strife for the quiet of a government which was strong enough to keep order.

But now came to the front in Spain an influence which was destined to work untold mischief—the influence of the Church.

Three months had not elapsed from the surrender of Granada when Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the Papal Church, terrified King Ferdinand into signing a decree for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The Jews were among the most useful and the richest of the people. They were skilful artificers, enterprising merchants, and liberal citizens. But because they were not Christians the priests insisted on their banishment. The Jews offered the king a bribe of thirty thousand ducats to let them alone. While the king and queen were considering it, Torquemada burst in upon them with a crucifix in his hand, and cried:

"Judas Iscariot sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. You would sell him for thirty thousand. Here he is! Sell him!"

And he flung the crucifix on the table.


In the Dusk at Granda.

The king and queen yielded, and several hundred thousand Jews, some of them old and infirm, some of them delicate women and children, were driven out of their homes and along the highways by brutal soldiers, to starve in a foreign land—just as the Russian Jews have been in our day. They were not allowed to take silver or gold with them. Those who were rich were as badly off as those who were poor. If they halted on the journey, from fatigue or illness, the soldiers prodded them with their sword-points. So they scattered to Africa, to Portugal, to Italy, to Holland, and Germany and England, and to this day you can meet descendants of theirs who cherish a tender memory of their ancient home.

You can imagine that priests who thus persecuted the Jews were not inclined to be tolerant to the Moors. Ferdinand, as you remember, had promised the latter that they should be free to pray in their mosques after their fashion. Cardinal Ximenes now told the Moors of Granada that infidels could not be suffered to live in Spain. They must be baptized or go. Numbers of them had nowhere to go to, and had trades at their homes. They submitted to be baptized, and consoled themselves by washing off the mark of the holy water when they got back to their houses. Some fled to a mountain range near Granada, and barricaded the passes. There they stood a siege, but could not long hold out against the power of Spain; they surrendered, agreeing to be baptized or to go into exile, not, however, until they had killed the Spanish leader, Aguilar, in battle.

Of him and of this expedition of his there is a ballad which says:

"Beyond the sands, between the rocks,

where the old cork-tree grows,

The path is rough, and mounted men

Must singly march and slow;

There o'er the path the heathen range

Their ambuscade's line,

High up they wait for Aguilar

As the day begins to shine.

Nor knightly valor there avails,

Nor skill of horse or spear,

For rock on rock comes tumbling down

From cliff and cavern drear;

Down, down, like driving hail they come,

And horse and horsemen die,

Like cattle whose despair is dumb

When the fierce lightnings fly.

"A hundred and a hundred darts

Hiss round Aguilar's head;

Had Aguilar a thousand hearts,

Their blood had all been shed.

Faint and more faint he staggers

Upon the slippery sod;

At last his back is to the earth,

He gives his soul to God.

"Upon the village green he lay

As the moon was shining clear.

And all the village damsels

To look on him drew near;

They stood around him all agate,

Beside the big oak-tree;

And much his beauty they did praise,

Though mangled sore was he."

Then the Moors of Granada submitted in patience. Cardinal Ximenes burned their splendid library of Arabic manuscripts, as the Church was afraid of learning, and shut up the mosques. A number of Moors who refused to repudiate their religion were burned at the stake by the Holy Inquisition. And a few years later successors of Ximenes resolved to make life intolerable to the Moriscoes, as the Moors began to be called.

They forbade the Moors speaking their own language, and ordered them to speak nothing but Spanish. They forbade their bathing, as that cleanly people were in the habit of doing, and required them to be as dirty as the Spaniards. In order to make sure of this they tore down the baths. These oppressions again aroused the Moors to rebellion, and once more they took to the mountains, where the land, broken by many a torrent bed and many a dry gulch, slopes from the heights where the cattle browse under the shade of pine-trees to the narrow vega, spotted with cornfields and olive groves and vineyards, and again down to the tropical valleys, where the sugar-cane flourishes and the air is scented by the pine-apple. Here for two years the Moors held out. The war was one long string of murders and outrages, first on one side and then on the other.

How fiercely Moor and Christian hated each other you may guess from what happened in the prison of the Albencin. There were a couple of hundred Christian prisoners confined there for various offences. One hundred and ten Moors, made captive in battle, were thrust into the jail. Instantly, with fists and feet and teeth and pocket-knives, the two sets of prisoners fell upon one another. To separate them the governor of the place marched in the guard. But the jailer stopped the guard, saying:

"You are not needed. The prison is quiet. All the Moriscoes are dead."

The warfare did not cease until the king put his army under the command of lion Juan of Austria, a young plan of twenty-two, of whom you will presently hear more. He bade his soldiers give no quarter; and so, in course of time, the rebellious Moors were wiped out. Most of them were killed; the rest were banished. In the words of the old Arab historian:

"The Almighty was not pleased to grant our people victory. They were overcome and slain on all sides, till at last they were driven forth from the land of Andalusia, the which calamity came to pass in our own days. Verily to God belongs land and dominions, and He giveth to whom He cloth will."

It is said in larger histories than this that three million Moors were driven into exile between 1492 and 1610, when the last of them were sent out of the country. I suppose that this was about one-fifth or one-fourth the entire population of Spain. And it embraced the most industrious workmen, the most skilled artisans, the best farmers, and the most refined, polished, and learned people in the country.

At the time of their banishment Granada produced the finest cloths—of wool, silk, and linen—that were made in Spain; highly-tempered steel; perfect work in leather, bronze, and copper; elegant designs in embroidery and tracery; and at the same time the farmers of the vega had brought to such perfection the science of fertilizing land, and of developing the uses of water, that their performance has not been surpassed, if it has been equaled, to-day.

At this same time the Christians of Spain, with the exception of those who had learned from the Moors, were unable to make a fine sword-blade, or a rich silk, or a glowing dye, or a carved object in metal. Their farming was as rude as that of the Goths. They had a noble country with a fertile soil and a glorious climate. But they did not know how to turn either to account; the only occupation of which they really knew anything was fighting.

Yet the Moors were turned out for the sake of the Christians. The Cross took the place of the Crescent. But at the same time ignorance took the place of learning. Deserts gradually succeeded to smiling cornfields and purple vine-yards. A polite and refined people made way for a race of stupid peasants, who could neither be taught nor made to work. A people who were the leaders of civilization were banished from their homes to make room for a people steeped in sloth and superstition, and who to this day, in the opinion of their leading men, are unfit to be trusted with self-government.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Fall of Granada  |  Next: The Condition of Spain
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.