Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada
Part 1 out of 9
This etext was produced by Douglas E. Levy.
CHRONICLE OF THE CONQUEST OF GRANADA
by Washington Irving
from the mss. of FRAY ANTONIO AGAPIDA
Author's Revised Edition
I..........Of the Kingdom of Granada, and the Tribute which it Paid
to the Castilian Crown.
II.........Of the Embassy of Don Juan de Vera to Demand Arrears of
Tribute from the Moorish Monarch.
III........Domestic Feuds in the Alhambra--Rival Sultanas--Predictions
concerning Boabdil, the Heir to the Throne--How
Ferdinand Meditates War against Granada, and how he
IV.........Expedition of the Muley Abul Hassan against the Fortress
V..........Expedition of the Marques of Cadiz against Alhama.
VI.........How the People of Granada were Affected on Hearing of the
Capture of the Alhama; and how the Moorish King
sallied forth to Regain it.
VII........How the Duke of Medina Sidonia and the Chivalry of
Andalusia Hastened to the Relief of Alhama.
VIII.......Sequel of the Events at Alhama.
IX.........Events at Granada, and Rise of the Moorish King, Boabdil
X..........Royal Expedition against Loxa.
XI.........How Muley Abul Hassan made a Foray into the Lands of
Medina Sidonia, and how he was Received.
XII........Foray of Spanish Cavaliers among the Mountains of Malaga.
XIII.......Effects of the Disasters among the Mountains of Malaga.
XIV........How King Boabdil el Chico Marched over the Border.
XV.........How the Count de Cabra sallied forth from his Castle in
Quest of King Boabdil.
XVI........The Battle of Lucena.
XVII.......Lamentations of the Moors for the Battle of Lucena.
XVIII......How Muley Abul Hassan Profited by the Misfortunes of his
XIX........Captivity of Boabdil el Chico.
XX.........Of the Treatment of Boabdil by the Castilian Sovereigns.
XXI........Return of Boabdil from Captivity.
XXII.......Foray of the Moorish Alcaydes, and Battle of Lopera.
XXIII......Retreat of Hamet el Zegri, Alcayde of Ronda.
XXIV.......Of the reception at Court of the Count de Cabra and the
Alcayde de los Donceles.
XXV........How the Marques of Cadiz concerted to Surprise Zahara,
and the Result of his Enterprise.
XXVI.......Of the Fortress of Alhama, and how Wisely it was Governed
by the Count de Tendilla.
XXVII......Foray of Christian Knights into the Territory of the Moors.
XXVIII.....Attempt of El Zagal to Surprise Boabdil in Almeria.
XXIX.......How King Ferdinand Commenced another Campaign against the
Moors, and how he Laid Siege to Coin and Cartama.
XXX........Siege of Ronda.
XXXI.......How the People of Granada invited El Zagal to the Throne,
and how he Marched to the Capital.
XXXII......How the Count de Cabra attempted to Capture another King,
and how he Fared in his Attempt.
XXXIII.....Expedition against the Castles of Cambil and Albahar.
XXXIV......Enterprise of the Knights of Calatrava against Zalea.
XXXV.......Death of Muley Abul Hassan.
XXXVI......Of the Christian Army which Assembled at the City of
XXXVII.....How Fresh Commotions broke out in Granada, and how the
People undertook to Allay them.
XXXVIII....How King Ferdinand held a Council of War at the Rock of
XXXIX......How the Royal Army appeared Before the City of Loxa, and
how it was Received; and of the Doughty Achievements
of the English Earl.
XL.........Conclusion of the Siege of Loxa.
XLI........Capture of Illora.
XLII.......Of the Arrival of Queen Isabella at the Camp before Moclin;
and of the Pleasant Sayings of the English Earl.
XLIII......How King Ferdinand Attacked Moclin, and of the Strange
Events that attended its Capture.
XLIV.......How King Ferdinand Foraged the Vega; and of the Battle of
the Bridge of Pinos, and the Fate of the two Moorish
XLV........Attempt of El Zagal upon the Life of Boabdil, and how the
Latter was Roused to Action.
XLVI.......How Boabdil returned Secretly to Granada, and how he was
Received.--Second Embassy of Don Juan de Vera, and his
Perils in the Alhambra.
XLVII......How King Ferdinand laid Siege to Velez Malaga.
XLVIII.....How King Ferdinand and his Army were Exposed to Imminent
Peril before Velez Malaga.
XLIX.......Result of the Stratagem of El Zagal to Surprise King
L..........How the People of Granada Rewarded the Valor of El Zagal.
LI.........Surrender of the Velez Malaga and Other Places.
LII........Of the City of Malaga and its Inhabitants.--Mission of
Hernando del Pulgar.
LIII.......Advance of King Ferdinand against Malaga.
LIV........Siege of Malaga.
LV.........Siege of Malaga continued.--Obstinacy of Hamet el Zegri.
LVI........Attack of the Marques of Cadiz upon Gibralfaro.
LVII.......Siege of Malaga continued.--Stratagems of Various Kinds.
LVIII......Sufferings of the People of Malaga.
LIX........How a Moorish Santon Undertook to Deliver the City of
Malaga from the Power of its Enemies.
LX.........How Hamet el Zegri was Hardened in his Obstinacy by the
Arts of a Moorish Astrologer.
LXI........Siege of Malaga continued.--Destruction of a Tower by
Francisco Ramirez de Madrid.
LXII.......How the People of Malaga expostulated with Hamet el Zegri.
LXIII......How Hamet el Zegri Sallied forth with the Sacred Banner to
Attack the Christian Camp.
LXIV.......How the City of Malaga Capitulated.
LXV........Fulfilment of the Prophecy of the Dervise.--Fate of Hamet
LXVI.......How the Castilian Sovereigns took Possession of the City
of Malaga, and how King Ferdinand signalized himself
by his Skill in Bargaining with the Inhabitants for
LXVII......How King Ferdinand prepared to Carry the War into a
Different Part of the Territories of the Moors.
LXVIII.....How King Ferdinand Invaded the Eastern Side of the
Kingdom of Granada, and how He was Received by
LXIX.......How the Moors made Various Enterprises against the
LXX........How King Ferdinand prepared to Besiege the City of Baza,
and how the City prepared for Defence.
LXXI.......The Battle of the Gardens before Baza.
LXXII......Siege of Baza.--Embarrassments of the Army.
LXXIII.....Siege of Baza continued.--How King Ferdinand completely
Invested the City.
LXXIV......Exploit of Hernan Perez del Pulgar and Other Cavaliers.
LXXV.......Continuation of the Siege of Baza.
LXXVI......How Two Friars from the Holy Land arrived at the Camp.
LXXVII.....How Queen Isabella devised Means to Supply the Army
LXXVIII....Of the Disasters which Befell the Camp.
LXXIX......Encounters between the Christians and Moors before Baza,
and the Devotion of the Inhabitants to the Defence of
LXXX.......How Queen Isabella arrived at the Camp, and the
Consequences of her Arrival.
LXXXI......Surrender of Baza.
LXXXII.....Submission of El Zagal to the Castilian Sovereigns.
LXXXIII....Events at Granada subsequent to the Submission of El Zagal.
LXXXIV.....How King Ferdinand turned his Hostilities against the City
LXXXV......The Fate of the Castle of Roma.
LXXXVI.....How Boabdil el Chico took the Field, and his Expedition
LXXXVII....Exploit of the Count de Tendilla.
LXXXVIII...Expedition of Boabdil el Chico against Salobrena.--Exploit
of Hernan Perez del Pulgar.
LXXXIX.....How King Ferdinand Treated the People of Guadix, and how
El Zagal Finished his Regal Career.
XC.........Preparations of Granada for a Desperate Defence.
XCI........How King Ferdinand conducted the Siege cautiously, and
how Queen Isabella arrived at the Camp.
XCII.......Of the Insolent Defiance of Tarfe the Moor, and the Daring
Exploit of Hernan Perez del Pulgar.
XCIII......How Queen Isabella took a View of the City of Granada, and
how her Curiosity cost the Lives of many Christians
XCIV.......The Last Ravage before Granada.
XCV........Conflagration of the Christian Camp.--Building of Santa Fe.
XCVI.......Famine and Discord in the City.
XCVII......Capitulation of Granada.
XCVIII.....Commotions in Granada.
XCIX.......Surrender of Granada.
C..........How the Castilian Sovereigns took Possession of Granada.
Although the following Chronicle bears the name of the venerable
Fray Antonio Agapida, it is rather a superstructure reared upon the
fragments which remain of his work. It may be asked, Who is this
same Agapida, who is cited with such deference, yet whose name is
not to be found in any of the catalogues of Spanish authors? The
question is hard to answer. He appears to have been one of the
many indefatigable authors of Spain who have filled the libraries of
convents and cathedrals with their tomes, without ever dreaming
of bringing their labors to the press. He evidently was deeply and
accurately informed of the particulars of the wars between his
countrymen and the Moors, a tract of history but too much overgrown
with the weeds of fable. His glowing zeal, also, in the cause of the
Catholic faith entitles him to be held up as a model of the good
old orthodox chroniclers, who recorded with such pious exultation
the united triumphs of the cross and the sword. It is deeply to
be regretted, therefore, that his manuscripts, deposited in the
libraries of various convents, have been dispersed during the late
convulsions in Spain, so that nothing is now to be met of them but
disjointed fragments. These, however, are too precious to be
suffered to fall into oblivion, as they contain many curious facts
not to be found in any other historian. In the following work,
therefore, the manuscript of the worthy Fray Antonio will be adopted
wherever it exists entire, but will be filled up, extended, illustrated,
and corroborated by citations from various authors, both Spanish
and Arabian, who have treated of the subject. Those who may
wish to know how far the work is indebted to the Chronicle of Fray
Antonio Agapida may readily satisfy their curiosity by referring to
his manuscript fragments, carefully preserved in the Library of
Before entering upon the history it may be as well to notice the
opinions of certain of the most learned and devout historiographers
of former times relative to this war.
Marinus Siculus, historian to Charles V., pronounces it a war to
avenge ancient injuries received by the Christians from the Moors,
to recover the kingdom of Granada, and to extend the name and
honor of the Christian religion.*
*Lucio Marino Siculo, Cosas Memorabiles de Espana, lib. 20.
Estevan de Garibay, one of the most distinguished Spanish historians,
regards the war as a special act of divine clemency toward the Moors,
to the end that those barbarians and infidels, who had dragged out
so many centuries under the diabolical oppression of the absurd sect
of Mahomet, should at length be reduced to the Christian faith.*
*Garibay, Compend. Hist. Espana, lib. 18, c. 22.
Padre Mariana, also a venerable Jesuit and the most renowned
historian of Spain, considers the past domination of the Moors a
scourge inflicted on the Spanish nation for its iniquities, but the
conquest of Granada the reward of Heaven for its great act of
propitiation in establishing the glorious tribunal of the Inquisition!
No sooner (says the worthy father) was this holy office opened
in Spain than there shone forth a resplendent light. Then it was
that, through divine favor, the nation increased in power, and
became competent to overthrow and trample down the Moorish
*Mariana, Hist. Espana, lib. 25, c. 1.
Having thus cited high and venerable authority for considering this
war in the light of one of those pious enterprises denominated
crusades, we trust we have said enough to engage the Christian
reader to follow us into the field and stand by us to the very issue
of the encounter.
NOTE TO THE REVISED EDITION.
The foregoing introduction, prefixed to the former editions of this
work, has been somewhat of a detriment to it. Fray Antonio Agapida
was found to be an imaginary personage, and this threw a doubt
over the credibility of his Chronicle, which was increased by a vein
of irony indulged here and there, and by the occasional heightening
of some of the incidents and the romantic coloring of some of the
scenes. A word or two explanatory may therefore be of service.*
*Many of the observations in this note have already appeared in
an explanatory article which at Mr. Murray's request, the author
furnished to the London Quarterly Review.
The idea of the work was suggested while I was occupied at Madrid
in writing the Life of Columbus. In searching for traces of his early
life I was led among the scenes of the war of Granada, he having
followed the Spanish sovereigns in some of their campaigns, and been
present at the surrender of the Moorish capital. I actually wove
some of these scenes into the biography, but found they occupied an
undue space, and stood out in romantic relief not in unison with the
general course of the narrative. My mind, however, had become so
excited by the stirring events and romantic achievements of this war
that I could not return with composure to the sober biography I had
in hand. The idea then occurred, as a means of allaying the
excitement, to throw off a rough draught of the history of this war,
to be revised and completed at future leisure. It appeared to me
that its true course and character had never been fully illustrated.
The world had received a strangely perverted idea of it through
Florian's romance of "Gonsalvo of Cordova," or through the legend,
equally fabulous, entitled "The Civil Wars of Granada," by Ginez
Perez de la Hita, the pretended work of an Arabian contemporary,
but in reality a Spanish fabrication. It had been woven over with
love-tales and scenes of sentimental gallantry totally opposite to
its real character; for it was, in truth, one of the sternest of those
iron conflicts sanctified by the title of "holy wars." In fact, the
genuine nature of the war placed it far above the need of any
amatory embellishments. It possessed sufficient interest in the
striking contrast presented by the combatants of Oriental and
European creeds, costumes, and manners, and in the hardy and
harebrained enterprises, the romantic adventures, the picturesque
forays through mountain regions, the daring assaults and surprisals
of cliff-built castles and cragged fortresses, which succeeded each
other with a variety and brilliancy beyond the scope of mere
The time of the contest also contributed to heighten the interest.
It was not long after the invention of gunpowder, when firearms and
artillery mingled the flash and smoke and thunder of modern warfare
with the steely splendor of ancient chivalry, and gave an awful
magnificence and terrible sublimity to battle, and when the old
Moorish towers and castles, that for ages had frowned defiance to
the battering-rams and catapults of classic tactics, were toppled
down by the lombards of the Spanish engineers. It was one of the
cases in which history rises superior to fiction.
The more I thought about the subject, the more I was tempted to
undertake it, and the facilities at hand at length determined me.
In the libraries of Madrid and in the private library of the
American consul, Mr. Rich, I had access to various chronicles and
other works, both printed and in manuscript, written at the time by
eyewitnesses, and in some instances by persons who had actually
mingled in the scenes recorded and gave descriptions of them from
different points of view and with different details. These works
were often diffuse and tedious, and occasionally discolored by the
bigotry, superstition, and fierce intolerance of the age; but their
pages were illumined at times with scenes of high emprise, of
romantic generosity, and heroic valor, which flashed upon the reader
with additional splendor from the surrounding darkness. I collated
these various works, some of which have never appeared in print,
drew from each facts relative to the different enterprises, arranged
them in as clear and lucid order as I could command, and endeavored
to give them somewhat of a graphic effect by connecting them with
the manners and customs of the age in which they occurred. The
rough draught being completed, I laid the manuscript aside and
proceeded with the Life of Columbus. After this was finished and
sent to the press I made a tour in Andalusia, visited the ruins of
the Moorish towns, fortresses, and castles, and the wild mountain-
passes and defiles which had been the scenes of the most
remarkable events of the war, and passed some time in the ancient
palace of the Alhambra, the once favorite abode of the Moorish
monarchs. Everywhere I took notes, from the most advantageous
points of view, of whatever could serve to give local verity and
graphic effect to the scenes described. Having taken up my abode
for a time at Seville, I then resumed my manuscript and rewrote it,
benefited by my travelling notes and the fresh and vivid impressions
of my recent tour. In constructing my chronicle I adopted the
fiction of a Spanish monk as the chronicler. Fray Antonio Agapida
was intended as a personification of the monkish zealots who hovered
about the sovereigns in their campaigns, marring the chivalry of the
camp by the bigotry of the cloister, and chronicling in rapturous
strains every act of intolerance toward the Moors. In fact, scarce
a sally of the pretended friar when he bursts forth in rapturous
eulogy of some great stroke of selfish policy on the part of Ferdinand,
or exults over some overwhelming disaster of the gallant and devoted
Moslems, but is taken almost word for word from one or other of the
orthodox chroniclers of Spain.
The ironical vein also was provoked by the mixture of kingcraft and
priestcraft discernible throughout this great enterprise, and the
mistaken zeal and self-delusion of many of its most gallant and
generous champions. The romantic coloring seemed to belong to
the nature of the subject, and was in harmony with what I had seen
in my tour through the poetical and romantic regions in which the
events had taken place. With all these deductions the work, in all
its essential points, was faithful to historical fact and built upon
substantial documents. It was a great satisfaction to me,
therefore, after the doubts that had been expressed of the
authenticity of my chronicle, to find it repeatedly and largely used
by Don Miguel Lafuente Alcantara of Granada in his recent learned
and elaborate history of his native city, he having had ample
opportunity, in his varied and indefatigable researches, of judging
how far it accorded with documentary authority.
I have still more satisfaction in citing the following testimonial of
Mr. Prescott, whose researches for his admirable history of
Ferdinand and Isabella took him over the same ground I had
trodden. His testimonial is written in the liberal and courteous
spirit characteristic of him, but with a degree of eulogium which
would make me shrink from quoting it did I not feel the importance
of his voucher for the substantial accuracy of my work:
"Mr. Irving's late publication, the 'Chronicle of the Conquest of
Granada,' has superseded all further necessity for poetry and,
unfortunately for me, for history. He has fully availed himself of
all the picturesque and animating movement of this romantic era,
and the reader who will take the trouble to compare his chronicle
with the present more prosaic and literal narrative will see how
little he has been seduced from historic accuracy by the poetical
aspect of his subject. The fictitious and romantic dress of his work
has enabled him to make it the medium of reflecting more vividly the
floating opinions and chimerical fancies of the age, while he has
illuminated the picture with the dramatic brilliancy of coloring
denied to sober history."*
*Prescott's Ferdinand and Isabella, vol. ii. c. 15.
In the present edition I have endeavored to render the work more
worthy of the generous encomium of Mr. Prescott. Though I still
retain the fiction of the monkish author Agapida, I have brought my
narrative more strictly within historical bounds, have corrected and
enriched it in various parts with facts recently brought to light by
the researches of Alcantara and others, and have sought to render
it a faithful and characteristic picture of the romantic portion of
history to which it relates.
A CHRONICLE OF THE CONQUEST OF GRANADA.
OF THE KINGDOM OF GRANADA, AND THE TRIBUTE WHICH IT
PAID TO THE CASTILIAN CROWN.
The history of those bloody and disastrous wars which have caused
the downfall of mighty empires (observes Fray Antonio Agapida) has
ever been considered a study highly delectable and full of precious
edification. What, then, must be the history of a pious crusade
waged by the most Catholic of sovereigns to rescue from the power
of the infidels one of the most beautiful but benighted regions of
the globe? Listen, then, while from the solitude of my cell I relate
the events of the conquest of Granada, where Christian knight and
turbaned infidel disputed, inch by inch, the fair land of Andalusia,
until the Crescent, that symbol of heathenish abomination, was cast
down, and the blessed Cross, the tree of our redemption, erected in
Nearly eight hundred years were past and gone since the Arabian
invaders had sealed the perdition of Spain by the defeat of Don
Roderick, the last of her Gothic kings. Since that disastrous event
one portion after another of the Peninsula had been gradually
recovered by the Christian princes, until the single but powerful
and warlike territory of Granada alone remained under the domination
of the Moors.
This renowned kingdom, situated in the southern part of Spain and
washed on one side by the Mediterranean Sea, was traversed in every
direction by sierras or chains of lofty and rugged mountains, naked,
rocky, and precipitous, rendering it almost impregnable, but locking
up within their sterile embraces deep, rich, and verdant valleys of
In the centre of the kingdom lay its capital, the beautiful city of
Granada, sheltered, as it were, in the lap of the Sierra Nevada, or
Snowy Mountains. Its houses, seventy thousand in number, covered
two lofty hills with their declivities and a deep valley between them,
through which flowed the Darro. The streets were narrow, as is
usual in Moorish and Arab cities, but there were occasionally small
squares and open places. The houses had gardens and interior
courts, set out with orange, citron, and pomegranate trees and
refreshed by fountains, so that as the edifices ranged above
each other up the sides of the hills, they presented a delightful
appearance of mingled grove and city. One of the hills was
surmounted by the Alcazaba, a strong fortress commanding all
that part of the city; the other by the Alhambra, a royal palace and
warrior castle, capable of containing within its alcazar and towers
a garrison of forty thousand men, but possessing also its harem, the
voluptuous abode of the Moorish monarchs, laid out with courts and
gardens, fountains and baths, and stately halls decorated in the
most costly style of Oriental luxury. According to Moorish
tradition, the king who built this mighty and magnificent pile was
skilled in the occult sciences, and furnished himself with the
necessary funds by means of alchemy.* Such was its lavish splendor
that even at the present day the stranger, wandering through its
silent courts and deserted halls, gazes with astonishment at gilded
ceilings and fretted domes, the brilliancy and beauty of which have
survived the vicissitudes of war and the silent dilapidation of ages.
*Zurita, lib. 20, c. 42.
The city was surrounded by high walls, three leagues in circuit,
furnished with twelve gates and a thousand and thirty towers. Its
elevation above the sea and the neighborhood of the Sierra Nevada
crowned with perpetual snows tempered the fervid rays of summer,
so that while other cities were panting with the sultry and stifling
heat of the dog-days, the most salubrious breezes played through
the marble halls of Granada.
The glory of the city, however, was its Vega or plain, which spread
out to a circumference of thirty-seven leagues, surrounded by lofty
mountains, and was proudly compared to the famous plain of Damascus.
It was a vast garden of delight, refreshed by numerous fountains and
by the silver windings of the Xenil. The labor and ingenuity of the
Moors had diverted the waters of this river into thousands of rills
and streams, and diffused them over the whole surface of the plain.
Indeed, they had wrought up this happy region to a degree of
wonderful prosperity, and took a pride in decorating it as if it had
been a favorite mistress. The hills were clothed with orchards and
vineyards, the valleys embroidered with gardens, and the wide plains
covered with waving grain. Here were seen in profusion the orange,
the citron, the fig, and the pomegranate, with great plantations of
mulberry trees, from which was produced the finest silk. The vine
clambered from tree to tree, the grapes hung in rich clusters about
the peasant's cottage, and the groves were rejoiced by the perpetual
song of the nightingale. In a word, so beautiful was the earth, so
pure the air, and so serene the sky of this delicious region that
the Moors imagined the paradise of their Prophet to be situated in
that part of the heaven which overhung the kingdom of Granada.
Within this favored realm, so prodigally endowed and strongly
fortified by nature, the Moslem wealth, valor, and intelligence,
which had once shed such a lustre over Spain, had gradually retired,
and here they made their final stand. Granada had risen to splendor
on the ruin of other Moslem kingdoms, but in so doing had become
the sole object of Christian hostility, and had to maintain its very
existence by the sword. The Moorish capital accordingly presented
a singular scene of Asiatic luxury and refinement, mingled with
the glitter and the din of arms. Letters were still cultivated,
philosophy and poetry had their schools and disciples, and the
language spoken was said to be the most elegant Arabic. A passion
for dress and ornament pervaded all ranks. That of the princesses
and ladies of high rank, says Al Kattib, one of their own writers,
was carried to a height of luxury and magnificence that bordered on
delirium. They wore girdles and bracelets and anklets of gold and
silver, wrought with exquisite art and delicacy and studded with
jacinths, chrysolites, emeralds, and other precious stones. They
were fond of braiding and decorating their beautiful long tresses
or confining them in knots sparkling with jewels. They were finely
formed, excessively fair, graceful in their manners, and fascinating
in their conversation; when they smiled, says Al Kattib, they
displayed teeth of dazzling whiteness, and their breath was as
the perfume of flowers.
The Moorish cavaliers, when not in armor, delighted in dressing
themselves in Persian style, in garments of wool, of silk, or cotton
of the finest texture, beautifully wrought with stripes of various
colors. In winter they wore, as an outer garment, the African cloak
or Tunisian albornoz, but in the heat of summer they arrayed
themselves in linen of spotless whiteness. The same luxury
prevailed in their military equipments. Their armor was inlaid and
chased with gold and silver. The sheaths of their scimetars were
richly labored and enamelled, the blades were of Damascus bearing
texts from the Koran or martial and amorous mottoes; the belts were
of golden filigree studded with gems; their poniards of Fez were
wrought in the arabesque fashion; their lances bore gay bandaroles;
their horses were sumptuously caparisoned with housings of green and
crimson velvet, wrought with silk and enamelled with gold and silver.
All this warlike luxury of the youthful chivalry was encouraged by the
Moorish kings, who ordained that no tax should be imposed on the
gold and silver employed in these embellishments; and the same
exxfxception was extended to the bracelets and other ornaments worn
by the fair dames of Granada.
Of the chivalrous gallantry which prevailed between the sexes in
this romantic period of Moorish history we have traces in the
thousand ballads which have come down to our day, and which
have given a tone and coloring to Spanish amatory literature and
to everything in Spain connected with the tender passion.
War was the normal state of Granada and its inhabitants; the common
people were subject at any moment to be summoned to the field, and
all the upper class was a brilliant chivalry. The Christian princes, so
successful in regaining the rest of the Peninsula, found their triumphs
checked at the mountain-boundaries of this kingdom. Every peak
had its atalaya, or watch-tower, ready to make its fire by night or
to send up its column of smoke by day, a signal of invasion at which
the whole country was on the alert. To penetrate the defiles of this
perilous country, to surprise a frontier fortress, or to make a foray
into the Vega and a hasty ravage within sight of the very capital
were among the most favorite and daring exploits of the Castilian
chivalry. But they never pretended to hold the region thus ravaged;
it was sack, burn, plunder, and away; and these desolating inroads
were retaliated in kind by the Moorish cavaliers, whose greatest
delight was a "tala," or predatory incursion, into the Christian
territories beyond the mountains.
A partisan warfare of this kind had long existed between Granada and
its most formidable antagonists, the kingdoms of Castile and Leon.
It was one which called out the keen yet generous rivalry of
Christian and Moslem cavaliers, and gave rise to individual acts of
chivalrous gallantry and daring prowess; but it was one which was
gradually exhausting the resources and sapping the strength of
Granada. One of the latest of its kings, therefore, Aben Ismael by
name, disheartened by a foray which had laid waste the Vega, and
conscious that the balance of warfare was against his kingdom,
made a truce in 1457 with Henry IV., king of Castile and Leon,
stipulating to pay him an annual tribute of twelve thousand doblas
or pistoles of gold, and to liberate annually six hundred Christian
captives, or in default of captives to give an equal number of Moors
as hostages,--all to be delivered at the city of Cordova.*
*Garibay, Compend., 1.17, c. 3.
The truce, however, was of a partial nature, with singular
reservations. It did not include the Moorish frontier toward Jaen,
which was to remain open for the warlike enterprises of either
nation; neither did it prohibit sudden attacks upon towns and
castles, provided they were mere forays, conducted furtively,
without sound of trumpet or display of banners or pitching of camps
or regular investment, and that they did not last above three days.*
*Zurita, Anales de Aragon, 1. 20, c. 42; Mariana, Hist. de Espana 1.
25, c. 1; Bleda, Coron. de los Moros, l. 5, c. 3.
Aben Ismael was faithful in observing the conditions of the truce,
but they were regarded with impatience by his eldest son, Muley
Abul Hassan, a prince of a fiery and belligerent spirit, and fond of
casing himself in armor and mounting his war-horse. He had been
present at Cordova at one of the payments of tribute, and had
witnessed the scoffs and taunts of the Christians, and his blood
boiled whenever he recalled the humiliating scene. When he came
to the throne in 1465, on the death of his father, he ceased the
payment of the tribute altogether, and it was sufficient to put him
into a tempest of rage only to mention it.
"He was a fierce and warlike infidel," says the pious Fray Antonio
Agapida; "his bitterness against the holy Christian faith had been
signalized in battle during the lifetime of his father, and the same
diabolical spirit of hostility was apparent in his ceasing to pay
this most righteous tribute."
OF THE EMBASSY OF DON JUAN DE VERA TO DEMAND ARREARS
OF TRIBUTE FROM THE MOORISH MONARCH.
The flagrant want of faith of Muley Abul Hassan in fulfilling treaty
stipulations passed unresented during the residue of the reign of
Henry the Impotent, and the truce was tacitly continued without the
enforcement of tribute during the first three years of the reign of his
successors, Ferdinand and Isabella of glorious and happy memory,
who were too much engrossed by civil commotions in their own
dominions, and by a war of succession waged with them by the king
of Portugal, to risk an additional conflict with the Moorish sovereign.
When, however, at the expiration of the term of truce, Muley Abul
Hassan sought a renewal of it, the pride and piety of the Castilian
sovereigns were awakened to the flagrant defalcation of the infidel
king, and they felt themselves called upon, by their dignity as
monarchs and their religious obligations as champions of the faith,
to make a formal demand for the payment of arrearages.
In the year of grace 1478, therefore, Don Juan de Vera, a zealous
and devout knight, full of ardor for the faith and loyalty to the
Crown, was sent as ambassador for the purpose. He was armed
at all points, gallantly mounted, and followed by a moderate but
well-appointed retinue: in this way he crossed the Moorish frontier,
and passed slowly through the country, looking round him with the
eyes of a practised warrior and carefully noting its military points
and capabilities. He saw that the Moor was well prepared for
possible hostilities. Every town was strongly fortified. The Vega
was studded with towers of refuge for the peasantry: every pass
of the mountain had its castle of defence, every lofty height its
watch-tower. As the Christian cavaliers passed under the walls of
the fortresses, lances and scimetars flashed from their battlements,
and the Moorish sentinels darted from their dark eyes glances of
hatred and defiance. It was evident that a war with this kingdom
must be a war of posts, full of doughty peril and valiant enterprise,
where every step must be gained by toil and bloodshed, and
maintained with the utmost difficulty. The warrior spirit of the
cavaliers kindled at the thoughts, and they were impatient for
hostilities; "not," says Antonio Agapida, "from any thirst for rapine
and revenge, but from that pure and holy indignation which every
Spanish knight entertained at beholding this beautiful dominion of
his ancestors defiled by the footsteps of infidel usurpers. It was
impossible," he adds, "to contemplate this delicious country, and
not long to see it restored to the dominion of the true faith and
the sway of the Christian monarchs."
Arrived at the gates of Granada, Don Juan de Vera and his companions
saw the same vigilant preparations on the part of the Moorish king.
His walls and towers were of vast strength, in complete repair, and
mounted with lombards and other heavy ordnance. His magazines
were well stored with the munitions of war; he had a mighty host of
foot-soldiers, together with squadrons of cavalry, ready to scour
the country and carry on either defensive or predatory warfare. The
Christian warriors noted these things without dismay; their hearts
rather glowed with emulation at the thoughts of encountering so
worthy a foe. As they slowly pranced through the streets of Granada
they looked round with eagerness on the stately palaces and
sumptuous mosques, on its alcayceria or bazar, crowded with silks
and cloth of silver and gold, with jewels and precious stones, and
other rich merchandise, the luxuries of every clime; and they longed
for the time when all this wealth should be the spoil of the soldiers
of the faith, and when each tramp of their steeds might be
fetlock deep in the blood and carnage of the infidels.
The Moorish inhabitants looked jealously at this small but proud
array of Spanish chivalry, as it paraded, with that stateliness
possessed only by Spanish cavaliers, through the renowned gate of
Elvira. They were struck with the stern and lofty demeanor of Don
Juan de Vera and his sinewy frame, which showed him formed for
hardy deeds of arms, and they supposed he had come in search of
distinction by defying the Moorish knights in open tourney or in the
famous tilt with reeds for which they were so renowned, for it was
still the custom of the knights of either nation to mingle in these
courteous and chivalrous contests during the intervals of war. When
they learnt, however, that he was come to demand the tribute so
abhorrent to the ears of the fiery monarch, they observed that it
well required a warrior of his apparent nerve to execute such an
Muley Abul Hassan received the cavalier in state, seated on a
magnificent divan and surrounded by the officers of his court, in
the Hall of Ambassadors, one of the most sumptuous apartments of
the Alhambra. When De Vera had delivered his message, a haughty
and bitter smile curled the lip of the fierce monarch. "Tell your
sovereigns," said he, "that the kings of Granada, who used to pay
tribute in money to the Castilian crown, are dead. Our mint at
present coins nothing but blades of scimetars and heads of lances."*
*Garibay, 1. 40, c. 29; Conde, Hist. Arab., p. 4, c. 34.
The defiance couched in this proud reply was heard with secret
satisfaction by Don Juan de Vera, for he was a bold soldier and a
devout hater of the infidels, and he saw iron war in the words of
the Moorish monarch. Being master, however, of all points of
etiquette, he retained an inflexible demeanor, and retired from the
apartment with stately and ceremonious gravity. His treatment
was suited to his rank and dignity: a magnificent apartment in the
Alhambra was assigned to him, and before his departure a scimetar
was sent to him by the king, the blade of the finest Damascus steel,
the hilt of agate enriched with precious stones, and the guard of
gold. De Vera drew it, and smiled grimly as he noticed the admirable
temper of the blade. "His Majesty has given me a trenchant weapon,"
said he: "I trust a time will come when I may show him that I know how
to use his royal present." The reply was considered a compliment,
of course: the bystanders little knew the bitter hostility that lay
On his return to Cordova, Don Juan de Vera delivered the reply of
the Moor, but at the same time reported the state of his territories.
These had been strengthened and augmented during the weak
reign of Henry IV. and the recent troubles of Castile. Many cities and
strong places contiguous to Granada, but heretofore conquered by
the Christians, had renewed their allegiance to Muley Abul Hassan,
so that his kingdom now contained fourteen cities, ninety-seven
fortified places, besides numerous unwalled towns and villages
defended by formidable castles, while Granada towered in the centre
as the citadel.
The wary Ferdinand, as he listened to the military report of Don
Juan de Vera, saw that the present was no time for hostilities with
a warrior kingdom so bristled over with means of defence. The
internal discords of Castile still continued, as did the war with
Portugal: under these circumstances he forbore to insist upon the
payment of tribute, and tacitly permitted the truce to continue; but
the defiance contained in the reply of Muley Abul Hassan remained
rankling in his bosom as a future ground of war; and De Vera's
description of Granada as the centre of a system of strongholds and
rock-built castles suggested to him his plan of conquest--by taking
town after town and fortress after fortress, and gradually plucking
away all the supports before he attempted the capital. He expressed
his resolution in a memorable pun or play upon the name of Granada,
which signifies a pomegranate. "I will pick out the seeds of this
pomegranate one by one," said the cool and crafty Ferdinand.
NOTE.--In the first edition of this work the author recounted a
characteristic adventure of the stout Juan de Vera as happening on
the occasion of this embassy; a further consultation of historical
authorities has induced him to transfer it to a second embassy of De
Vera's, which the reader will find related in a subsequent chapter.
DOMESTIC FEUDS IN THE ALHAMBRA--RIVAL SULTANAS--
PREDICTIONS CONCERNING BOABDIL, THE HEIR TO THE
THRONE--HOW FERDINAND MEDITATES WAR AGAINST
GRANADA, AND HOW HE IS ANTICIPATED.
Though Muley Abul Hassan was at peace in his external relations,
a civil war raged in his harem, which it is proper to notice, as it had
a fatal effect upon the fortunes of the kingdom. Though cruel by
nature, he was uxorious and somewhat prone to be managed by his
wives. Early in life he had married his kinswoman, Ayxa (or Ayesha),
daughter of his great-uncle, the sultan Mohammed VII., surnamed El
Hayzari, or the Left-handed. She was a woman of almost masculine
spirit and energy, and of such immaculate and inaccessible virtue
that she was generally called La Horra, or the Chaste. By her he
had a son, Abu Abdallah, or, as he is commonly named by historians,
Boabdil. The court astrologers, according to custom, cast the
horoscope of the infant, but were seized with fear and trembling as
they regarded it. "Allah Akbar! God is great!" exclaimed they; "he
alone controls the fate of empires. It is written in the book of
fate that this child will one day sit upon the throne, but that the
downfall of the kingdom will be accomplished during his reign." From
that time the prince had been regarded with aversion by his father,
and the prediction which hung over him and the persecutions to which
he became subjected procured him the surname of El Zogoybi, or the
Unfortunate. He grew up, however, under the protection of his
valiant-hearted mother, who by the energy of her character long
maintained an undisputed sway in the harem, until, as her youth
passed away and her beauty declined, a formidable rival arose.
In one of the forays of the Moorish chivalry into the Christian
territories they had surprised a frontier fortress commanded by
Sancho Ximenes de Solis, a noble and valiant cavalier, who fell in
bravely defending it. Among the captives was his daughter Isabella,
then almost in her infancy, who was brought to Granada, delicately
raised, and educated in the Moslem faith.* Her Moorish captors gave
her the name of Fatima, but as she grew up her surpassing beauty
gained her the surname of Zoraya, or the Morning Star, by which she
has become known in history. Her charms at length attracted the
notice of Muley Abul Hassan, and she soon became a member of his
harem. Some have spoken of her as a Christian slave whom he had
made his concubine; but others, with more truth, represent her as
one of his wives, and ultimately his favorite sultana; and indeed it
was often the case that female captives of rank and beauty, when
converted to the faith of Islam, became united to the proudest and
loftiest of their captors.
*Cronica del Gran Cardinal, cap. 71.
Zoraya soon acquired complete ascendancy over the mind of Muley Abul
Hassan. She was as ambitious as she was beautiful, and, having
become the mother of two sons, looked forward to the possibility of
one of them sitting on the throne of Granada. These ambitious views
were encouraged, if not suggested, by a faction which gathered round
her inspired by kindred sympathies. The king's vizier, Abul Cacim
Vanegas, who had great influence over him, was, like Zoraya, of
Christian descent, being of the noble house of Luque. His father,
one of the Vanegas of Cordova, had been captured in infancy and
brought up as a Moslem.* From him sprang the vizier, Abul Cacim
Vanegas, and his brother, Reduan Vanegas, likewise high in rank in
the court of Muley Abul Hassan, and they had about them numerous
and powerful connections, all basking in court favor. Though Moslems
in faith, they were all drawn to Zoraya by the tie of foreign and
Christian descent, and sought to elevate her and her children to the
disparagement of Ayxa la Horra and her son Boabdil. The latter, on
the other hand, were supported by the noble and once-potent family
of the Abencerrages and by Aben Comixa, alcayde of the Alhambra;
and between these two factions, headed by rival sultanas, the harem
of Muley Abul Hassan became the scene of inveterate jealousies and
intrigues, which in time, as will be shown, led to popular commotions
and civil wars.**
*Cura de los Palacios, Hist. de los Reyes Catol., cap. 56.
**It is to be noted that several historians have erroneously
represented Zoraya as the mother of Boabdil, instead of Ayxa la
Horra, and the Abencerrages as the opponents of Boabdil, instead
of his strenuous adherents. The statement in the text is according
to the most reliable authorities.
While these female feuds were threatening Muley Abul Hassan with
trouble and disaster at home, his evil genius prompted him to an
enterprise which involved him in tenfold danger from abroad. The
reader has already been apprised of a singular clause in the truce
existing between the Christians and the Moors, permitting hasty
dashes into each other's territories and assaults of towns and
fortresses, provided they were carried on as mere forays and without
the parade of regular warfare. A long time had elapsed, however,
without any incursion of the kind on the part of the Moors, and the
Christian towns on the frontiers had, in consequence, fallen into a
state of the most negligent security. In an unlucky moment Muley
Abul Hassan was tempted to one of these forays by learning that the
fortress of Zahara, on the frontier between Ronda and Medina
Sidonia, was but feebly garrisoned and scantily supplied, and that
its alcayde was careless of his charge. This important post was
built on the crest of a rocky mountain, with a strong castle perched
above it upon a cliff, so high that it was said to be above the flight
of birds or drift of clouds. The streets and many of the houses were
mere excavations wrought out of the living rock. The town had but
one gate, opening to the west and defended by towers and bulwarks.
The only ascent to this cragged fortress was by roads cut in the rock,
so rugged in many places as to resemble broken stairs. In a word,
the impregnable security of Zahara had become so proverbial throughout
Spain that a woman of forbidding and inaccessible virtue was called a
Zaharena. But the strongest fortress and sternest virtue have weak
points, and require unremitting vigilance to guard them: let warrior
and dame take warning from the fate of Zahara.
EXPEDITION OF MULEY ABUL HASSAN AGAINST THE FORTRESS
In the year of our Lord one thousand four hundred and eighty-
one, and but a night or two after the festival of the most blessed
Nativity, the inhabitants of Zahara were sunk in profound sleep
the very sentinel had deserted his post, and sought shelter from
a tempest which had raged for three nights in succession, for it
appeared but little probable that an enemy would be abroad during
such an uproar of the elements. But evil spirits work best during a
storm. In the midst of the night an uproar rose within the walls of
Zahara more awful than the raging of the storm. A fearful alarm-cry,
"The Moor! the Moor!" resounded through the streets, mingled with
the clash of arms, the shriek of anguish, and the shout of victory.
Muley Abul Hassan, at the head of a powerful force, had hurried from
Granada, and passed unobserved through the mountains in the
obscurity of the tempest. While the storm pelted the sentinel from
his post and bowled round tower and battlement, the Moors had
planted their scaling-ladders and mounted securely into both town
and castle. The garrison was unsuspicious of danger until battle
and massacre burst forth within its very walls. It seemed to the
affrighted inhabitants as if the fiends of the air had come upon the
wings of the wind and possessed themselves of tower and turret.
The war-cry resounded on every side, shout answering shout, above,
below, on the battlements of the castle, in the streets of the town;
the foe was in all parts, wrapped in obscurity, but acting in concert
by the aid of preconcerted signals. Starting from sleep, the soldiers
were intercepted and cut down as they rushed from their quarters,
or if they escaped they knew not where to assemble or where to
strike. Wherever lights appeared the flashing scimetar was at its
deadly work, and all who attempted resistance fell beneath its edge.
In a little while the struggle was at an end. Those who were not
slain took refuge in the secret places of their houses or gave
themselves up as captives. The clash of arms ceased, and the
storm continued its howling, mingled with the occasional shout of
the Moorish soldiery roaming in search of plunder. While the
inhabitants were trembling for their fate, a trumpet resounded
through the streets summoning them all to assemble, unarmed, in the
public square. Here they were surrounded by soldiery and strictly
guarded until daybreak. When the day dawned it was piteous to
behold this once-prosperous community, who had laid down to rest in
peaceful security, now crowded together without distinction of age
or rank or sex, and almost without raiment, during the severity of a
wintry storm. The fierce Muley Abul Hassan turned a deaf ear to all
their prayers and remonstrances, and ordered them to be conducted
captives to Granada. Leaving a strong garrison in both town and
castle, with orders to put them in a complete state of defence, he
returned, flushed with victory, to his capital, entering it at the
head of his troops, laden with spoil and bearing in triumph the
banners and pennons taken at Zahara.
While preparations were making for jousts and other festivities in
honor of this victory over the Christians, the captives of Zahara
arrived--a wretched train of men, women, and children, worn out
with fatigue and haggard with despair, and driven like cattle into
the city gates by a detachment of Moorish soldiery.
Deep was the grief and indignation of the people of Granada at
this cruel scene. Old men, who had experienced the calamities of
warfare, anticipated coming troubles. Mothers clasped their infants
to their breasts as they beheld the hapless females of Zahara with
their children expiring in their arms. On every side the accents of
pity for the sufferers were mingled with execrations of the barbarity
of the king. The preparations for festivity were neglected, and the
viands which were to have feasted the conquerors were distributed
among the captives.
The nobles and alfaquis, however, repaired to the Alhambra to
congratulate the king; for, whatever storms may rage in the lower
regions of society, rarely do any clouds but clouds of incense rise
to the awful eminence of the throne. In this instance, however, a
voice rose from the midst of the obsequious crowd, and burst like
thunder upon the ears of Abul Hassan. "Woe! woe! woe! to Granada!"
exclaimed the voice; "its hour of desolation approaches. The ruins
of Zahara will fall upon our heads; my spirit tells me that the end
of our empire is at hand." All shrank back aghast, and left the
denouncer of woe standing alone in the centre of the hall. He was
an ancient and hoary man in the rude attire of a dervise. Age had
withered his form without quenching the fire of his spirit, which
glared in baleful lustre from his eyes. He was (say the Arabian
historians) one of those holy men termed santons who pass their
lives in hermitages in fasting, meditation, and prayer until they
attain to the purity of saints and the foresight of prophets. "He
was," says the indignant Fray Antonio Agapida, "a son of Belial, one
of those fanatic infidels possessed by the devil who are sometimes
permitted to predict the truth to their followers, but with the
proviso that their predictions shall be of no avail."
The voice of the santon resounded through the lofty hall of the
Alhambra, and struck silence and awe into the crowd of courtly
sycophants. Muley Abul Hassan alone was unmoved: he eyed
the hoary anchorite with scorn as he stood dauntless before him,
and treated his predictions as the ravings of a maniac. The santon
rushed from the royal presence, and, descending into the city, hurried
through its streets and squares with frantic gesticulations. His voice
was heard in every part in awful denunciation: "The peace is broken!
exterminating war is commenced. Woe! woe! woe to Granada! its fall
is at hand! desolation will dwell in its palaces; its strong men will fall
beneath the sword, its children and maidens be led into captivity.
Zahara is but a type of Granada!"
Terror seized upon the populace, for they considered these ravings
as the inspirations of prophecy. Some hid themselves in their
dwellings as in a time of general mourning, while some gathered
together in knots in the streets and squares, alarming each other
with dismal forebodings and cursing the rashness and cruelty of
The Moorish monarch heeded not their murmurs. Knowing that his
exploit must draw upon him the vengeance of the Christians, he now
threw off all reserve, and made attempts to surprise Castellan and
Elvira, though without success. He sent alfaquis also to the Barbary
powers, informing them that the sword was drawn, and inviting the
African princes to aid him with men and supplies in maintaining the
kingdom of Granada and the religion of Mahomet against the violence
While discontent exhaled itself in murmurs among the common people,
however, it fomented in dangerous conspiracies among the nobles, and
Muley Abul Hassan was startled by information of a design to depose
him and place his son Boabdil upon the throne. His first measure was
to confine the prince and his mother in the Tower of Comares; then,
calling to mind the prediction of the astrologers, that the youth would
one day sit on the throne of Granada, he impiously set the stars at
defiance. "The sword of the executioner," said he, "shall prove the
fallacy of those lying horoscopes, and shall silence the ambition of
The sultana Ayxa, apprised of the imminent danger of her son,
concerted a plan for his escape. At the dead of the night she
gained access to his prison, and, tying together the shawls and
scarfs of herself and her female attendants, lowered him down from
a balcony of the Alhambra to the steep rocky hillside which sweeps
down to the Darro. Here some of her devoted adherents were
waiting to receive him, who, mounting him on a swift horse, spirited
him away to the city of Guadix, in the Alpuxarras.
EXPEDITION OF THE MARQUES OF CADIZ AGAINST ALHAMA.
Great was the indignation of King Ferdinand when he heard of the
storming of Zahara, though the outrage of the Moor happened most
opportunely. The war between Castile and Portugal had come to a
close; the factions of Spanish nobles were for the most part quelled.
The Castilian monarchs had now, therefore, turned their thoughts
to the cherished object of their ambition, the conquest of Granada.
The pious heart of Isabella yearned to behold the entire Peninsula
redeemed from the domination of the infidel, while Ferdinand, in
whom religious zeal was mingled with temporal policy, looked with
a craving eye to the rich territory of the Moor, studded with wealthy
towns and cities. Muley Abul Hassan had rashly or unwarily thrown
the brand that was to produce the wide conflagration. Ferdinand was
not the one to quench the flames. He immediately issued orders to
all the adelantados and alcaydes of the frontiers to maintain the
utmost vigilance at their several posts, and to prepare to carry fire
and sword into the territories of the Moors.
Among the many valiant cavaliers who rallied round the throne of
Ferdinand and Isabella, one of the most eminent in rank and renowned
in arms was Don Roderigo Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz. As he
was the distinguished champion of this holy war, and commanded in
most of its enterprises and battles, it is meet that some particular
account should be given of him. He was born in 1443 of the valiant
lineage of the Ponces, and from his earliest youth had rendered
himself illustrious in the field. He was of the middle stature, with a
muscular and powerful frame, capable of great exertion and fatigue.
His hair and beard were red and curled, his countenance was open and
magnanimous, of a ruddy complexion and slightly marked with the small-
pox. He was temperate, chaste, valiant, vigilant; a just and generous
master to his vassals; frank and noble in his deportment toward his
equals; loving and faithful to his friends; fierce and terrible, yet
magnanimous, to his enemies. He was considered the mirror of
chivalry of his times, and compared by contemporary historians to
the immortal Cid.
The marques of Cadiz had vast possessions in the most fertile parts
of Andalusia, including many towns and castles, and could lead forth
an army into the field from his own vassals and dependants. On
receiving the orders of the king he burned to signalize himself by
some sudden incursion into the kingdom of Granada that should give a
brilliant commencement to the war, and should console the sovereigns
for the insult they had received in the capture of Zahara. As his
estates lay near to the Moorish frontiers and were subject to sudden
inroads, he had always in his pay numbers of adalides, or scouts and
guides, many of them converted Moors. These he sent out in all
directions to watch the movements of the enemy and to procure all
kinds of information important to the security of the frontier. One
of these spies came to him one day in his town of Marchena, and
informed him that the Moorish town of Alhama was slightly garrisoned
and negligently guarded, and might be taken by surprise. This was a
large, wealthy, and populous place within a few leagues of Granada.
It was situated on a rocky height, nearly surrounded by a river, and
defended by a fortress to which there was no access but by a steep
and cragged ascent. The strength of its situation and its being
embosomed in the centre of the kingdom had produced the careless
security which now invited attack.
To ascertain fully the state of the fortress the marques despatched
secretly a veteran soldier who was highly in his confidence. His
name was Ortega de Prado, a man of great activity, shrewdness,
and valor, and captain of escaladors (soldiers employed to scale the
walls of fortresses in time of attack). Ortega approached Alhama
one moonless night, and paced along its walls with noiseless step,
laying his ear occasionally to the ground or to the wall. Every time
he distinguished the measured tread of a sentinel, and now and
then the challenge of the night-watch going its rounds. Finding the
town thus guarded, he clambered to the castle: there all was silent.
As he ranged its lofty battlements between him and the sky he saw
no sentinel on duty. He noticed certain places where the wall might
be ascended by scaling-ladders, and, having marked the hour of
relieving guard and made all necessary observations, he retired
without being discovered.
Ortega returned to Marchena, and assured the marques of Cadiz of
the practicability of scaling the castle of Alhama and taking it by
surprise. The marques had a secret conference with Don Pedro
Enriques, adelantado of Andalusia, Don Diego de Merlo, commander
of Seville, Sancho de Avila, alcayde of Carmona, and others, who
all agreed to aid him with their forces. On an appointed day the
several commanders assembled at Marchena with their troops and
retainers. None but the leaders knew the object or destination of
the enterprise, but it was enough to rouse the Andalusian spirit to
know that a foray was intended into the country of their old
enemies, the Moors. Secrecy and celerity were necessary for
success. They set out promptly with three thousand genetes or light
cavalry and four thousand infantry. They chose a route but little
travelled, by the way of Antiquera, passing with great labor through
rugged and solitary defiles of the sierra or chain of mountains of
Arrecife, and left all their baggage on the banks of the river Yeguas,
to be brought after them. This march was principally in the night;
all day they remained quiet; no noise was suffered in their camp,
and no fires were made, lest the smoke should betray them. On
the third day they resumed their march as the evening darkened,
and, forcing themselves forward at as quick a pace as the rugged
and dangerous mountain-roads would permit, they descended toward
midnight into a small deep valley only half a league from Alhama.
Here they made a halt, fatigued by this forced march, during a long
dark evening toward the end of February.
The marques of Cadiz now explained to the troops the object of
the expedition. He told them it was for the glory of the most holy
faith and to avenge the wrongs of their countrymen at Zahara, and
that the town of Alhama, full of wealthy spoil, was the place to be
attacked. The troops were roused to new ardor by these words,
and desired to be led forthwith to the assault. They arrived close to
Alhama about two hours before daybreak. Here the army remained in
ambush, while three hundred men were despatched to scale the walls
and get possession of the castle. They were picked men, many of
them alcaydes and officers, men who preferred death to dishonor.
This gallant band was guided by the escalador Ortega de Prado at the
head of thirty men with scaling-ladders. They clambered the ascent
to the castle in silence, and arrived under the dark shadow of its
towers without being discovered. Not a light was to be seen, not a
sound to be heard; the whole place was wrapped in profound repose.
Fixing their ladders, they ascended cautiously and with noiseless
steps. Ortega was the first that mounted upon the battlements,
followed by one Martin Galindo, a youthful esquire full of spirit
and eager for distinction. Moving stealthily along the parapet to
the portal of the citadel, they came upon the sentinel by surprise.
Ortega seized him by the throat, brandished a dagger before his
eyes, and ordered him to point the way to the guard-room. The
infidel obeyed, and was instantly despatched, to prevent his giving
an alarm. The guard-room was a scene rather of massacre than
combat. Some of the soldiery were killed while sleeping, others
were cut down almost without resistance, bewildered by so unexpected
an assault: all were despatched, for the scaling party was too small
to make prisoners or to spare. The alarm spread throughout the
castle, but by this time the three hundred picked men had mounted
the battlements. The garrison, startled from sleep, found the enemy
already masters of the towers. Some of the Moors were cut down at
once, others fought desperately from room to room, and the whole
castle resounded with the clash of arms, the cries of the combatants,
and the groans of the wounded. The army in ambush, finding by
the uproar that the castle was surprised, now rushed from their
concealment, and approached the walls with loud shouts and sound
of kettle-drums and trumpets to increase the confusion and dismay
of the garrison. A violent conflict took place in the court of the
castle, where several of the scaling party sought to throw open
the gates to admit their countrymen. Here fell two valiant alcaydes,
Nicholas de Roja and Sancho de Avila, but they fell honorably, upon
a heap of slain. At length Ortega de Prado succeeded in throwing
open a postern through which the marques of Cadiz, the adelantado
of Andalusia, and Don Diego de Merlo entered with a host of followers,
and the citadel remained in full possession of the Christians.
As the Spanish cavaliers were ranging from room to room, the marques
of Cadiz, entering an apartment of superior richness to the rest,
beheld, by the light of a silver lamp, a beautiful Moorish female,
the wife of the alcayde of the castle, whose husband was absent
attending a wedding-feast at Velez Malaga. She would have fled at
the sight of a Christian warrior in her apartment, but, entangled in
the covering of the bed, she fell at the feet of the marques, imploring
mercy. That Christian cavalier, who had a soul full of honor and
courtesy toward the sex, raised her from the floor and endeavored
to allay her fears; but they were increased at the sight of her female
attendants pursued into the room by the Spanish soldiery. The
marques reproached his soldiers with unmanly conduct, and reminded
them that they made war upon men, not on defenceless women.
Having soothed the terrors of the females by the promise of honorable
protection, he appointed a trusty guard to watch over the security of
The castle was now taken, but the town below it was in arms. It was
broad day, and the people, recovered from their panic, were enabled
to see and estimate the force of the enemy. The inhabitants were
chiefly merchants and tradespeople, but the Moors all possessed a
knowledge of the use of weapons and were of brave and warlike
spirit. They confided in the strength of their walls and the certainty
of speedy relief from Granada, which was but about eight leagues
distant. Manning the battlements and towers, they discharged
showers of stones and arrows whenever the part of the Christian
army without the walls attempted to approach. They barricadoed
the entrances of their streets also which opened toward the castle,
stationing men expert at the crossbow and arquebuse. These kept
up a constant fire upon the gate of the castle, so that no one could
sally forth without being instantly shot down. Two valiant cavaliers
who attempted to lead forth a party in defiance of this fatal tempest
were shot dead at the very portal.
The Christians now found themselves in a situation of great peril.
Reinforcements must soon arrive to the enemy from Granada: unless,
therefore, they gained possession of the town in the course of the
day, they were likely to be surrounded and beleaguered, without
provisions, in the castle. Some observed that even if they took the
town they should not be able to maintain possession of it. They
proposed, therefore, to make booty of everything valuable, to sack
the castle, set it on fire, and make good their retreat to Seville.
The marques of Cadiz was of different counsel. "God has given the
citadel into Christian hands," said he; "he will no doubt strengthen
them to maintain it. We have gained the place with difficulty and
bloodshed; it would be a stain upon our honor to abandon it through
fear of imaginary dangers." The adelantado and Don Diego de
Merlo joined in his opinion, but without their earnest and united
remonstrances the place would have been abandoned, so exhausted
were the troops by forced marches and hard fighting, and so
apprehensive of the approach of the Moors of Granada.
The strength and spirits of the party within the castle were in some
degree restored by the provisions which they found. The Christian
army beneath the town, being also refreshed by a morning's repast,
advanced vigorously to the attack of the walls. They planted their
scaling-ladders, and, swarming up, sword in hand, fought fiercely
with the Moorish soldiery upon the ramparts.
In the mean time, the marques of Cadiz, seeing that the gate of the
castle, which opened toward the city, was completely commanded by
the artillery of the enemy, ordered a large breach to be made in the
wall, through which he might lead his troops to the attack, animating
them in this perilous moment by assuring them that the place should
be given up to plunder and its inhabitants made captives.
The breach being made, the marques put himself at the head of his
troops, and entered sword in hand. A simultaneous attack was make
by the Christians in every part--by the ramparts, by the gate, by
the roofs and walls which connected the castle with the town. The
Moors fought valiantly in their streets, from their windows, and from
the tops of their houses. They were not equal to the Christians in
bodily strength, for they were for the most part peaceful men, of
industrious callings, and enervated by the frequent use of the warm
bath; but they were superior in number and unconquerable in spirit;
old and young, strong and weak, fought with the same desperation.
The Moors fought for property, for liberty, for life. They fought at
their thresholds and their hearths, with the shrieks of their wives
and children ringing in their ears, and they fought in the hope that
each moment would bring aid from Granada. They regarded neither
their own wounds nor the death of their companions, but continued
fighting until they fell, and seemed as if, when they could no longer
contend, they would block up the thresholds of their beloved homes
with their mangled bodies. The Christians fought for glory, for
revenge, for the holy faith, and for the spoil of these wealthy
infidels. Success would place a rich town at their mercy; failure
would deliver them into the hands of the tyrant of Granada.
The contest raged from morning until night, when the Moors began
to yield. Retreating to a large mosque near the walls, they kept up
so galling a fire from it with lances, crossbows, and arquebuses
that for some time the Christians dared not approach. Covering
themselves, at length, with bucklers and mantelets* to protect them
from the deadly shower, the latter made their way to the mosque and
set fire to the doors. When the smoke and flames rolled in upon
them the Moors gave up all as lost. Many rushed forth desperately
upon the enemy, but were immediately slain; the rest surrendered
*Mantelet--a movable parapet, made of thick planks, to protect
troops when advancing to sap or assault a walled place.
The struggle was now at an end: the town remained at the mercy of
the Christians; and the inhabitants, both male and female, became
the slaves of those who made them prisoners. Some few escaped
by a mine or subterranean way which led to the river, and concealed
themselves, their wives and children, in caves and secret places,
but in three or four days were compelled to surrender themselves
The town was given up to plunder, and the booty was immense.
There were found prodigious quantities of gold and silver, and
jewels and rich silks and costly stuffs of all kinds, together with
horses and beeves, and abundance of grain and oil and honey,
and all other productions of this fruitful kingdom; for in Alhama
were collected the royal rents and tributes of the surrounding
country: it was the richest town in the Moorish territory, and from
its great strength and its peculiar situation was called the key to
Great waste and devastation were committed by the Spanish soldiery;
for, thinking it would be impossible to keep possession of the place,
they began to destroy whatever they could not take away. Immense
jars of oil were broken, costly furniture shattered to pieces, and
magazines of grain broken open and their contents scattered to the
winds. Many Christian captives who had been taken at Zahara were
found buried in a Moorish dungeon, and were triumphantly restored to
light and liberty; and a renegado Spaniard, who had often served as
guide to the Moors in their incursions into the Christian territories,
was hanged on the highest part of the battlements for the edification
of the army.
HOW THE PEOPLE OF GRANADA WERE AFFECTED ON HEARING
OF THE CAPTURE OF ALHAMA, AND HOW THE MOORISH KING
SALLIED FORTH TO REGAIN IT.
A moorish horseman had spurred across the Vega, nor reined his
panting steed until he alighted at the gate of the Alhambra. He
brought tidings to Muley Abul Hassan of the attack upon Alhama.
"The Christians," said he, "are in the land. They came upon us, we
know not whence or how, and scaled the walls of the castle in the
night. There have been dreadful fighting and carnage in its towers
and courts; and when I spurred my steed from the gate of Alhama
the castle was in possession of the unbelievers."
Muley Abul Hassan felt for a moment as if swift retribution had come
upon him for the woes he had inflicted upon Zahara. Still, he
flattered himself that this had only been some transient inroad of
a party of marauders intent upon plunder, and that a little succor
thrown into the town would be sufficient to expel them from the
castle and drive them from the land. He ordered out, therefore, a
thousand of his chosen cavalry, and sent them in all speed to the
assistance of Alhama. They arrived before its walls the morning
after its capture: the Christian standards floated upon its towers,
and a body of cavalry poured forth from its gates and came wheeling
down into the plain to receive them.
The Moorish horsemen turned the reins of their steeds and galloped
back for Granada. They entered its gates in tumultuous confusion,
spreading terror and lamentation by their tidings. "Alhama is fallen!
Alhama is fallen!" exclaimed they; "the Christians garrison its walls;
the key of Granada is in the hands of the enemy!"
When the people heard these words they remembered the denunciation
of the santon. His prediction seemed still to resound in every ear,
and its fulfilment to be at hand. Nothing was heard throughout the
city but sighs and wailings. "Woe is me, Alhama!" was in every
mouth; and this ejaculation of deep sorrow and doleful foreboding
came to be the burden of a plaintive ballad which remains until the
*The mournful little Spanish romance of "Ay de mi Alhama!" is
supposed to be of Moorish origin, and to embody the grief of
the people of Granada on this occasion.
Many aged men, who had taken refuge in Granada from other Moorish
dominions which had fallen into the power of the Christians, now
groaned in despair at the thoughts that war was to follow them into
this last retreat, to lay waste this pleasant land, and to bring trouble
and sorrow upon their declining years. The women were more loud
and vehement in their grief, for they beheld the evils impending over
their children, and what can restrain the agony of a mother's heart?
Many of them made their way through the halls of the Alhambra into
the presence of the king, weeping, and wailing, and tearing their
hair. "Accursed be the day," cried they, "that thou hast lit the flame
of war in our land! May the holy Prophet bear witness before Allah
that we and our children are innocent of this act! Upon thy head,
and upon the heads of thy posterity, until the end of the world, rest
the sin of the desolation of Zahara!*
*Garibay, lib. 40, c. 29.
Muley Abul Hassan remained unmoved amidst all this storm; his heart
was hardened (observes Fray Antonio Agapida) like that of Pharaoh,
to the end that through his blind violence and rage he might produce
the deliverance of the land from its heathen bondage. In fact, he
was a bold and fearless warrior, and trusted soon to make this blow
recoil upon the head of the enemy. He had ascertained that the
captors of Alhama were but a handful: they were in the centre of
his dominions, within a short distance of his capital. They were
deficient in munitions of war and provisions for sustaining a siege.
By a rapid movement he might surround them with a powerful army,
cut off all aid from their countrymen, and entrap them in the fortress
they had taken.
To think was to act with Muley Abul Hassan, but he was prone to act
with too much precipitation. He immediately set forth in person with
three thousand horse and fifty thousand foot, and in his eagerness
to arrive at the scene of action would not wait to provide artillery
and the various engines required in a siege. "The multitude of my
forces," said he, confidently, "will be sufficient to overwhelm the
The marques of Cadiz, who thus held possession of Alhama, had
a chosen friend and faithful companion-in-arms, among the most
distinguished of the Christian chivalry. This was Don Alonso de
Cordova, senior and lord of the house of Aguilar, and brother of
Gonsalvo of Cordova, afterward renowned as grand captain of Spain.
As yet, Alonso de Aguilar was the glory of his name and race, for
his brother was but young in arms. He was one of the most hardy,
valiant, and enterprising of the Spanish knights, and foremost in
all service of a perilous and adventurous nature. He had not been
at hand to accompany his friend Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz,
in his inroad into the Moorish territory, but he hastily assembled a
number of retainers, horse and foot, and pressed forward to join
the enterprise. Arriving at the river Yeguas, he found the baggage
of the army still upon its banks, and took charge of it to carry it to
Alhama. The marques of Cadiz heard of the approach of his friend,
whose march was slow in consequence of being encumbered by the
baggage. He was within but a few leagues of Alhama when scouts
came hurrying into the place with intelligence that the Moorish king
was at hand with a powerful army. The marques of Cadiz was filled
with alarm lest De Aguilar should fall into the hands of the enemy.
Forgetting his own danger and thinking only of that of his friend,
he despatched a well-mounted messenger to ride full speed and
warn him not to approach.
The first determination of Alonso de Aguilar when he heard that the
Moorish king was at hand was to take a strong position in the
mountains and await his coming. The madness of an attempt with his
handful of men to oppose an immense army was represented to him
with such force as to induce him to abandon the idea; he then thought
of throwing himself into Alhama to share the fortunes of his friend;
but it was now too late. The Moor would infallibly intercept him,
and he should only give the marques the additional distress of
beholding him captured beneath his walls. It was even urged upon
him that he had no time for delay if he would consult his own safety,
which could only be ensured by an immediate retreat into the
Christian territory. This last opinion was confirmed by the return
of scouts, who brought information that Muley Abul Hassan had
received notice of his movements, and was rapidly advancing in quest
of him. It was with infinite reluctance that Don Alonso de Aguilar
yielded to these united and powerful reasons. Proudly and sullenly
he drew off his forces, laden with the baggage of the army, and made
an unwilling retreat toward Antiquera. Muley Abul Hassan pursued
him for some distance through the mountains, but soon gave up the
chase and turned with his forces upon Alhama.
As the army approached the town they beheld the fields strewn
with the dead bodies of their countrymen, who had fallen in defence
of the place, and had been cast forth and left unburied by the
Christians. There they lay, mangled and exposed to every indignity,
while droves of half-famished dogs were preying upon them and
fighting and howling over their hideous repast.* Furious at the
sight, the Moors, in the first transports of their rage, attacked
those ravenous animals: their next measure was to vent their fury
upon the Christians. They rushed like madmen to the walls, applied
scaling-ladders in all parts without waiting for the necessary
mantelets and other protections-- thinking by attacking suddenly
and at various points to distract the enemy and overcome them by
the force of numbers.
The marques of Cadiz, with his confederate commanders, distributed
themselves along the walls to direct and animate their men in the
defence. The Moors in their blind fury often assailed the most
difficult and dangerous places. Darts, stones, and all kinds of
missiles were hurled down upon their defenceless heads. As fast
as they mounted they were cut down or dashed from the battlements,
their ladders overturned, and all who were on them precipitated
Muley Abul Hassan stormed with passion at the sight: he sent
detachment after detachment to scale the walls, but in vain; they
were like waves rushing upon a rock, only to dash themselves to
pieces. The Moors lay in heaps beneath the wall, and among them
many of the bravest cavaliers of Granada. The Christians also
sallied frequently from the gates, and made great havoc in the
irregular multitude of assailants.
Muley Abul Hassan now became sensible of his error in hurrying from
Granada without the proper engines for a siege. Destitute of all
means to batter the fortifications, the town remained uninjured,
defying the mighty army which raged and roamed before it. Incensed
at being thus foiled, Muley Abul Hassan gave orders to undermine the
walls. The Moors advanced with shouts to the attempt. They were
received with a deadly fire from the ramparts, which drove them from
their works. Repeatedly were they repulsed, and repeatedly did they
return to the charge. The Christians not merely galled them from
the battlements, but issued forth and cut them down in the
excavations they were attempting to form. The contest lasted
throughout a whole day, and by evening two thousand Moors were
either killed or wounded.
Muley Abul Hassan now abandoned all hope of carrying the place
by assault, and attempted to distress it into terms by turning the
channel of the river which runs by its walls. On this stream the
inhabitants depended for their supply of water, the place being
destitute of fountains and cisterns, from which circumstance it is
called Alhama "la seca," or "the dry."
A desperate conflict ensued on the banks of the river, the Moors
endeavoring to plant palisades in its bed to divert the stream, and
the Christians striving to prevent them. The Spanish commanders
exposed themselves to the utmost danger to animate their men, who
were repeatedly driven back into the town. The marques of Cadiz was
often up to his knees in the stream fighting hand to hand with the
Moors. The water ran red with blood, and was encumbered with dead
bodies. At length the overwhelming numbers of the Moors gave them
the advantage, and they succeeded in diverting the greater part of
the water. The Christians had to struggle severely to supply
themselves from the feeble rill which remained. They sallied to the
river by a subterraneous passage, but the Moorish crossbowmen
stationed themselves on the opposite bank, keeping up a heavy fire
upon the Christians whenever they attempted to fill their vessels
from the scanty and turbid stream. One party of the Christians had,
therefore, to fight while another drew water. At all hours of the
day and night this deadly strife was maintained, until it seemed as
if every drop of water were purchased with a drop of blood.
In the mean time the sufferings of the town became intense. None
but the soldiery and their horses were allowed the precious beverage
so dearly earned, and even that in quantities that only tantalized
their wants. The wounded, who could not sally to procure it, were
almost destitute, while the unhappy prisoners shut up in the mosques
were reduced to frightful extremities. Many perished raving mad,
fancying themselves swimming in boundless seas, yet unable to
assuage their thirst. Many of the soldiers lay parched and panting
along the battlements, no longer able to draw a bowstring or hurl
a stone; while above five thousand Moors, stationed upon a rocky
height which overlooked part of the town, kept up a galling fire
into it with slings and crossbows, so that the marques of Cadiz was
obliged to heighten the battlements by using the doors from the
The Christian cavaliers, exposed to this extreme peril and in
imminent danger of falling into the hands of the enemy, despatched
fleet messengers to Seville and Cordova, entreating the chivalry of
Andalusia to hasten to their aid. They sent likewise, imploring
assistance from the king and queen, who at that time held their
court in Medina del Campo. In the midst of their distress a tank or
cistern of water was fortunately discovered in the city, which gave
temporary relief to their sufferings.
HOW THE DUKE OF MEDINA SIDONIA AND THE CHIVALRY OF
ANDALUSIA HASTENED TO THE RELIEF OF ALHAMA.
The perilous situation of the Christian cavaliers, pent up and
beleaguered within the walls of the Alhama, spread terror among
their friends and anxiety throughout all Andalusia. Nothing,
however, could equal the anguish of the marchioness of Cadiz, the
wife of the gallant Roderigo Ponce de Leon. In her deep distress she
looked round for some powerful noble who had the means of rousing
the country to the assistance of her husband. No one appeared more
competent for the purpose than Don Juan de Guzman, the duke of
Medina Sidonia. He was one of the most wealthy and puissant grandees
of Spain; his possessions extended over some of the most fertile
parts of Andalusia, embracing towns and seaports and numerous
villages. Here he reigned in feudal state like a petty sovereign,
and could at any time bring into the field an immense force of
vassals and retainers.
The duke of Medina Sidonia and the marques of Cadiz, however, were
at this time deadly foes. An hereditary feud existed between them,
which had often risen to bloodshed and open war; for as yet the
fierce contests between the proud and puissant Spanish nobles had
not been completely quelled by the power of the Crown, and in this
respect they exerted a right of sovereignty in leading their vassals
against each other in open field.
The duke of Medina Sidonia would have appeared, to many, the very
last person to whom to apply for aid of the marques of Cadiz; but
the marchioness judged of him by the standard of her own high
and generous mind. She knew him to be a gallant and courteous
knight, and had already experienced the magnanimity of his spirit,
having been relieved by him when besieged by the Moors in her
husband's fortress of Arcos. To the duke, therefore, she applied in
this moment of sudden calamity, imploring him to furnish succor to
her husband. The event showed how well noble spirits understand
each other. No sooner did the duke receive this appeal from the wife
of his enemy than he generously forgot all feeling of animosity and
determined to go in person to his succor. He immediately despatched
a courteous letter to the marchioness, assuring her that in
consideration of the request of so honorable and estimable a lady,
and to rescue from peril so valiant a cavalier as her husband, whose
loss would be great, not only to Spain, but to all Christendom, he
would forego the recollection of all past grievances, and hasten to
his relief with all the forces he could raise.
The duke wrote at the same time to the alcaydes of his towns and
fortresses, ordering them to join him forthwith at Seville with all
the forces they could spare from their garrisons. He called on all
the chivalry of Andalusia to make a common cause in the rescue of
those Christian cavaliers, and he offered large pay to all volunteers
who would resort to him with horses, armor, and provisions. Thus
all who could be incited by honor, religion, patriotism, or thirst of
gain were induced to hasten to his standard, and he took the field
with an army of five thousand horse and fifty thousand foot.* Many
cavaliers of distinguished name accompanied him in this generous
enterprise. Among these was the redoubtable Alonso de Aguilar,
the chosen friend of the marques of Cadiz, and with him his younger
brother, Gonsalvo Fernandez de Cordova, afterward renowned as
the grand captain; Don Roderigo Giron also, master of the order of
Calatrava, together with Martin Alonso de Montemayor and the
marques de Villena, esteemed the best lance in Spain. It was a
gallant and splendid army, comprising the flower of Spanish chivalry,
and poured forth in brilliant array from the gates of Seville bearing
the great standard of that ancient and renowned city.
*Cronica de los Duques de Medina Sidonia, por Pedro de Medina, MS.
Ferdinand and Isabella were at Medina del Campo when tidings came
of the capture of Alhama. The king was at mass when he received the
news, and ordered "Te Deum" to be chanted for this signal triumph
of the holy faith. When the first flush of triumph had subsided, and
the king learnt the imminent peril of the valorous Ponce de Leon and
his companions, and the great danger that this stronghold might
again be wrested from their grasp, he resolved to hurry in person to
the scene of action. So pressing appeared to him the emergency that
he barely gave himself time to take a hasty repast while horses were
providing, and then departed at furious speed for Andalusia, leaving
a request for the queen to follow him.* He was attended by Don
Beltram de la Cueva, duke of Albuquerque, Don Inigo Lopez de
Mendoza, count of Tendilla, and Don Pedro Mauriques, count of
Trevino, with a few more cavaliers of prowess and distinction. He
travelled by forced journeys, frequently changing his jaded horses,
being eager to arrive in time to take command of the Andalusian
chivalry. When he arrived within five leagues of Cordova the duke of
Albuquerque remonstrated with him upon entering with such incautious
haste into the enemies' country. He represented to him that there
were troops enough assembled to succor Alhama, and that it was
not for him to venture his royal person in doing what could be done
by his subjects, especially as he had such valiant and experienced
captains to act for him. "Besides, sire," added the duke, "Your
Majesty should bethink you that the troops about to take the
field are mere men of Andalusia, whereas your illustrious
predecessors never made an inroad into the territory of the Moors
without being accompanied by a powerful force of the stanch and
iron warriors of Old Castile."
*Illescas, Hist. Pontifical.
"Duke," replied the king, "your counsel might have been good had I
not departed from Medina with the avowed determination of succoring
these cavaliers in person. I am now near the end of my journey, and
it would be beneath my dignity to change my intention before even I
had met with an impediment. I shall take the troops of this country
who are assembled, without waiting for those of Castile, and with
the aid of God shall prosecute my journey."*
*Pulgar, Cronica, p. 3, cap. 3.
As King Ferdinand approached Cordova the principal inhabitants came
forth to receive him. Learning, however, that the duke of Medina
Sidonia was already on the march and pressing forward into the
territory of the Moors, the king was all on fire to overtake him and
to lead in person the succor to Alhama. Without entering Cordova,
therefore, he exchanged his weary horses for those of the inhabitants
who had come forth to meet him, and pressed forward for the army.
He despatched fleet couriers in advance, requesting the duke of
Medina Sidonia to await his coming, that he might take command of
Neither the duke nor his companions-in-arms, however, felt inclined
to pause in their generous expedition and gratify the inclinations
of the king. They sent back missives representing that they were far
within the enemies' frontier, and it was dangerous either to pause
or turn back. They had likewise received pressing entreaties from
the besieged to hasten their speed, setting forth their great
sufferings and their hourly peril of being overwhelmed by the enemy.
The king was at Ponton del Maestre when he received these missives.
So inflamed was he with zeal for the success of this enterprise that
he would have penetrated into the kingdom of Granada with the
handful of cavaliers who accompanied him, but they represented the
rashness of such a journey through the mountainous defiles of a
hostile country thickly beset with towns and castles. With some
difficulty, therefore, he was dissuaded from his inclination, and
prevailed upon to await tidings from the army in the frontier city
SEQUEL OF THE EVENTS AT ALHAMA.
While all Andalusia was thus in arms and pouring its chivalry
through the mountain-passes of the Moorish frontiers, the garrison
of Alhama was reduced to great extremity and in danger of sinking
under its sufferings before the promised succor could arrive. The
intolerable thirst that prevailed in consequence of the scarcity of
water, the incessant watch that had to be maintained over the vast
force of enemies without and the great number of prisoners within,
and the wounds which almost every soldier had received in the
incessant skirmishes and assaults, had worn grievously both flesh
and spirit. The noble Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz, still animated
the soldiery, however, by word and example, sharing every hardship
and being foremost in every danger, exemplifying that a good
commander is the vital spirit of an army.
When Muley Abul Hassan heard of the vast force that was approaching
under the command of the duke of Medina Sidonia, and that Ferdinand
was coming in person with additional troops, he perceived that no
time was to be lost: Alhama must be carried by one powerful attack
or abandoned entirely to the Christians.
A number of Moorish cavaliers, some of the bravest youth of Granada,
knowing the wishes of the king, proposed to undertake a desperate
enterprise which, if successful, must put Alhama in his power. Early
one morning, when it was scarcely the gray of the dawn, about the
time of changing the watch, these cavaliers approached the town at
a place considered inaccessible from the steepness of the rocks on
which the wall was founded, which, it was supposed, elevated the
battlements beyond the reach of the longest scaling-ladder. The
Moorish knights, aided by a number of the strongest and most active
escaladors, mounted these rocks and applied the ladders without
being discovered, for to divert attention from them Muley Abul
Hassan made a false attack upon the town in another quarter.
The scaling party mounted with difficulty and in small numbers; the
sentinel was killed at his post, and seventy of the Moors made their
way into the streets before an alarm was given. The guards rushed
to the walls to stop the hostile throng that was still pouring in. A
sharp conflict, hand to hand and man to man, took place on the
battlements, and many on both sides fell. The Moors, whether
wounded or slain, were thrown headlong without the walls, the
scaling-ladders were overturned, and those who were mounting were
dashed upon the rocks, and from thence tumbled upon the plain. Thus
in a little while the ramparts were cleared by Christian prowess,
led on by that valiant knight Don Alonzo Ponce, the uncle, and that
brave esquire Pedro Pineda, nephew, of the marques of Cadiz.
The walls being cleared, these two kindred cavaliers now hastened
with their forces in pursuit of the seventy Moors who had gained an
entrance into the town. The main party of the garrison being engaged
at a distance resisting the feigned attack of the Moorish king, this
fierce band of infidels had ranged the streets almost without
opposition, and were making their way to the gates to throw them
open to the army.* They were chosen men from among the Moorish
forces, several of them gallant knights of the proudest families of
Granada. Their footsteps through the city were in a manner printed
in blood, and they were tracked by the bodies of those they had
killed and wounded. They had attained the gate; most of the guard
had fallen beneath their scimetars; a moment more and Alhama would
have been thrown open to the enemy.
*Zurita, lib. 20, c. 43.
Just at this juncture Don Alonzo Ponce and Pedro de Pineda reached
the spot with their forces. The Moors had the enemy in front and
rear; they placed themselves back to back, with their banner in
the centre. In this way they fought with desperate and deadly
determination, making a rampart around them with the slain. More
Christian troops arrived and hemmed them in, but still they fought,
without asking for quarter. As their number decreased they serried
their circle still closer, defending their banner from assault, and the
last Moor died at his post grasping the standard of the Prophet.
This standard was displayed from the walls, and the turbaned heads
of the Moors were thrown down to the besiegers.*
*Pedro de Pineda received the honor of knighthood from the hand
of King Ferdinand for his valor on this occasion (Alonzo Ponce was
already knight.)--See Zuniga, Annales of Seville, lib. 12, an. 1482.
Muley Abul Hassan tore his beard with rage at the failure of this
attempt and at the death of so many of his chosen cavaliers. He
saw that all further effort was in vain; his scouts brought word that
they had seen from the heights the long columns and flaunting
banners of the Christian army approaching through the mountains.
To linger would be to place himself between two bodies of the enemy.
Breaking up his camp, therefore, in all haste, he gave up the siege
of Alhama and hastened back to Granada; and the last clash of his
cymbals scarce died upon the ear from the distant hills before the
standard of the Duke of Medina Sidonia was seen emerging in another
direction from the defiles of the mountains.
When the Christians in Alhama beheld their enemies retreating on one
side and their friends advancing on the other, they uttered shouts
of joy and hymns of thanksgiving, for it was as a sudden relief from
present death. Harassed by several weeks of incessant vigil and
fighting, suffering from scarcity of provisions and almost continual
thirst, they resembled skeletons rather than living men. It was
a noble and gracious spectacle--the meeting of those hitherto
inveterate foes, the duke of Medina Sidonia and the marques of
Cadiz. At sight of his magnanimous deliverer the marques melted
into tears: all past animosities only gave the greater poignancy to
present feelings of gratitude and admiration. The late deadly rivals
clasped each other in their arms, and from that time forward were
true and cordial friends.
While this generous scene took place between the commanders a sordid
contest arose among their troops. The soldiers who had come to the
rescue claimed a portion of the spoils of Alhama, and so violent was
the dispute that both parties seized their arms. The duke of Medina
Sidonia interfered, and settled the question with his characteristic
magnanimity. He declared that the spoil belonged to those who
had captured the city. "We have taken the field," said he, "only for
honor, for religion, and for the rescue of our countrymen and
fellow-Christians, and the success of our enterprise is a sufficient
and a glorious reward. If we desire booty, there are sufficient
Moorish cities yet to be taken to enrich us all." The soldiers were
convinced by the frank and chivalrous reasoning of the duke; they
replied to his speech by acclamations, and the transient broil was
The marchioness of Cadiz, with the forethought of a loving wife, had
despatched her major-domo with the army with a large supply of
provisions. Tables were immediately spread beneath the tents, where
the marques gave a banquet to the duke and the cavaliers who had
accompanied him, and nothing but hilarity prevailed in this late
scene of suffering and death.
A garrison of fresh troops was left in Alhama, and the veterans who
had so valiantly captured and maintained it returned to their homes
burdened with precious booty. The marques and duke, with their
confederate cavaliers, repaired to Antiquera, where they were
received with great distinction by the king, who honored the marques
of Cadiz with signal marks of favor. The duke then accompanied his
late enemy, but now most zealous and grateful friend, the marques of
Cadiz, to his town of Marchena, where he received the reward of his
generous conduct in the thanks and blessings of the marchioness.
The marques celebrated a sumptuous feast in honor of his guest;
for a day and night his palace was thrown open and was the scene
of continual revel and festivity. When the duke departed for his
estates at St. Lucar the marques attended him for some distance on
his journey, and when they separated it was as the parting scene of
brothers. Such was the noble spectacle exhibited to the chivalry of
Spain by these two illustrious rivals. Each reaped universal renown
from the part he had performed in the campaign--the marques from
having surprised and captured one of the most important and
formidable fortresses of the kingdom of Granada, and the duke from
having subdued his deadliest foe by a great act of magnanimity.
EVENTS AT GRANADA, AND RISE OF THE MOORISH KING, BOABDIL
The Moorish king, Abul Hassan, returned, baffled and disappointed,
from before the walls of Alhama, and was received with groans and
smothered execrations by the people of Granada. The prediction of
the santon was in every mouth, and appeared to be rapidly
fulfilling, for the enemy was already strongly fortified in Alhama,
in the very heart of the kingdom. At the same time, the nobles who
had secretly conspired to depose the old king and elevate his son
Boabdil to the throne had matured their plans in concert with the
prince, who had been joined in Guadix by hosts of adherents. An
opportunity soon presented to carry their plans into operation.
Muley Abul Hassan had a royal country palace, with gardens and
fountains, called the Alixares, situated on the Cerro del Sol, or
Mountain of the Sun, a height the ascent to which leads up from the
Alhambra, but which towers far above that fortress, and looks down
as from the clouds upon it and upon the subjacent city of Granada.
It was a favorite retreat of the Moorish kings to inhale the pure
mountain-breezes and leave far below the din and turmoil of the
city; Muley Abul Hassan had passed a day among its bowers, in
company with his favorite wife Zoraya, when toward evening he
heard a strange sound rising from the city, like the gathering of a
storm or the sullen roar of the ocean. Apprehensive of evil, he
ordered the officers of his guard to descend with all speed to the
city and reconnoitre. The intelligence brought back was astounding.
A civil war was raging in the city. Boabdil had been brought from
Guadix by the conspirators, the foremost of whom were the gallant
race of the Abencerrages. He had entered the Albaycin in triumph,
and been hailed with rapture and proclaimed king in that populous
quarter of the city. Abul Cacim Vanegas, the vizier, at the head of
the royal guards had attacked the rebels, and the noise which had
alarmed the king was the din of fighting in the streets and squares.
Muley Abul Hassan hastened to descend to the Alhambra, confident
that, ensconced in that formidable fortress, he could soon put an
end to the rash commotion. To his surprise and dismay, he found
the battlements lined with hostile troops: Aben Comixa, the alcayde,
had declared in favor of Boabdil and elevated his standard on the
towers: thus cut off from his stronghold, the old monarch was fain
to return to the Alixares.
The conflict lasted throughout the night with carnage on both sides.
In the morning Abul Cacim, driven out of the city, appeared before
the old king with his broken squadrons, and told him there was no
safety but in flight. "Allah Akbar!" (God is great!) exclaimed old
Muley; "it is in vain to contend against what is written in the book
of fate. It was predestined that my son should sit upon the throne
--Allah forfend the rest of the prediction." So saying, he made a
hasty retreat, escorted by Abul Cacim Vanegas and his troops,
who conducted him to the castle of Mondujar in the valley of Locrin.
Here he was joined by many powerful cavaliers, relatives of Abul
Cacim and partisans of Zoraya, among whom were Cid Hiaya, Aben
Jamy, and Reduan Vanegas, men who had alcaydes, vassals, at their
command, and possessed great influence in Almeria and Baza. He
was joined also by his brother Abdallah, commonly called El Zagal,
or the Valiant, who was popular in many parts of the kingdom.
All these offered to aid him with their swords in suppressing the
Thus reinforced, Muley Abul Hassan determined on a sudden blow
for the recovery of his throne and the punishment of the rebels.
He took his measures with that combination of dexterity and daring
which formed his character, and arrived one night under the walls of
Granada with five hundred chosen followers. Scaling the walls of
the Alhambra, he threw himself with sanguinary fury into its silent
courts. The sleeping inmates were roused from their repose only to
fall by the exterminating scimetar. The rage of Abul Hassan spared
neither age nor rank nor sex; the halls resounded with shrieks and
yells, and the fountains ran red with blood. The alcayde, Aben
Comixa, retreated to a strong tower with a few of the garrison and
inhabitants. The furious Abul Hassan did not lose time in pursuing
him; he was anxious to secure the city and to wreak his vengeance
on its rebellious inhabitants. Descending with his bloody band into
the streets, he cut down the defenceless inhabitants as, startled
from their sleep, they rushed forth to learn the cause of the alarm.
The city was soon completely roused; the people flew to arms; lights
blazed in every street, revealing the scanty number of this band
that had been dealing such fatal vengeance in the dark. Muley Abul
Hassan had been mistaken in his conjectures: the great mass of the
people, incensed by his tyranny, were zealous in favor of his son.
A violent but transient conflict took place in the streets and squares:
many of the followers of Abul Hassan were slain, the rest driven out
of the city, and the old monarch, with the remnant of his band,
retreated to his loyal city of Malaga.
Such was the commencement of those great internal feuds and
divisions which hastened the downfall of Granada. The Moors became
separated into two hostile factions, headed by the father and the
son, the latter of whom was called by the Spaniards "El Rey Chico,"
or the Young King; but, though bloody encounters took place between
them, they never failed to act with all their separate force against
the Christians as a common enemy whenever an opportunity occurred.
ROYAL EXPEDITION AGAINST LOXA.
King Ferdinand held a council of war at Cordova, where it was
deliberated what was to be done with Alhama. Most of the council
advised that it should be demolished, inasmuch as, being in the
centre of the Moorish kingdom, it would be at all times liable to
attack, and could only be maintained by a powerful garrison and
at a vast expense. Queen Isabella arrived at Cordova in the midst
of these deliberations, and listened to them with surprise and
impatience. "What!" said she, "destroy the first fruits of our
victories? Abandon the first place we have wrested from the Moors?
Never let us suffer such an idea to occupy our minds. It would argue
fear or feebleness, and give new courage to the enemy. You talk of
the toil and expense of maintaining Alhama. Did we doubt on
undertaking this war that it was to be one of infinite cost, labor,
and bloodshed? And shall we shrink from the cost the moment a
victory is obtained and the question is merely to guard or abandon
its glorious trophy? Let us hear no more about the destruction of
Alhama; let us maintain its walls sacred, as a stronghold granted
us by Heaven in the centre of this hostile land; and let our only
consideration be how to extend our conquest and capture the
The language of the queen infused a more lofty and chivalrous spirit
into the royal council. Preparations were made to maintain Alhama at
all risk and expense, and King Ferdinand appointed as alcayde Luis
Fernandez Puerto Carrero, senior of the house of Palma, supported
by Diego Lopez de Ayala, Pero Ruiz de Alarcon, and Alonso Ortis,
captains of four hundred lances and a body of one thousand foot,
supplied with provisions for three months.
Ferdinand resolved also to lay siege to Loxa, or Loja, a city of
great strength at no great distance from Alhama, and all-important
to its protection. It was, in fact, a military point situated in a pass
of the mountains between the kingdoms of Granada and Castile,
and commanded a main entrance to the Vega. The Xenil flowed by
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