This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Spanish Army Devastates Grenada’s Countryside.
Muslim power spread across North Africa during the 7th. century and into Spain during the 8th. A few Christian kingdoms made a last stand in the north. As the Dark Age morphed into the Medieval one, the Christian kingdoms went on the offensive. Centuries went by, hot wars, cold wars, what the Spanish called the “Reconquista” rolled on. By the time of our story, Christopher Columbus had already pitched Ferdinand and Isabella and had been stalled off while the monarchs began the conquest of the final Muslim kingdom in Spain.
This selection is from Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada by Washington Irving published in 1829. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Washington Irving is known for him fictional works but he wrote histories, too. He researched this history while he was a diplomat in Spain.
Place: Grenada, Spain
In 1482, having prepared themselves for what proved a final struggle with the Moors, Ferdinand and Isabella began the war against Boabdil, the King of Granada, who the year before had seized the throne from his father, Muley Hasan. After some early reverses and later interruptions — during which the wavering Ferdinand was held to his purpose by the rebukes and encouragement of his stout-hearted Queen — the Christian sovereigns reduced the strongholds of the Moors, until by 1490 the more important half of the kingdom of Granada had been conquered. The city and its small surrounding district alone remained to Boabdil. On April 23, 1491, Ferdinand and Isabella encamped before Granada with fifty thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand horse, and the last contest began.
Though Granada was shorn of its glories, and nearly cut off from all external aid, still its mighty castles and massive bulwarks seemed to set all attacks at defiance. Being the last retreat of Moorish power, it had assembled within its walls the remnants of the armies that had contended, step by step, with the invaders, in their gradual conquest of the land. All that remained of high-born and high-bred chivalry was here; all that was loyal and patriotic was roused to activity by the common danger; and Granada, that had so long been lulled into inaction by vain hopes of security, now assumed a formidable aspect in the hour of its despair.
Ferdinand saw that any attempt to subdue the city by main force would be perilous and bloody. Cautious in his policy, and fond of conquests gained by art rather than valor, he determined to reduce the place by famine. For this purpose, his armies penetrated into the very heart of the Alpujarras, and ravaged the valleys and sacked and burned the towns upon which the city depended for its supplies. Scouting parties, also, ranged the mountains behind Granada and captured every casual convoy of provisions. The Moors became more daring as their situation became more hopeless. Never had Ferdinand experienced such vigorous sallies and assaults. Musa*, at the head of his cavalry, harassed the borders of the camp, and even penetrated into the interior, making sudden spoil and ravage, and leaving his course to be traced by the slain and wounded.
[* Musa ben Abil Gazan, Boabdil’s best cavalier — a fiery soldier, of royal lineage.]
To protect his camp from these assaults, Ferdinand fortified it with deep trenches and strong bulwarks. It was of a quadrangular form, divided into streets like a city, the troops being quartered in tents, and in booths constructed of bushes and branches of trees. When it was completed, Queen Isabella came in state, with all her court, and the Prince and Princess, to be present at the siege. This was intended to reduce the besieged to despair by showing the determination of the sovereigns to reside in the camp until the city should surrender. Immediately after her arrival, the Queen rode forth to survey the camp and its environs: wherever she went she was attended by a splendid retinue; and all the commanders vied with each other in the pomp and ceremony with which they received her. Nothing was heard, from morning until night, but shouts and acclamations and bursts of martial music; so that it appeared to the Moors as if a continual festival and triumph reigned in the Christian camp.
The arrival of the Queen, however, and the menaced obstinacy of the siege had no effect in damping the fire of the Moorish chivalry. Musa inspired the youthful warriors with the most devoted heroism. “We have nothing left to fight for,” said he, “but the ground we stand on; when this is lost, we cease to have a country and a name.”
Finding the Christian King forbore to make an attack, Musa incited his cavaliers to challenge the youthful chivalry of the Christian army to single combat or partial skirmishes. Scarce a day passed without gallant conflicts of the kind, in sight of the city and the camp. The combatants rivaled each other in the splendor of their armor and array, as well as in the prowess of their deeds. Their contests were more like the stately ceremonials of tilts and tournaments than the rude conflicts of the field. Ferdinand soon perceived that they animated the fiery Moors with fresh zeal and courage, while they cost the lives of many of his bravest cavaliers; he again, therefore, forbade the acceptance of any individual challenges, and ordered that all partial encounters should be avoided. The cool and stern policy of the Catholic sovereign bore hard upon the generous spirits of either army, but roused the indignation of the Moors when they found that they were to be subdued in this inglorious manner. “Of what avail,” said they, “are chivalry and heroic valor? The crafty monarch of the Christians has no magnanimity in warfare; he seeks to subdue us through the weakness of our bodies, but shuns to encounter the courage of our souls.”
When the Moorish knights beheld that all courteous challenges were unavailing, they sought various means to provoke the Christian warriors to the field. Sometimes a body of them, fleetly mounted, would gallop up to the skirts of the camp, and try who should hurl his lance farthest within the barriers, having his name inscribed upon it, or a label affixed to it containing some taunting defiance. These bravadoes caused great irritation, but still the Spanish warriors were restrained by the prohibition of the King.
Among the Moorish cavaliers was one named Yarfe, renowned for his great strength and daring spirit; but whose courage partook of fierce audacity rather than chivalric heroism. In one of these sallies, when they were skirting the Christian camp, this arrogant Moor outstripped his companions, overleaped the barriers, and, galloping close to the royal quarters, launched his lance so far within that it remained quivering in the earth close by the pavilions of the sovereigns. The royal guards rushed forth in pursuit, but the Moorish horsemen were already beyond the camp, and scouring in a cloud of dust for the city. Upon wresting the lance from the earth, a label was found upon it importing that it was intended for the Queen.
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