Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

The Rival Kings of Granada

"In the hand of God is the destiny of princes. He alone giveth empire," piously says an old Arabian chronicler, and goes on with the following story: A Moorish horseman, mounted on a fleet Arabian steed, was one day traversing the mountains which extend between Granada and the frontier of Murcia. He galloped swiftly through the valleys, but paused and gazed cautiously from the summit of every height. A squadron of cavaliers followed warily at a distance. There were fifty lances. The richness of their armor and attire showed them to be warriors of noble rank, and their leader had a lofty and prince-like demeanor.

For two nights and a day the cavalcade made its way through that rugged country, avoiding settled places and choosing the most solitary passes of the mountains. Their hardships were severe, but campaigning was their trade and their horses were of generous spirit. It was midnight when they left the hills and rode through darkness and silence to the city of Granada, under the shadows of whose high walls they passed to the gate of the Albaycin. Here the leader ordered his followers to halt and remain concealed. Taking four or five with him, he advanced to the gate and struck upon it with the handle of his scimitar.

"Who is it knocks at this unseasonable hour of the night?" demanded the warder within.

"Your king," was the answer. "Open and admit him."

Opening a wicket, the warder held forth a light and looked at the man without. Recognizing him at a glance, he opened the gate, and the cavalier, who had feared a less favorable reception, rode in with his followers and galloped in haste to the hill of the Albaycin, where the new-comers knocked loudly at the doors of the principal dwellings, bidding their tenants to rise and take arms for their lawful sovereign. The summons was obeyed. Trumpets soon resounded in the streets; the gleam of torches lit the dark avenues and flashed upon naked steel. From right and left the Moors came hurrying to the rendezvous. By daybreak the whole force of the Albaycin was under arms, ready to meet in battle the hostile array on the opposite height of the Alhambra.

To tell what this midnight movement meant we must go back a space in history. The conquest of Granada was not due to Ferdinand and the Spaniards alone. It was greatly aided by the dissensions of the Moors, who were divided into two parties and fought bitterly with each other during their intervals of truce with the Christians. Ferdinand won in the game largely by a shrewd playing off of one of these factions against the other and by taking advantage of the weakness and vacillation of the young king, whose clandestine entrance to the city we have just seen.

Boabdil el Chico, or Boabdil the Young, as he was called, was the son of Muley Abul Hassan, against whom he had rebelled, and with such effect that, after a bloody battle in the streets of the city, the old king was driven without its walls. His tyranny had caused the people to gather round his son.

From that time forward there was dissension and civil war in Granada, and the quarrels of its kings paved the way for the downfall of the state. The country was divided into the two factions of the young and the old kings. In the city the hill of the Albaycin, with its fortress of the Aleazaba, was the stronghold of Boabdil, while the partisans of Abul Hassan dwelt on the height of the Alhambra, the lower town between being the battle-ground of the rival factions.

The succeeding events were many, but must be told in few words. King Boabdil, to show his prowess to the people, marched over the border to attack the city of Lucena. As a result he was himself assailed, his army put to the rout, and himself taken prisoner by the forces of Ferdinand of Aragon. To regain his liberty he acknowledged himself a vassal of the Spanish monarch, to whom he agreed to pay tribute. On his release he made his way to the city of Granada, but his adherents were so violently assailed by those of his father that the streets of the city ran blood, and Boabdil the Unlucky, as he was now called, found it advisable to leave the capital and fix his residence in Almeria, a large and splendid city whose people were devoted to him.

As the years went on Muley Abul Hassan became sadly stricken with age. He grew nearly blind and was bed-ridden with paralysis. His brother Abdallah, known as El Zagal, or "The Valiant," commander-in-chief of the Moorish armies, assumed his duties as a sovereign, and zealously took up the quarrel with his son. He attempted to surprise the young king at Almeria, drove him out as a fugitive, and took possession of that city. At a later date he endeavored to remove him by poison. It was this attempt that spurred Boabdil to the enterprise we have just described. El Zagal was now full king in Granada, holding the Alhambra as his palace, and his nephew, who had been a wanderer since his flight from Almeria, was instigated to make a bold stroke for the throne.

On the day after the secret return of Boabdil battle raged in the streets of Granada, a fierce encounter taking place between the two kings in the square before the principle mosque. Hand to hand they fought with the greatest fury till separated by the charges of their followers.

Well at Alhambra


For days the conflict went on, death and turmoil ruling in Granada, such hatred existing between the two factions that neither side gave quarter. Boabdil was the weaker in men. Fearing defeat in consequence, he sent a messenger to Don Fadrique de Toledo, the Christian commander on the border, asking for assistance. Don Fadrique had been instructed by Ferdinand to give what aid he could to the young king, the vassal of Spain, and responded to Boabdil's request by marching with a body of troops to the vicinity of Granada. No sooner had Boabdil seen their advancing banners than he sallied forth with a squadron to meet them. El Zagal, who was equally on the alert, sallied forth at the same time, and drew up his troops in battle array.

The wary Don Fadrique, in doubt as to the meaning of this double movement, and fearing treachery, halted at a safe distance, and drew off for the night to a secure situation. Early the next morning a Moorish cavalier approached the sentinels and asked for an audience with Don Fadrique, as an envoy from El Zagal. The Christian troops, he said on behalf of the old king, had come to aid his nephew, but he was ready to offer them an alliance on better terms than those of Boabdil. Don Fadrique listened courteously to the envoy, but for better assurance, determined to send a representative to El Zagal himself, under protection of a flag. For this purpose he selected Don Juan do Vera, one of the most intrepid and discreet of his cavaliers, who had in years before been sent by King Ferdinand on a mission to the Alhambra.

Don Juan, on reaching the palace, was well received by the old king, holding an interview with him which extended so far into the night that it was too late to return to camp, and he was lodged in a sumptuous apartment of the Alhambra. In the morning he was approached by one of the Moorish courtiers, a man given to jest and satire, who invited him to take part in a ceremony in the palace mosque. This invitation, given in jest, was received by the punctilious Catholic knight in earnest, and he replied, with stern displeasure,—

"The servants of Queen Isabella of Castile, who bear on their armor the cross of St. Iago, never enter the temples of Mohammed, except to level them to the earth and trample on them."

This discourteous reply was repeated by the courtier to a renegade, who, having newly adopted the Moorish faith, was eager to show his devotion to the Moslem creed, and proposed to engage the hot-tempered Catholic knight in argument. Seeking Don Juan, they found him playing chess with the alcaide of the palace, and the renegade at once began to comment on the Christian religion in uncomplimentary terms. Don Juan was quick to anger, but he restrained himself, and replied, with grave severity,—

"You would do well to cease talking about what you do not understand."

The renegade and his jesting companion replied in a series of remarks intended as wit, though full of insolence, Don Juan fuming inwardly as he continued to play. In the end they went too far, the courtier making an obscene comparison between the Virgin Mary and Amina, the mother of Mohammed. In an instant the old knight sprang up, white with rage, and dashing aside chess-board and chessmen. Drawing his sword, he dealt such a "hermosa cuchillada" ("handsome slash") across the head of the offending Moor as to stretch him bleeding on the floor. The renegade fled in terror, rousing the echoes of the palace with his outcries and stirring up guards and attendants, who rushed into the room where the irate Christian stood sword in hand defying Mohammed and his hosts. The alarm quickly reached the ears of the king, who hurried to the scene, his appearance at once restoring order. On hearing from the alcaide the cause of the affray, he acted with becoming dignity, ordering the guards from the room and directing that the renegade should be severely punished for daring to infringe the hospitality of the palace and insult an ambassador.

Don Juan, his quick fury evaporated, sheathed his sword, thanked the king for his courtesy, and proposed a return to the camp. But this was not easy of accomplishment. A garbled report of the tumult in the palace had spread to the streets, where it was rumored that Christian spies had been introduced into the palace with treasonable intent. In a brief time hundreds of the populace were in arms and thronging about the gate of Justice of the Alhambra, where they loudly demanded the death of all Christians in the palace and of all who had introduced them.

It was impossible for Don Juan to leave the palace by the route he had followed on his arrival. The infuriated mob would have torn him to pieces. But it was important that he should depart at once. All that El Zagal could do was to furnish him with a disguise, a swift horse, and an escort, and to let him out of the Alhambra by a private gate. This secret mode of departure was not relished by the proud Spaniard, but life was just then of more value than dignity, as he appreciated when, in Moorish dress, he passed through crowds who were thirsting for his blood. A gate of the city was at length reached, and Don Juan and his escort rode quietly out. But he was no sooner on the open plain than he spurred his horse to its speed, and did not draw rein until the banners of Don Fadrique waved above his head.

Don Fadrique heard with much approval of the boldness of his envoy. His opinion of Don Juan's discretion he kept to himself. He rewarded him with a valuable horse, and wrote a letter of thanks to El Zagal for his protection to his emissary. Queen Isabella, on learning how stoutly the knight had stood up for the chastity of the Blessed Virgin, was highly delighted, and conferred several distinctions of honor upon the cavalier besides presenting him with three hundred thousand maravedis.

The outcome of the advances of the two kings was that Don Fadrique chose Boabdil as his ally, and sent him a reinforcement of foot-soldiers and arquebusiers. This introduction of Christians into the city rekindled the flames of war, and it continued to rage in the streets for the space of fifty days.

The result of the struggle between the two kings may be briefly told. While they contended for supremacy Ferdinand of Aragon invaded their kingdom with a large army and marched upon the great seaport of Malaga. El Zagal sought an accommodation with Boabdil, that they might unite their forces against the common foe, but the short-sighted young man spurned his overtures with disdain. El Zagal then, the better patriot of the two, marched himself against the Christian host, hoping to surprise them in the passes of the mountains and perhaps capture King Ferdinand himself. Unluckily for him, his well-laid plan was discovered by the Christians, who attacked and defeated him, his troops flying in uncontrollable disorder.

The news of this disaster reached Granada before him and infuriated the people, who closed their gates and threatened the defeated king from the walls. Nothing remained to El Zagal but to march to Almeria and establish his court in that city in which Boabdil had formerly reigned. Thus the positions of the rival kings became reversed. From that time forward the kingdom of Granada was divided into two, and the work of conquest by the Christians was correspondingly reduced.