Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

The Last of a Royal Race

The rebellion of the Moriscos, due to the oppressive edicts of Philip II., as stated in the preceding tale, was marked by numerous interesting events. Some of these are worth giving in illustration of the final struggle of the Moors in Spain. The insurgents failed in their first effort, that of seizing the city of Granada, still filled with their fellow-countrymen, and restoring as far as possible their old kingdom; and they afterwards confined themselves to the difficult passes and mountain fastnesses of the Sierra Nevada, where they presented a bold front to the power of Spain.

Having proclaimed their independence, and cast off all allegiance to the crown of Spain, their first step was to select a new monarch of their own race. The man selected for this purpose was of royal blood, being descended in a direct line from the ancient family of the Omeyades, caliphs of Damascus, and for nearly four centuries rulers in Spain. This man, who bore the Castilian name of Don Fernando de Valor, but was known by the Moors as Aben-Humeya, was at that time twenty-two years of age, comely in person and engaging in manners, and of a deportment worthy of the princely line from which he had descended. A man of courage and energy, he escaped from Granada and took refuge in the mountains, where he began a war to the knife against Spain.

The early events of the war were unfavorable to the Moors. Their strongholds were invaded by a powerful Spanish force under the Marquis of Mondejar, and their forces soon put to flight. Aben-Humeya was so hotly pursued that he was forced to spring from his horse, cut the hamstrings of the animal to render it useless to his pursuers, and seek refuge in the depths of the sierras, where dozens of hiding-places unknown to his pursuers could be found.

The insurrection was now in a desperate stage. Mondejar was driving the rebels in arms in terror before him; tower and town fell in succession into his hands; everywhere his arms were victorious, and only one thing was wanting to bring all opposition to an end,—the capture of Aben-Humeya, the "little king" of the Alpujarras. This crownless monarch was known to be wandering with a few followers in the wilds of the mountains; but while he lived the insurrection might at any moment blaze out again, and detachments of soldiers were sent to pursue him through the sierras.

The captain of one of these parties learned from a traitor that the fugitive prince remained hidden in the mountains only during the day, finding shelter at night in the house of a kinsman, Aben-Aboo, on the skirts of the sierras. Learning the situation of this mansion, the Spanish captain led his men with the greatest secrecy towards it. Travelling by night, they reached the vicinity of the dwelling under cover of the darkness. In a minute more the house would have been surrounded and its inmates secured; but at this critical moment the arquebuse of one of the Spaniards was accidentally discharged, the report echoing loudly among the hills and warning the lightly sleeping inmates of their danger.

One of them, El Zaguer, the uncle of Aben-Humeya, at once sprang up and leaped from the window of his room, making his way with all haste to the mountains. His nephew was not so fortunate. Running to his window, in the front of the house, he saw the ground occupied by troops. He hastily sought another window, but his foes were there before him. Bewildered and distressed, he knew not where to turn. The house was surrounded; the Spaniards were thundering on the door for admittance; he was like a wolf caught in its lair, and with as little mercy to hope from his captors.

By good fortune the door was well secured. One possible chance for safety occurred to the hunted prince. Hastening downstairs, he stood behind the portal and noiselessly drew its bolts. The Spaniards, finding the door give way, and supposing that it had yielded to their blows, rushed hastily in and hurried through the house in search of the fugitive who was hidden behind the door. The instant they had all passed he slipped out, and, concealed by the darkness outside, hastened away, soon finding a secure refuge in the mountains.

Aben-Aboo remained in the hands of the assailants, who vainly questioned him as to the haunts of his kinsmen. On his refusal to answer they employed torture, but with no better effect. "I may die," he courageously said, "but my friends will live." So severe and cruel was their treatment, that in the end they left him for dead, returning to camp with the other prisoners they had taken. As it proved, however, the heroic Aben-Aboo did not die, but lived to play a leading part in the war.

With kindly treatment of the Moriscos he would probably have given no more trouble, but the Spanish proved utterly merciless, their soldiers raging through the mountains, and committing the foulest acts of outrage and rapine. In Granada a frightful deed was committed. A large number of the leading Moriscos, about one hundred and fifty in all, had been seized and imprisoned, being held as hostages for the good behavior of their friends. Here, on a night in March, the prison was entered by a body of Spaniards, who assailed the unfortunate captives, arms in hand, and began an indiscriminate massacre. The prisoners seizing what means of defence they could find, fought desperately for their lives, and for two hours the unequal combat continued, not ending while a Morisco remained alive.

This savage act led to terrible reprisals on the part of the insurgents, who in the subsequent war treated with atrocious cruelty many of their captives. The Moriscos were soon in arms again, Aben-Humeya at their head, and the war blazed throughout the length and breadth of the mountains. Even from Barbary came a considerable body of Moors, who entered the service of the Morisco chief. Fierce and intrepid, trained to the military career, and accustomed to a life of wild adventure, these were a most valuable reinforcement to Aben-Humeya's forces, and enabled him to carry on a guerilla warfare which proved highly vexatious to the troops of Spain. He made forays from the mountains into the plain, penetrating into the vega and boldly venturing even to the walls of Granada. The insurrection spread far and wide through the Sierra Nevada, and the Spanish army, now led by Don John of Austria, the king's brother, found itself confronted by a most serious task.

The weak point in the organization of the Moriscos lay in the character of their king. Aben-Humeya, at first popular, soon displayed traits of character which lost him the support of his followers. Surrounded by a strong body-guard, he led a voluptuous life, and struck down without mercy those whom he feared, no less than three hundred and fifty persons falling victims to his jealousy or revenge. His cruelty and injustice at length led to a plot for his death, and his brief reign ended in assassination, his kinsman, Aben-Aboo, being chosen as his successor.

The new king was a very different man from his slain predecessor. He was much the older of the two, a man of high integrity and great decorum of character. While lacking the dash and love of adventure of Aben-Humeya, he had superior judgment in military affairs, and full courage in carrying out his plans. His election was confirmed from Algiers, a large quantity of arms and ammunition was imported from Barbary, reinforcements crossed the Mediterranean, and the new king began his reign under excellent auspices, his first movement being against Orgiba, a fortified place on the road to Granada, which he invested in October with an army of ten thousand men.

The capture of this place, which soon followed, roused the enthusiasm of the Moriscos to the highest pitch. From all sides the warlike peasantry flocked to the standard of their able chief, and a war began resembling that of a century before, when the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella were invading the Kingdom of Granada. From peak to peak of the sierras beacon-fires flashed their signals, calling the bold mountaineers to forays on the lands of the enemy. Pouring suddenly down on the lower levels, the daring marauders swept away in triumph to the mountains the flocks and herds of their Christian foes. The vega of Granada became, as in ancient times, the battle-ground of Moorish and Christian cavaliers, the latter having generally the advantage, though occasionally the insurgent bands would break into the suburbs, or even the city of Granada, filling its people with consternation, and causing the great bell of the Alhambra to peal out its tocsin of alarm and call the Spanish chivalry in haste to the fray.

Alhambra, Granada


We cannot describe, even in epitome, the varied course of this sanguinary war. As might well have been expected, the greater force of the Spaniards gradually prevailed, and the autumn of 1570 found the insurgents almost everywhere subdued. Only Aben-Aboo, the "little king," remained in arms, a force of four hundred men being all that were left to him of his recent army. But these were men warmly devoted to him, and until the spring of 1571 every effort for his capture proved in vain. Hiding in mountain caves and in inaccessible districts, he defied pursuit, and in a measure kept alive the flame of rebellion.

Treason at length brought his career to an end. One of the few insurgent prisoners who escaped death at the hands of the Spanish executioners revealed the hiding-place of the fugitive king, and named the two persons on whom Aben-Aboo most relied, his secretary, Abou Amer, and a Moorish captain named El Senix.

An effort was made to win over the secretary by one who had formerly known him, a letter being sent him which roused him to intense indignation. El Senix, however, becoming aware of its contents, and having a private grudge against his master, sent word by the messenger that he would undertake, for a suitable recompense, to betray him to the Christians.

An interview soon after took place between the Moor and Barredo, the Spanish agent, some intimation of which came to the ears of Aben-Aboo. The king at once sought a cavern in the neighborhood where El Senix was secreted, and, leaving his followers outside, imprudently entered alone. He found El Senix surrounded by several of his friends, and sternly demanded of him the purpose of his interview with Barredo. Senix, confused by the accusation, faltered out that he had simply been seeking to obtain an amnesty for him. Aben-Aboo listened with a face of scorn, and, turning on his heel with the word "treachery," walked back to the mouth of the cave.

Unluckily, his men, with the exception of two guards stationed at the entrance, had left the spot to visit some near-by friends. Senix, perceiving that his own life was in danger, and that this was his only opportunity for safety, fell with his followers on the guards, one of whom was killed and the other put to flight. Then an attack was made on Aben-Aboo. The latter defended himself desperately, but the odds were too great, and the dastardly El Senix ended the struggle by felling him with the but-end of his musket, when he was quickly despatched.

Thus died the last of the Omeyades, the famous dynasty of Arabian caliphs founded in 660, and established in Spain in 756. Aben-Aboo, the last of this royal race, was given in death a triumphal entrance to Granada, as if he were one whom the Spaniards delighted to honor. The corpse was set astride on a mule, being supported by a wooden frame, which lay hidden beneath flowing robes. On one side rode Barredo; on the other the murderer El Senix bore the scimitar and arquebuse of the dead prince. The kinsmen and friends of the Morisco chief rode in his train, and after them came a regiment of infantry and a troop of horse.

As the procession moved along the street of Zacatin salvos of musketry saluted it, peals of artillery roared from the towers of the Alhambra, and the multitude thronged to gaze with silent curiosity on the ghastly face. Thus the cavalcade proceeded until the great square of Vivarambla was reached. Here were assembled the principal cavaliers and magistrates of the city, and here El Senix dismounted and delivered to Deza, the president of the tribunal before which were tried the insurgent captives, the arms of the murdered prince.

And now this semblance of respect to a brave enemy was followed by a scene of barbarity worthy of the Spain of that day. The ceremony of a public execution was gone through with, the head of the corpse being struck off, after which the body was given to the boys of Granada, who dragged it through the streets and exposed it to every indignity, finally committing it to the flames. The head, enclosed in a cage, was set over the gate that faced towards the Alpujarras. There it remained for a year, seeming to gaze towards the hills which the Morisco chief had loved so well, and which had witnessed his brief and disastrous reign.

Such was the fate of Aben-Aboo, the last of a line of great monarchs, and one of the best of them all; a man of lofty spirit, temperate appetites, and courageous endurance, who, had he lived in more prosperous days, might have ruled in the royal halls of Cordova with a renown equal to that of the most famous caliph of his race.