The Last Muslim King Of Spain, Part 1: Kingdom In Crisis

May 09, 2022

The Last Muslim King Of Spain, Part 1: Kingdom In Crisis
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"You cry like a woman, for what you couldn't defend as a man"

Boabdil was heir to a dying kingdom.

In the 15th century, Granada was the last Muslim state in Spain. For 250 years it survived, living in the shadow of the Christian kingdoms.

But that all changed after the marriage between Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragorn united the two most powerful kingdoms in the lands.

The Newlywed's looked hungrily at Boabdil's impoverished state and dreamed of their place in the history books as the King and Queen who reconquered Spain in the name of the Cross...


Further Reading:


  • A big thanks to my generous Patrons!
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    • Malcolm G
    • Tom G
    • Claudia K - Big thanks for The Alhambra quote reading.
  • Thanks Jack, for the Arabic translation of Boabdil's speech.
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[0:01:11] Elliot Gates: It's. The 2 January 1492. Through a muddy field in southern Spain, a column of sad looking human beings passed by, dressed in their finest linens. The procession plotted past their onlookers. Crowds of people who had turned up just to see their humiliation, their faces a mix of pity, scorn and apathy as the group shuffled past them, the last Muslims of Spain. To the crowd, these people were foreigners. Their clothes, their culture and their religion didn't fit into their Christian nation. Leading the column was a small, nondescript man. He was dressed simply but elegantly. If it wasn't for the stallion, he wrote, nothing would have distinguished him from the rest of the column. Neatly groomed, he sported a short beard with a black turban. He kept his posture straight, but his large, sad eyes betrayed him. This man was Abu Abdullah Muhammad XII, the King of Granada, the last Islamic Emir of Spain. At least he was. Today was the day he surrendered his kingdom over to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.


[0:02:17] Elliot Gates: Swallowing deeply, he approached the royal couple. Cloaked from head to toe in decadent silks of red and white, the pair looked as regal as could be. Muhammad's humiliation was to be their crowning glory that would forever be the king and queen that reconquered Spain in the name of the cross. Bowing deeply, Mohammed took Ferdinand's hand and kissed it, while Isabel looked down on him, scornfully. He was supposed to kiss the Queen's hand too, but a pleading letter had spared him this added humiliation. Then, steadying his shaking hands, muhammad presented the keys to his treasured city, to the Christian king. “God loves you greatly, sir. These are the keys of this paradise. I and those inside it are yours”. As the keys exchanged hands, many from his retinue began to weep quietly. But not Muhammad. These two had taken everything from him. He would not give them his tears too. Let their last recollection of him be one of composure and integrity.


[0:03:42] Elliot Gates: Turning to the new Christian governor, he slid a golden ring off his finger and handed it to him. He told the Governor that the ring had come to him through his ancestors when they conquered the city centuries ago, and that it made sense for him to have it now. With a sad smile, he wished the governor the best of luck, willing a city, and prayed that his fortunes would turn out better than his own. With a parting bow to the King queen, the surrender was complete. The procession marched onwards and soon the muddy road gave way to an unpaved rocky path. As he climbed up into the hills, his homeland receded behind him. Finally, when he was sure no one was looking, the King of Granada turned around and snuck one last look at his home. 262 years his family had ruled these lands. What had he done? How had it come to this? As he scanned the horizon, his gaze settled upon his palace, the Alumbra, a structure of unparalleled beauty that these Christians could only dream of recreating. Tears began to form in the king's eyes. Before he could brush them away, his mother's gaze fell on him and she looked at him in disgust. You do well, my son, to cry like a woman for what you couldn't defend like a man. You're listening to Anthology of Heroes, the podcast that brings to life epic tales of heroism from across the ages.


[0:05:39] Elliot Gates: And this is the story of the final days of Islamic Spain and the tale of King Mohammed the Twelve, today remembered as Boabdil, the last more welcome back to Anthology of Heroes. If you're just joining us for the first time, welcome. This episode forms the fourth part of a series exploring the reconquista. The reconquista was the so called rechristianization of Spain that occurred from the 8th century to the 15th century. This miniseries tells the story of this important period through the eyes of three individuals who lived hundreds of years apart. In our first episode, we covered the life of Pelayo, a Christian guerrilla leader who led his tiny kingdom of Asturias against Muslim rule in the 8th century. In our second and third episode, we followed El Cid, the most famous Spanish hero of all time, a cunning and independent commander who made his mark in the 11th century, a time when Christian kingdoms were gaining ground against the Islamic ones. And in these final two parts, we'll explore the life of Muhammad XII, or Boabdil, as he's known in the west. Boabdil was the final Islamic ruler of Spain who governed the southern state of Granada. If you haven't tuned into our earlier episodes, this one is fine to listen to as a standalone, but there will be occasional callbacks to people or things that happened. On top of that, the significance of an event like this, the fall of the final Islamic kingdom of Christian forces, might not have the same impact if you're not across what happened beforehand. Either way, happy to have you with me. Let's get into it. The story of Boabdil the last Moor. At the end of our last episode. That's El CID part two.


[0:07:11] Elliot Gates: Spain was split fairly evenly between a Christian north and a Muslim south. The Muslim kingdoms known as Taifas had united under the stern command from the North African conqueror Yusuf ibn Tashfin, whose military skill had blunted the Christian's attempt at pushing any further south. Yusuf had bought the type of kingdom some breathing room, but as soon as he was gone, the rot seeped in quickly. Yusuf's dynasty, known as the Almoravids, had been popular thanks to its simple, straightforward interpretation of the Quran. No flowery language, no metaphors, just the word of God served straight up. It was a view that the nomads of North Africa could get behind. But after his death, his heirs were a different story. Well educated and lavish palaces, they set themselves apart from this aesthetic simplistic lifestyle that their ancestors championed. Soon, a band of rebels vowed to restore the religious unity that they had in the past. Today, we call this rebel band the Almohads 'which is a Spanish derived word from the Arabic word Al-Muwahhidun. I think I'm pronouncing that right, meaning upholders of the divine unity. In other words, these guys felt like the government had lost touch with its original interpretation of God's law. So elmorevid equals current rulers and almond equals the rebel group trying to overthrow them. In North Africa, the Almoravids began to struggle more and more to contain the rebellion. Civil war broke out and the taifa kings of Spain were left in the lurch.


[0:08:57] Elliot Gates: They had relied on the Almoravids for protection from the Christians, and now they were told, sort yourselves out. We've got bigger fish to fry right now. The typhoons of the north of Spain especially, were really on their own. As the Christian appetite for land grew and grew, the Christian forces were not always united, but momentum was on their side. It was easier to attack an isolated Muslim kingdom compared to starting a war against a Christian state that would probably drag in others. Down in Italy, His Holiness the Pope had started to take a personal interest in the affairs of Spain. While Jerusalem and the Holy Land was priority number one, spain was now a second front for the Holy War, and the Vatican could call upon soft power that no other institution on earth could tap into. And that was retribution in the next world weaponizing God's mercy, the Pope promised that in exchange for fighting the infidels of Spain, a man would be forgiven for all of his sins. From market squares to church pulpit, his agents preached a holy crusade, a reconquest of old Christian lands that the wicked Moors had stolen long ago. And when the carrot failed, he used the stick. Dukes and lords were excommunicated from the Church for daring to make war with their Christian neighbors instead of sending their men to Spain to cleanse Christian lands. By doing this, the Pope aimed this hose of Christian aggression towards the Muslim states. In a time where the Muslim world was fracturing, no longer united under a single leader, the unity of the Catholic Church was a huge advantage. As the idea of reconquering old Christian lands became more and more popular, crusading orders sprang up. You've probably heard of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitillar.


[0:10:51] Elliot Gates: But there were other, less known orders, like the Knights of Santiago from northern Spain, or the Order of Aviz from Portugal. Serving in these orders was prestigious, and high born families from across Europe cycled through them, bringing into Spain well trained regiments of men who would serve in the armies of one of the many Christian states. By 1212, the Spanish mainland was crawling with Christian orders, spoiling for a fight. The Almahads, who had supplanted the Almoravids, were eager for a round or two as well. The previous Caliph had dealt the Christian forces a very nasty blow 20 years earlier, and it was time for the new guy to make his name. And make his name he would. At Jane in the south of Spain, the Almaha army lined up for battle. It would turn out to be the most important engagement in the history of the Reconquista, the point of no return for Islamic Spain. The Christian victory at the Battle of Navas de Tolosa is strongly propagandized by the Christian Church, and you can kind of see why, for the first time, almost all the Christian kingdoms of Spain were united, as well as five crusading orders from all over Europe, a truly unified front against the arch rival of their faith. Taking a strong defensive position, the The Almohad Caliph had taken control of the only pathway through the mountains heading south, leaving the Christians with few options except a full frontal engagement. As a Christian coalition mulled over their options, a shepherd approached them who, of course, knew a forgotten path around the mountains. So, sneaking around the back, the Christian forces surprised the larger Muslim army. The lack of room in this thin mountain pass led to vicious, bloody hand to hand fighting, which the Christian forces excelled at. Usually, the almonds relied on outmaneuvering their opponents. To them, the perfect battlefield was a flat plane with lots of room.


[0:12:56] Elliot Gates: But here, a source says that the fighting was so intertwined, neither side could even use their bows, because the risk of friendly fire was so high. Even though movies like 300 or Lord of the Rings love to portray warfare like this, these kind of medieval battles were pretty rare. Stuck in a gory male with an opponent that outnumbered them, king Sancho VII of Navarre on the right flank realized they couldn't go on like this for too much longer. As the template created a gap in the lines, sancho kicked his horse into action and led his best men through the breach to the nucleus of the enemy, cutting down whoever stood in their way, the men barreled towards the command tent, where the Almohad Caliph himself was overseeing the battle. The attack caught him off guard, and he panicked. According to some sources, he had a large group of African slave soldiers that likely saved his life as he made his escape out the back. The attack was so lightning fast that he didn't even have a chance to take his banner with him. Seeing the banner fall from the command tent, the Almohad army actually, I'll let one of the kings who was there tell you what happened. Quote, brandishing our weapons, we broke through their line. Despite their vast numbers and courageous resistance, as they stood firm around their lord, the lord then slew with his sword and his cross an uncounted multitude of enemy and the king of the saracens and a handful of others turned and fled. His men resisted our attacks for a while, but after dreadful slaughter, the survivors were put to flight. We pursued them until nightfall, and we killed more of them during the pursuit than we did in battle. Despite this man's bold faced lie that he killed 1000 muslim soldiers while losing just 25 men, the sources that I've read put the muslim casualties at around 200 and the christian losses at around 2000. A story that most historians now believe to be myth says that the caliph changed his african slave soldiers together, forcing to fight and die for him while he fled. This now famous myth probably comes from a mistranslation of one of the accounts of the battle.


[0:14:25] Elliot Gates: Nevertheless, the story stuck, and the flag of the Navarre province of Spain to this day features the linked chains that king sancho supposedly cut through. The story of the chains also inspired some seriously vivid artwork, which in 2022 is quite provocative. A christian night on a white horse leaping over a group of chained african slaves. Putting the myth aside, though, it is a stunning painting, and I put it on our website if you want to check it out. I'll also upload the banner that was captured during the battle and the navarre flag. Almost immediately after their victory, the christian forces began to bicker amongst themselves, so there was no follow up. In fact, the impact of the battle wasn't immediately noticed. But just after his flight back to north Africa, the caliph died, possibly from wounds he incurred during the scuffle. And after his death, the clan members began to turn on each other. Some even made alliances with the christians. Crippled by internal fighting, the caliphate was unable to project any power into spain, and by 1269, the almohads had disappeared. With no strong power to glue them together, the taifa kingdoms of Spain reverted back to their old borders. Disagreements between the states that had simmered below the hood bubbled up to the top, just like in the past. And this time, the christian kingdoms were poised to take advantage of the chaos. Things moved rapidly, and in just a few decades, the taifa states had all but disappeared, gobbled up greedily by christian kings eager to expand their lands.


[0:16:05] Elliot Gates: In the midst of the chaos, one man managed to drag his family up a few rungs on the social ladder. His name was abu abdullah muhammad ibn yusuf ibn nasir, or muhammad I, as I'll call him. Muhammad was probably a farmer from around the Jaen area of southern Spain. He was able to trace his bloodline back to a companion of the prophet and was popular enough to start a rebellion against the crumbling government of granada. With the promise of loyalty, he gained himself some christian muscle, and soon he was king. There's no easy way to say it. His success was at the expense of other muslim kingdoms. He wasn't the first to make this kind of dirty deal with the christians, but he might have been the last, because by the time the dust settled in 1030, all other muslim typhoons of spain had disappeared. For doing his part, muhammad I was given the right to rule the kingdom of granada on behalf of the crown of castile, the most powerful of all christian states of spain. And so with it kissed to the royal hand, the Nasrid dynasty was born. After receiving the royal stamp of approval from Castile, the first Nasrid got to work on his legacy. Even though the state of granada was dwarfed in size by its christian neighbors, it was still a force to be reckoned with. If it came to it, the state could stand up a formidable army. Its men were motivated and hardy and had close ties to morocco, which was a hop, skip and a jump away. Its capital, also called granada, was well protected, with cliffs and gorges guarding its weak points and strong castles that could serve as rally points for raiding.


[0:16:58] Elliot Gates: At the center of the state laid's beating heart a city within a city. The alarm. Alarm, meaning the red one in arabic, was to be the greatest legacy the Nasrids would leave behind. The red brick city boasted mosques, palace, bath houses, parade ground, legal courts, barracks, and, of course, gardens from baghdad to delhi, delhi to morocco. No proper islamic palace was complete without a garden, an oasis where rulers could switch off and embrace the tranquility and peace that so eluded them in their day to day. Invoking the quran concept of jana, that is the garden paradise that awaits the faithful after death. The Alambra was complete with aqueducts and hydraulics to ensure cool water would always be flowing. As robert hildebrand, assistant professor of virginia tech university, puts it, quote the Alhambra.


[0:17:28]: Brings the forces of nature into play at every turn. Water and movement, trickling, running, cascading, spurting or still in tranquil expanses. Carefully barbed trees and bushes, sunken flower beds, sudden glimpses of mountains or gardens framed in a casement or, more ambitiously, miradors and belvederes, cunningly placed to exploit sight lines over an entire landscape and above all, light.


[0:18:36] Elliot Gates: Here, propped up against a tree with a glass of sweet tea and a good book, even the most troubled mind could find peace as rulers came and went over the next century. The priority was maintaining the delicate balancing act between loyalty to castile and keeping relationships friendly with the muslim kingdom. Over in morocco. The christian kingdom's constant infighting meant that granada was left well enough alone, though it was never without its hiccups. The little islamic kingdom was stable and prosperous here, sealed off in their own beautiful little world. It was easy for the Nasrids to forget about what was happening in the rest of spain. But before we go on, I wanted to read a few of the reviews. The show's received lately. Hernan L Maestro on itunes writes the storytelling is captivating, the production quality is great. If you like stories about freedom fighters who are not household names, then this is the podcast for you. Can't get enough of this. Great job. Thanks, Hernan. Glad you're enjoying the more obscure characters we've covered. KL from itunes writes hi, mate, I'm from Malta and just wanted to say what a good job you did recounting the story of the great siege.


[0:20:05] Elliot Gates: I sat through I don't know how many history lessons about it and nearly fell asleep in class, but you managed to tell the story in an interesting way, and it's a shame that this didn't exist when I was in secondary school, as it probably would have got me a better grade. Ha ha. Thank you, KL. I agree. I was never a fan of history classes. Making the fascinating boring is quite a skill. This show is a one man band, and with so many cashed up celebrities now getting into podcasting, it can be difficult to stand out against the millions of shows out there. A lot of positive reviews help push the algorithm to show this show to listeners who enjoy similar shows, so if you've got a second, please leave me a review on Spotify or Apple. While the Alhambra grew more beautiful with each renovation, Muslim Spain withered the term ‘mudejar’, which translates to something like domesticated or subjugated, was given to Muslims who remained in Christian kingdoms after the takeover. That should give you an indication of how these new rulers saw their subjects. Arabic, the language that a few centuries prior had illuminated the knowledge of the lost classical world, was disappearing. The Muslim populations of the Christian kingdoms now spoke Castilian Spanish as their first language. Arrundi from the 13th century, penned this poem as he watched his world fall apart. Listen to the final line and tell me that doesn't sound like a man who realized the tide of history had almost washed them away. Ask Valencia what became of Mercia?


[0:21:38] Elliot Gates: And where is Jaiteva? Or where is Jane? Where is Cordoba, the seat of great learning? And he goes on to say, they weep over the remains of dwellings devoid of Muslims despoiled of Islam. Now peopled by infidels those mosques have now been changed into churches where the bells are ringing and crosses are standing. Even the mirabs weep, though made of cold steel. Even the Minbars sing dirges, though made of wood. O heedless one, this is fate's warning to you if you slumber, fate always stays awake. One source makes mention to a lost wonder of Muslim Spain a So-called water clock that filled and refilled its basins based on the waxing and waning of the moon. After the fall of Toledo, a major Muslim city, the Christian king and his subjects were so perplexed and awed by this machine, they decided that they pulled apart to have a closer look, but broke it in the process and learnt nothing. It makes you wonder how many other fascinating devices like this have been lost to time. The stunning mosque of Cordoba, built during the glory days of the Taifa kingdoms, would suffer a similar fate though much later when an overzealous bishop pounded a Christian king to allow him to renovate the building. Despite the strong complaints by the city council, who, I should add, were all Christians. Permission was granted. When the king saw the result a dull, awkward looking chapel in the middle that interrupted the pleasing view of Tessellating arches.


[0:23:10] Elliot Gates: He told the bishop, quote you have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace. End quote. These were just two examples of the undoing of old Al Andalus. But artifacts aside, people still lived there. What was to be their place in the new Christian dominated world? If they were gifted poets, mathematicians, calligraphers or astronomers, the courts of Granada was now the only place for them the innovative spirit of the learned men of Andalusia proved hard to stifle, though advances continued to be made in areas like noninvasive surgery, fixing, dislocated limbs, sundials, navigation, medicine. Oh, and the rules we use for the modern game of chess. Some historians, like Ibn al Qatib, immortalized the downfall of their state and their historical works, like al-Ihata fi akhbar Gharnata. I definitely haven’t pronounced that right. But it was the complete source on the history of Granada, almost as if they sensed the end was drawing near. Emigration to North Africa also rose as scholars found employment in foreign kingdoms, while those who were household names headed to the famed cities like Damascus or Baghdad, where the old arts were still flourishing. By the start of the 15th century, it was clear that change was coming. Christian conquests in the north had left Castile the undisputed master of the Spanish mainland. No other power could match them. For Granada to navigate these troubling waters, a diplomatic leader was needed.


[0:24:26] Elliot Gates: Instead, a bad role in the monarchy. Dice left the kingdom with Yusuf II, a bad-tempered and vengeful man. After imprisoning his brother and murdering a popular adviser, he launched raids into Christian borderlands. While these raids were in retaliation for other Christian raids, yusuf failed to understand the eye of sauron level interest Castile had for his kingdom. It was never wise to provoke a larger neighbor, especially one that had recently run out of enemies to conquer. Relationship with the Moroccan sultan deteriorated too. The story goes that the sultan hated Yusuf so much that he went to the trouble of lacing a gorgeous silken tunic with poison and sent it over to him as a gift. The king tried it on and was dead by morning. The next guy to take his place managed to repair the relationship with Castile, but it cost him. He was made to surrender a key fortress that guarded the main route into the kingdom of Granada. It seemed like even at this early's stage, the king of Castile was stacking the chessboard for a big play. Later on, Granada had learnt its lesson don't poke the bear. Castile needed to be kept friendly, no matter the cost. But the wheels had already begun to fall off. The reins of its kings got shorter and shorter.


[0:26:03] Elliot Gates: Plotting led to overthrows, which, even when successful, led to purges of the government, which led to uprisings, which led to debt. And the cycle just repeated itself. Castile began to take a more and more active role, supporting candidates they liked and plotting against once they didn't. As LP Harvey of London University puts it, the Kingdom of Granada was, quote in the process of bleeding to death from internal wounds. In the year 1411, the kingdom just barely managed to repel Morocco's attempt at taking the Strait of Gibraltar. This tiny strait of water, only 13 km or 8 miles across at its shortest, was all that separated Christian Europe from Muslim Africa. The kingdom had to hold onto it at all costs. Drowning in debt and politically unstable, Granada was on its knees and it began to look for support further afield. The powerful Mamluk dynasty of Egypt was its best bet. Although the Mamluk’s were sympathetic to the plight of their Islamic brothers, it was just too far away from them to help. Just as the Kingdom of Asturias once was, Granada was now an isolated outpost on the edge of the world. With each passing year, more and more uncles, brothers or illegitimate children of the royal family began to approach Castile. The usurper would ask for men, munitions or money to help them take power in exchange for giving Castile a castle or perhaps paying a higher vassalage tax. Again and again, longterm stability was traded for shortterm gains. Everyone was just kicking the can down the road.


[0:27:13] Elliot Gates: The government began to lose control of the countryside. Large cities like Malaga would every so often declare independence. Each rebellion became harder and harder to feed, and it weakened the kingdom. The greatest threats to the realm now came from the ruling family to whatever boy, because that's what many of them were. Boys took the throne. The tranquil gardens of the Alhambra had become a dangerous prison. A poisoned glass of wine, a convenient hunting accident, or a bodyguard bribed to look the other way. Death now lurked around every corner. A rust stain that can still be seen in one of the fountains within the alarm brush is said to be the blood of two men that a Nashville king ordered put to death on the spot. By the late 1450s, the dynasty was barely holding on. Spain was closing in for the kill and had snagged a bunch of fortresses that were crucial for the kingdom's defense. Rising costs for tribute had forced the royal family to sell many royal villas. The economy was falling apart, too. They began to rely more on imports and the famous porcelain that was once a trademark of the state, began to move its production north to Valencia. All the while, taxes rose sharply for the ordinary person.


[0:28:41] Elliot Gates: Historian J. N. Hilgarth states that, on average, layman paid three times the tax in Granada than he would have paid in an equivalent Christian state. To the north, the society was now dominated by tribal leaders that made up the countryside. And with these guys finding themselves under more and more pressure from whatever Nasrid ruler was in place for that week, it's little wonder why rebellions cropped up so regularly. Somewhere around this time, a baby boy was born into the splendid, treacherous halls of the Alhambra. According to the stars, the date of his birth was not a good one. And before he was even pulled from the womb, court astrologers exchanged grimaces and whispered a nickname El Zogobi, the Unlucky One. The planets definitely had that right. The boy's life was to be almost completely controlled by events that had been set in motion centuries before his birth. His name was Abu Abdullah Muhammad XII, or Boabdil, as we call him in the west. He was to be the 23rd Nasrid Emir of Granada and the very last Muslim ruler of Spain. At the time of Boabdil’s birth, Granada was ruled by his grandfather. The young Prince's childhood was one of bloodshed with a thin veneer of grandeur stretched over it. I'm not going to go into detail about how many rules quickly rose and fell in such succession before him, but, I mean, it was a lot.


[0:30:09] Elliot Gates: The Young Prince's teachers and servants would have tried to shield him from the violence that swirled around him. But kids are observing. They know what's going on. At the time, his grandfather had all the leaders of a clan brought into the Alhambra before ordering every single one of them to be decapitated. This claim was, at least on paper, one of the king's greatest supporters. And whatever slight or perceived slight that causes reaction has been lost to history. But an event like this would have been palace talk. Easy for the Young Prince to over here. As far as education went, young Boabdil would have been taught the Koran inside and out, as well as advanced mathematics, theology and history, who had been taught how to act, walk and talk like a Nasrid as whatever issues his family were having, they were nothing if not refined. Boabdil, likely saw very little of his father and probably liked it that way. His father, Abul Hasan, was warlike and cruel, and the man had little time for the son he had long since fallen out of love with Boabdil's mother, if indeed he ever loved her at all. Their marriage was a political one, intended to create peace between two rival clans. He had done his duty and given her a son, and now he spent the majority of his time in one of the towers of the Alhambra with his new wife, a Christian maid named Zariah, who he had fallen madly in love with. Boabdil's mother was named Aisha, and like her namesake, the Prophet favorite wife, she was a force of nature. As wealthy as her husband.


[0:31:39] Elliot Gates: She owned several estates, and when she was at court, she ran a tight ship. A real no nonsense type of woman. When she first found out about her husband's new lover, she stuck into the woman's bedroom one night and beat the crap out of her. I mean, she nearly killed her, but it made no difference. The slave girl had enchanted her husband, and after the beat down, he doted on her even more and insisted all the mosques in Granada pray for her recovery. Aisha was divorced and the King never spoke to her again. But she knew how politics worked in Granada. Let the King have a new plaything, because she wasn't going anywhere. As long as her son Boabdil lived, her husband and the state owed her their respect, however reluctant it might be. In a world where blood ruled, Boabdil would have lived a lonely existence where his immediate family either avoided him or used him as a pawn to advance their own social standing. Before he was five years old, Boabdil’s father led a coup against his father. The King ousting him. By the time the dust settled, king Abu Hassan sat on the throne of Granada, while his brother, known as ‘El Zagal’, a nickname we'll get to later ruled the semi breakaway city of Malaga, the most important port city of Granada, right on the coast. While these brothers disagreed on almost every topic, there was one thing they saw eye to eye on that Granada needed to free itself from the crippling payments it was sending to Castile. These two were determined to usher in a new era for Granada.


[0:32:55] Elliot Gates: They would rule over an independent state where the faithful could live undisturbed. But just as there had been a change in leadership in Granada, to the north, a cataclysmic event had occurred. Muslim sources talk of ill omens that were spotted all over Granada. Torrential rains flooded the fields and a comet with a tail in the shape of a sword was seen before dawn for 30 days. What had happened? Well, the two richest and strongest Christian nations of Spain had become one. Through a royal marriage, the lands of Castile and Aragon had united. The Spain of the 21st century had just been born. Isabella and Ferdinand. Ask any Spaniard, and the names are very familiar. They're the King Henry VIII, the Abraham Lincoln or the Napoleon of Spain. Two people who once united would create the Spanish powerhouse of the 16th and 17th century. But how did these two come together? Well, if this was a romcom, I'd tell you that there were starcross lovers who were childhood friends who drifted apart. Then, after a string of bad relationships fell into each other's arms, and locked lips on a stormy night in New York City.


[0:34:19] Elliot Gates: But because that's not how we do things here, we can be real. For Isabella, Ferdinand has been something like her fifth husband to be, with a throng of suitors either dying or rescinding their offer to marriage. For Ferdinand, who was marrying up, the union was a mess of treaties and documents that desperately tried to uphold his masculinity, lest he be seen as a kind of cuckold junior husband. They were also second cousins. Isabella was born second in line to the throne of Castile, the Spare to the heir of her old brother. And for a princess, she lived a fairly squalid existence, at least for her early years. Her father died when she was young and her mother fell into a depression, which she never really recovered from. The young princess's coping mechanism, her bedrock, became the church, which would turn out to be a cornerstone of a rule. As time went on, her confidence grew and she blossomed into a formidable young woman. Thin and wiry, with an oval face, dark ginger hair, tight, pursed lips and a long, somewhat bulbous nose. Isabella was determined to leave her mark on the kingdom she ruled after so many bad marriage setups. She remembered a boy that she had noticed his childhood, Ferdinand. Though her brother, the king, forbidden to marry him, she had enough of other people making poor choices on her behalf. She told her courtier's quote, it has to be he and no other. End quote.


[0:35:31] Elliot Gates: Young Ferdinand of Aragon was a solid choice for a few reasons. The prince was physically strong and good looking, with soft features, pensive eyes and large lips. Bit of a side note when you Google this guy and you see a bleary eyed looking bloke with a double chin who looks like he's just come off a bender, take note. This is a portrait that was painted in his later years. By all accounts, he was quite good looking when he was young. Isabella may have been apprehensive at first. Her new suitor was known to be a bit of a ladies man. But once they met, she found him to be remarkably humble, especially when dealing with servants. He was intelligent, a child chess prodigy, in fact, with a good understanding of warfare. Handy with the lance and the bow. But most importantly, he was used to outspoken women, with his mother sharing many traits of his future wife, the reign of this wonder couple started off with a few hiccups. There was lots of jockeying for titles, privileges and birthrights from the Aragonist camp. As Ferdinand was marrying up, they wanted to make it clear who was king and who was queen in this relationship. But Isabella wasn't about to be pushed around either. The bruised ego of courtiers who couldn't deal with the shame of taking orders from a woman was not her problem.

[0:37:18] Elliot Gates: Eventually, the two settled into a rhythm that suited them both. The strength in this couple was that they knew that they were embarking on something brand new. They realized earlier that this merging of Spain's two great estates was uncharted territory and it was up to them to make or break it. Isabella compromised a little, realizing that Ferdinand, looking like a cuckold husband, was no good for Spain, and eventually he was elevated to a status equal to her. With their collective hold of Iberia secured, the borders of the country we now call Spain were clear. The only wrinkle in their otherwise perfect state was the shrunken remains of an old power, a bitter reminder of an era long past, a time when Christians just like themselves cowered in the shadows. People like this no longer had a place in Isabella and Ferdinand Spain. And on that note, I will end the episode there. There are some larger than life characters in the story and as you'll see soon, the Alhambra is only big enough for one of them. Join me in part two in two weeks for the conclusion of our five part series on the Reconquista. This has been Anthology of Heroes. Thanks for tuning in.