The Last Muslim King Of Spain, Part 3: Thy Kingdom Come

June 06, 2022

The Last Muslim King Of Spain, Part 3: Thy Kingdom Come
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"He bore the impending demise of his religion, culture and way of life"

Boabdil had earned his bloody throne. But there was little time to celebrate.

As the armies of Christendom camped outside the last Islamic stronghold in Spain, its citizens knew the end of their world would come soon.

But how would it happen?
Would Boabdil resist until the bitter end?
Or would he negotiate with The Christian King who had stolen everything from him?

The final chapter of the 800 year Reconquista was close at hand...

Further Reading:


  • A big thanks to my generous Patrons!
    • If you notice improved audio, that's the new microphone!
    • Malcolm G
    • Tom G
    • Claudia K - Big thanks for The Alhambra quote reading.
  • Thanks Jack, for the Arabic translation of Boabdil's speech.
  • All images are public domain unless stated otherwise.
  • Paid license for 'Anthology Of Heroes Podcast' utilised for numerous sounds/music
  • The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


[0:01:24] Elliot Gates: G'day, guys. Welcome to The Last Muslim King of Spain, part Three, thy Kingdom Come. This is the final episode of our six part miniseries that has told the story of the Reconquista, the So Called re christianization of Spain from the perspective of three different men over an 800 year period. 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, which at the time encompassed all of Spain. In our second and third episode, we followed El CID, the most famous Spanish hero of all time, a cunning and very independent commander who left his mark in the 11th century. And in these final three parts, it's been all about Mohammed the 12th, or Boabdill, as we call them in the west. It's up to you, if you'd like, to learn about Pelayo and El CID and the roles they played in the Reconquista. I personally think it's worth it to understand how all of this led to the fall of Muslim Spain. But if you'd rather just tune in to Boabdil's story, then don't worry, everything will still be crystal clear. That being said, if you haven't listened to the first two parts on Boabdill, then this one will be a little confusing. So I'd say start at part one before we get into it. Just a reminder to please rate us on spotify. It takes legit 5 seconds or so, and we currently have around 34 ratings, and it would make my month if you could help me get up to 50. Cheers. Anyway, let's do it where it all comes to an end.


[0:02:48] Elliot Gates: The last Muslim King of Spain, part kingdom come. We left off part two with the 29 year old king. Boabdill finally retaking the throne of Granada from his treacherous family. His father and uncle were out of the picture. There was no one left to challenge his rule. But his return to power had come at a steep cost. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had stripped the Moorish King of all his land, except for a few cities, his capital, including his beautiful ancestral palace, the Alarmbra, was, according to the treaty he signed, now property of the Spanish Crown. He was really just squatting in it by this point in history. Grenada was the last remaining Muslim kingdom in all of Spain. It was friendless, a lonely outpost on the edge of the Muslim world. The kingdom was on the verge of complete collapse, and many of its inhabitants knew that they would be witnessed to history, the end of Muslim rule in Spain. After almost 800 years. Any time for Boabdil  to relax in the gardens of the Alhambra and enjoy his victory was short lived. Christian forces soon began to ransack border towns. The Muslims living in these places who had laid down their arms on the promise of safety and freedom of worship.


[0:03:49] Elliot Gates: When I was told they were under direct rule of the Church. Most were given the option to stay as long as they followed the rules. Those who weren't willing could convert to Christianity or leave. With virtually no army to speak of, the King had no way to defend these places. So he followed in the footsteps of his forefathers and sent out desperate pleas to the rest of the Muslim world. He didn't try to hide his desperation, laying it all out. His letters shared the dire straits his kingdom was in. There was no two ways about it. Without help, Granada would not last much longer. At this time, North Africa was a patchwork of little bickering states. Each ruler had nowhere near the army needed to push Ferdinand out of Granada. But they did all they could. On the backs of their fastest stallions. They rushed Boabdil's plea to the biggest local power, the Sultan of Egypt. And though the Sultan sympathized over the imminent loss of a kingdom that had contributed so much to the Muslim world in the past, he just couldn't scramble man fast enough to help.


[0:05:07] Elliot Gates: His troops were tangled up in local disagreements and he didn't have much of a navy. So instead he leaned on the Christian King of Jerusalem to apply pressure on Ferdinand and Isabella. When Ferdinand heard that his conquest was making waves around the Mediterranean, he politely but firmly told the Egyptian Sultan to butt out. This was, he said, an internal disagreement between a disobedient vassal and its master truthfully. He pointed out that Granada was not, and had never been, an independent state and that the Sultan would do well to stay out of his affairs. Ferdinand knew that the end of Grenada was near and no letter from some distant kingdom was going to persuade him to give up. His destiny was close at hand. As the pleas fell around the Mediterranean like rain on the desert sand, bold sat restless squatting in his capital. Remember, according to the treaty he signed, the only land he now owned was the western part of his realm. So not the city of Granada, nor the alarm bra. He was perhaps hoping that now things had calmed down a bit, ferdinand and Isabella would let him keep his ancestral lands. And to that end, he sent agents into the provinces, hoping to secure the loyalty of as many tribal leaders as he could. What could he offer them? Peace. He spruiked the peace that he'd secured with the Christians and told the leaders, hey, don't raid the Christian towns.


[0:06:22] Elliot Gates: Keep a low profile and everything will be sweet. But everything wasn't sweet. Ferdinand and Isabella had no intention of letting Boabdil keep his capital. Boabdil sent envoys to Ferdinand to formalize their relationship and was shocked by the response he received. The envoys were told bluntly that their relationship was to be like this. The Muslim soldiers still within Granada are to leave their weapons and surrender the city at once. That was it. The overtures of peace at Boabdil had been cultivating. The provinces were immediately flipped 180. With no intention of surrendering, he struck back. He caught Ferdinand and Isabel off guard with the speed in which he raised an army and with the backing of a handful of North African volunteers, the group actually retook a few cities. But it was an empty gesture and it brought down the ire of the couple even quicker. Blockading the southern coast to keep out any sympathetic Muslim allies from Africa, ferdinand and Isabella began the siege of Granada City. Dressed in a full suit of plate armor, queen Isabella ran the siege her way, stern and uncompromising, she insisted on being close to the front and supervising everything. When it became clear that a surrender would not be given quickly, she ordered an entire town built to house the army.


[0:07:52] Elliot Gates: Isabella dedicated the town to God, who she hoped was about to deliver this splendid prize to her. The town of Santa Fe, or holy faith, still exists today. As builders and carpenters arrived at the siege camp, the Granada defenders could do nothing as they watched houses, mills and churches slowly taking form just outside their city. You can imagine how much of a morale hit this would be, confirmation that Ferdinand and Isabella were not going anywhere. Like a sick old lion lashing out with the last of its strength, the Granadas managed a few desperate attacks, throwing themselves against the heavily defended siege camps. But it was a foregone conclusion by this point. Somewhere around this time, with a crushing sense of guilt, Boabdil the King of Granada began to entertain the idea of surrender. It says much about the character of the man that his first concern was the welfare of his son. The boy at this time had been a prisoner in Castile for many years. As Boabdil went back and forth on clauses, a letter from Ferdinand shows his frustration at the Mall. Notice that tone he takes with him: very much as his superior, his master. I am certainly not pleased and it is not my responsibility, but rather the blame is yours and those of your city. I would never have believed that things could have got to the state that they are now in. It has all been uprising, anger and discord and none of it in my service. End quote.


[0:09:22] Elliot Gates: hernando de baeza, the translator turned friend of Boabdil, have been by his side for almost a decade at this point. And he tells us that during these last chaotic days of the siege, letters flew back and forth from the alarm to the siege camp. The surrender of the city had now been agreed in principle. They were just ironing out the terms. But Aisha, Boabdil's fearsome mother, remained adamant that her son should not negotiate, no matter what. Her vision for her only son was one of martyrdom, a doomed head first charge into the Spanish lines should be how their family should end, she decided. And this event almost happened. Boabdil got word of a massive attack that was planned, and he prepared himself to die in this blaze of glory that his mother envisioned. His plan was to charge out from the city gates with what's left of his knights and die in the crossfire. Rising early, he bathed and anointed himself in perfume. He summoned what was left of his council and gave each of his family members a long, drawn out hug. He didn't say exactly what he's planning to do, but his mother immediately knew what was up. Seeing her last son, Donned, in a full suit of armor, ready to die for a lost cause, melted her icy heart. Sobbing, she begged him not to sacrifice himself in such a way, pointing out that in paradise, when Allah asked him why he left his people to such a fate, he would have no answer. Boabdill responded with, quote it was better to die once than to live and die many times.


[0:10:35] Elliot Gates: But unrelenting, she clutched her son to her chest and had him swear upon a Quran that he would not put himself in harm's way. So instead of the doom charge, Boabdil decided on a defensive strategy to weather the attack. The story is an interesting one. Aisha was and had always been a hard woman. She shared her husband's hardline approach to dealing with the Christians. She always had grand plans for a dynasty. But did she love her son like a mother? We just don't know. Maybe even after all the talk, seeing her son ready to die for a cause that she knew was lost shook something inside of her. As I said, this story comes to us from Hernandez de baeza, our only voice inside the besieged city. de baeza was a good friend of Boabdills, and maybe he invented this story as a way of drumming up a bit of glory to a surrender. A surrender that many would argue was a shameful one. Finally, even the hardliners realized that the fall of the city was inevitable. And all inside Granada sat quietly, putting their trust in the 30 year old king and in Allah. After the release of his son, Boabdill's chief concerns were undoubtedly the fate of his people.


[0:12:03] Elliot Gates: He wanted Muslims protected, and that meant the promise that they could continue to practice their religion as they were currently, muslims would continue to be judged by their own laws. No Muslim could be forced to wear distinguishing clothing, nor could they be forced to accommodate Christians in their houses. Christians who had previously converted to Islam could not be compelled to return to Christianity. And the Muezzin, the throaty call to prayer was to continue ringing out five times a day from the mosques that were never to be converted into churches. Bogdale also made special and deliberate care to include the Jews of the city who were to enjoy many of the same privileges. On the whole, most of these terms were agreed by Ferdinand and Isabella. There were a few small changes, though. A line stating that Ex-Christians were not able to be asked to return to Christianity was scribbled out and Muslim affairs were now to be overseen by a Muslim and a Christian judge. The biggest change that was deliberately worded in a way that was meant to be vague was around the Muezzin the call to prayer. Muslim prayer was now to be conducted quietly and privately within mosques. As the T's were crossed and the I's dotted, the news began to leak out to the wider city and riots broke out. Fearing that he may lose complete control, Boabdil arranged two surrenders, a low key private affair with just a few officials and a more public one for the press, you might say. With everything in place, the day soon arrived. How did Boabdil feel? We'll never know.


[0:12:44] Elliot Gates: Elizabeth Dreyson's excellent book, The Moore's Last Stand, which I've drawn upon heavily for this episode, says, quote, perhaps he felt great fear, relief, shame, sadness or all of these at the same time. He knew what was at stake. Nothing less than a kingdom that had existed for a quarter of a millennium, the final bastion of the Islamic faith in Spain and of the Arab culture that had enriched the Arab peninsula since the 8th century. The weight of history lay on his shoulders as he bore the impending demise of his religion, culture and way of life in Spain. But first, a quick message from one of our friends of the show.


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[0:15:15] Elliot Gates: On the morning, 2nd January, 1 492, the day finally came. Rising from his bed, the 32 year old king dressed and walked the cold, lonely halls of his alarbor one last time. He took in the tranquility of his gardens and the sound of running water. He wandered through the empty reception halls that his ancestors had built to greet their visitors. He gazed up at the tower where his father had locked himself away and the mosque where his uncle had spent hours in contemplation. All of them were gone now. It was just him. As his servant saddled his horse. Perhaps he found comfort in the gilded calligraphy that lined the ceilings, all different verses from the Quran. His eyes may have scanned the words before the intricate designs weaved their way into the nasty coat of arms. Where a shield with a diagonal sash red there is no victor except Allah. With Hernandez de baeza, his mother and his wife by his side, his small retinue left his palace through the gate of the seven floors as it closed behind him. He would later lodge a request to Ferdinand that the door never be opened again, which to this day is still the case. Just outside the city walls, with the vista of the city looming behind him, ferdinand, Isabella and their army of onlookers awaited them. Mixed into the group was a favourite of Isabella's, an up and coming man with a knack for exploring, named Christopher Columbus. The man that would go on to discover the New World was bearing witness to the end of the old.


[0:16:57] Elliot Gates: How the ceremony was to take place had been meticulously stipulated in the treaty. Boabdil approached the royal couple and either kissed Ferdinand's hand, made a gesture to kiss his hand that Ferdinand's script told him to refuse, or made a bowing gesture from his horse. As the keys to his city were brought forward to the Moorish king. His sorrow was masked with the valor of a house as ancient as his own. It was a nastyd and he would show these people how a proud Muslim house met its end. Many in his retinue wept quietly as Boabdil said his few words to the king, who had just taken everything from him. Quote, who you God loves you greatly, sir. These are the keys in this paradise,I and those inside it are yours end quote -. Isabella took the keys from him and gave the signal to release Boabdill's most treasured possession, his son Juan, who had been captive for about eight years. With his son standing beside him, Boabdil turned to the new Christian governor of Grenada. From his finger he slid a golden ring emblazoned with a green turquoise stone and the Nasrid family motto there is no victor except a la. The ring was around 260 years old and had once belonged to Mohammed the first, the first Nasrid king and the original architect of the Alhambra. Boabdil told the Christian that it only made sense for him to have it now. With a sad smile, he wished the man the best of luck, willing his city and prayed that his fortunes would turn out better than his own. hernando de baeza likely did his last bit of translating for Boabdill as he consoled his old friend.


[0:18:39] Elliot Gates: This seems to have been goodbye for the two. de baeza's place was here among his people. With these final words, the long story of Islamic Spain came to an end. As they prepared to ride on, one of Boabdil's servants offered him a pair of Moorish slippers to change into for the ride. These specific slippers were only to be worn by the leader of a clan, and Boabdil waved them away. There was no king. Not anymore. As the legend goes, the sad retinue continued onwards, heading towards the smallest state Ferdinand had provided them in the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, in a location that's still famous today. Boabdil turned around and snuck one last look at his beautiful city. Perhaps the midmorning rays were dancing across the red brick walls of his alarm. Out of the sight of the Christians, the 32 yea rold king finally sighed deeply and tears began to well up in the corner of his eyes. Shuffling past him came his mother, who famously quipped to her son quote, you do well, my son, to cry like a woman for what you couldn't defend like a man end quote. Boabdil's life after his surrender is something of a mystery. According to the treaty, he was allowed to remain in Spain, and for a few months, he did just that. From the little village of modern day Mondejar, Boabdil 's family perhaps enjoyed the quiet, only 150 km or 93 miles from the city of Granada.


[0:19:51] Elliot Gates: But it wasn't to last. It seemed that all along, Ferdinand and Isabella wanted him off the mainland. The man was a sympathetic and likable figure, with an airtight claim to a piece of land that they had conquered. What would happen if you had a change of heart and started plotting? Soon they began to cajole him into leaving for Africa. As negotiations went on, Boabdil's wife Morayma, passed away. She had been sickly for many years and maybe this last trial was too much for her to bear. She was buried on Spanish soil, and while Boabdil was at his estate, he prayed twice a week at a graveside. Once everything was in order.Boabdil, his mother, Aisha son, Juan, and his little household left for Africa. In one of those history of strange moments, they departed from the port of Adra, the very same port that an exiled Umayyad prince landed in 700 years ago, and found that the great civilization of Muslim Spain. His family arrived in the city of Fez, Morocco. And from here, things get even murkier. One source claims that he had a palace built and lived out his days here. This is very possible as he left Spain, a wealthy man having porn much of his land and possessions.


[0:21:43] Elliot Gates: According to this story, Boabdil died around 1532 at 72 years old. For 300 years or so, Boabdil's final resting place remained an unsolved mystery. But in the 18th century, there was a revival and interest in this often forgotten bit of history. In a village near Tlemcen, Algeria, construction workers were digging a path when their picks hit something solid. Tracing the edges of the object with their hands, they pulled from the ground an onyx plaque with a long inscription in a foreign looking language. The carving sat in a local museum as a curiosity gathering dust as no one could read the inscription. Eventually, this find reached the ears of an archeologist who was obsessed with unearthing. What had happened to Boabdill? He was the first one to decipher the inscription, which read, quote, ‘This tomb is that of the just, magnanimous, generous king, defender of religion, emir of muslims, our lord Abu Abdallah, victorious by the grace of Allah, son of our lord the emir of Muslims, Abu-L Hasan’. End quote. The archeologists believed this was where the king was finally put to rest. He theorized that many of the stories about the exile of El Zagal Boabdil’s uncle had been mixed up and that Boabdil spent his final years in obscurity in modern day Algeria rather than Morocco. For a century or so, this was the best guess of Boabdill's resting place. But in 2014, a team of forensic anthropologists countered this theory and followed the breadcrumbs of subtle clues they had picked up in a few contemporary sources of Bold dale's life. The team was led by a Spanish filmmaker, a guy who was determined to vindicate Boabdil, stating that the king was, quote, a man who was mistreated by history despite us being in his debt for saving Granada and the alarm.


[0:23:15] Elliot Gates: The clues led them to a basic stone pergola on the edge of Fez. After assuming two skeletons below, a DNA test was scheduled to compare the DNA of the skeletons to a man who claimed to be a descendant of Boabdill. It seemed, finally, the mystery was about to be solved. But as everything was falling into place, the team began to get tripped up in bureaucratic red tape. At first, there were protesters on religious grounds, which they managed to overcome. Then the project broke down due to disagreements between the Andalusian researchers and the Moroccans on the ground. According to Elizabeth Dreyson, the Moroccan authorities complained about the lack of funding even after the Andalussian researchers agreed to pay for it in full. And so the project ground to a halt. I visited Fez a few years back and passed by this little tomb. I was hoping to have a peek inside, but it was filthy, covered in graffiti and bottles that stank of urine and had no plaque at all to commemorate the significance of the person who may be buried there. All these were points that did not go unnoticed by the Andalusians society, who have scolded Moroccan authorities for not taking better care of the shrine. My best guess is that below this filthy pergola is where the last king will remain indefinitely. As the Spanish filmmaker said, Boabdil is not a person who has been treated kindly by history. For Ferdinand and Isabella, he was someone that needed to be swept away off their continent and back to Africa with the rest of his coreligionists. And to the many Muslims who view the fall of Granada with a sense of shame.


[0:25:02] Elliot Gates: He's a traitor, someone who sold out his people to the Christian vaders. This sense of betrayal might be felt so strongly because Spain was the only territory conquered by Islamic invaders that reverted back to Christianity, a single blotch on the record of Islamic conquests. On Google maps, I managed to find the spot where Boabdil supposedly looked back at Granada. It's known as puerto del suspiro del moro, or Pass of the Moors sighi. And one of the reviews from just five months ago says, quote, the last place from which Boabdil left on January 2, 192, the governor of Granada after his betrayal of the Muslims, handing them over to the king of Castile and Aragon, and declaring the surrender of the last Muslim strongholds in Andalusia to begin the worst forced displacement in the history of Muslims from Andalusia. Clearly, there are some strong feelings that this man betrayed Islam, but how much truth to there is this? Well, this was one of the few times in history where the what if question is answered. El Zagal, Boabdil’s uncle, was the what if. If he was in command, maybe he would have charged out from Granada and died in a hail of gunfire. But once he got his martyrdom, what would have happened to everyone else inside another massacre, like in Malaga? I would argue that Bold dial's surrender saved many of the citizens of Granada, and the treaty was his best attempt at preserving their way of life. Boabdil was not a strong, commanding figure. Meek, mild, and family orientated, he shares many characteristics of Nicholas II Romanov, the last Tsar of Russia. Both were forced into a position that their personal characteristics were not suited for. Perhaps what makes the surrender seem more shameful is the timing.


[0:26:36] Elliot Gates: Barely 40 years before it occurred, in 1453, the last bastion of the Christian Roman Empire, Constantinople, modern day Istanbul fell to the Ottoman Sultan. The last emperor, Constantine II, went down in a blaze of glory, disappearing into the breach as the ancient walls of his capital collapsed around him, an obvious contrast to what happened here. These two events were the last major shifts in demographics that gave way to the Europe of today. Historians put so much emphasis on these two events that they use them to mark the end of the Middle Ages. In the centuries that followed the fall of Grenada, Spain would transform rapidly. Isabella and Ferdinand had laid a solid foundation for a powerful empire, and a cornerstone of this power was its Catholic faith. The infamous Spanish Inquisition soon began to wield more and more power in the royal courts. Their first victims were the Jews of Andalusia. Explicitly protected by Boabdil's treaty, they were the first ones targeted. Barely a month after the surrender of Granada, a bill had been drafted forcing them to either convert to Catholicism or leave. This saw the exit of around 70,000 Jews to places like Greece and Italy, while around 2000 converted to Christianity. At least that's the story on paper. Muslims, too, would face constant challenges to their religious freedoms. Fire and brimstone bishops, full of self confidence, would swagger into these majority Muslim cities, believing that they would be the one to finally convert these heathens. Persecutions, executions and exiles led to Muslims who just pretended to be Christians.


[0:28:32] Elliot Gates: These crypto Christians, as they're called, would go to church on Sunday, splash a bit of holy water on themselves, sing a few psalms, and then go home, wash off the water, and continue their Islamic rituals in secret. But when practices like this became public knowledge, mass expulsions of entire cities took place, like in 16 nine, when the king attempted to deport all Muslims from Spain. About half a million people were shipped over to Africa, though many eventually made it back, to this day, the Islamic legacy of Spain is still a contentious one in some ways. Since 1492, the annual celebration of conquest is still held in Granada on the day the city surrendered. But there is progress. In 2008, a town in Granada changed their flag to remove an image that had Boabdil with a chain around his neck. And with each year, the celebration of conquest seems to gather more and more opposition, with some activists labeling it as insensitive and xenophobic. Over these last six episodes, we watched Spain transform like a celebrity microscope. In the fifth century, a scruffy band of heretical Goths arrived, and for 300 years, they held Spain together in a post-Roman world. But a weak central government and an unpopular king made freezy pickings and so in charge, tariq ibn ziyad with his freshly converted Berber warriors. And just like that, the Gospels were gone, wiped clean from their lands as if they'd never been there at all. Soon, the self declared Caliphate of Cordoba would collapse into fabulously wealthy and equally deadly typhoid kingdoms, rich little states who love their independence as much as they love their learning. Science, education and innovation rippled through the lands, and Spain became a shining beacon of light in a dark world. In this ultra competitive state, the grizzled Christians of the north began to stir. Slowly, they pushed southward, reconquering the old cities that their forefathers once held.


[0:29:54] Elliot Gates: The Almoravids from North Africa arrived just in time to stem the wound, and the Christians were once again on the back foot. But after they fell to the Almahads of North Africa, the pace quickened again. Finally, with the collapse of the Almahads in the 13th century, there was no one left to unify the Muslim states, and they were picked off one by one. Rising out of the dust came the state of Granada, which finally fell after 262 years of prominence. And that, my friends, is the story of the Reconquista. And here I was thinking I could get this done in two episodes. As we now know, the Reconquista was nothing close to black and white. It spanned for many centuries, and tides ebbed and flowed. Though some players, like the Pope or the almohad Caliph, treated this as a religious struggle where either the cross or the Quran must come out on top, the majority of the small town players did it for themselves. I mean, remember El CID, sacked by the Christian king? First point of call the Muslim neighbor. Slowly, over these past centuries, Spain has begun to reconcile with the great debt it owed to its Islamic past. And although there is still some way to go, I'll take us out with a little story that I think ties it all together. When King Ferdinand entered the Alhambra in triumph, he carved his personal motto over the top of the old Nasrat emblem. You can still see it today.


[0:31:05] Elliot Gates: It's a simple little motto, and although we didn't mean for it to, I think it sums up the role both these religions played in the uniqueness of Spain. Tanto monta. Monto tanto. As much as one is worth, so too is the other. This has been the anthology Hero's podcast. Thanks for listening.