When Abu Abdallah Muhammad XIadmin / March 16, 2019
When Abu Abdallah Muhammad XI, known as Boabdil, became the twenty-third Muslim Sultan of Granada in 1482, he would be the last sultan of the Islamic state in Spain. there were already foreboding events that foreshadowed the fall of the Muslim’s reign in Spain. Although throughout his rule, Abu Abdallah Muhammad XI, dealt with external and internal factors which led to the conquest of his kingdom of Granada to the Catholic monarchs, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. However the discussion arises of, if Boabdil was the cause for the demise of his kingdom or if the external and internal factors were the main reason for the fall of Granada to the Catholic monarchs. To fully examine the causation for the collapse it is important to understand the events leading up to Boabdil’s reign in order to understand the role in which he was placed into. And most importantly how he reacted to these circumstances he was placed into.
Muslims and Christians have historically had a mistrust in one another since the conception of both religions. The two religions have an overlap in stories, because Abraham is a central part of all the Abrahamic religions which include; Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. However, they each have different versions of the tale, this causing the mistrust between them. The Christian view is that , they believe that they are descenent from his lawful son Isaac, and claim Muslims are descended from the Ishmael born to Abraham’s concubine, Hagar. This is used to justify to the Christians that all Muslims, including Boabdil are illigitamat and unfit to rule.
By evaluating the historical mistrust gives a cultural background to the Reconquista, which ended in Boadbil’s surrender of Granada to the Christians.
Abu Abdallah Muhammad XI was born in the Alhambra around 1460, to Abu l-Hasan Ali and Aixa. Both his father and mother were to go on and have a great influence on his life as Sultan. Aixa had ties to the Abencerrajes, a faction within Granada, and these ties would be important later in the plot to put Boabdil on the throne as Sultan of Granada. His father took the throne in 1464 and was known to be cruel in nature and favored a “fighting over diplomacy” when it came to the Christian enemy. His attitude of aggression allowed for his kingdom to flourish, however there would be a turn of events in 1479 when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand would ascend to their thrones. The union of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon united the two regions of Spain that the two each respectively presided over. Although the two regions would not be united until each monarch ascended their throne. In 1474 Queen Isabella would be come to the throne and her husband would claim the throne in 1479. The year 1479 marked the start of a united Christian front in Spain, composed of Aragon and Castile. Also that year the civil war within Castile ended and Castile and made peace with Portugal. These circumstances were a catalyst for the demise of Boabdil’s kingdom. Now the Christian monarchs could focus all their attention on abolishing the Muslim state.
The battle of Alma on February 28, 1482 would be the first set of strikes by the Catholic Monarchs, which marks the beginning of the Granada War. The battle was a triumph for the Monarchs, however their next attack on Loja would be won by their Islamic counterparts. Meanwhile, at the Alhambra Boabdil was the center of a feud that would affect his reign going forwards. At this time the current Sultan, Boabdil’s father was combating the Christian army at Loja. Early in 1482, with the help of the Abencerrajes Boabdil and Yusef were smuggled outside of Granada with a plan that would eventually have Boabdil taking the throne in Granada. They were taken to Guadix, a city within close proximity to the Alhambra. There Boabdil would be appointed King. It would be in Guadix that Boabdil and his supporters would bide their time for the opportunity to take power in Granada and establish Boabdil as the Sultan of Granada. On July 1482 Boabdil would take Granada as his, while his father was at battle in Loja. Abu I-Hasan was forced to flee after Loja to Malaga where he would establish his control. He would have rule over Malaga and Ronda, and Boabdil would have rule over Granada and Guadix. The division within the Nasrid faction began to internally weaken the defenses of Granada, in which the Catholics would eventually expolit in their favor.
The frontier, was an area of land that separated Castle from Granada. “It also was a frontier of the mind”, it represented a division of “religious positions” based from “ancestral confrontation” (L.P Harvey). The dominant issue leading up to Boabdil’s reign, would be the “inner discord in Granada and in his family” (Drayson). Although, there was always a Christian threat at the frontier. In 1479 the Pope Julius II issued a “crusading bull calling for the war against Granada” and was “reissued in 1482”. (Drayson). The reissuing of the bull call reiterated that the Muslims were an enemy that needed to be defeated. By justifying that it was the Christians job to take back the land that rightly belonged to them, a Reconquista. When the Christians attacked and had an overwhelming defeat by Abu I-Hasan at the Ajarquía in Malaga, the news got back to Boabdil. Boabdil rode off the back of this win against the Christians and he had a display of power, taking a parade through the Christian towns of Luque and Baena. This was a successful PR stunt, that gave him an overindulgence of self-power and a feeling of superiority.
Boabdil and his advisors were in high spirits after his campaign through the Christian lands and planed a greater military display, that would lead him and his troops deeper into the Christian territories. It was recounted by a chronicler, Hernando de Baeza that the sultan was more hesitant about going into deeper Christian lands, but he was persuaded by his advisors (Drayson). Boabdil would have made this decision to trust his advisors because they were considered more experienced within the courts of the Alhambra. Boabdil with his advisors and calvary left the Alhambra on April 21, 1483 and arrived in the town of Lucena early before dawn to set up camp. The town having previous knowledge that Boabdil was on a campaign streak, with his previous parade; they were prepared for invasion. When Lucena saw the Muslim troops, the calvary was called in defense. The calvary was vastly smaller than Boabdil’s, but by tricking the opposing side it made the Catholic calvary seem larger than the Muslims. The impact that this had was that he had to decide either retreat in embarrassment or face the enemy in battle. Boabdil was boisterous still after the previous defeat of the Catholics at and a successful PR stunt; this affecting his decision making in this situation. Determine to show the Muslims superiority Boabdil led his calvary into battle.
The battle at Lucena would end tragically for Boabdil and his men, which would impact the future of the Reconquista. It was recounted that “the sky had fallen upon them and they were all lost or dead” (Bernáldez). Boabdil however was not captured, instead he was recognized as the Sultan and taken as captive. After capture the Sultan his clothes and armor were given off as booty and then was surrendered to the Count of Cabra. The count then wrote to the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella telling them of the prisoner he had obtained. Ferdinand must have saw this as a blessing by his god, which would allow him to complete his mission in conquering al-Andalus for the Catholics. The result of his capture left the throne in Granada vacant, and his family once again were vying for the throne. Abu I-Hasan saw the vacancy as an opportunity to try and take back his former land. To assure that Boabdil did not return back, Hasan was writing letters to Ferdinand. It can not be recounted what was in those letters, yet it is a reasonable belief that he did not have his son’s best interest in mind. However Aixa, his wife was protecting the throne for her son and also writing letters to the Catholic monarchs, but was in favor for her son’s safe release (Drayson).
In the royal courts of King Ferdinand there were debates on what to do with their captive. The Marquis of Cádiz, Rodrigo Ponce de León claimed that if they released the Boabdil “he would be the cause of the split” the sultan “will need to fight two wars, one amongst themselves and the other against us” (Puglar). Yet, there were opposing views within the court arguing that Boabdil was a strong, young leader, that had the potential to realign with his father; directly leading to a defeat of the Catholics (Pulgar). The differing views demonstrates the Catholics view of Granada’s political field at the time. It also gives a strong belief that he was greatly loved by his people, and that the Catholics feared this love. This fear would demonstrate that the Catholics viewed him as a formidable threat that could unite the Granadians against the Monarchs. This fear influenced Ferdinand and his wife Isabella to release Boabdil. Yet, they would not let Boabdil go without “compromising conditions” he would become the “vassal of the ruling, Catholics” he would have to obey their orders, he would have to return 400 of his Christian captives, and hand over his son as captive (Drayson). In return to complying to the conditions, Boabdil would be returned, assured safe travels, two year truce, and they would assist in battle against Abu I-Hasan. The monarchs believed that if they helped defeat to Abu I-Hasan they would be able to obtain more of Al-Andalus, getting closer to achieving their final goal.
Although recounts state that Ferdinand and Boabdil were civil it was only a front. Ferdinand in order to accomplish his goal would need to use Boabdil from within to “worsen internal divisions” (Drayson). A letter written from Ferdinand to his sister, Juana Queen of Naples, dated August 26, 1483 states that the objective of releasing Boabdil was to “to create such a division in the kingdom of Granada that it would bring about its complete and utter ruin.”
During Boabdil’s imprisonment Abu I-Hasan had returned to the city and with the help of his supporters had taken back rule in Granada. By the Ferdinand not accepting the offer from Abu I-Hasan it internally worsened the divisions within the Nasrid faction. Unable to return to Granada he once again returned to Guadix, readying himself and supporters to take back Granada. I-Hasan was undoubtedly angered and surprised by the monarchs would let him go, but he countered Boabdil’s release by questioning the legitimacy of his son’s insurrection against him. The Ulma, the Muslim group responsible for jurisdiction in law, discussing religious affairs, released a verdict in the form of a fatwa, which that accused Boabdil of working with the Catholic enemy, by signing the truce. The Ulma justifies the verdict by quoting a text from the Qur’an, Surah 5:51: “Do not take Jews and Christians as friends, because they are friends of each other. Whoever among you takes them as friends will turn into one of them.” The fatwa was detrimental. These accusations would it fit flawlessly into Ferdinand’s plan, by creating a civil war within Granada, it creates distrust within Boabdil’s supporters, therefore weakening his chances of it would weaken for him to reenter the Alhambra. Although with Alhambra’s defenses would be lower to outside threats, allowing for the Catholics to have a better opportunity to siege Granada. Boabdil thought that by signing the truce it would protect his kingdom and his reign, however it did the opposite it caused internal conflict and he lost some of his supporters. Fitting into Ferdinand’s plan all along.
Although with Abu I-Hasan as Sultan battles were being equally won on both sides through 1483 and 1484, yet all attacks would be initiated by the Christians in 1484. The Muslims were winning battles but these would be defensive wins, gaining little to no Christian land. During a battle defending the castle of Setenil, Abu I-Hasan would fall ill, leaving him vulnerable. El Zagal, Boabdil’s uncle saw this as his opportunity to seize the throne he’s always been vying for. When, El Zagal took the throne in March 1485, Boabdil had fled to a Christian territory of Cordoba. Now a much more extreme, civil war developed between Boabdil and his uncle.
Throughout Al-Andalus there were battles between the Catholics and Muslims, destroying the cities they passed through. Once more the events that transpired went perfectly for Ferdinand’s end goal. Rather than using himself as the figurehead of the campaign against El Zagal he would put pressure on Boabdil to take back Granada. Ferdinand and Boabdil capitalized on the realization that most inhabitants wanted peace in there land from the war, and campaigned with the offer of a ceasefire in these lands if they supported Boabdil (Baeza). This ironically, caused more conflict than the promised peace. Granadians were divided in the support between El Zagal and Boabdil. El Zagal offered the ability to retain the freedom to practice their own religion and political practices. While, Boabdil offered a supposed safety from foreign invasion. Hostilities reached a high in within the months of March and May 1486, with deaths on both sides. Although one asset that Boabdil had that El Zagal did not was the support of the Catholic artillery.
Supposedly El Zagal had reached out to Boabdil with a proposition to join forces together against the Catholics, but Boabdil refused reasoning that he could not trust him (Carvajal). Besides saying no to the offer, El Zagal gave the town of Loja to Boabdil, justifying it with the thought that this would be the next Catholics would attack, and that it would be safe under Boabdil’s rule. The Catholics did not see this as a simple offering, they viewed it as an act of rebellion, Boabdil was breaking the truce. A royal chronicaler in the Aragonese court stated that Boabdil sent diplomats to argue for the protection of Loja, and to guide his direction elsewhere for the next attack (Zurita). He now no longer had the support of the monarchs, and they launched an attack on Loja. Boabdil surrendered Loja to the monarchs after their defeat, in addition Boabdil was taken prisoner once again. The motives behind Boabdil’s actions at this time are perplexing, it seems as though Boabdil has been loyal to the truce until this, but it now seems like he had a plot of his own by playing a double game. By trying to appease the Monarchs, but realising they did not have Al-Andalus’ best interest, he was not willing to give up his kingdom so soon and possibly accepting that land it was an acceptance of an alliance. However it is unable to no for sure because of Boabdil’s recaptivation and realignment with the Catholics. He was released in June 5 and with the promise of a three year truce.
In April 1487 Ferdinand attacked the town of Velez-Malaga, a town that was alliant to El Zagal. During the battle El Zagal in order to defend the town needed to send all the troops he could to battle. This left Granada poorly defended and allowed for Boabdil to take over the city and and proclaim himself as Sultan once more, on April 29, 1487 (Baeza). However Boabdil had trouble preserving his throne. With the war in Malaga he got intense criticism for not sending troops to defend the major port city. He was playing a balancing act, not wanting to anger the Monarchs, but wanting to protect his people and wanting maintain his rule.
The year 1488, would cause for Boabdil to change his perspective on his truce with the monarchs. The Catholics sieged land that belonged to him, showing that they did not intend on keeping their promise. Boabdil saw this as warning and sent letters requesting for help from Muslim Kingdoms in North Africa, but these kingdoms had established trade with Castile and did not want to threaten their economic prosperity. Boabdil was stranded in a precarious situation with no help against the Monarchs who he blindly trusted. By the end of 1489 the only cities still belonging to the Islamic State in Spain were Granada, Guadix, Baza, and Almeria.
After years of being the pawn of manipulation by the Catholics, Boabdil launched an attack on the Catholic city of Padul, and with success took the city. Boabdil would go on to win smaller battles, regaining parts of land lost to the enemy. But, the Catholics had a stronger army and winter was approaching. They used this to their advantage camping outside the walls of Granada, knowing that they had little food supply due to a fire killing their main food supply. On January 1, 1492 Boabdil had sent a private letter to Ferdinand requesting a representative to enter the city at night, so he could surrender the city. On January 2, 1492 the state of Granada and all of Al-Andalus would be surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, King Ferdinand of Aragon, and Queen Isabella of Castile.
Boabdil was born into an environment of “conflict, treachery, brutality, and murder” (Drayson). The outside factors had a huge influence when Boabdil claimed the throne, yet he fought to create his own future as well as the future of his kingdom of Granada. Yet his actions would greatly contribute to the fall of his kingdom. In conclusion, the conquest of the Islamic State can be contributed to the action of the last Sultan, Abu Abdallah Muhammad XI. His first mistake was not listening to his experienced advisors, which led to his capture. His capture was the most essential factor of the collapse of the state. Boabdil was foolish to blindly trust the Monarchs, in their promise of a truce. After the internal conflicts had ceast he realised that he was being manipulated, however it was to late. The main food source had been destroyed, their port was under the Catholics control, his people distrusted him, and there were no allies to help the collapsing state. The year 1492 is thought of as the start of Spain’s global empire, with the discovery of the Americas. However it was also a year of great ending within Spain. With the conquest of the Islamic State it solidated a Catholic Spain as a major European power. However it was the end of a major ruling Islamic presence in Europe.