04 March 2016

First Ladies: Sultana Moraima of Muslim Granada

By Lisa J. Yarde

Moraima, as portrayed by Alba Garcia
in the Spanish TV series, Isabel
The last queen of Muslim Granada in the fifteenth century was the first to occupy a unique position in history. As the only official wife of Muhammad XI, the kingdom's last Sultan, she witnessed the collapse of more than two hundred years of Moorish rule in Europe. Moraima was the sole Sultana of Granada whose prominence as the wife of the monarch was eclipsed by the behavior of an elder queen. Lastly, she perhaps suffered as few of her royal predecessors ever had, as the prisoner of her father-in-law who sought to bring his rebellious son to heel, and as a mother who had her eldest son stolen away and converted by the Catholic Monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon.

Life for Moraima did not begin with such difficulties. Born in approximately 1467, she was perhaps the youngest child of Ibrahim Ali al-Attar, the future governor of her birthplace in Loja, southern Spain. Her name isn't traditional Arabic of the period and could be diminutive of the more common Maryam. In earlier sources, Moraima was often referred to the honorific title used in Moorish documents for reference to women, "Mother of Victory" or Umm al-Fath. Her father gained his position during the reign of Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali (Muley Hacen in Spanish sources). Perhaps this contact with the royal family in Granada fostered the marriage of Moraima and Abu'l-Hasan Ali's eldest son, Muhammad, when the bride was 15. Legend purports that she was so poor that her wedding clothing and jewels were borrowed; unlikely for the daughter of a Muslim governor marrying into the last Moorish Dynasty, but perhaps, the suggestion alluded to the demure nature all sources agreed she possessed.  The young couple went on to have at least two sons, Ahmad and Yusuf. Moraima's happiness with her husband and children did not last long.

Statue of Moraima at her birthplace in Loja
Early within the marriage in 1482, Muhammad rebelled against his father's rule, spurred on by Abul-Hasan Ali's first wife and Muhammad's mother, Aisha. According to legend, Moraima endured a forced separation from her husband as a result. Likely a second coup also sponsored by Aisha occurred later in the summer of the same year because Abu'l-Hasan then withdrew to Malaga on the coast and his son ascended as Muhammad XI in Granada. The reign of Moraima's husband did not begin with success. In 1483, he attempted a raid, but instead found himself the prisoner of Ferdinand and Isabella's forces. Even worse for Moraima, her elderly father died in the defense of Muhammad. Her torment did not end there. She regained her husband, but his captors demanded bitter concessions; not only did Muhammad have to agree to eventually surrender Muslim Granada, he and Moraima would have to give up their eldest son, Ahmad. At two years old, he went to the Castilian court as a hostage. His young mother would not see him again until he was nine, a boy who knew nothing of Islam and could not speak a word of Arabic. 

The fall of Muhammad's kingdom occurred on January 2, 1492, the date by which Moraima left Granada with her husband's family. Through an agreement with the victorious Isabella and Ferdinand, the Moors were to settle in the mountainous region of the Alpujarras. By mid-1493 Muhammad crossed over to Morocco, but Moraima did not accompany him. She had died after an undetermined illness in Andarax and was buried in Mondujar, where Muhammad also re-interred the bones of at least twelve generations of his royal ancestors. A tragic end for the dynasty and the last queen of Muslim Spain. I hope readers will enjoy learning more about Moraima in the last novel of my Moorish Spain, Sultana: The White Mountains when it debuts later this year.   


Islamic Spain 1250 to 1500 by L.P. Harvey

Las Sultanas de la Alhambra by Barbara Boloix Gallardo

Images from Wikipedia and the Spanish series, Isabel.

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written five novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price and Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.