Isabella's portrait - a picture taken while
visiting Segovia Castle
Isabella may have never anticipated a future as queen of Castile. In the line of succession, two elder brothers Enrique and Alfonso preceded her. She might not have imagined a union with Ferdinand of Aragon or how their marriage would lay the groundwork for a future Spanish dynasty. Like her ancestors, she could have idled and watched the Moors of southern Spain destroy each other in foolish civil war. Instead, she pursued a ten-year campaign against them and sought the hegemony of Spain under Christian rule.
The campaign against the Moors didn't begin at the direction of Isabella or her husband. For centuries beforehand, Isabella's ancestors had struggled against the kingdom of Granada, which encompassed most of modern-day Andalusia, in a series of intermittent border raids and sieges. When they were not fighting. the Castilian sovereigns accepted payments of tribute from the Moorish rulers, whom they considered their vassals. It's clear the Moors did not always accept this subordinate role because several Sultans refused to submit the gold coins. Last among them was Abu'l-Hasan Ali, known among the Spanish as Muley Hacén.
His soldiers seized the city of Zahara in December 1481, provoking the response of Rodrigo Ponce de León, Marqués of Cádiz, who then attacked and claimed Alhama. Isabella and the Marqués did not always enjoy good relations; at the death of her elder brother Enrique, Rodrigo Ponce de León first supported the rival claim of the princess Juana, Enrique's daughter and Isabella's niece. The propaganda of Isabella's supporters made the supposed heir of Castile the illegitimate child of another man. Juana eventually resigned herself to a convent. Although Isabella and Ferdinand had not ordered the reprisal at Alhama, they planned to use it as a base for future conquests. Ferdinand came south to attack Loja, but the forces of Abu'l-Hasan Ali turned his quest into a resounding defeat.
What happened to the momentum after the victory at Alhama? At Loja, Isabella's husband became aware of the difficulties their campaign would face in every Moorish territory. The cities of Andalusia were not only defended by stout walls and cannon, but the terrain itself made the movement of massive armies and siege weapons a struggle. Men and artillery required money the monarchs did not have. So, the king and queen sent a delegation to the Pope Sixtus IV seeking a papal bull.
The words, "We have not been moved to this war by any desire to enlarge our realms...but our desire to serve God, and our zeal for His Holy Catholic faith, made us put all other interests aside...." had the intended effect and the Pope granted the bull. It turned centuries-long warfare between the kingdoms into a religious crusade. The indulgences the Church gave to those who fought against the Moors, including absolution for any violence committed, bolstered the numbers in the army and brought the funds the king and queen required. To secure future victories and avoid the embarrassment at Loja, they employed the services of Francisco Ramírez de Madrid, Master of Artillery.
Internal divisions within Granada also buoyed their efforts. Abu'l-Hasan Ali's eldest son Muhammad then claimed the throne in the summer of 1482, relegating his father to the area around Malaga, which was then the governorship of Muhammad Al-Zaghal, brother of Abu'l-Hasan Ali. During April 1483 in an attempt to raid the Castilian border, the new Sultan fell into the hands of Isabella and Ferdinand. They gave him an ultimatum; he would gain release if he fought against his father and turned his toddler son and younger brother over as hostages. In the interim, the Castilian forces kept up the attacks on Abu'l-Hasan Ali. They also built up the Castilian navy's presence in the Mediterranean Sea and interrupted the centuries-long supply of Muslim troops from Morocco in defense of Granada, as well as gold from the mines of Africa.
Isabella and Ferdinand released the young Sultan in exchange for his son, whom they kept at their court until 1492. Then they began the campaign in earnest with the siege weapons the master of artillery had developed. Faced with merciless bombardment under heavy mortar and cannon, city after city fell into their hands. Ronda surrendered in 1485, as did Marbella. Then Malaga in 1487, Vera in 1488, Guadix, Almeria and Baza in 1489, and finally Granada in 1492. At almost every siege, which sometimes occurred during Isabella's numerous pregnancies, she joined her husband, even with their children as at Los Ojos de Huescar where an eight-month siege culminated in June 1491.
|The Capitulations, Pradilla - from Wiki Commons|
andThe Military Orders and the War of Granada (1350-1492) by Enrique Rodríguez-Picavea, Mediterranean Studies, Vol. 19 (2010), pp. 14-42 http://www.jstor.org/stable/41167026 (published by Penn State University Press - 2010)