On January 2, 1492, when the Moors of Granada under Sultan Muhammad XI (commonly known as Boabdil) left their home of two centuries past at Alhambra Palace, legend has it that the monarch's mother Aisha upbraided him. "Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man." The place where this chastisement supposedly occurred in the Sierra Nevada mountains is called Puerto del Suspiro del Moro, the Pass of the Moor's Sigh.
|El ultimo suspiro del Moro by Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz (1892) - Public domain|
Over twenty years of research into Granada's last Muslim dynasty has revealed how much unreliable myth and anecdote tainted the available history. As with many personal interactions of the past, it's difficult to prove the event did nor did not occur. Of those who traveled with Muhammad and his mother into eventual exile in Fez, none included any chroniclers from the court of the Catholic monarchs, King Fernando and Queen Isabella. No Moors in the company who left Granada could have relayed the occurrence. Also, given Aisha's actions during her husband and son's reigns, it's hard to believe she considered women weak -- after all, she knew exactly what a woman with purpose could do. Through her influence, she had secured the throne for her son in a rebellion against his father. Perhaps disappointment over the loss of her heritage left her furious with her child, a mad mother.
Aisha's life began in turmoil as the daughter of Sultan Muhammad IX and an unnamed paternal cousin, one of three known children of the sovereign, who had no sons. He had lost and regained the kingdom of Granada no less than four times in clashes with his cousins over their legacy. Without a natural heir, he wed Aisha's elder half-sister to his paternal second cousin and successor Muhammad X, whose father had once been among the rivals for the throne. The marriage cannot have lasted because later Aisha found herself betrothed to Muhammad X. Fate denied them a future together when yet another cousin, Abu Nasr Saad invaded Granada. His son the future Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali (commonly known as Muley Hacen) killed Muhammad X along with his two young heirs and took Aisha for a wife. Abu'l-Hasan Ali likely regretted the choice for the rest of his life. Vengeance motivated Aisha's subsequent behavior.
Before she gained retribution, Aisha performed her duty and bore two sons for Abu'l-Hasan Ali, the eventual Muhammad XI, and Yusuf, as well as a daughter who shared Aisha's name. The Moorish queen bided her time while her husband refused to submit to demands for tribute from Fernando and Isabella. Aisha even endured the presence of her husband's beloved second wife, a former Christian slaved named Isabella de Solis, who converted to Islam and took the name Soraya.
In the summer of 1482, Aisha's eldest son rebelled against Abu'l-Hasan Ali, who went into exile in Malaga and formed an alliance with the Catholic monarchs against Aisha and their child. The family Abencerrage supported the coup and Aisha. The clan had long reviled Abu'l-Hasan Ali after he and his father murdered many of their chieftains within Alhambra Palace. When young Muhammad became a prisoner of Fernando and Isabella after an ill-advised attack on the frontier during April 1483, Aisha helped negotiate the eventual release of Muhammad. As the enemy took city after city in a bid to destroy Moorish Spain forever, Aisha wanted even the women and children to fight in the defense of their homeland. But could she have also been desperate, maddened by the failures that bedeviled the kingdom? No one can know.
History has relegated her to the role of a vengeful wife, a scheming mother, and a cunning rival for her husband's second wife. But for me, Aisha remains a true patriot of Moorish Granada.
As they drew apart, he caught the intent scrutiny of several courtiers and the ministers. He smiled and caressed Aisha's damp cheeks. “These tears. Beautiful. Purposeful. Those who observe would think you a loving mother, comforted by one dutiful son in the absence of another. The deception is complete. Well done, Ummi.”
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 completed a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, Sultana: The Bride Price, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, and Sultana: The White Mountains, 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.