Your RDA of Irony


January 2, 1492:  Alhambra Becomes the Name of Trailer Parks

Muhammed XII Abu Abdullah is better known as Boabdil because he was never worth the effort of a correct pronunciation.  Even his Moorish subjects did not think much of the last Emir of Granada; they kept trying to oust him.  However, one person did appreciate Boabdil’s myopic and incompetent leadership: Ferdinand II of Aragon.  The wily Ferdinand–one of Machiavelli’s pinups–was always willing to encourage civil wars among the Moors and support Boabdil against anyone more capable.

By 1487, Boabdil had been restored to the throne of the emirate, but his Spanish allies kept seizing Moorish cities–no doubt for safekeeping.  Indeed, the armies of Castille and Aragon were so solicitous that they were encroaching ever closer to the walls of Granada.  In 1491, the Spanish asked Boabdil if he would like to express his friendship and gratitude by surrendering his city.  Boabdil tried resisting, at least by looking for someone else to protect him.  He appealed to Morocco, Egypt and and the Ottoman Empire.  However,  Morocco knew he wasn’t worth the effort, Egypt was more worried about the Turks than the Spaniards, and the Ottoman Empire had a surprisingly peaceful sultan (but his son would fully justify Egypt’s fears).  On January 2, 1492 Boabdil surrendered Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella.  The last Emir of Granada was allowed safe passage to North Africa; he certainly proved that he was no danger to the Spanish, and even the Moroccan rulers found him too trivial to fear.  He and his family were relegated to obscurity and destitution in Fez.

Granada had been the last Moslem enclave in Spain, a remnant of a caliphate that once had controlled most of Iberia.  You might imagine that the Reconquista had been a continuous, unrelenting campaign by the Spanish to reclaim their land.  Think of the film “El Cid” lasting 7 centuries; it certainly seemed that long.  In fact, the Spanish had won the war more than 250 years earlier.  In 1212, the armies of Castille, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre had confronted the amassed Moslem forces at Las Navas de Tolosa in central Spain.  The battle was decided when the Christians attacked before the Moslems were ready.  (Chivalry was generally a theory even among Christians, and it was never meant to extend to heathens!)  The Caliph fled to North Africa while the remnants of his realm shattered into petty emirates.  Against the Christian forces, they offered little resistance.

Castille took Cordoba and Seville, Aragon conquered Valencia, while Portugal doubled in size.  (Navarre got moral satisfaction.)  Granada alone survived and it did so by surrendering; in 1238, the Moorish principality had become a vassal state of Castille.  The emirs of Granada now reigned at the sufferance of Castille, but there is steady work in being a toady.  As a center of commerce, industry and learning, Granada had much to exploit.  Castille even promoted Granada as a tourist attraction.  If a noble were obligated to perform some form of penance, killing a Moslem was a popular means of redemption.  But why go all the way to that godforsaken Holy Land, or to Egypt or Turkey–where those Moslems were inconveniently tough–when the aspiring Crusader might enjoy the proximity and weakness of Granada. “Visit Southern Castille:  slaughter and salvation in the morning, sangria for lunch!”

So, while Granada enjoyed this unique status, how did the Christian kingdoms of Spain occupy themselves for the next two centuries?  Castille tried to take Portugal, Aragon plotted against Navarre and fought France for control of Southern Italy, Portugal frustrated Castille while looking for sea routes to India, and Navarre tried surviving–see your atlas of Aragon for further details.  And given the surplus of princes and the scarity of thrones, Castille, Aragon and Portugal each had many civil wars.  The Castillian royal family was so enthusiastic about fraticide that by 1469 the remaining heir was Isabella.  And with a dowry like Castille, how could Ferdinand of Aragon resist her?

Boabdil never guessed what he would be providing as a wedding gift.

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