Granada, short-lived capital of Spain … and the Holy Roman Empire

On the threshold of the sixteenth century Granada was the transitory capital of Spain. Ferdinand and Isabel set up court in Granada towards the end of 1499 while the Mudejar rebellion was being put down. ‘Mudejar’ is the name given to those Moors who remained in Christian Spain after the Fall of Granada in 1492 without converting to Christianity. At first tolerated, by the end of the millennium they were under a lot of pressure to convert. (See the blog on book burning.)

Ferdinand and Isabel stayed in Granada until February 1502. It was their longest and last period of residence in the city. Before leaving, one of their major acts was the issuing of a decree – on 11 February 1502 – demanding the remaining Mudejar Moors to choose between conversion and exile; either they adopt over a period of time Christian beliefs and customs or they leave for Africa and beyond. Almost half the population of Granada chose exile it is said. From the date of that decree there was no room for Moslem Moors in Spain any longer, only for ‘Moriscos’, Moors who had converted to the Christian faith.

The Royal Court returned to Granada for a short time in the summer of 1526, when Emperor Charles V decided to make Granada his place of residence. This was just after his wedding on 10 March in Seville to his first cousin Isabel of Portugal. During his brief stay he ordered the construction of his Royal Palace, more comfortable and more spacious and more majestic than the nearby Nazrid Palaces of the Alhambra. For this, he chose the architect Pedro Machuca, who had worked under Michelangelo in Italy, to design one of the greatest works of the Spanish Renaissance, unprecedented in its architectural language. Symbolising the victory of Christianity over Islam, it was largely paid for by taxes imposed on the Moorish population.

It is clear that in ordering the construction of this emblematic and superbly designed palace, on which work started in the following year, 1527, the Emperor intended to make Granada his main seat of residence, the centre of his Holy Roman Empire. Yet Emperor Charles and his queen abandoned the city in December of 1526. It was too cold for Isabella’s warm Portuguese blood is the explanation popularly given. But I think there was another reason.

In November of 1525, Carlos V had issued a decree ordering the conversion of all the Moors in Spain by the end of January 1526. What? Again? But hadn’t his grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabel, issued practically the same decree in February 1502?

Over time the term ‘morisco’ had come to be used in a pejorative sense, implying that the conversion of Moors to Catholicism was a pretence and that in secret they were continuing to practice the Islam religion. In 1526 Carlos V was complaining that ‘seven and twenty years’ after the mass enforced baptisms undertaken by Cardinal Cisneros (see book burning blog) you would be hard put to find seven and twenty Christian Moors in the city, ‘nor even seven’! The Moorish population that remained in Granada had proved itself highly reluctant to take on the conquerors’ faith.

So, apart from the winter cold, Granada had the added inconvenience for a city that was to be the centre of the Habsburgian Holy Roman Empire of having a population that was largely anti-Christian in its secret sentiment.

The expulsion of the Moors led to the steady cultural decline of Granada, so lamented by Lorca and the core of contemporary ‘progressive’ Spansh opinion. Charles V’s decree was no more successful than his grandparents’ in christianising the Moors left behind on Spanish territory. The repressive legislation was repeated in 1567 and the revolt that began on Christmas Eve of 1568 in Granada, with its last stronghold in the Alpujarras, was suppressed, leading to the final ethnic cleansing of the peninsula. Thousands of Moors died and more than 80,000 were expelled forever.