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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Spanish Moors Persecuted into Rebellion
By William Hickling Prescott (1796–1859)
 
From the ‘History of Philip II.’

THESE impolitic edicts [forbidding the importation of African slaves by the Moors, and the possession of arms except under license] were but preludes to an ordinance of so astounding a character as to throw the whole country into a state of revolution. The apostasy of the Moriscoes,—or to speak more correctly, the constancy with which they adhered to the faith of their fathers,—gave great scandal to the old Christians, especially to the clergy; and above all to its head, Don Pedro Guerrero, archbishop of Granada. This prelate seems to have been a man of an uneasy, meddlesome spirit, and possessed of a full share of the bigotry of his time. While in Rome, shortly before this period, he had made such a representation to Pope Pius the Fourth as drew from that pontiff a remonstrance, addressed to the Spanish government, on the spiritual condition of the Moriscoes. Soon after, in the year 1567, a memorial was presented to the government, by Guerrero and the clergy of his diocese, in which, after insisting on the manifold backslidings of the “New Christians,” as the Moriscoes were termed, they loudly called for some efficacious measures to arrest the evil. These people, they said, whatever show of conformity they might make to the requisitions of the Church, were infidels at heart. When their children were baptized, they were careful, on returning home, to wash away the traces of baptism; and after circumcising them, to give them Moorish names. In like manner, when their marriages had been solemnized with Christian rites, they were sure to confirm them afterwards by their own ceremonies, accompanied with the national songs and dances. They continued to observe Friday as a holy day; and what was of graver moment, they were known to kidnap the children of the Christians and sell them to their brethren on the coast of Barbary, where they were circumcised, and nurtured in the Mahometan religion. This last accusation, however improbable, found credit with the Spaniards, and sharpened the feelings of jealousy and hatred with which they regarded the unhappy race of Ishmael.  1
  The memorial of the clergy received prompt attention from the government, at whose suggestion, very possibly, it had been prepared. A commission was at once appointed to examine into the matter; and their report was laid before a junta consisting of both ecclesiastics and laymen, and embracing names of the highest consideration for talent and learning in the kingdom. Among its members we find the Duke of Alva, who had not yet set out on his ominous mission to the Netherlands. At its head was Diego de Espinosa, at that time the favorite minister of Philip….  2
  The man who was qualified for the place of grand inquisitor was not likely to feel much sympathy for the race of unbelievers. It was unfortunate for the Moriscoes that their destinies should be placed in the hands of such a minister as Espinosa. After due deliberation, the junta came to the decision that the only remedy for the present evil was to lay the axe to the root of it; to cut off all those associations which connected the Moriscoes with their earlier history, and which were so many obstacles in the way of their present conversion. It was recommended that they should be interdicted from employing the Arabic either in speaking or writing, for which they were to use only the Castilian. They were not even to be allowed to retain their family names, but were to exchange them for Spanish ones. All written instruments and legal documents, of whatever kind, were declared to be void and of no effect unless in the Castilian. As time must be allowed for a whole people to change its language, three years were assigned as the period at the end of which this provision should take effect.  3
  They were to be required to exchange their national dress for that of the Spaniards; and as the Oriental costume was highly ornamented, and often very expensive, they were to be allowed to wear their present clothes one year longer if of silk, and two years if of cotton,—the latter being the usual apparel of the poorer classes. The women, moreover, both old and young, were to be required, from the passage of the law, to go abroad with their faces uncovered,—a scandalous thing among Mahometans.  4
  Their weddings were to be conducted in public, after the Christian forms; and the doors of their houses were to be left open during the day of the ceremony, that any one might enter and see that they did not have recourse to unhallowed rites. They were further to be interdicted from the national songs and dances with which they were wont to celebrate their domestic festivities. Finally, as rumors—most absurd ones—had got abroad that the warm baths which the natives were in the habit of using in their houses were perverted to licentious indulgences, they were to be required to destroy the vessels in which they bathed, and to use nothing of the kind thereafter.  5
  These several provisions were to be enforced by penalties of the sternest kind….  6
  Such were the principal provisions of a law, which for cruelty and absurdity has scarcely a parallel in history. For what could be more absurd than the attempt by an act of legislation to work such a change in the long-established habits of a nation,—to efface those recollections of the past to which men ever cling most closely under the pressure of misfortune,—to blot out by a single stroke of the pen, as it were, not only the creed but the nationality of a people,—to convert the Moslem at once both into a Christian and into a Castilian? It would be difficult to imagine any greater outrage offered to a people than the provision compelling women to lay aside their veils,—associated as these were in every Eastern mind with the obligations of modesty; or that in regard to opening the doors of the houses, and exposing those within to the insolent gaze of every passer; or that in relation to the baths,—so indispensable to cleanliness and comfort, especially in the warm climate of the south.  7
  But the masterpiece of absurdity, undoubtedly, is the stipulation in regard to the Arabic language; as if by any human art a whole population, in the space of three years, could be made to substitute a foreign tongue for its own; and that too under circumstances of peculiar difficulty,—partly arising from the total want of affinity between the Semitic and the European languages, and partly from the insulated position of the Moriscoes, who in the cities had separate quarters assigned to them in the same manner as the Jews, which cut them off from intimate intercourse with the Christians. We may well doubt, from the character of this provision, whether the government had so much at heart the conversion of the Moslems as the desire to entangle them in such violations of the law as should afford a plausible pretext for driving them from the country altogether. One is strengthened in this view of the subject by the significant reply of Otadin, professor of theology at Alcalá, who, when consulted by Philip on the expediency of the ordinance, gave his hearty approbation of it by quoting the appalling Spanish proverb, “The fewer enemies the better.” It was reserved for the imbecile Philip the Third to crown the disasters of his reign by the expulsion of the Moriscoes. Yet no one can doubt that it was a consummation earnestly desired by the great body of the Spaniards; who looked, as we have seen, with longing eyes to the fair territory which they possessed, and who regarded them with the feelings of distrust and aversion with which men regard those on whom they have inflicted injuries too great to be forgiven….  8
  On the appointed day the magistrates of the principal tribunals, with the corregidor of Granada at their head, went in solemn procession to the Albaicin, the quarter occupied by the Moriscoes. They marched to the sound of kettle-drums, trumpets, and other instruments; and the inhabitants, attracted by the noise and fond of novelty, came running from their houses to swell the ranks of the procession on its way to the great square of Bab el Bonat. This was an open space of large extent, where the people of Granada in ancient times used to assemble to celebrate the coronation of a new sovereign; and the towers were still standing from which the Moslem banners waved, on those days, over the heads of the shouting multitude. As the people now gathered tumultuously around these ancient buildings, the public crier from an elevated place read, in audible tones and in the Arabic language, the royal ordinance….  9
  Some of the weaker sort gave way to piteous and passionate exclamations, wringing their hands in an agony of grief. Others, of sterner temper, broke forth into menaces and fierce invective, accompanied with the most furious gesticulations. Others again listened with that dogged, determined air which showed that the mood was not the less dangerous that it was a silent one. The whole multitude was in a state of such agitation that an accident might have readily produced an explosion which would have shaken Granada to its foundations. Fortunately there were a few discreet persons in the assembly, older and more temperate than the rest, who had sufficient authority over their countrymen to prevent a tumult. They reminded them that in their fathers’ time the Emperor Charles the Fifth had consented to suspend the execution of a similar ordinance. At all events, it was better to try first what could be done by argument and persuasion. When these failed, it would be time enough to think of vengeance.  10
  One of the older Moriscoes, a man of much consideration among his countrymen, was accordingly chosen to wait on the president and explain their views in regard to the edict. This he did at great length, and in a manner which must have satisfied any fair mind of the groundlessness of the charges brought against the Moslems, and the cruelty and impracticability of the measures proposed by the government. The president, having granted to the envoy a patient and courteous hearing, made a short and not very successful attempt to vindicate the course of the administration. He finally disposed of the whole question by declaring that “the law was too just and holy, and had been made with too much consideration, ever to be repealed; and that in fine, regarded as a question of interest, his Majesty estimated the salvation of a single soul as of greater price than all the revenues he drew from the Moriscoes.” An answer like this must have effectually dispelled all thoughts of a composition such as had formerly been made with the Emperor.  11
  Defeated in this quarter, the Moriscoes determined to lay their remonstrance before the throne. They were fortunate in obtaining for this purpose the services of Don Juan Henriquez, a nobleman of the highest rank and consideration, who had large estates at Beza, in the heart of Granada, and who felt a strong sympathy for the unfortunate natives. Having consented, though with much reluctance, to undertake the mission, he repaired to Madrid, obtained an audience of the King, and presented to him a memorial on behalf of his unfortunate subjects. Philip received him graciously, and promised to give all attention to the paper. “What I have done in this matter,” said the King, “has been done by the advice of wise and conscientious men, who have given me to understand that it was my duty.”  12
  Shortly afterwards, Henriquez received an intimation that he was to look for his answer to the president of Castile. Espinosa, after listening to the memorial, expressed his surprise that a person of the high condition of Don Juan Henriquez should have consented to take charge of such a mission. “It was for that very reason I undertook it,” replied the nobleman, “as affording me a better opportunity to be of service to the King.” “It can be of no use,” said the minister: “religious men have represented to his Majesty that at his door lies the salvation of these Moors; and the ordinance which has been decreed, he has determined shall be carried into effect.”  13
  Baffled in this direction, the persevering envoy laid his memorial before the councilors of State, and endeavored to interest them in behalf of his clients. In this he met with more success; and several of that body, among whom may be mentioned the Duke of Alva, and Luis de Avila the grand commander of Alcántara, whom Charles the Fifth had honored with his friendship, entered heartily into his views. But it availed little with the minister, who would not even consent to delay the execution of the ordinance until time should have been given for further inquiry; or to confine the operation of it at the outset to one or two of the provisions, in order to ascertain what would probably be the temper of the Moriscoes. Nothing would suit the peremptory humor of Espinosa but the instant execution of the law in all its details….  14
  It was clear that no door was left open to further discussion, and that under the present government no chance remained to the unfortunate Moriscoes of buying off the law by the payment of a round sum, as in the time of Charles the Fifth. All negotiations were at an end. They had only to choose between implicit obedience and open rebellion. It was not strange that they chose the latter.  15
 
 
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