NOVEMBER SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Moor’s Last Stand’ by Elizabeth Drayson

The Moor’s Last Stand presents the poignant story of Boabdil, the last Muslim king of Granada. Betrayed by his family and undermined by faction and internal conflict, Boabdil was defeated in 1492 by the forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of the newly united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. The Christian victory marked the completion of the long Christian reconquest of Spain and ended seven centuries in which Christians, Muslims and Jews had, for the most part, lived peacefually and profitably together. Five centuries after his death, Boabdil continues to be a potent symbol of resistance to the forces of western Christendom, and his image endures in contemporary culture.

Elizabeth Drayson presents a vivid account of Boabdil’s life and times and considers the impact of his defeat then and now.

cover and blurb via amazon

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The Moor’s Last Stand focuses on Boadbil, who suffered the great loss of the Alhambra and city of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. While the year is most known for that idiot Columbus stumbling off to find Asia and instead becoming a toxic force in the Americas, what happened to Spain itself is a great tale all on its own.

Much is made of Spain before the period of Ferdinand and Isabella’s ethnic cleansing. It is so often said the Muslims, Jews and Christians were living together in mostly harmony. In Boabdil’s Granada, Christians were slaves, or people tolerated by the free population. People were ‘protected’ by their monarchs, as Isabella believed, and so sought to ‘free her people’, which included Jews, who were owned by her – as she thought, anyway.

Moors (or Saracens as they called themselves) were about 30% of Aragon population, where Ferdinand reigned, used for labour, a commodity to be owned and keep the Christians rich. They ‘converted’ after the expulsion of Boabdil from Spain, and while this conversion was claimed as voluntary, we all know it was not. Christian scholars around Europe considered Spain to be filled with faithless Jews and baptised Moors (their words, not mine), which started the exclusion of the Jews, 300,000 people booted from their homes, many killed over the course of the Spanish Inquisition. While the Inquisition is used mostly in jokes these days, what went on in Spain through forced conversions, the hunting of Muslims and the expulsion of Jews is a subject usually only measured through the success of the Christian successors.

The story of Boabdil is a beautiful book indeed. The Nasrid dynasty is fleshed out by the author. The story tells of Boabdil’s father who took a Christian slave girl as a wife, destroying Boabdil’s mother, and the sons turned from their father, the family all forced to take sides. Boadbil ruled the Muslim south from the Alhambra, and while he was not great in war (captured twice), he did delight on declaring war on his own relatives. This infighting was just a greater force as the Christian ‘conquest’ of Granada in 1492. The moment where Boabdil stopped at the now-named Slope of Tears, the famous words from his mother were uttered – “You do well, my son, to cry like a woman for what you couldn’t defend like a man.” But Boabdil surrendered his city under the terms that Moors would not have to become Christians, and was given the Alpujarra mountains outside Granada, though he was later forced to leave Spain for Africa from the same spot his ancestors came to Spain 700 years earlier.

Naturally, all terms of surrender were broken and the Moors were forced to convert, or were killed or chased away. But, much to Ferdinand and Isabella’s disgust no doubt, the hidden spots of the Islamic rule in Spain still exist today. Spain could have been a powerhouse throughout Europe had the Moors not been turned out. Land would not have been abandoned and barren, art and medicine would not have been forced back in time, the Muslims and Jews not slaughtered and crushed, their cultures and ideas not blacklisted. Thank you to the author for approaching the fight of 1492 from an angle that is easy to read and yet fully explains the other side of the Ferdinand and Isabella conquest.

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HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out. This journey traces their steps to the Alhambra in Spain, childhood home of Katherine of Aragon; to the very room at Acton Court where Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII publicly dined; through the cobbled grounds of Hampton Court Palace, which bore witness to both triumph and tragedy for Jane Seymour; into the streets of Düsseldorf in Germany, birthplace of Anne of Cleves; among the ruins and picturesque gardens of St Mary’s Abbey in York where Catherine Howard and Henry VIII rested at the pinnacle of the 1541 progress; and to Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, where Katherine Parr lived as daughter-in-law of the irascible Sir Thomas Brough.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.

cover and blurb via amazon

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For everything Henry VIII did, all anyone remembers is the fact he married six times. To be fair, he isn’t all that different to many guys – gets to middle-age and freaks out and wants to date younger women, usually blondes. And like most of these scenarios, who the women are doesn’t matter so much, but to those of us who do know these women, they are far more fascinating than the man they married.

Whether or not you know your Annes from your Katherines from your Jane, this book is a different take on the six queens of England. Morris and Grueninger, rather than writing the history of these women, have instead mapped out their lives, detailing the places where they lived their extraordinary lives, a tour of their time as queens.

Katherine no.1 was England’s queen, but she began her life in Spain, and the authors have included this history in the detail of her life, such as the details of the Alcazar in Seville and in the incredible Alcazar in Cordoba, and naturally, the Alhambra. On the other side of her life, Katherine’s time pushed aside as a forgotten wife is even detailed, something I found invaluable.

Anne Boleyn’s life gets a vivid recreation at Hever Castle, before she headed to Flanders and France. Of course, her time in the Tower before execution is all laid out (in fact, there is a whole extra book!). Jane Seymour led a more simple life, but the now well-known Wolf Hall is there, along with Mercer’s Hall and Chester Place in London.

Next came Anne no.2, one of my personal favourites, and what a varied life Anne of Cleves lived. She grew up by the Rhine in Düsseldorf; she and her sister were painted by Holbein himself at Schloss Hambach. Anne travelled through Antwerp, staying at England House, and onto Bruges, Calais, before she passed through Deal and Dover Castles in Kent. Anne lived in many beautiful places before being given The King’s Manor, a 100-room palace in Dartford. Oh, to see what Anne of Cleves saw in her time!

Katherine no.2, little Katherine Howard, started her life at Norfolk House in London and Horsham, where many of her problems began. Katherine’s young eyes take readers to Oatlands Palace, Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, north into York and more before she ended her days in the Tower. Katherine no.3, the intelligent Katherine Parr, had been married and widowed twice before the king all-but forced her into marriage. She started life at Rye House in Hertfordshire, before moving between castles in Lincolnshire, Cumbia and North Yorkshire. As queen, Katherine lived in Woking Place in Surrey, including when she ruled as regent in Henry’s absence while fighting in France. The now-mythical Nonsuch Palace in Surrey also makes an entry.

I can’t tell you how many places are meticulously detailed in this book. The level of  information and attention is unquestionable in this beautiful book and there is absolutely no book which can give readers insight such as this one. I cannot thank the authors enough for this book, I originally got a copy at the library but went and ordered a copy for myself straight away.