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Boabdil the Unlucky

He was indeed unhappy who lost such treasure. The plain of Granada smiles with luxuriant crops, a beautiful country, gay with a hundred colours, and in summer when the corn is ripe it burns with vivid gold. The sun shines with fiery rays from the blue sky, and from the snow-capped mountains cool breezes temper the heat.

But from his cradle Boabdil was unfortunate; soothsayers prophesied that his reign would see the downfall of the Moorish power, and his every step tended to that end. Never in human existence was more evident the mysterious power of the three sisters, the daughters of Night; the Fates had spun his destiny, they placed the pitfalls before his feet and closed his eyes that he might not see; they hid from him the way of escape. Allah Achbar! It was destiny. In no other way can be explained the madness which sped the victims of that tragedy to their ruin; for with the enemy at their very gates, the Muslims set up and displaced kings, plotted and counterplotted. Boabdil was twice deposed and twice regained the throne. Even when the Christian kingdoms had united to consume the remnant of Moorish sovereignty the Moors could not cease their quarrelling. Boabdil looked on with satisfaction while the territory of the rival claimant to his crown was wrested from him, and did not understand that his turn must inevitably follow. Verily, the gods, wishing to destroy him, had deranged his mind. It is a pitiful history of treachery and folly that was enacted while the Catholic Sovereigns devoured the pomegranate, seed by seed.

To me history, with its hopes bound to be frustrated and its useless efforts, sometimes is so terrible that I can hardly read. I feel myself like one who lives, knowing the inevitable future, and yet is powerless to help. I see the acts of the poor human puppets, and know the disaster that must follow. I wonder if the Calvinists ever realised the agony of that dark God of theirs, omniscient and yet so strangely weak, to whom the eternal majesty of heaven was insufficient to save the predestined from everlasting death.

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On March 22, 1491, began the last siege of Granada.

Ferdinand marched his army into the plain and began to destroy the crops, taking one by one the surrounding towns. He made no attempt upon the city itself, and hostilities were confined to skirmishes beneath the walls and single combats between Christian knights and Muslim cavaliers, wherein on either side prodigies of valour were performed. Through the summer the Moors were able to get provisions from the Sierra Nevada, but when, with winter, the produce of the earth grew less and its conveyance more difficult, famine began to make itself felt. The Moors consoled themselves with the hope that the besieging army would retire with the cold weather, for such in those days was the rule of warfare; but Ferdinand was in earnest. When an accidental fire burned his camp, he built him a town of solid stone and mortar, which he named Santa Fè. It stands still, the only town in Spain wherein a Moorish foot has never trod. Then the Muslims understood at last that the Spaniard would never again leave that fruitful land.

And presently they began to talk of surrender; Spanish gold worked its way with Boabdil's councillors, and before winter was out the capitulation was signed.

On the second day of the new year the final scene of the tragedy was acted. Early in the morning, before break of day, Boabdil had sent his mother and his wife with the treasure to precede him to the Alpuxarras, in which district, by the conditions of the treaty, Ferdinand had assigned him a little kingdom. Himself had one more duty to perform, and at the prearranged hour he sallied forth with a wretched escort of fifty knights. On the Spanish side the night had been spent in joy and feasting; but how must Boabdil have spent his, thinking of the inevitable morrow? To him the hours must have sped like minutes. What must have been the agony of his last look at the Alhambra, that jewel of incalculable price? Mendoza, the cardinal, had been sent forward to occupy the palace, and Boabdil passed him on the hill.

Soon he reached Ferdinand, who was stationed near a mosque surrounded by all the glory of his Court, pennons flying, and knights in their magnificent array. Boabdil would have thrown himself from his horse in sign of homage to kiss the hand of the king of Arragon, but Ferdinand prevented him. Then Boabdil delivered the keys of the Alhambra to the victor, saying: 'They are thine, O king, since Allah so decrees it; use thy success with clemency and moderation.' Moving on sadly he saluted Isabella, and passed to rejoin his family; the Christians processioned to the city with psalm-singing.

But when Boabdil was crossing the mountains he turned to look at the city he had lost, and burst into tears.

'You do well,' said his mother, 'to weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.'

'Alas!' he cried, 'when were woes ever equal to mine?'

It was not to be expected that the pious Kings of Castille and Arragon would keep their word, and means were soon invented to hound the wretched Boabdil from the principality they had granted. He crossed to Africa, and settled in Fez, of which the Sultan was his kinsman. It is pathetic to learn that there he built himself a palace in imitation of the Alhambra. At last, after many years, he was killed in an obscure battle fighting against the Sultan's rebels, and the Arab historian finishes the account of him with these words: 'Wretched man! who could lose his life in another's cause, though he dared not die in his own! Such was the immutable decree of destiny. Blessed be Allah, who exalteth and abaseth the kings of the earth according to His divine will, in the fulfilment of which consists that eternal justice which regulates all human affairs.'

In the day of El Makkary, the historian of the Moorish Empire, Boabdil's descendants had so fallen that they were nothing but common beggars, subsisting upon the charitable allowances made to the poor from the funds of the mosques.

One generation passeth away and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.


William Somerset Maugham