War of Grenada Study Guide

Dynastic War:

In 1479, Ferdinand and Isabella would assume their joint command of Aragon and Castille, which would later lead to the taking of the Emirate of Granada in 1492, therefore stripping it away from King Boabdil (Muhammad XII of Granada)

While the stripping away of Granada from King Boabdil therefore resulted in a change in leadership, dynastic changes were not the primary motivations from Ferdinand and Isabella when referring to the causes in the war.

Dynastic changes were more significant when looking at individual battles and skirmishes throughout the battle that either strengthened or weakened the power of the Moors; for example, the attack on Zahara in December 1481 resulted in a chain reaction that would eventually lead to an internal dynastic change for the Granadans that changed the course of the war.

The attack of Zahara is known as the first official battle of the War of Grenada and it was initiated by the Moors themselves, specifically by the king of Grenada at the time, Abul Hassan.

Abul Hassan misread the internal conditions of Castile and would sneakily take the fortified town of Zahara, and then enslaved the Castilians there.

In doing this, Hassan unknowingly finalized the the unification of Spain and once again sparked Spanish Imperialism

After Zahara, Hassan would embark upon other failing conquests until finally his son, Abu Abdallah/Boabdil, rebelled against his father and decided to embark upon his own campaign after Hassan had successfully defended Loja from the Christians. This led led to internal strife within the kingdom that was further exemplified when Boabdil was captured in 1483 in Lucena by the Christians.

This capture meant that the Christians could use Boabdil as leverage when dealing with the dynastic power struggle occurring in Grenada

Ferdinand decided to use Boabdil as a pseudo-Christian ally in the war by sending Boabdil back into Grenada; this meant that he would have to struggle for power not only with his father, but also his uncle, al-Zagal who was also trying to take Grenada under his control. This formed a civil war in Grenada

The final, most important dynastic change would occur in 1485, when Hassan died and Boabdil lost his place of power in Albayzin, leaving al-Zagal as the primary leader of Grenada

This was beneficial for the Christians as they now had a single, centralized enemy and still had Boabdil (who had to flee to the Christians for protection) as a pawn to cause trouble in Grenada with al-Zagal

Territorial War:

The war was territorial in the simplest of ways, in that the Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile had unified and ruled most of Spain except for Grenada; in order to complete their rule of the country, they needed to take Grenada, which was found in the southernmost part of Spain.

Original issues with taking Grenada were that Naval attacks on Granada were impossible due to its extremely rugged coastline, but the mountains also defended it from the north

It was only possible to try and attempt to take Grenada from a western pass

The territory/geography of the Grenada border would be useful for the Moors in the battle at Zahara as Zahara was on a mountain pass controlling entrance to Granada over the Guadalete river valley and it was very well-positioned and defensible and allowed the Moors to raid well into Spanish territory

Religious War:

The war could even be classified as a strictly religious endeavor as its roots can be simplified as a battle between Islam and Christianity.

The “Reconquista’ of Spain which dated back as far as the 11th century was influential as it provided a constant drive for Isabella to continue on with her journey

Since the last conquest of a Moorish territory (Murcia) in 1265 by James I of Aragon, there had not been another attempt to rekindle the Reconquista until Ferdinand and Isabella in the late 15th century

This extreme lack of progression stemmed from the lack of unity in Spain as well as the structure of the war itself

For the next 200 or so years in Spain, there was no unity as a result of the Catholic faith in the country, most city-states turned to primitive democracies

These strains were even further exemplified when Peter III of Aragon created more constraints between Aragon and Southern Italy

The structure of the reconquista was also lacking organization as most battles were just raids or forays with the ulterior motives of just gathering booty

Isabella and Ferdinand fixed both of these issues through their marriage and rekindling of a Christianity based reconquista

The unification of Aragon and Castile fixed major issues between previously opposing city-states and the upkeep of this unification came directly from the decision of Isabella to once again start up the reconquista

This gave the people a common cause to fight behind which was the idea of spreading Christianity (catholicism) and eliminating the Moors (Muslims) from Spain


Immediate Causes:

One nearly immediate cause of the revival of the reconquista was the breaking of the truce of 1478 as a result of the Moorish invasion of Zahara

The Moors took the Spanish castle of Zahara during the night of December 26, 1481; they used the night and a storm as cover; very few Christians escaped alive

The Moors did this as an act of revenge though, as Border Lord Rodrigo Ponce de Leon, Marquis of Cadiz had recently gone and raided towns all the way along the Grenada border until Ronda

This attack proved to be a great provocation, and factions in favor of war in Grenada used it to rally support for a counter strike, quickly moving to take credit for it, and backed a wider war.

Regardless, attacks from both sides warranted an official response from Isabella and Ferdinand

Isabella and Ferdinand dispatched letters to notables in the kingdom, saying they were going to prosecute the moors, their reasoning being that they were very upset over the Christian deaths that took place at Zahara

Another somewhat immediate cause of the war would be when in 1476 Ali Abul Hassan rebelled against Isabella

Since Grenada had succeeded to the throne of Castile in 1466, they were required to send them annual tribute, but in 1476, Ismail III did not give up its tribute

Instead Ali Abul Hassan said “the mints of Grenada coined no longer gold, but steel” meaning that they were no longer going to be ruled by Castile, but they would rather rebel

This was the initial negative contact between Isabella and Grenada that would lead her to eventually have to take them to war

Long-term Causes:

One long term cause of the war would be the initial reconquista initiated by Ferdinand I (El Magno) in the middle of the 11th century

El Magno started the process of conquering territory in Spain with the intentions of spreading/forcing Christianity throughout the country

These crusades would then start a huge chain of events as his ancestors would follow in his footsteps in attempting to assert Christian dominance in Spain

This goal was completed in 1212 by Pope Innocent III who urged the kingdoms of Spain to all unite under the same cause. They completed this cause under Alphonso VIII and it was the beginning of widespread Christianity in Spain

Had it not been for this historic success, Isabella would not have been able to unite her people as easily under a common cause that would motivate large groups of people

3 (Significant Leaders besides Isabella).


Ferdinand acts as the leading general of the entire reconquista, and he works hand in hand with the logistics expertise of Isabella

It’s important to note that Ferdinand is not relevant as a military leader until after the of Alhama, which is led by Don Rodrigo Ponce de Leon, Marquis of Cadiz, but he does make attempts to get the war efforts started

After Don Rodrigo had driven deep into Grenadan territory in taking Alhama, Ferdinand realized the importance of being able to sustain control of a Moorish territory in the heart of Grenada. Ferdinand knew that the entire forces of Grenada would be sent to drive out the Christians so arriving in a timely manner was essential to keeping a foothold in Moorish lands

To assist, Ferdinand came down and entered the city on May 14th after avoiding confrontation with Abul Hassan (see Abul Hassan section for more information). Due to Don Rodrigo’s beneficial upkeep of his army stationed at Alhama, Ferdinand was then able to use these soldiers to form an army, which he would use on future conquests. He was able to take 4,000 horses and 12,000 infantrymen on July 1st, 1482 to go and attempt to take Loja (this was a massive failure, but still ended up working in the favor of the Christians. See Boabdil section for more information).

So even though as a general at the battle of Loja he was unsuccessful, he also had skills as a strategist and used them effectively after the captured Boabdil

He released Boabdil back to Grenada for the sole purpose of causing disruptions in the internal war efforts of al-Zagal. Ferdinand also worked out favorable terms that resulted in him keeping Boabdil’s child, ensuring that he did not try to betray them.

While earlier, Ferdinand was not successful as a general in battle, he changes his ways in 1485 when he leads the Siege of Malaga. He strategically captured and fortified Marbella and Loja, which were two cities that were near Malaga, which ensured that he if he attempted to siege Malaga, his left flank and back would be covered. After attempting to come to peaceful terms with those inside the city and failing, he asserts his dominance over the inhabitants of the city showing no mercy. These decisions portrayed him as a ruthless, cunning leader who was not to be handled lightly

Overall, Ferdinand was a jack of all trades in the Grenadan war efforts acting as a general, strategist, and negotiator. He played whatever part what necessary to aid in the war efforts. His diverse skillset went hand in hand with the logistics work of Isabella to form a nearly unstoppable duo.


Boabdil’s role in the War of Grenada was originally to stop the progression of the reconquista into Grenada, yet his capture turned him into a pawn who was at the complete disposal of Ferdinand and Isabella

After Boabdil rebelled in the wake of his father’s campaign, he caused internal strife within the Grenadan war efforts

For once in this period of history, most of Spain was united under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella meaning that communications, supply trains, and relief forces were easier to manage than that of the divided Grenada

Boabdil is part of a civil war that is going on between his father and his uncle

This is a disadvantage for the Grenadans as they must use their time and resources fighting each other as well as the Christians

In 1485, the Granadan internal conflict shifted negatively yet again. Boabdil was expelled from the Albayzín, his base of power, by al-Zagal. Al-Zagal also took command of the nation itself, dethroning his aging brother, who died shortly thereafter.

Boabdil was obliged to flee to Ferdinand and Isabella’s protection. In their custody is where Boabdil was used as a weapon against the Moors.

Boabdil was soon released from Christian protection to resume his bid for control of Granada. For the next three years, he would act as one of Ferdinand and Isabella’s vassals.

He offered the promise of limited independence for Grenada and peace with the Christians to the citizenry; from the Catholic Monarchs, he extracted the title of Duke for whatever cities he could control.

This all meant that Boabdil was essentially portraying the agenda of the Christians to all of those in Grenada.


al-Zagal would be the primary military leader of the Moors for the majority of the conflict

He was able to eliminate any threat that his brother may have posed to his own leadership position as well as any threat he could have been to the questions

al-Zagal effectively weakened his military strength by not being able to cooperate with those around him (Boabdil/Abul Hassan) which led him to ultimately lose the war

His most important loss was at the Battle of Malaga in 1487, which came from a combination of issues mentioned earlier.

Firstly, he was too slow to arrive at the city to aid those that were being besieged because of the fact that his army had to keep fighting other enemies from within his own empire

He also was not able to help effectively because a portion of his army had to be left behind to fight of the forces of Boabdil and his army (which was present due to clever strategy by Ferdinand)

al-Zagal would eventually lose the last stronghold he had during the Christian siege of Baza in 1489. At this point Boabdil had already taken the city of Grenada (more information under “Treaty” section) leaving al-Zagal with no real hope to win back the war as he had a depleted supply of soldiers that would not be able to defeat both the Christians and the army of his nephew

He was eventually captured in 1490 and it ended any chance he had at savin Grenada from Christian rule

al-Zagal’s role in the war is to show the complete divide within the Grenadan empire and how that affected the war efforts of all sides



Knights were present in the army of the the Christians as a result of the recruitment from Isabella

While traditionally in the medieval warfare period, knights were heavy cavalry, the knights used in this war were much less armored and quicker on their horses.

They were called jinetes and they were somewhat useful in the Grenada war for the Spanish as they were great in open field battles, but since the Moors were so outnumbered, they generally avoided those types of battles when they could

This all meant that knights played a lesser role in the Grenada war, and other methods of attacking, such as siege warfare weapons, took a more prominent role

Military Service:

Isabella used three different types of recruiting methods to build up the Spanish army and two of those related to gathering troops from the “hermandad” as well as feudal levies.

A feudal levy is a person that is forced by the government to enlist in the military. Isabella was not particularly fond of these required military servicemen though as she knew they were inexperienced and lacked discipline.

In order to combat the lack of talent of the feudal levies, Isabella converted the recently created hermandad into the beginnings of a national army.

Both of these were positive as Isabella was continuously adding to the numerical advantage of the Spanish, while also training future soldiers that could learn from the more experienced hermandad.

It should also be noted that in addition to the required military service,many volunteers came from all around Europe in an attempt to take part in the Christian crusade


The third area of recruitment in which Isabella took part in was the hiring of Swiss mercenaries. These mercenaries were widely regarded as some of the best infantrymen in western Europe.

These mercenaries are said to have set an “…example no doubt contributed to the formation of that invincible Spanish infantry, which, under the Great Captain and his successors, may be said to have decided the fate of Christendom for more than a half a century.”

This shows the impact that the mercenaries had on the overall performance of the Spanish army; it also shows the expertise that Isabella has in properly preparing for a war


While taxes on citizens were obviously needed to fund the war, it was the taxation of the Spanish on one of their territories that was a cause for the war in the first place

The refusal of Grenada to pay Castile their annual tribute tax and rebel was a catalyst for the war to begin with



Isabella was highly skilled in her ability to be able to have a good sense for the proper logistics of the war, and she was able to do exactly that to solve the three main issues she had.

The issues were as follows 1. The reduction of castles 2. The supply of the besieging forces 3. The devastation of the land adjacent to the town or castle attacked

For the first issue she needed an artillery train, so she gathered a large group of Spain gunfounders to build forges, gunpowder, and cannon balls. Don Francisco Ramirez was put in charge of the artillery train.

It took up to 6,000 troops to build and operate one of the artillery bombards and they were generally used in siege warfare.

Isabella would place the causeway in the weakest section of the castle and have her troops operate from there.

The second issue required what is estimated to be 80,000 mules to carry around the supplies.

Coordination and logistics was difficult given the mountainous terrain, but the Christians diligently built a series of roads through the mountains to supply their troops with food and supplies.

The final issue was solved by an amassment of troops called devastators whose sole purpose was to destroy anything that might aid in the war efforts of the Moors.

The logistics of setting up all of these trains was no doubt difficult, yet the unification of the entire military unit aided greatly in the works that Isabella had to do


The most notable tactics of the Granada War from the Spanish was the power of bombards and cannons to greatly shorten the many sieges of the war. Instead of doing the traditional “starve out your enemy” strategy, the Christians would start to fire their artillery at the cities forcing an immediate response.

The Christians started the war with only a few artillery pieces, but Ferdinand had access to French and Burgundian experts from his recent wars, and the Christians aggressively increased their artillery forces in an attempt to further the advantage that they had over the Moors (in terms of artillery).

By 1495, the Spanish owned 179 pieces of artillery in total which completely decimated the Moors when being sieged, which was often since they tried to avoid open field battles.

The only pieces of artillery the Moors had were stolen or recovered from the Christians.

The only actual success (not including the eventual Boabdil betrayal) that the Moors really had with their battle tactics was when they snuck into the fortress at Zahara. Aside from that, the logistical ability of Isabella combined with the overall battle advantages/tactics of Ferdinand proved too much to hand for the Moors.

Organization of the War:

The Spanish strategy had three interconnected parts 1. Establishing naval bases on the southern coast of Grenada 2. On blockading that coastline and cutting it off from contact with Morocco and 3. Meanwhile devastating Grenada itself

Aside from this strategy itself, Ferdinand, as commander-in-chief, partook in the constant battle of taking every city and town he encountered on his way to the city of Grenada

He was able to be so successful because of his enormous advantage in size as well as in artillery power. While some cities such as Benemaquez attempted to revolt after faking a surrender, Ferdinand had no mercy when it came to dishonor and he hung 110 of the residents in that town from the walls.

This organization led to a well balanced attack of siege as well as navy. Both methods of attacking reduce the amount of supplies that the Moors can use/receive, which is consequently made even worse when paired with the fact that they’re already at a shortage in resources since they’re in a civil war as well



Isabella is by far the most important woman in the Grenada War for a variety of reasons.

Isabella was able to provide valid reasoning for entering the war, she’s active in the actual war efforts, can make accurate/ well-advised logistical decisions, and was able to convince the people to stand behind her in the resurgence of the Spanish reconquista

Isabella was the driving force behind the Grenada War, her ancestors were crusaders and she wanted to see the job finished. She was able to convince the people of Spain to go along with her because of her instinctive leadership abilities. She made the war about one common theme (religion) and let the people become passionate about it

Isabella was huge in working the supply side of things, she made sure Alhama was supplied well even after the attack on Loja threatened its position. In doing this Isabella was able to continuously have a foot down in the middle of Moorish territory, which in turn helped out the war efforts of Ferdinand

Isabella left Castile to join Ferdinand in Cordova, arriving there in April of 1482. In doing this she showed everybody how active she was in the actual wartime activities. This then raised the morale of the army as a whole

This is also seen when during the Siege of Baza, she came down to the actual battlefield to raise the morale during the extended siege.

It’s also important to note that Isabella is also the person who kept the reconquista alive after Ferdinand made an attempt to stray away from it

Ferdinand sought funds to go to war, Isabella wanted to put all the money towards Grenada, but Ferdinand pushed for a war with France

Ferdinand heads to France and Isabella heads south, but he turns around and joins Isabella at Cordova on May 29, 1484. He does this mostly to appease Isabella, but in doing it he sets the Spanish army in a good place to win. This is because he made some connections in France that will provide him with a new advantage

They fight for the next year and a half, using large Lombard cannons that they got from French military engineers which were very important in their success. These Lombard cannons along with the previously mentioned plan of Isabella and her artillery train work wonderfully together for sieging castles or cities.

Ferdinand was the battlefield leader, but Isabella was key in keeping forces supplied. Without Isabella’s expertise in logistics or her supply train idea, Ferdinand would have never had access to any of the weapons/supplies that allowed him to be so successful

Isabella was also proactive in building military camp hospitals. In doing this she was able to keep disease and discomfort at low levels for her army, which would obviously lead them to perform more efficiently.

Overall, Isabella is the catalyst for this war and without her vision in all aspects of the war (recruitment, supply, leadership, etc.) it would not have been anywhere near as successful



The war itself started off with a breaking of the 1478 truce between Grenada and the Castilians/Argonians when the attack on Zahara occurred in retaliation for the previous Christian raids

With the truce obviously now broken, Isabella would take advantage and start her own religious crusade against the Moors in Grenada

Towards the end of the war however, Boabdil makes trouble one last time before a treaty can be made between the two sides

Boabdil was unhappy with the benefits of his alliance with Ferdinand and Isabella, possibly because lands that had been promised to him were being administered by Castile.

He broke off his vassalage and rebelled against Isabella and Ferdinand, yet he still held the city of Granada and the Alpujarras Mountains.

Boabdil was aware of the fact that he could not sustain this insubordination for long before he was captured, so he looked elsewhere for help

He received no help and an eight month siege of the city of Grenada started to occur. Once the situation became too out of control, Boabdil finally surrendered and the Treaty of Grenada was signed on November 25, 1491.

The treaty officially ended the war with many of the clauses not being terribly biased against the Moors

The result of this was non-strained relationships between the Moors and Christians for a period of time until the clauses started being completely violated as Ferdinand and Isabella started consolidating and centralizing their power in Spain.

Specifically, it was the arrival of Archbishop Cisneros that started to lead to the discrimination/disrespect towards the Moors again



There were no actual boundary changes as a result of the Spanish victory. The borders of the previous state of Grenada stayed the same, with the only difference being who was now in control which was Ferdinand and Isabella


With the surrender of Boabdil after the siege of Grenada, the Treaty of Grenada then gave Ferdinand and Isabella complete control of the land.

This power was quickly abused however, as the introduction of archbishop Cisneros led to mass conversions, the burning of valuable Arabic manuscripts and other measures detrimental to the Muslims and Jews.


The Jews that had previously lived in Grenada were forced to convert to Christianity or be exiled in 1492, and by 1501, all of Granada’s Muslims were obliged to either convert to Christianity, become slaves, or be exiled; by 1526 this prohibition spread to the rest of Spain. Those who had previously been Jewish/Islam and converted to Christianity came to be accused of being secret Jews/Muslims in private and they were persecuted as such. Spain would go on to take on the role as the national protector of Christianity and Catholicism.

All of this was a complete change from what the articles in the Treaty of Grenada had stated and this then led to many Muslim revolts, which once again caused strained relationships between the Moors and Christians.

Source: Essay UK - http://lecloschateldon.com/essays/history/war-of-grenada-study-guide/

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