The Nasrid Dynasty

Paintings Of The 10 Kings, Sala De Los Reyes, Alhambra
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Rumomo

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The Nasrid dynasty was the last Moorish and Muslim dynasty in Spain. The dynasty rose to power after the defeat of the Almohad Caliphate in 1212 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. Twenty-three different emirs ruled Granada from the founding of the dynasty in 1232 by Mohammed I ibn Nasr until January 2, 1492, when Muhammad XII surrendered to the Christian Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile.

Muhammad I (1195 – 1273)

Muhammad I was the first Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1232 and 1273. In 1232 Muhammad ibn al-Ahmar the ruler of Jaen rebelled against the leader of Al-Andalus, Ibn Hud. While he did briefly take control of Córdoba and Seville, he lost both cities to Ibn Hud and was forced to acknowledge Ibn Hud’s suzerainty. In 1236, Muhammad I switched sides and joined forces with the Catholic monarch Fernando III to conquer Cordoba in exchange for the city of Granada. He became a tributary vassal of the Christian king Ferdinand III of Castile and later of Alfonso X.

He installed his capital in Granada from 1237 and lived in the Alcazaba, built by the Zirids in the 11th century. He began extending this and building the Alhambra. He added three new towers to the Alcazaba, which were the Torre Quebrada, Torre del Homenaje and the Torre de la Vela.

He concentrated on protecting his modest territories, which included the cities of Malaga and Almeria. The emirate spanned 240 miles between Tarifa in the west to Almería in the east, and was around 60 to 70 miles wide from the sea to its northern frontiers. In 1248 he helped the Christian kingdom take Seville from the Moors. He died in 1273 after falling off his horse and was succeeded by his son, Muhammad II.

Muhammad II – The Wise (1235 – 1302)

Muhammad II was the second Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1273 and 1302. He was caught between Castile to the north and the Muslim Marinid state to the south. He survived through diplomacy and battle.

Muhammad III (1257 – 1314)

Muhammad III was the third Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1302 and 1309. Succeeded his father possibly after poisoning him. Initial military successes allowed him to control Ceuta in North Africa. This worried Castile, the Marinids, and Aragon who allied against him.

El Palacio Del Partal, Alhambra
El Palacio Del Partal, Alhambra

He was responsible for the construction of the Great Mosque of the Alhambra as well as the Palacio de Partal within the Alhambra. He also oversaw construction of a nearby public bathhouse, the income from which paid for the mosque. He resided in the Alcazaba, while the palaces were being built and was the last Nasrid to do so. From then on, the Alcazaba was only used as a fortress for military purposes. 

Later in his life, he became visually handicapped and his Vizier grew in power. Muhammad was replaced by his half-brother Nasr in 1309 after a palace revolution.

Nasr (1287 – 1322)

Nasr was the fourth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1309 and 1314. Despite gaining peace with Castile, he was deposed in 1314 by Ismail I.

Ismail I (1279 – 1325)

Ismail I was the fifth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1314 and 1325. He was assassinated on 8 July 1325. It is thought that Ismail I built the Mexuar and the Puerta de las Armas. He was the grandson of Sultan Muhammad II, the second Nasrid king.

Torre De La Vela, Alhambra
Torre De La Vela & Puerta de las Armas, Alhambra

Muhammad IV (1315 – 1333 )

Muhammad IV was the sixth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1325  and 1333 and was Ismail I’s son. He succeeded his father at ten years old. Like his father Ismail I, he was assassinated and succeeded by his younger brother.

Yusuf I – He who is aided by God (1318 – 1354)

Yusuf I was the seventh Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1333 and 1354. He established peace with Alfonso XI of Castile for four years and then allied with the Marinid dynasty to attack him. Yusuf I was assassinated whilst praying in a mosque in Granada at the age of thirty-six and was succeed by his son Muhammad V.

Yusuf constructed the Puerta de la Justicia, forming the grand entrance to the Alhambra in 1348. There was a palace by the Great Mosque which Yusuf I destroyed completely. He started some improvements in the Torre de Comares‎, the Patio de los Arrayanes and the El Baño de Comares.

Bano De Comares, Palacio De Comares,Alhambra 5
Bano De Comares, Palacio De Comares, Alhambra

Muhammad V – He who is contented with God (1338 – 1391)

Muhammad V was the eighth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1354 and 1359, temporarily deposed then ruled between 1362 and 1391. He was overthrown in 1359 his half-brother Ismail II and sought protection with the Marinid sultan of Fez. Ismail II himself was was overthrown and murdered within a year by his half brother Muhammad VI in 1360. Muhammad V plotted his return to power for three years. He was assisted by King Peter I of Castile (Pedro el Cruel) who lured Muhammad VI to Seville, and cut his head off. Muhammad VI returned and sat on the throne for another 29 years.

Patio De Los Arrayanes With Torre De Comres Behind, Palcio De Comres 3
Patio De Los Arrayanes With Torre De Comres Behind, Palcio De Comres

Muhammad V is best known for completing the many changes to the royal palace started by his father like the Torre de Comares, the Patio de los Arrayanes and the Comares Baños. He then extended the gallery that would later be called Machuca and constructed the Palacio de los Leones and the Cuarto Dorado.

David Roberts Patio Of The Lions
David Roberts Patio Of The Lions

Ismail II (1338 – 1360)

Ismail II was the ninth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1359 and 1360. He conspired with his mother, his full blood sister and her husband Muhammad VI to take control of the kingdom and depose Muhammad V, who escaped.

The Black Death, which reached Spain in 1348, and together with the internal wars that weakened Christian Castile, there was relative peace between Granada and Castile.

Muhammad VI – Victor by the grace of God or The Red King (1332 – 1362)

Muhammad VI was the tenth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1360 and 1362. After helping his brother in-law Ismail II depose the king he then deposed Ismail II. He was known in Spanish as El Bermejo for his red hair.

Yusuf II (1376–1417) 

Yusuf II was the eleventh Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1391 and 1392. He was the eldest son of Muhammad V.

Muhammad VII (c. 1370–1408)

Muhammad VII was the twelfth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1392 and 1408 and was the was the son of Yusuf II. In 1394, he defeated an invasion by the Order of Alcántara. He signed peace treaties with Aragon and Navarre.

Yusuf III (1376–1417)

Yusuf III was the thirteenth  Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1408 and 1417 and was the was the older brother of Muhammad VII. When his father died Yusuf was imprisoned in Salobreña, as a result of involvement in a conspiracy so did not initially inherit the throne.

Palacio De Yusuf III, Alhambra 5
Palacio De Yusuf III, Alhambra

Yusuf had constructed the northernmost of the Nasrid dynasty palaces on the hill of the Alhambra. Unfortunately the Palacio de Yusuf III was destroyed in the Christian period.

The Nasrid Civil Wars – the Bannigas and Abencerrajes

There was a rivalry between the two rival families, Bannigas and Abencerrajes. They would each support an opposing kings in a series of rebellions.

In 1431, there were several claimants to the throne of Granada.

The Castilian Catholic King John II, would also lend support to different sultans. He supported Muhammad IX in overthrowing Muhammad VIII, he then supported Yusuf IV in overthrowing Muhammad IX.

Muhammad VIII – The Left Handed (1411–1431)

Muhammad VIII was the fourteenth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1417 and 1419, then 1427 to 1429 and was son of Yusuf III. In 1418 he aided the Marinid Sultanate in the Seige of Ceuta, which was held by the Portuguese. He was deposed twice by Muhammed IX, and saw the start of the decline of Granada.

Muhammad IX (1396–1454) 

Muhammad IX was the fifteenth Nasrid Sultan. He held Granada 4 different times over a period of thirty five years.

He was supported by the Abencerrajes family who wished to oppose Muhammad VIII. He held the throne for eight years between 1419 – 1427 before his high taxes caused a rebellion, and his exile to Tunisia and Muhammad VIII’s return to rule. He returned 2 years later and successfully besieged and then executed Muhammad VIII.

He ruled from 1430 – 1431, but after loosing the Battle of Higueruela in 1431, he lost popular support and the aid of the Abencerrajes family, when rebellion broke out he retreated to the city of Malaga.

The usurper Yusuf IV, became the sixteenth Nasrid Sultan in 1432. He was supported by the Abencerrajes family and King Juan II. His sultanate did not last long due to his unpopular treaties with Castile. Muhammad IX returned, acclaimed as liberator and Yusuf IV was executed.

Muhammad IX fought the Christians for seven years before a truce was declared in 1439.

In 1445 Muhammad IX had to fight against his nephew Yusuf V. Muhammad IX abdicated and retreated to Malaga. Yusuf V became the seventeenth Nasrid Sultan when he took over Granada in 1445.

Yusuf V ruled for a year before being replaced by Muhammad X who was the the eighteenth Nasrid Sultan and reigned between 1446–1448. He was dethroned Muhammad IX after a couple of years.

Muhammad IX remained Sultan for the next seven years before dying of natural causes in 1453.

Muhammad XI- The little (1420 – 1455)

Muhammad XI was the nineteenth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1451–1455. He was the son of Muhammed VIII. His ascension to the throne was supported by Muhammad IX. He vigorously attacked the powerful Abencerrages family. He ruled the eastern part of the Nasrid Kingdom with his rival and successor in the west. He was strangled by order of the new sultan Abu Nasr Said.

Abu Nasr Sad –  Zaid Muley (C1450 – 1465)

Sad was the twentieth Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1455– 1462 and again from 1462 to 1464. He rose to power with the aid of the Abencerrages family. He had spent much of his life at the Court of Castile-León, protected by King Enrique IV. Although a promoter of peace he had a number of clashes with Enrique IV, and lost Gibraltar in August  1462.

Earlier in the year in July 1462, the Emir of Granada, Abu Nasr Sad, had opposed the Abenseragi clan and killed members of the clan in the Alhambra, with other family members fleeing to Malaga. In September they proclaimed the new Emir of Yusuf V. In November they had occupied the throne of Granada and Yusuf V was Sultan for a second time. Unfortunately he dies one month later.

In August 1464, Abu Nasr Sad, was removed from the throne by his eldest son and heir, Abul al-Hassan Ali, who was supported by the Abenseragi clan.

Ali Abu’l-Hasan – Muley Hacén (c 1430 – 1485)

Ali Abu’l-Hasan was the twenty-first Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1464–1482 and 1483 – 1485 and was the son of Sa’d. Muley being derived from Arabic Mawlay and meant “My Lord“. In 1462, he defeated the Castilians in the battle of Madrono. In 1477 he refused to pay tribute to the Crown of Castile.

In 1481 Ali Abu’l-Hasan ordered an invasion to the city of Zahara de la Sierra by surprise, killing and enslaving the unarmed Christian Zaharans. This action was taken by Isabella I of Castile as a reason to start the war against Granada War (1482 – 1491). The ten-year war was not a continuous effort but a series of seasonal campaigns launched in spring and broken off in winter.

He fell in love with a Christian slave named Isabel de Solís, she converted to Islam and became his wife Zoraida or Soraya.

Muhammad XII – Boabdil (c. 1460 – 1533)

Muhammad XII Abu Abdallah was the 22nd and last Nasrid Sultan he ruled between 1482–1483 and 1487 – 1492.  

His nickname of ‘el rey chico’ (the small king) did not in fact have anything to do with his stature but referred to the size of his ever-diminishing kingdom.  He was also called el zogoybi, the unfortunate.

In 1482 there was an uprising by the population against the extraordinarily high taxes.

Following this, instigated by his mother, Aixa, a jealous wife, Boabdil rebelled against his father, Muley Hacén, with the aid of the Abencerrajes family seized the Alhambra in 1482 and was recognized as sultan. Muley Hacén was driven from the land and took refuge with his brother in Malaga.

After a failed invasion of Castile he was taken prisoner and Boabdil father retook the throne in 1483 until 1485. His father was deposed his brother, Boabdil’s uncle, Muhammad XIII.

Boabdil gained his freedom and Christian support to recover his throne, if he held Granada as a vassal state to the Catholic monarchs.

Muhammad XIII – The Brave – El Zagal

Muhammad XIII Abu Abdallah was the twenty-third Nasrid Sultan and ruled between 1485 – 1486. He was Muley Hacén’s brother and the governor of Malaga. In 1482 he fought with his older brother against the forces of his nephew, Boabdil. In 1483 when his nephew is captured his brother retook the throne. His brother suffered from epilepsy and possibly went insane, so Muhammad XIII with the assistance of the vizier took the throne in 1485. A year later in 1486 Boabdil had been released and in 1487 El Zagal, retreated from Granada to his lands of Malaga , Almeria and Guadis. By 1490 he had lost his lands to the Castilians and fled to North Africa to raise more troops. In 1491 he was captured by king Fez of Morroco, a friend of Boabdil and blinded, dying three years later.

The Fall of Granada

By the end of 1491, the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella were at the gates of Granada itself. Muhammad XI secretly agreed to hand over the city to the Christians. He reunited with his eldest son Ahmad.

The Fall Of Granada 1492
The Fall Of Granada 1492

On January 2, 1492, as he left the city with his wife Moraima, the rest of his family and retainers, he paused to look back at the Alhambra palace, which his ancestors built two hundred and fifty years before, and the whole of Granada. “Allahu akbar!” he said, “God is most great,” and burst into tears. His mother Aisha chided him: “You do well to weep like a woman, for what you could not defend like a man.” The spot where Muhammad XI took his farewell bears the name “el ultimo sospiro del Moro” which translates as “the last sigh of the Moor.”

Gustave Dore Crusades An Enemy Of The Crusaders
Boabdil – The Moors Last Sigh

The family retired to an estate in the Alpujarras Mountains. Moraima died soon afterward, and was buried in Monjudar. Muhammad XI crossed over to Morocco. He never returned to Spain.

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