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Women of the Romance Countries By John R. Effinger Characters: 31699

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Women among the Moors

The closing years of Gothic rule in Spain, and the various causes which finally led to the Moorish invasion, are somewhat involved in legend and mystery. But in spite of a scepticism which has been openly expressed by some authors, it seems more than probable that the fabled Rodrigo, from his capital at Toledo, actually ruled over Spain in the year 709, and that he was, directly or indirectly, the cause of the invasion of the Moors. According to the commonly accepted story, the moral condition of Spain at the beginning of the eighth century was most deplorable. The Goths had lost that reputation for honesty and chastity which in the earlier days of their power had distinguished them from the Romans. Rodrigo, "the last of the Goths," lived a life of such flagrant profligacy that the coming of the Moors was but just punishment for all his sins. As Miss Yonge has remarked, "the fall of Gothic Spain was one of the disasters that served to justify the saying that all great catastrophes are caused by women." The woman in the present instance was Florinda, often called La Cava, reputed to be the daughter of Count Julian, commander of the south of Spain and in charge of the fortress of Ceuta. Although Rodrigo already possessed a wife, Egilona, who was a brilliant, able, and beautiful woman, he was a man of little moral force and had a roving eye and lusty passions. Seeing Florinda once upon a time, he coveted her, succeeded in winning her affections, and was not content until he had betrayed her confidence and brought dishonor upon her and her father. Count Julian, filled with a righteous anger at this unwarranted act on the part of his liege lord, openly revolted, called in the Moors, and unwittingly opened his country to an invader who would be slow to leave. The story is told in the old ballad, as follows:

"Long had the crimes of Spain cried out to Heaven:

At length the measure of offence was full.

Count Julian called the invader ...

...Mad to wreak

His vengeance for his deeply injured child

On Roderick's head, an evil hour for Spain,

For that unhappy daughter, and himself.

Desperate apostate, on the Moors he called,

And, like a cloud of locusts, whom the wind

Wafts from the plains of wasted Africa,

The Mussulman upon Iberia's shores

Descends. A countless multitude they came:

Syrian, Moor, Saracen, Greek renegade,

Persian, and Copt, and Latin, in one band

Of erring faith conjoined, strong in the youth

And heat of zeal, a dreadful brotherhood."

La Cava, the name by which Florinda has been called ever since by the Spaniards, means "the wicked one," and the general theory has been that, in spite of her betrayed innocence, she has been held in execration for all that followed. Others, however, have pointed out the discrepancy between the generally acknowledged purity of character of Florinda and the meaning of La Cava, and it is their opinion that Count Julian's daughter is merely legendary, and that La Cava refers in some allegorical way to the dissolute and voluptuous life which Rodrigo had been leading and which was in itself a good and sufficient reason for all the misfortunes which were to follow.

While all is not clear as to the reason for the invitation to come to Spain, there is no cause to doubt that it was accepted in a most hearty manner. Modern historians do not hesitate to say that the Catholic churchmen, not realizing the danger, invited the Moslems to aid them in repressing a revolt among the Gothic nobles. However the case may have been, Mousa, the Berber chieftain, sent his bravest sheik, Tarik, with a goodly following, to lead the invasion. The white-turbaned warriors crossed the strait between what had always been called the Pillars of Hercules, and landed upon that great rock which has ever since borne that leader's name, Gebel-al-Tarik-Gibraltar-the "rock of Tarik." Rodrigo, with an army of about eighty thousand men, which he had hastily gathered together, hastened to meet the invaders, and the two armies met on the banks of the Guadelete. Egilona, Roderick's wife, was left with a safe guard in the strongly fortified town of Meriba, while the "last of the Goths," in shining armor and wearing a helmet adorned with horns of gold, such as may be seen upon old Gothic coins, fought vainly against the terrible horsemen of the deserts. La bataille est merveillose e pesant, to quote the words of the Song of Roland, describing that other battle, between the Franks and the Moors, some sixty-five years later in the fatal pass of Roncesvalles; the Goths were overwhelmingly defeated, and Rodrigo disappeared in a most mysterious way, leaving his crown and sceptre upon the river bank. Mousa, with another invading force, had followed close upon the heels of Tarik, and he it was who pushed on to Meriba and laid siege to the town, knowing full well that the queen was within the gates, while Tarik, by a series of easy conquests, made his way to Toledo. When the siege came to a close and the Berbers entered the fortifications, they were amazed at the richness and vast amount of treasure which fell into their hands. The jewel caskets of Egilona in particular excited their wonder and admiration, and so many chains of gold and precious stones did they find among her possessions that she was straightway named "the Mother of Necklaces." When the spoils of battle were divided, the fair captive queen fell to the lot of Mousa's son, Abdul Aziz, who had been made ruler over the newly conquered territory. The young Moorish prince was soon a slave to the charms of Egilona, and so great did his love for her become that he married her, with the promise that he would always regard her as queen and would never marry again; he never broke that promise. Seville was his capital, and there his power was so great that the kalif in Damascus, fearing that he might attempt to rule independently, sent out men to take his life. These assassins found him so beloved by his soldiers that they feared to attack him until they had circulated the rumor that Egilona was about to convert him to the Christian faith and that he would soon wear a crown upon his head, like any Christian king. After this story had been spread abroad, the kalif's men followed Aziz to a small mosque, where he went sometimes to pray, cut off his head, and showed it in the public place, with the order for his death.

The Goths were driven to the north and west of the peninsula, while the Moors, in the rich country to the south and east, strengthened their position and laid the foundations for that empire which was to have such a long and brilliant history, in the middle of the eighth century the kalif at Damascus had lost his power to so great an extent that the seat of government was transferred to Cordova, where Abd-el-Rhaman I. reigned for more than a quarter of a century as the first kalif of the Moslem Church resident in Spain. On the borderland there was continual fighting between the Moors and the Christians, and many are the legends which tell of this spirited epoch. The Christians had rallied about the standards of various leaders in the hill countries, and they fought among themselves quite as much as with the Moslem foe. There are even stories to the effect that Christian leaders made alliances with the Moors for more successful forays upon their Christian neighbors, and there are also legends of shameful peace which was bought at the price of Christian tribute. Among all these tales of tribute, that which has most fired the national spirit and inspired the ballad writers is the story of the tribute of a hundred Christian maidens, which was paid by King Ramiro. The indignation of the people at this unworthy act and the reproaches of the Spanish women, who preferred the hardships of war to this cowardly repose, are well expressed in the following verses from the ballad which sings of the cessation of the tribute, wherein a Spanish damsel addresses the king:

"I know not if I'm bounden to call thee by the name

Of Christian, Don Ramiro, for though thou dost not claim

A heathen realm's allegiance, a heathen sure thou art-

Beneath a Spaniard's mantle thou hid'st a Moorish heart.

"For he who gives the Moslem king a hundred maids of Spain,

Each year when in its season the day comes round again,

If he be not a heathen, he swells the heathen's train:

'Twere better burn a kingdom than suffer such disdain.

"And if 'tis fear of battle that makes ye bow so low,

And suffer such dishonor from God our Savior's foe,

I pray you, sirs, take warning, ye'll have as good a fright

If e'er the Spanish damsels arise themselves to right."

The Moorish conquest had been rapidly made, and generally very little resistance was offered to the advance of the invaders. The emasculating influences of the Roman decadence had been at work to such effect that the sturdy traits of the Goth had disappeared, and there was no real national spirit or energy sufficient for the national defence. To the credit of the Moors, it must be said that their conquest was ever marked by mercy and large-mindedness; and in spite of their absolute power and their intense religious zeal, they permitted the subdued people to enjoy many liberties. Chief among them was their right to worship as Christians, retaining their clergy and their liturgy, which had been compiled by the Spanish bishops Leander and Ildefonso. Christian zeal, however, was not satisfied with a state of inaction. Many times a number of people went to what they considered a glorious martyrdom as the result of their intemperate denunciations of the Koran and the sons of the Prophet. Christianity was allowed to exist without hindrance, but the Moors would not permit criticism of their own faith, and this was natural enough. Several of these Christian martyrs were women, and their stubborn love for their religion cannot but excite our sympathy, however ill advised and unavailing it may have been. The story is told of two poor young girls, Mu?ila and Alodia, the children of a Moslem father and a Christian mother, who had carefully brought them up in her own faith. These maidens became so beautiful that they were called "roses springing from thorns." As the story goes, "their father died and their mother married a less tolerant Moslem, who, finding their faith proof against his threats, brought them before the Kadi. Splendid marriages were offered them if they would quit the Christian faith; but they answered that they knew of no spouse equal to their Lord, no bliss comparable to what He could bestow: and persuasion and torture alike failed with them, until they sealed their confession with their lives." The rage for martyrdom now seemed to grow, and there is a long list of those who went to death as the result of their voluntary acts. Conspicuous here is the case of a wealthy young woman named Columba, who left the Moslem Church, in spite of the entreaties of her family, and entered a convent at Tabanos. By order of the authorities, the other nuns of the establishment were taken to Cordova and locked up, that they might not become violent in their talk and bring destruction upon themselves as the result of their intemperate acts; and Columba was kept in solitary confinement, in the hope that she might be induced to abjure her newly found faith. But she refused to change her belief in any way, and one day escaped, went at once and reviled Mohammed before the kadi, and went to her death, as was inevitable, according to the law of the land.

In the middle of the ninth century, Eulogius, the recently elected Metropolitan Bishop of Toledo, was considered too zealous and too uncompromising in his beliefs, and he was soon summoned before the divan to answer to the charge of participation in the flight and conversion of a Moslem lady, who had taken the name of Leocritia, under which she was canonized at a later date. It was said that the woman had become a Christian through his efforts, and that he had hidden her for a time in the house of his sister. He was decapitated, and his body was thrown into the river; and if the legend be true, a white dove flew over it as it floated down the stream. Leocritia also was put to death. Here, however, the record of these martyrdoms apparently comes to an end, and the force of the folly seems to have spent itself. The Mohammedans were growing more strict all the time in their treatment of the Christians, but the futility of such self-sought martyrdom was finally becoming apparent.

Before the time of these religious disturbances the Moors had not molested the Christians in any way, and the two nations lived side by side in rather friendly intercourse. Intermarriages were not infrequent, and both Moorish and Christian women lived much the same outward life. Each Moor was allowed four wives by law; and while the women of his household were compelled to submit to certain restrictions, their manner of life was far less secluded than that of the average woman of the modern Orient. They went about veiled up to the eyes, and were never allowed to eat with the men; but, socially, men and women mingled together on terms of equality, and their conversations and common enjoyment of music and poetry were unrestricted. In the most brilliant period of the kalifate of Cordova,-between the years 888 and 967,-when the Moors were acknowledged to be the most enlightened people of all Europe, their women were not excluded from participation in educational pursuits. While few if any of them became the intellectual equals of the men, many of them learned enough to become helpful companions for their husbands-and that is not such a bad idea for women's education, even in these modern days, if the voice of the men is to be heard in the land. In Seville a lady named Maryam founded a school for girls, where they were taught science, mathematics, and history, in addition to the various feminine accomplishments of the time. With regard to the mysteries of their attire, this subject can best be treated by a woman who knows whereof she speaks. Miss Yonge, in her interesting book on the Christians and Moors in Spain, has the following to say on the subject: "Their dress was much the same as that of the ladies of North Africa. Full white muslin trousers were tied at the ankle, and a long, full, white gilalah, a mantle of transparent muslin, covered the tighter vest and jacket, both of brilliant colors, over which they wore gold chains, necklaces, and bracelets, with strings of coral, pearl, and amber; while their hair was in little curls, adorned with jewels and flowers. But all this was concealed by the thick, muffling, outer veil; they also had horsehair visards through which they could see without being seen."

With the growth and consolidation of Moslem power in Spain, and as the natural result of the great progress in the mechanic arts of all kinds, life became luxurious and filled with comforts far outside the ken of the sturdy Spanish patriots, who, from their mountain strongholds, were still battling against the rule of the infidel. The effect of all this elegance and refinement was evident in the whole atmosphere of Moorish society, and the beautiful homes of these wonderful people were filled with the most rare and costly works of art. An illustration of how necessary all these luxuries of life finally became to the Mohammedans is found in the statement that the sheik of a tribe on a pilgrimage to Mecca carried with him a whole caravan of dependents and slaves. He had silver ovens in which to bake fresh bread every day, and his camels bore leathern bags filled with snow that he might drink iced sherbet in the midst of the desert. A Moorish general carried to his ca

mp an immense following of women, slaves, musicians, and court poets, and in his pavilioned tent, on the very eve of a battle, there were often feasting and dancing and much merriment, just as if he had been in his sumptuous home at Cordova.

The Moors were generous and public-spirited, and much given to display. The marriage feast which was prepared by Almanzor the Invincible, for his son, in the year 1000, presents a picture of glittering splendor which has been described more than once. Abd-el-Malek was the son's name, and he was being married to his own cousin, one of the most beautiful of the Moorish maidens. The feast took place in the gardens about Almanzor's beautiful country place, Almeria, where at night the whole estate was illuminated by means of lamps which were fastened to every tree and shrub. Musicians, far out upon the lakes, discoursed sweet music from boats which were hung with silken tapestries, and the whole night was given over to pleasures. As a reminder of the customs of the desert tribes, who used to carry off their wives by force, the bride was placed in a spacious pavilion of white silk, where she was carefully guarded by her maids in waiting, each armed with a cunningly wrought wand of ivory and gold. The bridegroom and his attendants came upon them suddenly, however, brandishing gilt maces, and after a mimic struggle, where all was mirth and laughter, the guard of love was overcome and the bride was won. This wedding feast brought joy, not only to those who actively participated in its pleasures, but also to many of the common people; for Almanzor gave dowries to a large number of orphan girls, endowed a large number of schools and colleges, and put new uniforms upon all the members of his bodyguard.

With the death of the great Kalif Al Hakem II.-976-the power of Islam in Spain began slowly to decline. His son and heir, Heschem II., was but a youth of ten, and the Arabs called him Al Mowayed Bi'llah, "the Protected by God." Though the law required that the Ruler of the Faithful should be more than fifteen years old, Heschem was at once proclaimed kalif, although he was given no share in the government. His mother, Sobeyah, the Sultana of Cordova, had acquired some experience in affairs of state during the last few years of her husband's life; now, to help her in her regency, she appointed as her grand vizier Mohammed-ben-Abd-Allah, a man of wonderful power and ability and no other than Almanzor the Invincible, who has already been mentioned. Almanzor had entered the public service as a court scribe, and it was there that, by the charm of his manner and the nobility of his bearing, he first attracted the attention of Sobeyah. The all-powerful sultana was not slow in yielding to his many graces, and he soon became her acknowledged favorite and rose to high positions in the state. It was but natural, then, that Sobeyah should turn to him for aid when her husband's death was announced. On account of the minority of her son, there was an attempt on the part of many in the palace to deprive the sultana of her authority, depose her son, and usurp the office of kalif. Sobeyah, hard pressed and all but defeated, turned to her lover, Almanzor, who suppressed the intrigue and brought order out of confusion. Enjoying as he did the full confidence of the sultana, Almanzor undertook the entire administration of the kingdom as if he had been kalif in name as well as in fact, and his success in all his various undertakings was most wonderful. Heschem, the real kalif, was a virtual prisoner in his harem, and was encouraged by his guardian and friends to devote himself entirely to a religious life, leaving all the cares of state to his mother Sobeyah and to the vizier. Step by step, Almanzor ascended to a position of such power and authority that the sultana became jealous of his might and lost her love in an attempt to regain her authority. In 992, according to Burke, Almanzor used his seal in place of the royal seal on all official documents. In 993 he assumed the royal cognomen of Mowayed. Two years later he arrogated to himself, alone, the title of saíd, and in 996 he ventured a step further and assumed the title of málik karim, or king. Then it was that Sobeyah determined to reassert her power, cause the overthrow of this ambitious favorite, and rule henceforth in her own name. The officers of the harem and the various court officials were easily won over to her party; the young kalif was urged to assert his manhood, declare himself, throw off the influence of his dreaded guardian, and give active support to the cause of his mother. The sultana became exultant as victory seemed assured. Secretly, she summoned one of Almanzor's military rivals from Africa, that she might have a leader for her forces in the field. The public treasury was at her disposal, and no stone was left unturned to secure ultimate success. As the final coup, the vizier was banished from the royal presence and forbidden to enter the palace. But Almanzor was still the Invincible. Giving no heed to the terms of his banishment, he made his way into the presence of the kalif; and there, by bold yet subtle argument, he not only succeeded in regaining the royal favor, but secured from Heschem a solemn instrument signed with the royal sign manual, whereby he was empowered to assume the government of the entire kingdom. This was the same tragic story which was to be acted over again in the early part of the seventeenth century, in France, when the great prime minister, the Cardinal Richelieu, his jealous rival, the queen-mother, and the weak king, Louis XIII., were more than once engaged in a struggle for power, which ended invariably in the success of the minister. It is difficult to find a more striking historical coincidence, and the case is worthy of remark. In his success, Almanzor showed no hate for his one-time protectress, who had so nearly caused his ruin, and in his administration of affairs he left her entire liberty of action. But her last vestige of power had departed, her most loyal followers had been induced to abandon her cause after the defection of the kalif himself, and Sobeyah, who had been the most powerful of all the Moorish sultanas of Cordova, was now forced in humiliation to withdraw from active participation in worldly affairs and to spend the few remaining years of her life in strict seclusion in a lonely cloister.

In the last part of the eleventh century there were troublous times for the Moors. For a number of years there had been no strong central power among them, and the various emirs who were the rulers of the different parts of the peninsula were so intent upon their own affairs, and so consumed by greed and selfishness, that the general cause suffered mightily and the Spanish Christians grew bolder and bolder in their attacks. Alfonso VI. of Castile was their leader. The danger of total extinction finally became so great that the emirs were induced to join forces for their personal safety and to take measures to preserve their own towns and cities. Realizing their helpless condition, they sent a letter to Yousouf-ben-Tashfyn, Prince of the Almoravides, a Mohammadan tribe of Africa, asking him to come with his hosts to help them do battle against the infidel. Certain portions of this invitation reveal so clearly the deplorable conditions of Moorish society at this time that it is well worth while to spend a moment in their perusal:

"We, the Arabs of Andalusia, have not preserved our illustrious tribes: we have dispersed and intermixed them, and have long had no fellowship with our tribes and families who dwell in Africa. Want of union has led to discord, and our natural enemies are prevailing against us. Each day becometh more unbearable the fury of King Alfonso, who like a mad dog enters our lands, takes our castles, makes Moslems captive, and will tread us under foot unless an emir from Africa will arise to defend the oppressed, who behold the ruin of their kindred, their neighbors, and even of their law. They are no more what they once were. Pleasures, amusements, the sweet climate of Andalusia, delicious baths of fragrant waters, fountains and dainty meats, have enervated them so that they dare not face the toils of war. If thou art moved by desire of earthly wealth, here wilt thou find rich carpets, jewels of gold and silver, precious raiment, delicious gardens, and clear springs of flowing water. But if thine heart seeks only to win eternal life in Allah's service, here is the opportunity, for never are wanting bloody battles, skirmishes, and fights. Here has Allah placed a paradise that from the shadow of weapons thou mayest pass to the everlasting shadow where he rewards the deserving."

Moved by such an appeal, Yousouf came with his armies, defeated the Christians under Alfonso at the terrible battle of Zalakah, and would have followed up his victory had he not been recalled to Morocco by the death of his son. He returned to Spain soon after, however, and then began a conquest in his own interests, having made up his mind that the emirs could be easily dispossessed and that it would be good to rule as the absolute master of all Andalusia. Beginning with Granada, he attacked the emirs each in turn, and in the end subdued them all. Aben Abed, the Emir of Seville and one of the most learned men in Spain, was so beside himself at the thought of this possible defeat, that he sought for aid in any quarter and finally entreated the assistance of the redoubtable Alfonso, his late enemy. As proof of his good faith and by way of inducement, Aben Abed decided to offer to Alfonso the hand of his daughter, Zaida, in marriage. If the traditions be correct, Zaida was a Christian at heart, in spite of her Mohammedan education and surroundings, as the Castilians claimed that she had been converted in a dream in which Saint Isidoro had come to her and prevailed upon her to change her faith. In any event, Alfonso seems to have been only too glad to accept this offer, and Zaida was accordingly escorted in great state to Toledo, which had lately been wrested from the Moors; there she was baptized as Maria Isabella, and then married to the king with much ceremony. This Moorish princess was a perfect beauty of the Oriental type, with dark hair and oval face, and Alfonso may well have been enamored of her charms; but he was no less enamored of her marriage portion, which consisted of the rich cities of Cucu?a, Ucles, and Huate. The new queen was hailed with joy by the Christians, as her conversion was considered prophetic of the ultimate and complete success of Alfonso's armies. Unfortunately, Zaida lived for but a short time after her marriage; she died in giving birth to Alfonso's only son, who was named Sancho. Aben Abed's alliance with the Christian monarch for their mutual defence was without final result, however, as he was at last compelled to surrender Seville in 1091, after a stubborn resistance. Aben Abed was exiled, with his wife and daughters, and was sent to the castle of Aginat, in Africa, to live his life away. There, if the reports be true, their food was so scanty that the ladies of the family had to spin to get enough for them all to eat, while the despondent emir tried to beguile the weary hours with poetry. The hardships of their life were so great that finally the emir was left alone in his captivity, and it was four long years before he could follow them in death.

In the latter part of the fourteenth century, the little kingdom of Granada was the most prosperous part of the Moorish territory, and its brilliant life seemed to recall for a moment the splendors of Cordova. Chivalry, driven from southern France by the Albigensian Crusade, had been slowly growing in importance among the Spaniards of the north, and the Moors were not slow in following the courteous spirit and in adopting its code of truth and honor. Mohammed V. controlled the destinies of the Granadine kingdom at this time; and when his son, Aben-Abd-Allah, was married to the daughter of the Emir of Fez, there was a succession of the most splendid fêtes and tournaments, which were attended by knights not only from Christian Spain but also from Italy and France. Chivalry was essentially a Christian institution, but its outer forms were readily taken up by the Moors and practised to such an extent that their influence upon society and social conventions soon began to show itself in a most surprising way. The women of the harems, who in former days were generally considered, after the Eastern fashion, as beings who were not to be mentioned, now occupy a more honorable position, and it is recounted that the men "wore the devices of their lady-loves on the rich housings of their steeds-hearts pierced with arrows, a sail guiding a ship, an initial, and in colors denoting their state of mind: yellow and black for grief, green for hope, blue for jealousy, violet and flame for ardent love. Large assemblies were held in the beautiful houses and gardens, where hunting, poetry, music, and dancing were the chief occupations; but the grave learning and earnestness of Al Hakem's days had passed away, and the enjoyments had become far more sensual and voluptuous than in his time." It is evident that the frugal, stern, uncompromising sons of the Prophet of an earlier day were becoming men of little faith in many particulars, and that they had fallen far below the standard of life which had characterized their ancestors. But in this state of moral degeneracy it is gratifying to note that the position of women has been much improved and that they are no longer regarded as mere slaves. The customs of chivalry, as has been indicated, were responsible for much of this, but the influence of the many Spanish women who were held as captives in the harems must not be overlooked.

The closing years of Moorish dominion in Spain were marked by many adventures of a most romantic character, which have been made familiar to the world at large by Washington Irving. When Aboul Hacem came to the throne in 1466, the Mohammedan power was already tottering; but there were troubles in Castile which emboldened the king to such an extent that, in 1476, when the regular demand for tribute money was presented, he is said to have made answer: "Those who coined gold for you are dead. Nothing is made at Granada for the Christians but sword-blades and lance-points." Although ultimate success for the Moors was now entirely out of the question, their final defence was not what it might have been-a state of affairs which was the result of various contentions that emanated largely from the harem. Conspicuous in these intrigues was Zoraya, "the Morning Star," a renegade Christian who was the favorite wife of the king. Though childless, Zoraya had interested herself in Boabdil, the son of another wife, Ayescha, and had determined to drive Aboul Hacem from his throne, that his son might rule in his place. So formidable did the plot become that the king was forced to imprison Ayescha and Boabdil in a certain quarter of the harem; but their captivity was short, as they were soon put at liberty by friendly hands. Twisting a rope from the veils of the sultana's women in waiting, wife and son let themselves down from a window and sought refuge among their supporters. Countless quarrels followed, which ended in Boabdil's final success, and in them all, Zoraya was his firm friend and adviser. But success at such a time and for such a cause was little more than failure, and the day was soon to come when sultanas and intriguing harem favorites could no longer trouble the land with their contentions; for the power of Isabella the Catholic was soon to be felt, and the doom of the Moor had been sounded.

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