Last updated Sept. 7, 2020
I wrote Sultana’s Legacy and its prequel, Sultana, after many years of research into the lives of the last dynasty of rulers who held the southern half of Spain, the Moorish family of -Ahmar, alternatively known as the in a later period.
Sultan Muhammad II
The second Nasrid Sultan, Muhammad II was born in the region shortly after his father declared his suzerainty in AD 1237 or 634 AH. His people called him al-Fakih, “the jurist” or “Lawgiver” for his swift justice. During his reign, he added to his father’s work at Alhambra Palace. His first cousin, Abu Said Faraj ibn Ismail, became a trusted and loyal advisor. Abu Said Faraj also married the Sultana Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad II (AD 1265 or 664 AH). Muhammad II created the Diwan al-Insha, his chancery, an institution that lasted almost until the end of the Sultanate. It produced some of the most brilliant thinkers in Moorish Spain’s history, including Ibn Ali ibn al-, who served the Sultans Muhammad II, Muhammad III, Ismail I, Muhammad IV and Yusuf I, until the minister's death from plague in AD 1349 or 748 AH. Ibn al-Hakim and Ibn Safwan were also ministerial members of the council.
Sultan Muhammad II had at least three sons, Faraj, Muhammad, and Nasr. He may have married a princess of the Marinid Dynasty to ensure peace with his erstwhile allies, although there is no mention of this union in recent research. Muhammad II had two known companions in life. His wife Nuzha was a paternal cousin, the daughter of Ahmad, uncle of Muhammad II. Nuzha became the mother of Muhammad II’s children, a boy also named Muhammad who would succeed his father and Fatima, the heroine of Sultana. Muhammad II also had a relationship with a woman named Shams al-Duha, a Christian concubine, who was the mother of his daughters Aisha, Shams, Mumina, and another unnamed daughter who married Sultan Abu’l-Rabi Sulayman ibn Yusuf of the Marinid Dynasty (reigned AD 1308 or 708 AH). Muhammad II and Shams al-Duha also had two sons, Faraj and Nasr, the latter who would also gain the throne in future years.
Sultan Muhammad II died April 8, AD 1302 or 2 Sha`ban 701 , after his son, Abu Abdallah Muhammad allegedly ordered Muhammad II poisoned, on the eve of a new campaign against the Christian kingdom of Castile. His doctor attributed his death to a poisoned cake that his heir sent to his house. Sultan Muhammad II was approximately 68 years old. The account of his death in the narrative is from period sources.
Facts versus fiction about Muhammad II
There is no evidence Muhammad II and Faraj had any disagreement after the Battle of Tarifa. I don’t know whether Faraj was present at the murder of Muhammad II. The speculation about Muhammad III as having poisoned his father came from the doctor of Muhammad II but remains unverified.
Sultan Muhammad III
The third Nasrid Sultan, Muhammad III was born in AD 1257 or 655 AH or; a recent source gives his exact date of birth as August 15, AD 1257 or 3 Sha’ban, 655 . (Newer research indicates a birthdate in AD 1258). During the first few weeks of his reign, Sultan Muhammad III negotiated peace treaties with the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. The first treaty required the to acknowledge their state as a vassal of Castile. Sultan Muhammad III was a detested figure and many of his own supporters eventually began to resent him. His erratically disturbing nature soon destroyed peace with Castile and Aragon.
Sultan Muhammad III inherited the refined tastes and upbringing, shared with his sister Sultana Fatima and their brother Sultan Abu’l- Nasr I. He combined his interests in learning and art with a sarcastic and cruel streak that made him unpopular. The references to his insults of his court poet at his own coronation and his cruelty to the prisoners in Alhambra’s are from period sources.
During the period of August 26 AD 1302 to August 14, 1303, some revolt based at occurred against Muhammad III. His brother-in-law Abu'l-Hajjaj ibn Nasr (for whom it's unclear whether the sultan married his sister or he married the sultan's sister) rose up against him after some quarrel between the men had happened in Granada. The people of betrayed their master and rebelled against him, allowing Muhammad III to put down the rebellion. The governor Abu'l-Hajjaj ibn Nasr came to Granada in chains, where some cousin, also another brother-in-law of the sultan, who shared his name, cut off the rebel's head at the neck.
While he built-up portions of Alhambra Palace, including the Palacio del by day, he devoted his nights to reading and studying. However, his sadistic nature overwhelmed his heritage of learning. The feud with the Marinids that had begun during the reign of his father Muhammad II plagued Sultan Muhammad III. A revolt occurred on March 14, AD 1309 or 1 Shawwal 708 AH. Sultan Muhammad III went into exile, forced from his throne to the city of . He died in AD 1310 or 709 AH, after an abortive attempt to restore him to power failed. He drowned in a pool. Sultan Muhammad III was approximately 54 years old at the time of death.
Newer research indicates a death date of January 21, AD 1314, which corresponds to 3 Shawwal 713 at the age of 56 - I'm not sure why he might have remained alive for so long given the circumstances indicated above. However, that date is on the tombstone of Muhammad III. No record survives of any possible children. Historians accuse his successor Abu’l- Nasr I, of ordering the death of Sultan Muhammad III.
Facts versus fiction about Muhammad III
I speculated about the nature of Muhammad III’s relationship with his father Muhammad II, his full-blood sister Fatima and her husband, their cousin Faraj, as well as Muhammad III’s half-brothers Nasr and Faraj, but the exact nature remains unknown. However, Fatima's husband Faraj did have an evidently good relationship with his brother-in-law; Faraj helped Muhammad III claim Ceuta on the North African coast in AD 1306. Muhammad III’s murder of his vizier Ibn al-Hakim, after the man had spearheaded the government due to Muhammad’s blindness, caused the dissatisfaction of the nobles who rose up against Muhammad III and forced him to abdicate in favor of Nasr, not any known plotting between the younger siblings of Muhammad III; his sister Fatima, and their half-brother Nasr.
Sultan Abu’l- Nasr I
Abu’l- Nasr who reigned as Nasr I, the fourth Nasrid Sultan, was the younger brother of Muhammad III. Sultan Abu’l- Nasr I was born November 2, AD 1287 or 24 Ramadan 686 AH, the child of a union between Muhammad II and a Christian concubine named Shams al-Duha. I had siblings of the half-blood in his predecessor and rival, Sultan Muhammad III as well as Fatima, the heroine of Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy. The full-blood siblings of Nasr I included his brother Faraj and sisters Aisha, Shams, and an unnamed woman who was the wife of Sultan Abu’l-Rabi Sulayman ibn Yusuf of the Marinid Dynasty. I continued the policy begun by his grandfather Muhammad I and paid tribute to the kingdom of Castile. Yet, during his reign, the temporarily lost control of Algeciras and Ronda to the Banu Marin and Gibraltar to the Castilians.
For his losses and troubles, the aristocracy did not support Nasr. They believed he was a secret Christian, raised in his mother’s faith. He preferred the clothing styles of Christians. He employed a prime minister, Ibn al-Hajj, as his vizier whom his detractors believed was a secret Christian, too. Around a year after a coronation, Nasr’s cousin and brother-in-law Abu Said Faraj, the governor of Malaga, rebelled against him, purportedly on January 16, AD 1312 or 17 Ramadan 711 AH; the two finally signed a truce later that year. Abu Said Faraj later disgraced himself in a treasonous alliance with the Banu Marin, an act that resulted in his loss of control over Malaga, which his son, Abu l-Walid Isma’il claimed. On January 13, AD 1314 or 25 Ramadan 713 AH, a revolt occurred against Nasr and his chief minister. Abu l-Walid Ismail deposed Sultan Abu’l- Nasr I and took the throne of Granada on February 14, AD 1314 or 27 Shawwal 713 AH.
Five days later, Nasr withdrew to with his adherents and maintained control over the area, relying on Castile. From there he later supported the army of Castile against his nephew Ismail at the Battle of la Vega on June 26, AD 1319 or 7 Jumada al-Ula 719 AH. Nasr suffered a stroke and died November 16, AD 1322 or 6 Dhu al- 722 . The deposed Sultan was 36 years old. His nephew, Ismail, removed his body to Granada and re-interred him near the site of his grandfather, Sultan Muhammad I’s burial on the Sabika hill. The historical record provides no evidence that Nasr had sons or that any such offspring survived him. With the death of Nasr, the direct male line of the Nasrid Dynasty ended and shifted to the descendants of the Sultana Fatima.
Facts versus fiction I
Nasr’s mother was not named Nur- as in Sultana’s Legacy, but rather Shams al-Duha, and he would have counted his younger brother Faraj as a sibling of full, not half-blood. I speculated that Nasr was blond, but history never provided such details. I don’t know if his mother hailed from Galicia or if he relied on Christian guards as his successors did. History has also never recorded his children, while I have he had daughters.
Sultan Abu’l-Walid Ismail I
Abu’l-Walid Ismail, son of the Sultana Fatima and nephew of both Sultans Muhammad III and Abu’l- Nasr I, reigned as the fifth Nasrid Sultan. He was born in AD 1279 or 677 AH; specifically, March 3 or 17 Shawwal of the respective year, according to new research, and likely within Alhambra Palace as I had speculated in the novel, because of the timing of his father's governorship of Malaga. On his father’s side, he was a cousin of his own grandfather Sultan Muhammad II and second cousin of his uncles Sultans Muhammad III and Abu’l- Nasr I, as well as his own mother Sultana Fatima. On his mother’s side, he was also a grandson of Muhammad II, cousin to his own father, Abu Said Faraj, and nephew of both Sultans Muhammad III and Abu’l- Nasr I. He supposedly had a dark-red beard and he loved hunting.
When Ismail rebelled against Nasr, the citizens of Granada opened the main gate of the city, now the Puerta de Elvira to him. He besieged Nasr on February 8, AD 1314 or 21 Shawwal 713 AH. Ismail entered Granada victorious on February 14, AD 1314 or 27 Shawwal 713 AH. Fourteen days later, he received a public oath of allegiance as the Sultan. In the Battle of la Vega on June 26, AD 1319 or 7 Jumada al-Ula 719 AH, Sultan Ismail I defeated King Alfonso XI of Castile. His troops killed the regents, Alfonso’s uncle Prince Juan (the murderer of Alonso Perez de Guzman’s son at Tarifa) and the King’s cousin, Don Pedro. He also raided along the border of Castile and Granada, taking slaves. On July 17, AD 1324 or 24 Rajab 724 AH, he conquered in perhaps the first documented use of gunpowder by the Nasrid Dynasty.
He added significantly to Alhambra complex and the palace of Generalife. After the Battle of la Vega, he built Alcazar Genil, which functioned as a residence for the elderly women of the Sultan’s household. He also established the royal pantheon around the burial site of his grandfather, Muhammad II, perhaps to establish the legitimacy of his reign, by his descent through the Sultana Fatima.
Sultan Ismail I fathered at least four sons, Abu Abdallah Muhammad, Ismail, Faraj, and Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf. Ismail had three known companions in life, all of whom apparently began as concubines at his side. The Christian slave was the mother of Ismail’s sons Muhammad (born April 14, AD 1315 or 8 Muharram 715 AH) and Faraj, along with two daughters named Fatima and Maryam. The Christian slave Qamar gave birth to the younger Ismail, and the Christian slave Bahar was the mother of Yusuf (born June 29, AD 1318 or 28 Rabi al-Awwal 718 AH). Ismail died on July 6, AD 1325 or 24 Rajab 725 AH, a victim of assassination (although newer research indicates the date of death as two days earlier July 8, AD 1325). Apparently, some separation afflicted his relationship with . She was still alive in AD 1333 when tragedy struck her and Ismail's eldest son.
Ali, Faraj, and Muhammad, the three sons of his first cousin, also named Ismail (only son of the Sultan’s paternal uncle Muhammad, second son of Faraj and Fatima) stabbed him to death over a slave girl taken during a raid on Martos; apparently, the severest wound cut the carotid artery. Servants carried the dying Ismail to his mother Fatima’s chambers. The Sultan perished from his wounds, at 48 years old. His ministers ordered the perpetrators of the vicious attack executed. When Sultan Ismail I died, his eldest son reigned as Muhammad IV and succeeded his father as the sixth Nasrid Sultan, with the high minister Ibn al- appointed in August AD 1325 or Ramadan 725 AH.
Facts versus fiction I
I don’t know if Ismail schemed behind his parents’ backs to take Malaga from his father, or if at least Fatima knew what her son might do. In addition, there can be little but speculation as to whether he informed his mother of the plan to usurp the throne of Granada. Ismail did not marry a woman of and have daughters with her. His three companions had names other than the ones chosen for Sultana’s Legacy.
Prince Abu Said Faraj
On his father’s side, Faraj was a first cousin and son-in-law of Sultan Muhammad II, cousin, and brother-in-law of the Sultans Muhammad III and Abu’l- Nasr and cousin to his own wife, Fatima.
When the defeated the , Faraj became governor of Malaga, which his father had held until his death. He and Fatima lived there for years, during which they had as few as five or as many as seven children, including three unknown daughters, as well as Ismail and their second son, Muhammad. Faraj was devoted to Muhammad II, whom his uncle Muhammad I, raised him alongside. He suggested several reforms and programs that the Sultan’s court issued. His loyalty continued in the reign of Muhammad III.
Faraj changed after his brother-in-law Nasr dethroned Muhammad III. The nobles of Granada approached him and begged him to depose Nasr, who they thought was an inefficient monarch, more interested in science, astrolabes, and astronomical tables, and a secret Christian. When Faraj heard of the capture of Muhammad III, he rebelled against Nasr and attacked him at Al-, in the Vega of Granada. Nasr lost his horse in a quagmire and ran to his capital on foot. Faraj besieged the city for several months until the influence of Fernando IV of Castile persuaded him to seek a truce with Nasr.
Later, Faraj survived an assassination attempt, which many believed Nasr had ordered. In the end, Faraj lost power because of the discovery of a secret pact between Malaga and the Marinid Sultan, which would have allowed Faraj to claim the northern port of Chella in exchange for the wealth of Malaga’s taxes. His son Ismail usurped his father’s rule and assumed the governorship. He kept Faraj under close watch, first at the , then in the castle of . After Ismail I took the throne from his maternal uncle Nasr, he had Faraj transferred to the fortress at , where he lived out the intervening years until his death in 720 AH or AD 1320 at the age of 74 (newer research indicates a death date of April 24, AD 1320 or 4 Rabi al-Awwal 720 AH). Ismail had Faraj’s body removed from and re-interred in the royal pantheon of Alhambra, near the burial site of Muhammad II. When the Nasrid Dynasty ended, the last of the family exhumed the bones of all their ancestors and took them out of Granada, including Faraj’s remains.
Facts versus fiction about Abu Said Faraj
Faraj’s presence or the role he might have played in Alonso Perez de Guzman’s valiant but costly victory at Tarifa is uncertain, as is the relationship Faraj and Fatima had after suspicion about the murder of her father Muhammad II fell upon his son, Muhammad III, whom Faraj remained loyal to up until that man’s death. There is no evidence Muhammad II and Faraj had a change in their long-standing relationship. History will also likely never reveal how Faraj felt about his son Ismail’s betrayal and imprisonment of him, but the theory that he was willing to commit treason and give Malaga’s taxes to the Marinids remains sound, not an invention as Fatima supposes in the narrative.
Fatima, the heroine of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy, lived in a decadent but violent world. She witnessed the reign of the first seven Nasrid Sultans. In her connections to them, she was granddaughter, daughter, sister, mother, and grandmother to some of the dynasty's most cultured and cruel men. I've often wondered, since chroniclers of the period tell us so little of Fatima's life, how she viewed the sudden changes that must have drastically altered the world around her. Fatima was truly a remarkable woman, a survivor. In writing about her, I hope the achievements of her family and her personal experiences will shed light on a lesser-known era in history and literature.
Fatima did her duty as her grandfather Muhammad I commanded and married Faraj for political gain. History does not record anything about their marriage, whether it remained a political match or if they grew to care about each other. It also does not reveal anything of her perspective on the tragedies that embroiled her father, brothers, husband, and son. In writing about her, I have stayed as true to the sources as possible and to an understanding of human nature. Whatever the truth of her feelings, Fatima was a remarkable woman in a fascinating period of Spain’s history. She lived a cultured and refined life in the manner of her father and her brothers. She was well-educated, like her father, and possessed an interest in studying that extended to her role as a tutor of her grandchildren.
Fatima possessed no political power of her own, but the sources indicate she had some interest in the machinations of the court. She would have been familiar with its rituals, if not its administration also. She would have seen the men in her life issue edicts that would direct the course of more than Andalusia's history. She would have been familiar with all the cities in the map above, having made her home in Granada and Malaga. Several of her male relations, including uncles, brothers, and sons, would have governed each of those cities during her lifetime.
Her view of Alhambra Palace would have been different from what visitors see today. Several parts of the complex did not exist while she lived or they were significantly altered after she died. The walls of the fortress would have towered over her as a child. She would have also witnessed the construction of the and Generalife Palace in later years. Apparently, her brother Muhammad III built the section of Alhambra Palace. However, the Patio de los Leones existed only after her death.
Though born to privilege and power, Fatima would have learned all too easily that neither offered protection from tragedy and murder. She would have suffered the knowledge of her grandfather Muhammad I's fatal fall from his horse as a teenager. In her womanhood, the cruel poisoning of her father Muhammad II must have pained her deeply. She could not help but have been affected by the struggles between her brothers, the rulers Muhammad III and Nasr I. Her son Ismail I kept her husband Faraj under guard for the last seven years of his life, and later, Ismail overthrew his uncle Nasr I and claimed the throne for himself.
One can only assume how the turmoil between her husband Faraj and her brother Nasr in the later years must have torn her in two, as did her son Ismail’s cruel actions toward his own father and his maternal uncle, Nasr. Fatima must have been a woman capable of extraordinary love and forgiveness. After what should have been her greatest triumph as the mother of the monarch, Fatima personally witnessed another devastating blow as her son bled to death in her chamber from stab wounds inflicted by three of his cousins. When the kinsmen of Ismail I attacked him, his servants brought him to Fatima’s chamber, rather than his own. This gesture suggested, at least to me, the bond between Fatima and her son. She demonstrated further devotion to her family in the relationships with her grandchildren. She tutored them, especially the boys Muhammad and Yusuf.
Fatima did not overtly wield power, but one incident indicates the extent of her influence at court. Her grandson Muhammad IV’s prime minister, Ibn al- died in her suite of rooms after delivering his usual report to her on the affairs of the Sultanate. His murder occurred on November 6, AD 1328 or 2 Muharram 729 AH, with Fatima's likely involvement as two slaves in her household carried out the killing.
Her legacy of wisdom flourished with the ascension of her grandsons. During the reign of Muhammad IV, he visited Morocco and met with the Marinid Sultan Abu al-Hasan Ali around September 16, AD 1332 or 24 Dhu al- 732 AH, when Muhammad would have seventeen years old. This meeting likely precipitated the joint Nasrid-Marinid conquest of Gibraltar on August 24, AD 1333 or 12 Dhu al- 733 AH; I speculate that Muhammad IV was present or nearby for the victory because of the tragedy that happened a day later.
Eight years after Ismail's death, his eldest son Muhammad IV also died by violence, murdered with a lance when he was only eighteen. His brutal assassination occurred in his eighth year as ruler of Granada, on August 25, AD 1333 or 13 Dhu al- 733 AH near the region of Algeciras. His body went to his grandfather Abu Said Faraj's city of Malaga for burial. Despite this tragic loss, Fatima remained the steadfast matriarch of her family. She must have placed all her hopes for the future on her grandson Yusuf.
Fatima’s descendants continued to rule Granada for more than one hundred and fifty years after her demise. The last Sultan of Granada, Muhammad XI, officially surrendered to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile on January 2, AD 1492 or Rabi al-Awwal 897 , ending seven hundred years of Muslim rule in Spain. Muhammad XI and every Nasrid Sultan who came before him up through to his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Ismail I, were direct relations of Fatima.
The ancient Egyptians thought that speaking the name of the dead made them live again and granted them the honor of being remembered for eternity. I hope interest in Fatima's world will continue through new research into Alhambra Palace's past, the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty, and in the pages of the Sultana series of novels.
Facts versus fiction about Fatima
I've speculated in the novels about how Fatima viewed the murder of her father Muhammad II and her personal relationship with her brothers Muhammad III and Abu’l- Nasr, and how she interpreted her husband Faraj’s endearing loyalty to Muhammad III and her Ismail’s coup against Abu’l- Nasr. The losses of each man must have affected her in some manner, but the truth is lost to history. However, recent scholarship indicates that Fatima, being a full-blood sister of Muhammad III, supported him alongside her husband, and she rejected the claim of Abu’l- Nasr in fully advocating for the reign of her son, Ismail I. It's difficult for me to reconcile this possibility, given her son's imprisonment of his father, Fatima's husband.
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Note: All images are mine or derived from public domain artwork.