For centuries before the Catholic monarchs conquered Granada and claimed its
beautiful Alhambra, a diverse people ruled Muslim Spain. These are their stories.
The Moors were Islamic people of Arabian and Negro descent, who
invaded the Iberian Peninsula, which encompasses modern-day Portugal and Spain,
beginning in the Christian eighth century. They called the conquered land al-jazirat al-Andalus, but in later years, the term referred only
to the south of Spain and became Andalusia in modern times.
penetrated the interior and brought three-fifths of the peninsula under their control.
They gave their unique culture, rich language, and the religion of Islam to a
land that welcomed them at first, for the valuable riches and social order they
brought. Where superstition and ignorance once pervaded all elements of life,
the Moors brought intellectual pursuit and reasoning. Their blood mingled with
that of the Visigoths and produced a mixed race of individuals.
By Islamic law,
Muslim men could marry or have relations with non-Muslim women. Periods of
zealous anti-Christian and anti-Jewish views occurred and resulted in forced
conversion, but mostly, Christians and Jews enjoyed religious tolerance under
Moorish rule. Some families chose to convert willingly, for all the requisite
benefits including as the avoidance of certain taxes and the gains of political
and social advancement, while others practiced their former religion in secret.
on by religious fanaticism, bigotry, and jealousy of the Moorish achievements,
the people of the northern half of the peninsula began the Reconquista, a determined struggle against the Moors. Beginning in
the Christian tenth century, the rebellion spread slowly southward, until only
one Moorish kingdom remained, Granada, nestled within the Sierra Nevada
Mountains. The rulers of Granada were the Nasrid family.
The Nasrid family allegedly arrived in the peninsula during the
early stages of the establishment of Moorish rule. They claimed descent from
Sa’d ibn Ubadah, a chieftain of the Khazraj tribe in Arabia, a contemporary of
the Prophet Muhammad. Ibn Ubadah’s descendants settled in the Arjuno region and
served in the army of the Umayyad Caliphate, distinguishing themselves in their
military leadership as officers and generals.
A Map of Moorish Spain
Major cities of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy
Explore the setting of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy
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
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 the Alhambra, as in the photos above, would have been
different. Several parts of the complex did not exist while she lived or they
were significantly altered after she died. The walls of the Alcazaba would have
towered over her as a child. She would have also witnessed the construction of
the Mexuar and the Generalife in later years. But the Patio de los Leones and
the Partal 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. As a woman, 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
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.
Eight years later, Ismail's son Muhammad IV also died by violence, murdered
with a lance when he was only eighteen. Fatima must have placed all her hopes
for the future on her grandson Yusuf. When I wrote Sultana and Sultana's
Legacy, one of many things I did not know was when Fatima died, but further
research for other books in the series has indicated that her
passing occurred during Yusuf I's reign on February 26, 1349 at dawn. A
prominent minister of Yusuf's court wrote of her, "...She was Fatima,
daughter of Muhammad II. She was the cream of the kingdom, the central pearl of
the dynasty, the pride of the harem women, the height of honor and respect, the
link that gave the people protection of the kings and her life was a reminder
of the legacy of the royal family."
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 the
Alhambra's past, the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty and in the pages
of Sultana and Sultana's Legacy.
Butayna and Maryam inSultana:
Butayna, the Christian mother of Sultan
Muhammad V and the concubine / first wife of Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I, left
no record of her life in the Alhambra. I do not know her original name, the
date or location of her birth, or her age when she bore Yusuf his heir. The
only certainties are her harem name Butayna, which meant ‘one who possesses a
young and tender body,’ her status as a slave in Yusuf’s harem by at least AD
1337 prior to her first pregnancy and her belief in the Christian faith. She
was one of apparently five Christian women who became mothers of the Sultans of
Granada. Chroniclers of the period learned miniscule details of her life
through the deep-seated rivalry she and Maryam shared. Both women sought the
throne of Granada for their sons after Yusuf’s death. Butayna became the mother
of two of Yusuf’s children, including a younger daughter Aisha.
Period sources referred to Butayna as
either a concubine or wife of the ruler Yusuf. As a Christian concubine, she
became the first in his harem to bear him a son. Since history most often
refers to her as a slave, it is unlikely she ever converted to Islam. Muslim
law sanctioned the freedom of all persons who converted. It also recognized the
concept of freedom for the slave mothers of children born to Islamic rulers,
but the practice was not universal. Most of the Christian West relied on
primogeniture (the inheritance by the firstborn). The Muslim West never
followed such strict rules. Sons vied with each other for their inheritances,
even the throne of Granada. Yusuf’s apparently favorable disposition toward
Maryam and her children meant Butayna’s son, even as Yusuf’s firstborn, should
not have expected to inherit the throne automatically.
Life altered forever for Butayna on
October 19, AD 1354, when Yusuf died. Records indicate she was still alive at
this time. Then, Butayna set aside the label of slave forever and became a
queen, the mother of the Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V. Islamic law recognized
the manumission of slaves upon the deaths of their masters. Butayna’s role in
the harem would have changed. She might have influenced her son’s
decision-making and perhaps, the course of Spanish history. I often wonder
whether her gains at Muhammad’s side compensated for the trials she must have endured
as Yusuf’s slave.
Maryam, the concubine / second wife of
Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I, and the mother of two of his sons, Ismail and
Qays, and five of his daughters, Fatima, Mumina, Khadija, Shams and Zaynab,
also left no record of her life. One secondary source indicates the modern day
understanding of her name as Maryam might be an error in transcribing the
original Arabic; instead, the name might have been Rim. Her origins and date of
birth are uncertain. A slave like Butayna, she seems to have enjoyed greater
influence over Yusuf than her rival did. Maryam gave Yusuf his second son, a
boy named for his grandfather Ismail, born on October 2, AD 1338 or 16 Rabi
al-Awwal 739 AH. His elder brother Muhammad preceded him by ten months. It is
highly likely Maryam conceived Ismail within a short span of time around the
birth of Butayna’s first child. Maryam would have enjoyed the same luxuries as
her rival in the Alhambra, including close access to the Sultan. In time, her
eldest daughter married a red-haired cousin, Muhammad, more commonly known in
Castilian Spanish history as El Bermejo. He descended from Yusuf’s
grandmother Sultana Fatima through her second son, also named Muhammad, the
father of Ismail, who became El Bermejo’s father.
When Yusuf died, Maryam and her children lived
under the dominion of Sultan Muhammad V and his mother Butayna would have
controlled Muhammad’s harem. Muhammad gave his stepmother and her family
quarters in another part of the Alhambra complex. What was life like for Maryam
at this time? She went from having influence over one Sultan, her husband, to
likely none with her stepson Muhammad V. A step down, just when her star seemed
to be rising. It is interesting to consider the possibilities and problems
faced by a woman in Maryam’s position. I have portrayed her as greedy and
ambitious, just as the sources indicate, but one detail in my characterization
is different from the historical record. For dramatic purposes, I have
described Maryam as a Jewish woman, but chroniclers of the period indicate she began
life as a Christian like Butayna.
Whatever the truth of their circumstances
may have been, Maryam and Butayna were sisters in faith, through their belief
in the same God, as well as sisters in bondage within the palace of Alhambra.
Each played her part in shaping the future of Muslim Spain. Their compelling
lives were the inspiration for Sultana: Two Sisters and I hope
readers will be fascinated to learn more about them in the next book in the
series, Sultana: The Bride Price.
About the Nasrid Dynasty
A Genealogy Table of Related Characters from Sultana and Sultana's Legacy
A Genealogy Table of Related Characters from Sultana: Two Sisters and Sultana: The Bride Price
Wikipedia Project on the Nasrid Dynasty
For several years, I have helped contribute to the Wikipedia entry on the Nasrid Dynasty, donating the wealth of my research to expanding the available information. When I started researching the Nasrid period in 1995, the sources were deplorable or mired in legends and foolish fancies about Moorish culture and society. After amassing so much detail on the Moorish period in Spain and the last Muslim dynasty to rule a significant portion of the country, I had to pay it forward for future generations to learn more about a fascinating history and people. As much as some ridicule the data compiled on Wikipedia, I'm very proud to have added in any small way to the entries on the Sultans of the Nasrid Dynasty and my contributions will continue.