The Sultana Series - Learn More

About Moorish Spain

For centuries before the Catholic monarchs conquered Granada and claimed its
beautiful Alhambra, a diverse people ruled Muslim Spain for two and a half centuries.
These are their stories.

Based on two decades of research from Lisa J. Yarde into the Nasrid dynasty,
whose members governed from Granada's Alhambra palace
beginning in 1232 and ending in 1492, this  epic series examines the turbulent
lives and loves of the Moors of Spain.

*Original English, and Spanish and Portuguese translation available

Italian (Winter 2016)  and Dutch (2016) versions will also be available 

The Moors

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.

The Moors 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.

Spurred 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.

Recent research has allowed me to learn ever-increasing details about the lives of the historical figures in the Sultana series. Watch this space, as I will continue to make updates here about the real stories behind the characters’ lives. Major sources of these updates are Fernandez-Puertas’ The Alhambra - Volume I and more recently, Fernandez-Puertas’ article about The Great Sultans and Boloix-Gallardo’s Las sultanas de la Alhambra, all of which I’ve referenced in the books. Where there are differences between the narrative in each novel and the history of the period, I have noted those variations below for anyone looking to distinguish fact from fiction. Otherwise, the details of the novels including dates, events, Christian and Moroccan historical figures, the presence of Christian guards protecting Muslim rulers, former Christian concubines wed to Muslims, the food, drinks, bath and prayer rituals, and births and deaths of major characters derive from primary and secondary sources, as they recorded the turbulent but glorious lives of the Nasrid Dynasty.

About the historical figures in Sultana

I wrote Sultana after many years of research into the lives of the last dynasty to rule the southern half of the country, the Moorish family of Banu’l-Ahmar, alternatively known as the Nasrids in a later period.

The Hud Dynasty

At the dawn of the thirteenth century, others vied for control of Andalusia before the rise of the Nasrids. The Hud family, which originated in northern Spain, controlled the southeastern portion of the country from the 1100’s onward. In AD 1228, an alliance between the Nasrids and the Ashqilula threatened Hud control over the region. With their new allies, the Nasrids encroached on the domain of their enemies and aided the Castilian Kings in wresting control of the last significant Hud stronghold at Ishbiliya or Seville.

The Ashqilula Family

The Ashqilula or Escayola family, as they were called in Spanish sources, formed an alliance with the Nasrids against their mutual enemy, the Hud, but their allegiance lasted nearly thirty years. The two families had intermarried for several generations, beginning with the marriage of Fatima, the daughter of the chieftain Abu’l-Hasan Ali of Ashqilula, who married Yusuf ibn Muhammad, the father of Sultan Muhammad I of the Nasrids. In later years, Muhammad I’s daughter Mumina would wed Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s son Ibrahim and Mumina’s sister would marry another son of Abu’l-Hasan Ali of Ashqilula, Abdallah. When Muhammad I wedded his granddaughter Sultana Fatima to her cousin Prince Abu Said Faraj, orphaned son of the Sultan’s brother Ismail, the Nasrids and Ashqilula warred over the balance of power for the next decade.

Sultan Muhammad I

The first ruler of the Nasrid Dynasty was Muhammad ibn Yusuf ibn Muhammad ibn al-Ahmar and his people hailed him as Muhammad, “victorious through God” (al-Ghalib bi-llah). Sultan Muhammad I was born in Arjuno, part of the Andalusian province of Jaen during the Muslim year 587 AH, equivalent to AD 1191. He was a son of Yusuf ibn Muhammad ibn Nasr ibn al-Ahmar and his wife, Fatima bint Abu’l-Hasan Ali of Ashqilula. Muhammad’s brothers included Ismail, Yusuf, and Faraj.

At the time of Muhammad’s birth, the territory of Islamic Spain encompassed the lower half of the peninsula. A loose confederation of emirates, known as the Tai’fa states, had evolved after the collapse of the Almohade Empire. Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Yusuf of Hud controlled the province of Gharnatah or Granada.

Muhammad became governor of his home region of Arjuno (628 AH or AD 1231). Later, Muhammad revolted against Abu Abdallah Muhammad of Hud and began his quest for political dominance in Andalusia, beginning with his base in Arjuno (27 Ramadan 629 AH or July 16, AD 1232). He extended his influence only as far as Cordoba after its political and spiritual leaders rejected his claim.

Focusing on other areas under Muslim control, Muhammad soon conquered the following principal cities: Guadix (630 AH or AD 1232), Granada (634 AH or AD 1237), Almeria (635 AH or AD 1238), and Malaga (637 AH or AD 1239). With the aid of his allies among the family of Ashqilula, other Islamic leaders in the provinces recognized Muhammad as ruler. As Sultan, Muhammad I maintained his expanding territory by ceding nominal control to Ashqilula governors and members of his own family. He appointed his brother Ismail as the governor of Malaga. Ismail retained that post until his death (655 AH or AD 1257). However, early attacks on Muhammad’s power base eroded his jurisdiction over portions of Andalusia. Christian armies reclaimed the following territories: Murcia (642-643 AH or AD 1243-1244), Arjuno (643 AH or AD 1244), and Jaen (644 AH or AD 1245).

Muhammad I began construction on his palace in Granada, over the foundations of an Islamic fort from the Zirid period in Spain (635 AH or AD 1238). It would become one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the West, the Alhambra or “the red fortress” named for its red, brick walls.

At various periods throughout the majority of his reign, Muhammad I paid tribute to the kings of Castile or Castilla-Leon, who considered the Nasrid kingdom a vassal state (beginning in 645 AH or AD 1246). The estimated tribute was forty thousand dinars or gold coins. Although Muhammad I submitted to the Castilian demand for aid, particularly in the conquest of Muslim Seville (Ramadan 646 AH or December AD 1248), he did not always accept the terms of vassalage. The initial period of vassalage only lasted approximately 20 years. Muhammad I began openly inciting or aiding the Mudejar populations of the Jerez and Murcia regions to revolt against Castile’s rule (beginning 662 AH or AD 1264).

After his brother Ismail’s death, Muhammad I gave dominion over Malaga to Abu Muhammad of Ashqilula, who was likely also his nephew by marriage; despite this possibility, none of the brothers of Muhammad I are noted as having married Ashqilula women nor are any of the sisters of Muhammad I named. Muhammad I raised his orphaned nephews Abu Said Faraj and Muhammad, sons of the former governor Ismail, at the Alhambra. The wife of Muhammad I, Aisha, was a cousin and the daughter of his paternal uncle, Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Nasr. Muhammad I had at least four sons of his own: Nasr, Yusuf, Faraj, and Muhammad. The latter would reign as the Sultan Muhammad II, with his full name as Abu Abdallah Muhammad; he and his brother Faraj were likely the sons of Aisha. Another unnamed partner of Muhammad I became mother to his daughters Mumina, who married Ibrahim ibn Abu’l-Hasan Ali of Ashqilula, and Shams, who married Ibrahim’s brother Abdallah ibn Abu’l-Hasan Ali of Ashqilula.

The first Sultan died after he accidentally fell from his horse while raiding the frontier town of Martos (1 Rajab 671 AH or January 22, AD 1273). Muhammad I was approximately 78 years old at his death.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Muhammad I

In Sultana, Muhammad I is portrayed as having complex relationships with the Ashqilula family from the start when he married his granddaughter Fatima to her cousin Abu Said Faraj. No one knows when the alliance between the Nasrid and Ashqilula families began to unravel or whether the union of Faraj and Fatima was the cause. Also, whether Muhammad I married a woman among the Ashqilula remains uncertain, but if he did, she was not the mother of his heir Muhammad II.

Sultan Muhammad II

The second Nasrid Sultan, Muhammad II was born in the Arjuno region shortly after his father declared his suzerainty (634 AH or AD 1237). He was the son of Sultan Muhammad I and a paternal cousin among the Nasrids named Aisha. The Moorish people called Muhammad II al-Fakih, “the jurist” or “Lawgiver” for his swift justice. During his reign, he added to his father’s work at the Alhambra. Feuds with the Castilians, the Marinid rulers of Morocco, and an enduring civil war with the Ashqilula plagued his reign. His young 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 (664 AH or AD 1265). In his youth, among Muhammad II’s studies, included works in astronomy, philosophy, writing, and poetry.

Muhammad II accomplished the overthrow and exile of the Ashqilula. Under pressure from the Sultan and his allies, the majority of the Ashqilula clan fled to Morocco (678 AH or AD 1279). The date is not fixed; some historical records indicate the exile occurred ten years later. The earlier date seems correct, given that the Ashqilula fought on the losing side with the Castilians against the Nasrids in two subsequent battles (11 Muharram 679 AH or May 12, AD 1280 and 2 Muharram 680 AH or April 22, AD 1281). It seems unlikely that the Nasrids would have tolerated their presence in Spain after these defeats. Muhammad II claimed the city of Malaga and installed his cousin and son-in-law, Abu Said Faraj as the new governor (677 AH or AD 1278).

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 708 AH or AD 1308). Muhammad II and Shams al-Duha also had two sons, Faraj and Nasr, the latter of whom would also gain the throne in future years.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Muhammad II

In Sultana, Muhammad II has a fractured relationship with Fatima’s mother Aisha, a woman of the Ashqilula clan, while the historical figure married his paternal cousin Nuzha. His marriage to a Moroccan princess comes from earlier sources, but recent history does not record this union. The Christian mother of Muhammad II’s later children bore the name Shams al-Duha, not Nur al-Sabah as in the novel. I chose the name Shams ed-Duna for the Moroccan second wife of Muhammad II, so it was an interesting twist to learn of Muhammad II’s true companion as having had a similar name. As with many personal relationships in history, it’s difficult to know whether Muhammad II valued his interactions with Fatima, but at least he certainly saw to her education, which was on par with the tutelage her brothers received. Rather than marrying the fictionalized Muna, one of Fatima’s sisters to the ruler of Algeria, Muhammad II wed an unnamed daughter to the Marinid ruler Sultan Abu’l-Rabi Sulayman ibn Yusuf. Another daughter, named Shams, married Abdul-Hajjaj ibn Nasr; by the name alone, I suspect this was a cousin, but he has no line of descent in the family tree.

Prince Abu Said Faraj

Faraj was the son of the governor of Malaga, named Ismail, a brother to Sultan. The exact date of Faraj’s birth remains uncertain, but it occurred at some point in 646 AH or AD 1248. When Faraj’s father died when the boy was just nine years old in 655 AH or AD 1257, Sultan Muhammad I raised him, alongside Faraj’s brother Muhammad and presumably an unnamed sister. 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-Juyush Nasr and cousin to his own wife, Fatima. The governorship of Malaga came under the control of Abu Muhammad of the Ashqilula clan, named as a nephew of Muhammad I. Since none of the details about Muhammad I’s sisters are certain, no one knows the exact nature of Abu Muhammad’s relationship to the Sultan and Faraj’s family.

Faraj apparently enjoyed a strong and loyal relationship with his cousin Muhammad II, enough to wed the man’s daughter Fatima in 664 AH or AD 1265 when Faraj would have been eighteen years old. His bride might have six or ten years younger at the time of their marriage. When Muhammad II ascended the throne, Faraj became an advisor to Muhammad II, although I can’t find any reference to him having served among the Diwan-al-Insha, the Sultan’s chancery. After the defeat and banishment of the Ashqilula, Faraj became the governor of his birthplace at Malaga, where he retired with his wife Fatima and their young son Ismail.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Abu Said Faraj

I don’t know how Faraj’s father died in 655 AH or AD 1257. Whether Faraj was the son of an Ashqilula woman as in Sultana is unclear; only his father’s identity is certain. I have dramatized Faraj’s relationship with his younger brother Muhammad, but no sources speak about their association. What Faraj may have thought of his union with his young cousin Fatima is speculation, but he must have been aware of the consequences, or perhaps seen the union as some advantage to him, especially with his cousin Muhammad II as the future heir of Granada. It’s impossible to known when Faraj consummated his union with Fatima; she could have been as old as twelve or as young as eight when he married her at the age of eighteen. Their first son Ismail did not appear until 677 AH or AD 1279. At least three daughters but mentioned, but again, the determination of their dates of birth does not exist to allow for any assumption about the order of the children’s birth. Since most of the Ashqilula fade from history with their defeat during the reign of Muhammad II, Faraj’s interactions with any of them, including Abu Muhammad of Malaga, remain unknown.

Sultana Fatima

Fatima, the daughter of Sultan Muhammad II and his paternal cousin Nuzha, was a remarkable historical figure, so it seemed only right for her to serve as the heroine of Sultana. I don’t know her date of birth; the most common speculation makes her between eight and twelve when she married in 664 AH or AD 1265 by the dictate of her grandfather Sultan Muhammad I; if so she was born as early as 656 AH or AD 1257 or in 652 AH or AD 1253. I have even seen recent sources placing her birth in 659 AH, corresponding to AD 1260 or 1261. No matter the date, she was a child bride by modern standards when she married. Islamic law allowed such unions, as it also permitted weddings between close family members. Fatima’s father Muhammad II was the paternal first cousin of her husband Faraj. Fatima’s youth at the time of her marriage is also hinted by the fact that her first known child, Ismail, was not born until 677 AH or AD 1279.

All the primary and secondary sources describe Fatima as a cultured princess. She studied barnamaj, a repertory of the names of teachers and disciples devoted to religious matters. As I have come to a better understanding of Islam in the Moorish period, I wonder if this study shows evidence of Fatima’s interest in Sufism, which involves masters and disciples in the mysticism of Islam. Her awareness gives an indication of Fatima’s educational upbringing, likely on par with that of her brothers the royal princes. She had one full blood brother from her mother Nuzha, named Muhammad, and two brothers of the half-blood, born of a Christian concubine, Nasr and Faraj, as well as sisters Aisha, Shams, Mumina, and another who remains unnamed.
About the historical figures in Sultana's Legacy

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 Banu’l-Ahmar, alternatively known as the Nasrids in a later period.

Sultan Muhammad II

The second Nasrid Sultan, Muhammad II was born in the Arjuno region shortly after his father declared his suzerainty in 634 AH or AD 1237. 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 the Alhambra. 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 (664 AH or AD 1265). 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-Jayyab, who served the Sultans Muhammad II, Muhammad III, Ismail I, Muhammad IV and Yusuf I, until his death in 738 AH or AD 1349. 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 ofSultana. 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 708 AH or AD 1308). 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 2 Sha`ban 701 AH or April 8, AD 1302, 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.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of 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 655 AH or AD 1257; a recent source gives his exact date of birth as the third day of Sha’ban in 655 AH, which corresponds to August 15, AD 1257. 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 Nasrids 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-Juyush 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 the Alhambra’s Alcazaba are from period sources.

While he built up portions of the Alhambra, including the Palacio del Partal 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 1 Shawwal 708 AH or March 14, AD 1309 and Sultan Muhammad III went into exile, forced from his throne to the city of Almunecar. He died in 709 AH or AD 1310, 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. No record survives of any possible children. Historians accuse his successor Abu’l-Juyush Nasr I, of ordering the death of Sultan Muhammad III.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of 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. 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 Granadine 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, Fatima and Nasr.

Sultan Abu’l-Juyush Nasr I

Abu’l-Juyush Nasr who reigned as Nasr I, the fourth Nasrid Sultan, was the younger brother of Muhammad III. Sultan Abu’l-Juyush Nasr I was born 24 Ramadan 686 AH or November 2, AD 1287, the child of a union between Muhammad II and a Christian concubine named Shams al-Duha. Nasr 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. Nasr I continued the policy begun by his grandfather Muhammad I and paid tribute to the kingdom of Castile. Yet, during his reign, the Nasrids 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 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. In 711 AH or AD 1311, the two finally signed a truce. 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. Abu l-Walid Ismail deposed Sultan Abu’l-Juyush Nasr I a year later.

Nasr withdrew to Guadix where he later supported the army of Castile against his nephew Ismail at the Battle of la Vega on 7 Jumada al-Ula 719 AH June 26, AD 1319. Nasr suffered a stroke and died 6 Dhu al-Qa`da 722 AH or November 16, AD 1322. The 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.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Nasr I

Nasr’s mother was not named Nur-al-Sabah as in Sultana’s Legacy, 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 speculated 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-Juyush Nasr I, reigned as the fifth Nasrid Sultan. He was born in 677 AH or AD 1279. On his father’s side, he was a cousin of Sultan Muhammad II and second cousin of Sultans Muhammad III and Abu’l-Juyush 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-Juyush Nasr I.

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 until his surrender on 21 Shawwal 713 AH or February 8, AD 1314. In the Battle of la Vega on 7 Jumada al-Ula 719 AH or June 26, AD 1319, Sultan Ismail I defeated King Alfonso XI of Castile. His troops killed the regents, Alfonso’s uncle Prince Juan (the murderer of Doñ 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.

He added significantly to the Alhambra complex and the palace of Generalife. After the Battle of la Vega, he built the 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. Alwa was the mother of Ismail’s sons Muhammad and Faraj, Qamar gave birth to the younger Ismail, and Bahar was the mother of Yusuf. Ismail died on 24 Rajab 725 AH or July 6, AD 1325, a victim of assassination. 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. 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 Muhammad who was born in 715 AH or AD 1316 reigned as Muhammad IV and succeeded his father as the sixth Nasrid Sultan.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Ismail 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 whether he informed his mother of the plan to usurp the throne of Granada. Ismail did not marry a woman of Crevillente 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-Juyush Nasr and cousin to his own wife, Fatima.

When the Nasrids defeated the Ashqilula, 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-Atsha, 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 Gibralfaro, then in the castle of Cartama. After Ismail I took the throne from his maternal uncle Nasr, he had Faraj transferred to the fortress at Salobrena, where he lived out the intervening years until his death in 720 AH or AD 1320 at the age of 74. Ismail had Faraj’s body removed from Salobrena and re-interred in the royal pantheon of the 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.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of 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.

Sultana Fatima

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 study that extended to her role as 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 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. However, 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. 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. She did not overtly wield power, but another tragedy indicates the extent of her influence at court. When assassins murdered her grandson Muhammad IV’s prime minister, Ibn al-Mahruq in 729 AH or AD 1328, he died in her suite of rooms after delivering his usual report to her on the affairs of the Sultanate.

Her legacy of wisdom flourished with the ascension of her grandsons, the Sultans Muhammad IV and Yusuf I. Eight years later, Ismail's son Muhammad IV also died by violence, murdered with a lance when he was only eighteen. His brutal assassination occurred in 733 AH or AD 1333, in his eighth year as ruler of Granada. 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. She died at Granada during Yusuf’s twenty-one-year reign, a period of intellectual and architectural brilliance, which sustained itself through the reign of Yusuf’s eldest son Muhammad V.

Fatima’s descendants continued to rule Granada for more than one hundred and fifty years after her demise. The last Sultan of Granada, Muhammad XII, surrendered to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in Rabi al-Awwal 897 AH or January AD 1492, ending seven hundred years of Muslim rule in Spain.

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.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Fatima

I don’t know how Fatima viewed the murder of her father Muhammad II and her personals relationship with her brothers Muhammad III and Abu’l-Juyush Nasr, or how she interpreted her husband Faraj’s endearing loyalty to Muhammad III and her Ismail’s coup against Abu’l-Juyush Nasr. The losses of each man must have affected her in some manner lost to history.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Fatima

Fatima was a daughter of two cousins within the Nasrid family, the future Muhammad II and Nuzha, not the daughter of an Ashqilula woman named Aisha as in Sultana. To my knowledge, the wedding with Faraj did not provoke an immediate hostile response from the Ashqilula, resulting in Fatima’s kidnapping or the death of her mother. Her relationship with her father is speculation, but he ensured her upbringing and education. How she might have viewed her husband Faraj and the relationship they had during the civil war with the Ashqilula remains uncertain, as is her interaction with her full-blood brother Muhammad.

About the historical figures in Sultana: Two Sisters

When I first wrote about the Nasrid Dynasty, I had not planned further books beyond the stories told in Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy. As I delved into the history of the protagonists in those two books, the lives of their descendants captured my imagination. For the next novel, I knew the story of the Nasrid Dynasty was not enough. The plight of millions of captives stolen from their homes across the Mediterranean, as represented by the experiences of the slaves Butayna and Maryam, became the subject of Sultana: Two Sisters.

Inspiration for this novel also came from the relationship that Sultan Muhammad V, Yusuf and Butayna’s son, fostered with the Jews. The Jewish community of Granada gave Muhammad V a spectacular gift in the twelve marble lions whose figures now adorn the Patio de Leones in the Alhambra. Each of the lions represented a tribe of Israel and came from the house of a Jewish vizier, Samuel ha-Levi Ben-Yusef ibn Nagrela, who served the 11th century rulers of Granada. Today, the lion figures still surround the same 14th century basin installed during the reign of Muhammad V. While Spanish Christians throughout Castile and Aragon persecuted the Jews, Muhammad V offered the beleaguered Sephardic people Granada as their haven. I wondered whether a personal connection could explain his behavior. My speculation about his having had a mother of hidden Jewish origins is pure conjecture, but not outside the realm of possibility.

The Jews in Spain

The Jews of Sephardic Spain had various names for their language, known today as Ladino; Judezmo, Judyo or Spanyol. Jews inhabited Spain for millennia. They lived varied, but oftentimes marginalized lives in the Christian kingdom as gold and silversmiths, artisans and moneylenders. Islamic rulers considered them like Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists as dhimmis, non-Muslim citizens of Islamic states and as People of the Book, one of the groups who received the word of God.

Still, Jews faced persecution throughout Spain’s Christian and Muslim kingdoms. Jewish people worked in the trades the Catholic and Muslim rulers of Spain permitted them to engage in, such as the work of silver and goldsmiths, and as moneylenders. Others became trusted physicians and court officials. Some even developed deep personal relationships with rulers, such as Rachel Esra, better known as Rahel la Fermosa, who became a king’s mistress until a violent purge brought about her death.

Hebrew calendar dates in this novel approximate the equivalent periods of the Hebrew and Julian calendars. The Hebrew calendar, like the Hijri, is based on lunar sightings.

Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I

Yusuf I entered the world on June 29, AD 1318 or 28 Rabi al-Awwal 718 AH, likely as the second son of Sultan Abu’l-Walid Ismail I, and Ismail’s concubine Bahar. Yusuf’s father died after his cousins murdered him in a dispute over a slave girl when Yusuf was seven years old. His elder brother Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad IV succeeded Ismail. Both boys and their two younger brothers submitted to the tutelage and care of their grandmother the Sultana Fatima; reputedly, the four princes exercised only the power to choose the dishes they ate during meals. Muhammad IV died on August 25, AD 1338 or 7 Safar 739 AH at eighteen, purportedly at the hands of Uthman ibn Abi’l-Ula. As one of many Marinid princes from Morocco living in Muslim Spain and the commander of the Volunteers of the Faith, Uthman had allegedly conspired in the death of Ismail. After Muhammad’s men interred his body at Malaga, Yusuf ascended the throne at the age of fifteen.

Chronicles of the period left a detailed description of Yusuf as ‘dark-skinned and naturally strong’ with ‘large eyes and dark straight hair, a thick beard, a handsome face and a clear voice that was a pleasure to hear.’ Yusuf became an enlightened ruler and a warrior. Chroniclers also claimed he could perceive the future. He had two constant companions, considered alternatively as concubines or wives by historians. The women Butayna and Maryam were the mothers of Yusuf’s three sons and six daughters. Butayna and Maryam existed as slaves in the harem before they became Yusuf’s companions. By all accounts, he favored Maryam and her children more than he did Butayna and hers. He might have considered his second son Ismail as the favorite and a possible heir for a time.

While another son occurs in one primary source, a prince named Ahmad, I have found nothing beyond a poetic reference in AD 1343 to him along with Muhammad and Ismail as the sons of Yusuf. The author of the poem, the chief minister Ibn al-Jayyab incidentally does not mention Yusuf’s third son, Qays, in his verses. All other sources have specified Yusuf as the father of one named son and daughter by Butayna, and two named sons and five daughters by Maryam, without mention of Ahmad as a possible son of either woman. Therefore, I have not included Ahmad in the narrative. If he existed, his mother also remains a mystery. While there are no other named partners indicated for Yusuf, there is a brief mention of another unnamed wife of Yusuf from within his own family, likely a cousin of his as the Nasrids often married their cousins. Perhaps this anonymous woman mothered the equally mysterious Ahmad, but lacking more details, I did not make her a part of this story.

Throughout Yusuf’s life, troubles within his family also plagued him. He jailed his brother Ismail on suspicion of treason. In addition, Yusuf’s brother Faraj died on the orders of either Muhammad IV or Yusuf, but not before Faraj’s son, another Ismail, escaped to live in Morocco. Without further knowledge of Faraj or the circumstances of his death, I chose to exclude him and his son from the narrative as well. Among Yusuf’s named sisters, there were Fatima and Maryam, whom I have omitted to avoid confusion with other important characters. Leila is a fictionalized character. Yusuf’s mother Bahar lived for some years during his reign. A former captive according to one primary source, she converted to Islam and became noted for her piety. Historians like the famous Ibn Battuta who visited Granada during the time of the Black Death, though she was a charitable woman. Apparently, she provided some financial support for Ibn Battuta’s extended stay, for which he was very grateful.

In AD 1340, Yusuf allied with Sultan Abu’l-Hasan Ali of Morocco in armed conflict against Castile and Portugal, which the Muslims lost on October 30, AD 1340 or 8 Jumada al-Ula 741 AH at the Battle of Rio Salado. Abu’l-Hasan Ali suffered great personal tragedies as a result, when his first and favorite wife Fatima, the daughter of the caliph of Tunisia, along with other wives, children, and at least one of his sisters suffered attacks from the soldiers of Castile and Portugal. Many of the women and children in the encampment died. The Christian warriors confiscated gold, silver, and luxurious silk banners, the latter of which still exist in Lisbon’s museums. The surviving captives endured confinement in Seville until AD 1346.

After the battle, Yusuf returned to Granada and the comforts of his home. He made occasional raids through Christian Spain and interfered in the turbulent politics of Morocco. He maintained the rebel princes Abu Salim and Abu’l-Fadl in Andalusia, despite demands for their return from Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s successor, Abu Inan Faris. Yusuf later provided passage for the princes to Sous in southern Morocco, where they fueled rebellion against Abu Inan Faris into the reign of Yusuf’s heir.

The kingdom of Castile considered Yusuf a vassal like many of his ancestors and demanded a yearly payment of between thirty and forty thousand gold coins from him, which Yusuf did not always pay, for example after the defeat at Salado. Still, in a magnanimous gesture, Yusuf allowed the cortege of his lifelong enemy, King Alfonso XI of Castile, to depart from the siege of Gibraltar in March AD 1350 and gave orders that none in his kingdom should attack the king’s men.

Yusuf made additions to the Alhambra, his family’s palace. He enlarged the Comares tower, which served as the throne room of the Sultan, and built the  Bab al-Sharia (incorrectly known today as the Alhambra’s Gate of Justice). He also built a religious school, the Madrasa Yusufiyya in Granada in AD 1349. If you're in Granada and want to see the remnants of the Madrasa Yusufiyya, travel along the Calle Oficio to the Baroque facade of the University of Granada building, right across from the Cathedral. If you reach the entrance of the Alcaiceria or marketplace, you've gone too far. Yusuf's school is on the first floor; you can see a portion of the original flooring as well as a prayer room. Yusuf also worked on the gates, towers, and walls at Malaga, including the citadel at the Gibralfaro. His ministers Ridwan (a Christian convert), Ibn al-Khatib and the elderly public official Ibn Ali ibn al-Jayyab (who served from the time of Yusuf’s paternal great-grandfather Sultan Muhammad II) created literary works and poems, which still decorate the walls of the Alhambra today. Yusuf benefited from the treatment of his personal physician Muhammad al-Shaquri, a wise man despite being nine years younger than the Sultan. Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Qaysi, another doctor from Malaga developed new antidotes for poisons in AD 1352.

Under Yusuf’s regime, the Marinid Volunteers of the Faith, which had controlled parts of Andalusia since the time of Sultan Muhammad I in the 1260’s, began their withdrawal, and later allowed Yusuf’s heir to begin the reclamation of territories at Ronda, Marbella, and Gibraltar. Yusuf was a remarkable man, whose life ended too soon in tragedy. He died at the age of thirty-six on October 19, AD 1354 or 1 Shawwal 755 AH, on the morning of the feast to celebrate the end of fasting during Ramadan. A demented black slave from his stable stabbed him to death with a dagger, as Yusuf made the last prostration in his mosque. Yusuf’s servants carried him into his palace, where he died almost immediately. He was buried the same afternoon in the graveyard next to his father Ismail. After the fall of the Nasrids in AD 1492, Yusuf’s bones along with the relics of his family left the Alhambra forever.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Yusuf I

Yusuf’s personal interactions with his family members, particularly his mother Bahar, his grandmother Fatima, his sisters, wives, and children are uncertain. Speculations about his mother’s fanatical adherence to Islam derives from my belief that sometimes converts are the most devoted to their new religion, even above those born into the faith, and the words of the famed traveler Ibn Battuta who described Yusuf’s mother as being a pious woman. While Yusuf never met Ibn Battuta during his visit to Granada during the plague period, Yusuf’s mother did provide from her personal funds for the traveler’s sojourn in Muslim Spain. Yusuf particularly favored Maryam and her children over Butayna and hers.

Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V

Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V, the eldest son of the then twenty-year-old Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I and the Sultan’s concubine / wife Butayna, was born on January 4, AD 1338 or 11 Jumada al-Thani 738 AH. Muhammad had a younger, full-blood sister, Aisha, and seven siblings of half-blood. He became the eighth ruler of the Nasrid Dynasty, ascending to the throne in October AD 1354 when he was just sixteen upon the violent murder of his father Yusuf. The former Sultan’s ministers proclaimed him the heir; Yusuf never publicly designated one. The minister Ibn al-Khatib composed the oath of loyalty, which the nobility, court dignitaries, Muhammad’s family, and the governors swore on the new Sultan’s ascension. Muhammad assigned his half-siblings and their mother Maryam to a palace within the Alhambra complex. He depended on the Christian convert Ridwan, who became his prime minister as in the days of his father Yusuf.

Learned like his father, Muhammad established treaties and a personal relationship with King Pedro I of Castile, who was four years Muhammad’s senior. He even renewed the tribute his forefathers had paid. Because of their friendship, both rulers had a great deal of influence on the policies and cultural flowering of their two kingdoms. Muhammad retained a corps of two hundred Christian guardsmen, derived from former captives, throughout his lifetime.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Muhammad V

The personal interaction of Yusuf I and Muhammad V, and Muhammad’s ill feelings toward his younger siblings and their mothers for the favoritism Yusuf showed are uncertain. I also don’t know if Muhammad’s Christian mother or the sisters of Yusuf I had the most influence in the future monarch’s upbringing.

Sultana Butayna

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.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Butayna

Like her counterpart Maryam, Butayna could have hailed from any European country when she entered the harem of Yusuf I. I don’t know about her personal interactions with his sisters or his grandmother, the venerated Sultana Fatima, or Yusuf’s mother Bahar. Also uncertain is whether Butayna would not have raised her son by Yusuf without interference. Yusuf also favored Maryam and her children more than he did Butayna, and might have considered Maryam’s eldest son Ismail as his successor rather than Butayna’s son Muhammad.

Sultana Maryam

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.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Maryam

Maryam was a Christian, not a Jewish slave of the harem of Yusuf I. Her origin remains uncertain; she could have come from any European country. Whether infighting between her and Butayna followed a previous generation of clashes in the harem is dramatic speculation I’ve chosen. Maryam also received Yusuf’s attentions more than Butayna did.

Sultana Fatima

Until the near completion of this novel, I had once believed Fatima, the heroine of Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy died in the early years of Yusuf’s rule. It was a pleasurable shock to discover that she lived throughout most of her grandson’s reign, dying on February 26, 1349 at more than ninety years old. Fatima was the matriarch of the Nasrid Dynasty and as one of the sources put it, “Of all the descendants of Muhammad II, Fatima was the most prominent, not only for being the mother of his grandson Sultan Ismail, but also for her unusual participation in Nasrid politics for generations of rulers. It is therefore possible to say that she was one of the most significant women with historical repercussions for the entire dynasty.”

As Yusuf’s grandmother, Fatima not only reared him after the premature death of his father; she tutored and nurtured his love of the arts and sciences. Their bond influenced the course of Yusuf’s life. I do not know the nature of her relationship with her son’s chosen companions Butayna and Maryam, or with Yusuf’s children. The end of her remarkable life inspired Yusuf’s minister Ibn al-Khatib to write 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 the protection of the kings and her life was a reminder of the legacy of the royal family.”

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Fatima

In Sultana: Two Sisters, Fatima is in her late eighties to nineties and has retired from the dominant role in the harem. While that scenario is likely, given the presence of Yusuf’s mother Bahar, I don’t doubt Fatima’s influence would have remained up until her death. I speculate on her death in the Partal houses of the Alhambra, but the place is not recorded, nor is the presence of her relatives.

The Black Death

An epidemic of bubonic plague arrived in the shipping ports of Moorish Spain by late December AD 1347. Rats in European towns and ports, aided by general filth and poor sanitation, advanced the spread of the disease through the fleas gathered on their dying bodies. The rats and fleas encountered people. After a fleabite, lymph nodes developed into painful buboes, which turned the skin black and appeared on the groin, thigh, armpit, or neck of infected person. Within three to five days in which these signs of infection manifested, victims spat blood, had seizures and terrible coughs, or watched their limbs turn black with rot. Eighty percent of them died within a week. The Catholic Church interpreted the spread of plague as a curse from God, spurred by the presence of heretics. Jews suffered particular persecution.

On the eve of this great pestilence, there were 7.5 million persons living in the Iberian Peninsula, throughout the Christian kingdom of Portugal, Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Granada to the south. Beginning in May AD 1348, the Black Death claimed the lives of at least seventy persons per day in the Muslim city of Almeria, until the epidemic died down in February AD 1349. The first death in Malaga, further down the coast, occurred during April AD 1349. A month later, plague began ravaging Granada. It crossed into Spain’s northern territories, reaching Toledo in June AD 1349 and Seville in September AD 1349. It claimed old and young, peasants and kings, Christians, Jews and Muslims. It devastated the population. King Alfonso XI of Castile died from the Black Death on March 22, AD 1350, during the siege of the fortress at Gibraltar. I have no information on how plague affected members of Yusuf’s family personally, but the dynasty’s rulers and their dependents would not have been immune to the effects. Arab doctors in the Middle East advanced the methods discussed for dealing with the plague in the narrative. There is a current theory that the descendants of Europe’s plague survivors have a gene that enables their resistance to virulent diseases like HIV. The Black Death may have claimed thirty to forty percent of the population of Spain before it ran its course in AD 1350. Ibn al-Khatib would later write a treatise on the course of the plague in AD 1374. The plague reoccurred in Spain in later years, most notably in the 16th and 17th centuries.

About the historical figures in Sultana: The Bride Price

The consequences of Butayna and Maryam’s rivalry in Sultana: Two Sisters came to a particularly violent conclusion, affecting both women and their sons, as portrayed in Sultana: The Bride Price. The culmination of two decades of infighting between Butayna and Maryam affected the reign of Sultan Muhammad V, Butayna’s son, along with his relationship with his wife, the daughter of his paternal uncle Ismail, and the sibling rivalry he shared with Maryam’s eldest son Ismail.

Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V

When Sultan Abu Abdallah Muhammad V, the eldest son of the then twenty-year-old Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I and the Sultan’s concubine / wife Butayna, entered the world, his future was uncertain. Muslim inheritance law did not allow the eldest child to presume a lion’s share of the inheritance; Muhammad had two brothers Ismail and Qays of half-blood, who could have likely inherited the throne. From period sources, Muhammad’s father Yusuf I considered his younger son Ismail, born of the concubine Maryam, as a possible successor. If such a move was Yusuf’s intention, the plans never came to fruition due to Yusuf’s violent stabbing perpetrated by a crazed slave. The valued councilors, the Prime Minister Ridwan and the chief secretary of the Diwan al-Insha, Yusuf’s chancery, proclaimed the sixteen-year-old Muhammad V as Sultan on October 19, AD 1354 or 1 Shawwal 755 AH. Upon his investiture, the governors of Moorish Spain had to swear an oath of loyalty to him, which Ibn al-Khatib composed. The members of Muhammad’s family, including his brothers, would have sworn the oath first, followed by the council and other court dignitaries, along with the governors and other nobles. This requirement hints at some of the instability surrounding Muhammad V’s early rule. Ridwan held the reigns of power as head of the chancery and Ibn al-Khatib aided him. Other court ministers included Muhammad al-Shaquri, who had served as Yusuf’s personal doctor and continued to attend the new sovereign. 

In one of his first acts, Muhammad provided a house within the precincts of the Alhambra for his stepmother Maryam and her children, including his younger brothers. The move might or might not have included Maryam’s eldest daughter, already chosen by this time as the wife of her cousin Muhammad the Red, a direct descendant of Yusuf’s venerated grandmother Fatima. Muhammad supposedly provided for the comfort of his relatives, including an arrangement for the release from captivity of his uncle Ismail, who had been imprisoned for several years by Yusuf I on a purported act of treason. In his personal life, Muhammad sought stability by marrying the daughter of his uncle Ismail. She became the mother of Muhammad’s firstborn son Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf, named for his paternal grandfather.   

In his relations outside the kingdom, Muhammad enjoyed a friendship with King Pedro of Castile, who earned the sobriquet the Cruel for ill-treatment of his family of the half-blood. Perhaps these two men understood each other well because they both faced the consequences of interference from siblings with different mothers. Pedro admired Moorish and Jewish influences, and permitted them at his court. He undertook the services of Abraham ben Zarzar, a Jewish doctor who was likely the son of Pharez ben Zarzar. In later years, Muhammad would provide architects whose skill helped in the construction of the Alcazar of Seville, Pedro’s glorious monument. Muhammad also sent Ibn al-Khatib at the head of an embassy to the Marinid Sultan Abu Inan seeking affirmation of peace between Granada and the Moroccans. Apparently, Abu Inan tried to provoke some discord between Muhammad and Pedro, but the efforts never amounted to much by the time of Abu Inan’s death in December AD 1358 corresponding to either Dhu’l-Qada 759 AH or Muharram 760 AH.

Muhammad’s reign became jeopardized within a year. For an unspecified reason, he jailed his younger brothers Ismail and Qays, a move that drew severe retaliation from his enemies at court and within his own family. On August 21, AD 1359, corresponding to the night of 27 - 28 Ramadan 760 AH, one hundred conspirators financed by the wealth of Maryam, scaled the walls of the Alhambra. They freed Ismail and Qays before marching on the summer palace of the Generalife, where Muhammad was with his family as custom dictated during the season. Muhammad suffered many losses that night, including the deaths of Ridwan and his personal doctor Muhammad al-Shaquri. The conspirators imprisoned Ibn al-Khatib, who would later gain his freedom when his sister sent a ransom from their hometown at Loja. Muhammad attempted to reach the Alhambra, but had to flee on horseback. Some sources note a slave girl was in his company, others mention his family. Muhammad arrived at Guadix, a bastion of the Moroccan Volunteers of the Faith, whose commander Yahya had been among those to betray Muhammad. The people of Guadix allowed the dethroned Sultan into the city and pledged fealty to him, but other regions of Moorish Spain would not, including Almeria, and the city of Malaga, governed by Muhammad the Red.

The Marinid Sultan of Morocco Abu Salim offered Muhammad V asylum. At the side of Ibn al-Khatib and with members of his family, Muhammad crossed over to Morocco. He reached Fez and a grand reception awaited him, along with Abu Salim seated on a throne at one end of the room, while its twin awaited Muhammad at the opposite end. Ibn al-Khatib recited poetry and thanked Abu Salim for his favor. There are many variations of when and how Muhammad’s family accompanied him; one set of sources indicated they were with him since his flight from the Alhambra, others posited the family members could not join him until several months later. Despite these varying accounts, it’s clear young Yusuf was with his father in Morocco for some time. Less clear is whether Muhammad’s mother Butayna or Muhammad’s wife were present at different intervals; one of my sources contradicts himself by referring to young Yusuf’s mother as having traveling with him to Morocco at the time of Muhammad’s flight, while the same source provides concrete information about her presence at the Alhambra during the same time. Given the wife's likely whereabouts, I have gone with the theory that Muhammad’s mother, not his wife was present for the early crossing into Morocco, but specifics about Butayna during that period or thereafter remain unknown. Muhammad’s personal guard, all Christian soldiers, migrated with him to Morocco. The fallacy created by revisionists who have thought of the centuries-long conflict between the Moors and Christians of Spain as a religious war is clearly shown as propaganda by the remarkable relationship and loyalty fostered between the Muslim Sultan and his guard of two hundred Christian men.

Muhammad enlisted the aid of Ibn al-Khatib and an Andalusian judge, Al-Sabti, in writing letters to Pedro of Castile, begging for aid in regaining the throne of Granada. Perhaps by his involvement in conflicts with Aragon and through the distraction of his warmongering half-brother Enrique Count of Trastamara, Pedro did not help Muhammad initially, even when letters began arriving at the Castilian court from the esteemed Tunisian scholar and judge, Ibn Khaldun, whom Muhammad had met in his exile. Events in Granada soon allowed Muhammad to return to his beloved homeland. On the morning of August 20, AD 1361 or 17 Shawwal 720 AH, Muhammad parted with his family whom he had commended to Ibn al-Khatib’s care. The Sultan rode to the outskirts of the city in the company of his counterpart Abu Salim, along with Muhammad’s Christian guards and Marinid troops. Afterward, Muhammad went north to Ceuta, arrived in Gibraltar, and traveled to meet Pedro of Castile, who provided a thousand gold coins for Muhammad’s initial expenses. Muhammad received the subjugation of Ronda, then under the control of the betrayer Yahya’s son Uthman. Malaga surrendered at some point in AD 1361 and other provinces soon fell to Muhammad. He seems to have promised Pedro the sovereignty over any city of Moorish Spain, which would accept the rule of Castile, in recompense for Pedro’s aid.

There were some disappointments along the way. On January 15, AD 1362 or 18 Rabi al-Awwal 763 AH, the Battle of Guadix occurred between the knights and infantry of Pedro of Castile and Granadine troops, a conflict Pedro lost. A month later Muhammad seemed firmly resolved to take Granada, a feat he accomplished on March 16, AD 1362 or 20 Jumada al-Ula 763 AH. Thereafter, he set about a massive rebuilding of the Alhambra, tearing down the harem and towers of his father Yusuf I and grandfather Ismail I to replace these features with the Alhambra we see today. The Court of Lions with its miraculous fountain was the centerpiece of his work; water spouted from the mouths of the lions at specific intervals to mark the hours of the day. The lions were purportedly a gift of the Jews of Granada who began to enter the kingdom, fleeing from persecution in Castile, which would only grow under the eventual usurper and successor of Pedro of Castile, his half-brother Enrique. Muhammad welcomed the Jews, but required them to wear the yellow badge on their clothing, bowing to the dictates of his chief judge and Al-Sabti’s successor Al-Nubahi. To celebrate his return, Muhammad also hosted a large feast timed to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad on the night of December 30, AD 1362 or 12 Rabi al-Awwal 764 AH, a period also marked by the arrival of Ibn Khaldun in Granada. Muhammad would soon send Ibn Khaldun on a mission to Pedro of Castile’s court. In July AD 1367, Muhammad also completed Granada’s maristan, a hospital primarily for the mentally disabled. The structure stood by the banks of the Darro River, north of the Alhambra with its centerpiece as a large pool, flanked by two lions and surrounded by the four wings of the hospital. Those two lions are on display in the Alhambra museum today, but the maristan no longer stands.

Ibn al-Khatib described Muhammad in the following way; ‘… a plain man. He rode without ceremony through the streets of Granada and wore elegant but not luxurious clothes. His virtues were appreciated by his subjects, who felt trust and affection for him, and he was respected by the nobility. He kept himself well-informed on the performance of his provincial governors and the needs and preoccupations of the inhabitants, by sending out experienced and reliable men to report back to him on any anomalies. Muhammad V sometimes led his troops when attacking enemy positions.’ This would prove especially true when Muhammad took the side of Pedro in the warfare against Aragon, in attacks against Jaén in 1367, the ancestral homeland of the Nasrids. Muhammad also relied upon the son of his murdered minister Ridwan, called Faraj, who led a brutal attack on Tereul. Muhammad also recaptured Algeciras on July 1, AD 1369, or 23 Dhu’l-Hijja 770 AH and later destroyed its bastions rather than allow the castle to be continually used as a base for the Moroccans or kings of Castile in their raids upon his coastal cities.

Ibn al-Khatib suffered under Muhammad’s later rule. Ibn al-Khatib had always been a jealous man, protective of his relationship with the Nasrid sovereigns; even in his friendship with Ibn Khaldun, Ibn al-Khatib resented Muhammad’s admiration of the Tunisian, which led to Ibn Khaldun’s withdrawal from Moorish Spain and Muhammad’s service within the year after his arrival. Ibn al-Khatib inspired his own enemies; Al-Sabti, Al-Nubahi, and the court minister Ibn Zamrak, who likely coveted Ibn al-Khatib’s position as Prime Minister. Calling him a Sufi heretic, his enemies hounded him out of Granada in AD 1371 or 773 AH. Ibn al-Khatib would die in a Moroccan jail, assassinated by agents from Granada, likely with the knowledge of Muhammad. After Ibn al-Khatib’s murder, Granada's relations with Morocco soured and while the Volunteers of the Faith remained within Granada, nominal control of these Marinid troops fell to Muhammad, then his eldest son Yusuf, followed by Yusuf’s brother Sa’d.

Muhammad had four known sons and one daughter who remains unnamed; Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf, his father's eventual successor, Sa’d, Nasr, and Muhammad, along with their sister who bore the official title Umm al-Fath, which would be used to refer to many of Muhammad’s female descendants. It means 'Mother of Victory'. At the age of fifty-two, Muhammad V died on January 16, AD 1391 or 10 Safar 793 AH. His eldest son came to the throne as Yusuf II, but turmoil swiftly followed and undid the glory of Muhammad’s reign. Yusuf II ordered the deaths of some of his father’s ministers including Ibn Zamrak, as well as the murders of his younger brothers Sa’d and Nasr. Yusuf died within two years of his ascension, supposedly poisoned by a robe sent to him from the Marinid ruler of Morocco. His eldest son Yusuf III should have succeeded him, but a younger son Muhammad VII usurped Yusuf III’s rule for many years. Yusuf III did eventually gain the throne and hold it for his young son Muhammad VIII, but by then a grandson of Muhammad V, the child of his third son Nasr, rose to power as Muhammad IX. The fractured history of Granada from this period onward was the tale of a kingdom in decline, never to know the glory it had last enjoyed under the reign of Muhammad V.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Muhammad V

Muhammad’s personal interactions with courtiers including Ibn al-Khatib are unknown, but I presumed in the narrative that tension between the men had existed for years. The reasons why Muhammad married his young cousin and freed her father Prince Ismail are uncertain, as is the basis for Muhammad’s imprisonment of his brothers Ismail and Qays shortly before the coup of AD 1359. No other named mother of Muhammad’s five children is recorded; indeed, no named mother of his children exists in the sources except for his wife, who was never identified. I also don't know the fate of Muhammad's younger full-blood sister, Aisha. While it's likely any marriage involving her would have been an alliance for political gain, I have no proof it occurred.

Sultan Ismail II

When Muhammad V lost his throne in AD 1359, the usurper who claimed it was Muhammad’s younger brother by ten months, Abu’l-Walid Ismail, who became Ismail II. The favored son of Yusuf I and Maryam, Ismail relied upon his cousin and brother-in-law Muhammad the Red, who governed Malaga. The propaganda Ibn al-Khatib wrote of Ismail left a disfavorable opinion of him throughout history. ‘…fat, effeminate, indolent, and lacking in personal qualities, plaited with silk thread his long hair, which reached down to below his waist.’

Interestingly, the wife of Muhammad V remained behind with her father Ismail when her husband fled the city of Granada. No one knows why, but the conspirators Maryam and Muhammad the Red did show great favor to Prince Ismail, granting him the large house Ibn al-Khatib once owned. When the new Sultan ascended the throne, he also arranged for the official dissolution of his brother’s marriage and in turn, Ismail II wed his sister-in-law. There are no children noted from this short-lived union. Of the marriage, we are dependent on Ibn al-Khatib’s account, ‘Isma'il II had Muhammad V’s marriage with his cousin annulled by means of a divorce, and married the cousin himself. He installed his uncle and father-in-law in what had been the house known as the “casa de los marmoles” of Ibn al-Khatib, in the Alhambra and transferred them there with great pomp in the presence of the new sultan's mother Maryam, and her friends.

The pawn of his mother Maryam and Muhammad the Red who was the real power behind the throne, Ismail II ruled for less than a full twelve months from the time of the coup on August 21, AD 1359 or  27 - 28 Ramadan 760 AH until  July 12, AD 1360 or 26 Sha`ban 761 AH. One of the sources notes the coup that removed Ismail II occurred at least two weeks earlier on June 24, AD 1360 or 8 Sha`ban  761 AH, but I went with the later July date in the narrative. The second Granadine coup in less than twelve months led to the deaths of Ismail II, his brother Qays, and his mother Maryam, at the hands of Muhammad the Red, who claimed the throne as Muhammad VI.

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Ismail II

I don’t know the personal relationship between Ismail II and Muhammad V; the antagonism I've extrapolated is based on reference to Yusuf I’s favoritism of Ismail II. History doesn't record Ismail’s personal feelings and choice to marry his former sister-in-law.

Sultan Muhammad VI

Muhammad the Red descended from Faraj and Fatima; he was their great-grandson through the line of descent from their second son Muhammad to their grandson Ismail, men who ruled as the governors of Malaga as their ancestor Faraj once did. Muhammad the Red married his cousin, the eldest daughter of Yusuf I and Maryam; there was at least one daughter from this union. Spanish sources called Muhammad the Red by the term El Bermejo for his fiery red hair and beard, but also according to Ibn al-Khatib, for his personality. Ibn al-Khatib says of him, ‘Muhammad VI suffered nervous twitches, was of bad character, gross in manners, lacking in oratory and slovenly in his dress. He left his head uncovered and his sleeves turned up, and was furthermore addicted to hashish…. Once, says the chief of police of Granada, I praised the sovereign telling him that his inhabitants had abandoned wine and the capital city was free of all vices. He answered me in public: “And the hashish, what about that?” I told him that I had found no trace of any. He added, “I would that were so! But go to the house of So-and-so and So-and-so ...” and he proceeded to give me the names of persons of high and low rank, together with their genealogies….’

Muhammad VI helped remove his cousin Muhammad V from power and then almost a full year later, usurped the throne from his puppet and cousin / brother in-law Ismail II, whose death he ordered along with the rest of Ismail’s family. Immediately after claiming the throne, Muhammad VI allied himself with the kingdom of Aragon in its conflict with Castile. Then later, Muhammad VI saw some advantage in supporting Castile, if only to keep Muhammad V’s ambitions to return to power at bay. While Pedro of Castile negotiated with Abu Salim to allow the return of Muhammad V, Muhammad VI sent envoys to Fez requesting that the Moroccans keep their guest there. In AD 1362, after the return of Muhammad V, Muhammad VI turned to Castile. Three days before the arrival of Muhammad V in Granada on March 16, AD 1362 or 20 Jumada al-Ula 763 AH, Muhammad VI fled to the court of Pedro of Castile. The Christian king allowed Muhammad VI entry into the city with his entourage, without the promise of safe conduct. Then five and a half weeks later on April 25, AD 1362 or 2 Rajab 763 AH at a banquet, Pedro had Muhammad VI and his men seized. Pedro had Muhammad VI’s body pierced with a lance and the heads of he and his men removed. Muhammad V displayed the grisly trophies atop the walls of the Alhambra.          

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Muhammad VI

Whether Muhammad VI was directly responsible for the death of Maryam or killed his own wife, Maryam's daughter, is pure speculation.

The Wife of Sultan Muhammad V

History does not record the name of the wife of Muhammad V; only her descent from Prince Ismail, a brother of Sultan Yusuf I. No brothers or sisters are recorded for her. The relationship between her uncle and father fractured when Yusuf imprisoned Ismail for some unknown act of treason. Later, when Muhammad V ascended the throne, he released his uncle and married his cousin. What must this marriage have been like? That was the premise for Sultana: The Bride Price; what would this couple have endured in such a marriage, when both had no reason to trust each other based on the history of their fathers? Even if there was no trust in the relationship between Muhammad and his wife, there was duty. She bore him his first son and eventual successor, Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf.

When the coup occurred in AD 1359, for some reason, the wife of Muhammad V stayed behind in Granada with her father. For a significant period, she remained separated from her first spouse, only to marry his brother, the usurper Ismail. Ibn Al-Khatib provides the primary account of the period; was there a reason why Muhammad V’s chronicler chose not to reveal the name of his master’s wife? Ibn al-Khatib would have known it. There is a curious account in another recent source, which indicates that perhaps there was a clandestine love affair between Ismail II and his chosen bride. If this was a fact, it would also have been a great source of shame for Muhammad V. Is that why his wife’s name remains hidden?

Even stranger than the second marriage of this queen were the events that followed. Ismail II lost his throne to Muhammad the Red, his cousin and brother-in-law. Somehow, the queen and her father managed to flee to Morocco, where they reunited with Muhammad V. I can only imagine the tension that reunion must have produced. No further details are recorded of the aftermath, except one; Muhammad’s father-in-law and uncle Prince Ismail became loyal once he and his daughter reached Morocco. The account of Muhammad’s life notes that he had five children; one major source indicates that these are all the children of Muhammad V and his queen. If so, the only child they had before the coup of AD 1359 was Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf; does this mean duty allowed Muhammad V and his queen to put aside their past upon their reunion in Morocco and have more children, the sons Sa’d, Nasr, and Muhammad as well as a daughter?       

Differences between the fictionalized character and historical figure of Muhammad V’s wife

Obviously, there is the difference of the name; I do not know the name of this queen so I called her Jazirah, which means 'the island' - rather appropriate for a character who spends much of the novel making her own way through life. I don’t know whether Ismail’s daughter accompanied her father into exile and if that exile occurred at Salobrena. I also have no knowledge of when her first marriage occurred, but guessed at it reasonably, based on the age of Muhammad’s heir, around two at the time when his father went into exile in Morocco. So the union would have occurred some time between Muhammad’s ascension in AD 1354 and at least nine months before Yusuf’s likely birth in AD 1357, making it a two-year span of AD 1354 to AD 1356 for Muhammad’s marriage to his cousin. Any illicit love affair leading to a marriage behind Ismail II and his sister-in-law is speculation; I have seen no proof of how one of my sources arrived at that conclusion. I also don’t know whether Muhammad’s queen became the mother of his children after Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf, or if some other unnamed or unknown wife or concubine mothered the younger offspring. Also, the fate of the father of Muhammad’s queen, Prince Ismail, remains unknown.

About the historical figures in Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree

     Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree is the penultimate novel of the Sultana series, set in Granada’s beautiful Alhambra Palace during the fifteenth-century reign of the Nasrid Dynasty. In Arabic, the language spoken by Moors throughout Spain, the name of the capital city meant pomegranate and the fruit symbolized Granada. This book chronicles the death throes of Moorish Spain, as likely witnessed by the real-life heroine, Sultana Aisha, a daughter, wife, and mother of Sultans of Granada. Aisha inherited the glorious legacy of her family, but bore its tragedies as well. Concerns about her country’s shrinking frontiers and the plots of the monarchs of Castile and Aragon to annihilate the last Moorish kingdom dominated her life.

From the histories and legends that have sprung up around Aisha, I doubt she would have idly stood by and awaited Granada’s destruction. I wrote Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree as Aisha’s tale, as well as the story of the final generation of Moorish rulers, including Muhammad IX, his chosen successor Muhammad X, and their adversaries, Sultan Saad along with his heir, Abu’l-Hasan Ali. Although each man strove for the throne in violent contests, the blood of their Nasrid ancestors united them to each other and Aisha. She was a daughter of Muhammad IX, cousin to Saad, and the heart’s desire of Muhammad X and Abu’l-Hasan Ali. 

This is also an account of Isabel de Solis; a Castilian girl caught up in the drama of the harem. She surrendered her freedom and religion to the Moors, but gained Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s love. As his Soraya or ‘star’, she became more than a rival to Aisha for their shared husband’s affections. The turbulent reign of Abu’l-Hasan Ali and the opposing interests of his two wives also determined Granada’s fate.

About the Nasrid Dynasty

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.

A Map of Moorish Spain
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The Alhambra
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