Wow. Let me just say this: Spain in the 1400s really sucked. A lot. Unless you were Catholic, I suppose, in which case you got a bunch of free stuff, gold & buildings from all of the Moors, Jews and other miscellaneous heretics who were expelled or, um, expelled with extreme prejudice. In the States, we have a bit of a fascination with our own history (“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” You know the story.)
Anyway, with the stories of discovery of America, we tend to focus on things on our side of the world, and if we’re lucky, occasionally even recognizes the fact that there were folks here before Europeans “found” the place. Everyone knows, of course, that Columbus first found the continent in 1492, and was backed by the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. But there was a lot of other stuff that was happening in Europe at the time, and Spain was ground zero. A war of succession had happened before the two married and joined Aragon & Castile. Crazy divorces & new churches getting started in England. A horribly corrupt papacy by Rodrigo Borgia.
And, of course, the campaign by the Spanish against the Moorish society living in Spain, of which, mostly, Boabdil the Unfortunate was the leader. [That’s a tough name to give a kid. Boabdil would be hard enough, without his parents tacking “the Unfortunate” on there. “Sam the Unfortunate” would have been tough for our kiddo. My favorite monarch name since “Ethelred the Unready.” I bet he got beat up a lot in school.]
Of course, the Spanish won. But told the Moors they could stay. They were busy giving the Jews a choice to either convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. Or torturing other Spaniards to give the dirt on folks who weren’t acting Catholic enough. The confiscated property of the departed Jews is generally considered to have been the funding that allowed Columbus’ voyage. So they mostly moved all the Jews out. Oh, right — then they decided they didn’t actually want Moors, either, so went back on their promises to that population.
I liked this book — it helped me to connect some of the big picture historical events in my mind. Maybe it’s obvious to others, but it wasn’t clear to me that the Spanish Inquisition was contemporaneous with Columbus’ discovery of America, or that it really enabled that discovery. I didn’t like it as much as his previous book, Warriors of God, about Richard the Lionheart & the Third Crusade, but still worth reading.