The Catholic Kings’ demand for payment of tribute arrears is rebuffed by Muley Abul Hassan, King of Granada

The flagrant want of faith of Muley Abul Hassan in fulfilling treaty stipulations, passed unresented during the residue of the reign of Henry the Impotent, and the truce was tacitly continued without the enforcement of tribute, during the first three years of the reign of his successors, Ferdinand and Isabella, of glorious and happy memory, who were too much engrossed by civil commotions in their own dominions and by a war of succession waged with them by the king of Portugal, to risk an additional conflict with the Moorish sovereign. When, however, at the expiration of the term of truce, Muley Abul Hassan sought a renewal of it, the pride and piety of the Castilian sovereigns were awakened to the flagrant defalcation of the infidel king, and they felt themselves called upon, by their religious obligations as champions of the faith to make a formal demand for the payment of arrearages.

Province of Granada by Pieter Francis Peters

In the year of grace 1478, therefore, Don Juan de Vera, a zealous and devout knight, full of ardor for the faith and loyalty to the crown was sent as ambassador for the purpose. He was armed at all points, gallantly mounted, and followed by a moderate but well-appointed retinue; in this way he crossed the Moorish frontier, and passed slowly through the country, looking round him with the eyes of a practiced warrior, and carefully noting its military points and capabilities. He saw that the Moor was well prepared for possible hostilities. Every town was strongly fortified. The Vega was studded with towers of refuge for the peasantry, every pass of the mountain had its castle of defense, every lofty height its watchtower. As the Christian cavaliers passed under the walls of the fortresses, lances and scimitars flashed from their battlements, and the Moorish sentinels darted from their dark eyes glances of hatred and defiance. It was evident that a war with this kingdom must be a war of posts, full of doughty peril and valiant enterprise; where every step must be gained by toil and bloodshed, and maintained with the utmost difficulty. The warrior spirit of the cavaliers kindled at the thoughts, and they were impatient for hostilities; “not,” says Antonio Agapida, “from any thirst for rapine and revenge, but from that pure and holy indignation which every Spanish knight entertained at beholding this beautiful dominion of his ancestors defiled by the footsteps of infidel usurpers. It is impossible,” he adds, “to contemplate this delicious country, and not long to see it restored to the dominion of the true faith, and the sway of the Christian monarchs.”
The Carpet Merchant by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Arrived at the gates of Granada, Don Juan de Vera and his companions saw the same vigilant preparations on the part of the Moorish king. His walls and towers were of vast strength, in complete repair, and mounted with lombards and other heavy ordnance. His magazines were well stored with the munitions of war; he had a mighty host of foot soldiers, together with squadrons of cavalry, ready to scour the country and carry on either defensive or predatory warfare. The Christian warriors noted these things without dismay; their hearts glowed with emulation at the thoughts of encountering so worthy a foe. As they slowly pranced through the streets of Granada, they looked round with eagerness on its stately palaces and sumptuous mosques, on its alcayceria or bazaar, crowded with silks and cloth of silver and gold, with jewels and precious stones, and other rich merchandise, the luxuries of very clime; and they longed for the time when all this wealth should be the spoil of the soldiers of the faith, and when each tramp of their steeds might be fetlock deep in the blood and carnage of the infidels.
The Moorish inhabitants looked jealously at this small but proud array of Spanish chivalry, as it paraded with that stateliness possessed only by Spanish cavaliers, through the renowned gate of Elvira. They were struck with the stern and lofty demeanor of Don Juan de Vera, and his sinewy frame, which showed him formed for hardy deeds of arms; and they supposed he had come in search of distinction, by defying the Moorish knights in open tournament, or in the famous tilt with reeds, for which they were so renowned; for it was still the custom of the knights of either nation to mingle in these courteous and chivalrous contests during the intervals of war. When they learned, however, that he was come to demand the tribute so abhorrent to the ears of the fiery monarch, they observed that it well required a warrior of his apparent nerve to execute such an embassy.
Muley Abul Hassan received the cavalier in state, seated on a magnificent divan, and surrounded by the officers of his court, in the Hall of Ambassadors, one of the most sumptuous apartments of the Alhambra. When de Vera had delivered his message, a haughty and bitter smile curled the lip of the fierce monarch. “Tell your sovereigns,” said he, “that the kings of Granada, who used to pay tribute in money to the Castilian crown are dead. Our mint at present coins nothing but blades of scimitars and heads of lances.”
The defiance couched in this proud reply was heard with secret satisfaction by Don Juan de Vera, for he was a bold soldier and a devout hater of the infidels; and he saw iron war in the words of the Moorish monarch. Being master, however, of all points of etiquette, he retained an inflexible demeanor, and retired from the apartment with stately and ceremonious gravity. His treatment was suited to his rank and dignity; a magnificent apartment in the Alhambra was assigned to him; and before his departure a scimitar was sent to him by the king; the blade of the finest Damascus steel, the hilt of agate, enriched with precious stones, and the guard of gold. De Vera drew it, and smiled grimly as he noticed the admirable temper of the blade. “His majesty has given me a trenchant weapon,” said he, “I trust a time will come when I may show him that I know how to use his royal present.” The reply was considered a compliment, of course; the bystanders little knew the bitter hostility that lay couched beneath.
King Ferdinand of Aragon

On his return to Cordoba, Don Juan de Vera delivered the reply of the Moor, but at the same time reported the state of his territories. These had been strengthened and augmented during the weak reign of Henry IV and the recent troubles of Castile. Many cities and strong places contiguous to Granada, had renewed their allegiance to Muley Abul Hassan, so that his kingdom now contained fourteen cities, ninety-seven fortified places, besides numerous unwalled towns and villages defended by formidable castles, while Granada towered in the center as the citadel.
The wary Ferdinand, as he listened to the military report of Don Juan de Vera, saw that the present was no time for hostilities with a warrior kingdom, so bristled over with means of defense. The internal discords of Castile still continued, as did the war with Portugal; under these circumstances he forbore to insist upon the payment of tribute, and tacitly permitted the truce to continue; but the defiance contained in the reply of Muley Abul Hassan remained rankling in his bosom as a future ground for war, and de Vera’s description of Granada as the center of a system of strongholds and rock-built castles, suggested to him his plan of conquest: by taking town after town, and fortress after fortress, and gradually plucking away all the supports before he attempted the capital. He expressed his resolution in a memorable pun, or play upon the name of Granada, which signifies a pomegranate. “I will pick out the seeds of this pomegranate one by one,” said the cool and crafty Ferdinand.

Washington Irving, The Conquest of Granada (Agapida edition), (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), pp. 11-17.

The Catholic Kings