Muhammad XII of Granada

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jan 16, 2023

Table of Content


Boabdil (Castilian deformation of Abû Abdil-lah) or Mohammed XII of Granada, or Abû `Abd Allâh "az-Zughbî" Mohammed ben Abî al-Hasan `Alî, born in Granada in 1459, was the twenty-second Nasrid of Granada.

Son of Abû al-Hasan `Alî called "El viejo", that is to say "the Old", he succeeded him in 1482 on the throne of Granada under the name of Muhammad XII. Taken prisoner in 1484 by the Spaniards during the War of Granada, he was succeeded by his uncle Muhammad XIII az-Zaghall.

Nicknamed El Chico ("The Young One") by the Castilians, he was nicknamed Az-Zughbî ("The Unfortunate One") by the Arabs.

After the capture of Granada (January 3, 1492), Boabdil was exiled and died in Fez, where the epitaph of his tomb was found near the tomb of the Zianid sultans. It is kept in the museum of Tlemcen.

The Spaniards also remember him as El Moro, "the Moor".

Begun in the ninth century, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula was carried out by different political entities, which in the thirteenth century were the Kingdom of Portugal, the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon (the Kingdom of Navarre having been reconquered long ago).

Around 1250, Portugal and Aragon succeeded in eliminating all Muslim power in their territories. The kingdom of Castile recaptured the great Andalusian cities of Cordoba and Seville, but the offensive came to a halt, leaving in place the kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain.

It was not until the end of the 15th century that the Christians, in this case Castile and Aragon, united by the marriage of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II, known as the Catholic Monarchs, took the offensive again.

Family origins and training

He is the son of Abû al-Hasan `Alî, king of Granada from 1464, and of queen `Aisha. He has a younger brother from the same mother.

Abu al-Hasan also has two sons by Zoraya, a Christian (Isabelle de Solis) who converted to Islam.

First reign (1482-1484)

In 1480, when Abû al-Hasan `Alî considered repudiating Aïcha, she fled with her sons, and in 1482, an uprising overthrew the king in favor of Boabdil. The great families of the kingdom of Granada sided with one or the other.

In the spring of 1483, the Marquis of Cádiz and the Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, Don Alonso Cárdenas, launched an expedition to the coastal region between Málaga and Vélez-Málaga, called Ach-Charqiyya by the Arabs and the Axarquía by the Castilians.

Three thousand cavalrymen and one thousand infantrymen left Antequera on March 19. Once they reached the coast, they headed for Málaga. In this harsh land of the Málaga mountains, a Muslim counterattack took place on Thursday night, March 21, 1483. The Christians were routed: the Castilian chronicles speak of eighteen hundred dead and prisoners, including illustrious members of the nobility.

This victory of the Axarquía was the last one won by the Muslims in Spain.

A month after this victory, Boabdil decided to make an incursion into Christian territory. His objective was a poorly defended place, Lucena, whose governor, Diego Fernández de Cordoba, was only nineteen years old. But a Granadian Muslim betrayed his people by revealing this plan to the inhabitants of Lucena. The city was put in a state of defense.

On April 20, 1483, Boabdil, at the head of seven hundred cavalrymen and nine thousand infantrymen, was pushed back before the walls of Lucena. He suffered heavy losses due to the intervention of the army of the Count of Cabra, who had been warned of the Nasrid maneuver. After several skirmishes, the Castilians routed the forces of Boabdil, who proved to be a poor commander. The Muslim army was practically destroyed and its banners were taken by the Spaniards, who installed representations of them in the Cathedral of Cordoba (formerly the Mosque of Cordoba). During the battle, the captain of Loja, `Alî al-Attar, Boabdil's father-in-law, and several members of the Granada aristocracy lost their lives. Boabdil himself was taken prisoner.

Captivity in Castile (1484-1487)

He is locked up in the fortress of Porcuna.

As soon as he is informed of the catastrophe of Lucena, his father Abû al-Hasan, who has the support of many inhabitants of Granada, reoccupies the throne of Boabdil until 1485, then Boabdil's uncle Mohammed XIII az-Zaghall succeeds him.

The conditions imposed to Boabdil to obtain his release are the most humiliating that a Moslem emir accepted in Spanish ground. He undertakes to pay a tribute of twelve thousand doubloons of Jaen (to deliver as hostages his son, the crown prince Ahmad, his brother Yûsuf, and ten young notables of Granada. He recognized himself as a vassal of the kings of Castile and asked for Castile's help to regain his throne. Nevertheless, he remains captive in Castile.

Ferdinand of Aragon freed him and helped him regain power in 1487, on condition that Granada became a vassal of Spain and that he renounced defending Malaga, which was about to be attacked by Catholic armies. In addition, he gave his two-year-old first-born son as a hostage and committed himself to a second payment of 14,000 gold ducats and the release of 7,000 Spanish prisoners.

In the spring of 1487, at the head of 70,000 men, King Ferdinand decided to join the second city of the kingdom of Granada, its main port: Malaga. The Christian armies surrounded the city. The chief of the Nasrid garrison, Ahmad at-Tagrî, took command on May 6. He was determined to fight to the end. Subjected to the fire of the Castilian bombardments, the Moslems defend themselves of their best. In July, the food comes to miss.

A sudden epidemic considerably reduced the number of besiegers. At this critical moment, Ferdinand asked his wife Isabella the Catholic to make an appearance to galvanize the troops. She appeared in shining armor, surrounded by six hundred lancers, while one hundred ships loaded with supplies for the Christian armies blocked the port of Málaga.

Boabdil complied with the secret agreement signed with the Catholic Monarchs and did nothing to defend Málaga.

On the other hand, his uncle Muhammad az-Zaghall, who had gone into exile in Almería after the fall of Baza, unsuccessfully tried a diversionary maneuver to defend Málaga by launching some detachments of Nasrid volunteers from Adra against the Christians around Vélez-Málaga.

Málaga capitulated after three and a half months of siege, on August 18, 1487. The fifteen thousand Muslims that the Spaniards took prisoner were exhausted.

Surrounded by Christian arms, the Grenadines turned from 1485 onwards to their former allies, the Maghrebian rulers of Fez and Tlemcen, from whom they sought help. The Wattasid Sultan Mohammed ben Yahyâ, who reigned in Fez, signed a treaty with Castile in 1479, recognizing his exclusive rights to the African coast. The Zianids of Tlemcen were too busy with their two neighbors, the Marinids and the Hafsids. Finally, for their part, the Hafsids in Tunis tried to have the best relations with Castile to be able to protect themselves against the Mamelukes of Egypt.

In 1487, a Granadian embassy sought the help of the Mamluk Sultan Qâ'it Bay, who agreed to threaten the Church of Jerusalem: he asked him to intervene with Castile so that the latter would renounce its attacks against Granada; otherwise, Qâ'it Bay would retaliate against the clergy of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. He would also forbid Europeans to enter this sanctuary and, if necessary, he would have it destroyed. But the threats of Qâ'it Bay are in reality purely verbal. The Mamluk sultan and Castile established commercial relations in the middle of the Granada war. On January 2, 1488, Ferdinand the Catholic asked Pope Innocent VIII for permission to sell wheat "to the Sultan of Babylon" (Qâ'it Bay) to help his subjects threatened by famine. The amount of the sale would be used to cover the costs of the war against Granada. As a second intention, Ferdinand wanted to help the Sultan of Cairo because he considered him the only Muslim leader capable of resisting the Ottomans whose power was growing. Therefore, no effective help could be expected from any of these Muslim rulers. The Nasrids had to make do with volunteers, often fugitives who sought to escape religious repression in their country.

Rachel Arié of the CNRS describes the pragmatic and complex relationships that the Nasrids of Granada established with the Maghrebian sultans. She writes:

"The ties that were forged between the rulers of Granada and the Hafsids of Tunis were essentially an exchange of friendly letters and magnificent gifts, but did not involve any interference by one of the two partners in the internal affairs of the other. The relationship between the Nasrids on the one hand and the Marinid sultans who had ruled since 1268 over the vast territory of the extreme Maghrib on the other was closer, Morocco of today and the Abd al wadides dynasties which had founded the kingdom of Tlemcen. Vassals of Castile to which they owed an annual tribute, the builders of the Nasrid kingdom had been forced from the end of the 13th century to invoke the pretext of the holy war in order to slow down the Christian Reconquest. They had recourse to the military support of the dissident Merinid princes who, taking refuge in Granada, had formed the famous legions of volunteers of the Faith, so feared by their Christian adversaries on Spanish soil. Soon the sultans of Fez in person... crossed the strait and carried the gihad in Andalusian ground; This active intervention did not let worry the Nasrids. Anxious to counterbalance the Marinid influence in their own kingdom and to re-establish the balance of forces on the Spanish chessboard, the Sultans of Granada practiced a resolutely opportunistic policy with Castilian nobles revolted against the sovereign Alfonso X and with the states of the crown of Aragon and maintained friendly relations with the Emirate Abd Al wadide of Tlemcen. Enemies of the Merinids who had tried to seize Tlemcen and impose their sovereignty on the central Maghrib, the Ziyyanids drew closer to the Nasrids at the beginning of the 13th century. In 1309, under Abu Hammu Musa I, they were allied with the king of Granada Abu Al Guyus Nasr against the coalition formed by Aragon, Castile and Morocco. Warriors of the Faith recruited in Oran and Honaine by the Nasrid governor of Almeria gave energetic support to the Granada fighters. In 1340, Abu Al Haggag Yusuf resumed the policy of his forefathers to counter the Christian threat, and had to seek the help of the most prestigious ruler of North Africa, the Marinid Abu Al Hassan.

The end of the reign of Boabdil

Boabdil returned to power just as the era of the Granada kingdom was coming to an end. Once freed, Boabdil refused to subdue the city.

At the end of 1487, Almería and Guadix fell, and in 1489 it was the turn of Almuñécar and Salobreña.

The powerful family of Abencérages was accused of being sold out to the Christians and of wanting to overthrow Boabdil. According to Gines Perez De Hita, a historian from the end of the 15th century, thirty-six Abencérages were exterminated by Boabdil in a room of the palace.

Boabdil remains the sole ruler of Granada.

In the spring of 1491, the Christians resumed hostilities against Granada with a powerful army of ten thousand horsemen and forty thousand infantrymen. On April 26, the final siege of the Nasrid capital began. On that day, Queen Isabella I of Castile swore not to bathe or change her clothes until Granada was taken. At the beginning of the siege, the Castilian camp was destroyed by fire. Isabella had a fixed camp built in the Genil valley. She called this city Sitiadora.

From their beleaguered capital, the Granadines tried only a few sorties during the next six months. Their cavalry and infantry were powerless against the Castilian artillery that breached the city walls. At the end of 1491, the situation in Granada became very precarious when wheat, barley, millet and oil ran out. The passage through the Alpujarra became impassable, as the snow began to fall and cut off communications with this southern region. Boabdil began secret talks to surrender the city only at the end of March 1492, whereas since December 1491 the Castilians had been demanding an immediate surrender.

On the night of January 1 to 2, 1492, guided by Ibn Kumasa and Abû al-Qasim al-Mulihe, two of Boabdil's viziers, the great commander of León, don Gutierrez de Cárdenas, and a few Castilian officials secretly entered Granada by a little-used route. At dawn, Boabdil delivers the keys of the Alhambra to don Gutierrez in the tower of Comares. The official surrender was thus dated January 2, 1492.

The Count of Tendilla and his troops then entered the Alhambra following the same route. The banner of Castile and the cross were hoisted on one of the towers of the Alhambra fortress, which is still called the Tower of the Candle. Boabdil left his city and its palaces intact in the hands of his adversaries, in exchange for a surrender treaty that guaranteed the rights of the inhabitants: they could stay and keep their religion, their legal-religious authorities, their property and even their weapons (except firearms).

Boabdil had the tombs of his ancestors Mohammad II, Yusef I, Yusef III and Abu Saad excavated so that they would not be destroyed by the Christians. He had them transferred to the cemetery of the mosque of Mondújar, about 40 km from the place of his exile (and 140 km west of Granada).

The tenacious tradition reports that, on the way to exile, at the place known as the "last breath of the Moor", Boabdil turned towards the capital of his lost kingdom and began to cry. His mother Aicha Fatima, a strong woman, then threw him curtly: "Cry like a woman, a kingdom that you have not been able to defend like a man.  ", in Arabic "ابكِ مثل النساء ملكاَ مضاعا لم تحافظ عليه مثل الرجال".

In his writings, Christopher Columbus says he witnessed the surrender and departure of Boabdil.

After the Spanish victory: a poorly known fate

Exiled to the southeast of Granada, in Laujar de Andarax in the Alpurrajas mountains where Ferdinand granted him a lordship, Boabdil lost his wife Morayma, who is buried in the mosque of Mondújar.

Betrayed by his vizier, Yusef Aben Comixa, who sold the lordship to the Catholic Monarchs for 80,000 ducats without his consent, Boabdil was forced to embark in October 1493 from the port of Adra to North Africa.

According to the legend, once on board, Boabdil looks in the direction of the coast, throws his sword into the water and promises to return one day to get it.

He went to live in Fez with his mother, his sister and his two sons Ahmed and Yusef. According to the historian Al Maqqari, he died in 1533

Indeed, the royal secretary Don Fernando de Zafra mentions in his missive of December 9, 1492, that Boabdil and his retinue lived in Andarax, which he left for a month to go to Tlemcen, where he stayed for a short time and which he left in September or October 1492. He specifies that his wife died in Andarax and that she is buried in Mondujar. According to the Tlemcenian historian Al-Maqqari, Boabdil, the last king of Granada, settled with members of his family in Fez where he lived in difficult conditions. Al-Maqqari writes that he died in 1533 or 1534 and mentions precisely where his remains were buried. The Spanish chronicler Luis del Marmol Carvajal writes: "Boabdil died near the Oued el Assouad (the black river) at the ford known as Waqûba, in the war between the Merinids of Fez and the Saadians of Marrakech". This source is also taken up by Louis de Chénier, diplomat of the French king Louis XVI. But this last hypothesis is considered unlikely by Mercedes Garcia Arenal.

Moreover, it should be noted that according to a rumor (of which one finds trace in the novel Clovis Dardentor of Jules Verne published in 1896), he died in 1494 in Tlemcen. A tombstone bearing his epitaph was found in 1848 in the Zianid royal necropolis of Tlemcen, before being lost in 1898 after having been presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889. Nevertheless, it seems to be a confusion with his uncle Muhammad XIII az-Zaghall.

In Spanish popular memory, Boabdil has become a romantic hero of the Reconquista, given the events related to the loss of his kingdom. His name is therefore frequently mentioned in connection with Granada.


  1. Muhammad XII of Granada
  2. Boabdil
  3. Boabdil par déformation de (A)bû Abd Allâh ou (A)bû Abdil-lah par les Castillans.
  4. arabe : ʾabū ʿabd allāh az-zuḡbī muḥammad ben abī al-ḥasan ʿalī, أبو عبد الله “الرغبي” محمد بن أبي الحسن علي
  5. espagnol : viejo, « vieux »
  6. espagnol : chico, enfant, jeune sans doute par opposition avec son père surnommé El Viejo, le vieux
  7. arabe maghrébin : رغبي, infortuné
  8. a b Almacari, p. 529
  9. a b Arié 1974, p. 33.
  10. Harvey 1990, p. 327.
  11. Shillington 2005, p. 220.
  12. Chénier 1787.
  13. ^ 11 safar 888 A.H.
  14. Quizás fue el undécimo sultán que llevaba el nombre de Muhammad, y no el duodécimo, como gracias a la Yunna de Ibn ʿĀṣim se puede deducir ahora. Era conocido popularmente en su tiempo con el sobrenombre الزغابي Al-Zugabi, "el Desdichado". Abu ‘Abd Allāh, en el habla granadina, debía pronunciarse como Bu Abdal-lah o Bu Abdil-lah, y de ahí el nombre castellano Boabdil, a quien castellanos y aragoneses añadieron el epíteto de "el Chico" para distinguirlo de su tío Abu 'Abd Allāh "el Viejo".

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