Moriscos, Expulsion of (Spain)

views updated


MORISCOS, EXPULSION OF (SPAIN). Between 1609 and 1614, approximately 300,000 Moriscosnew Christians converted from Islamwere expelled from Spain. This mass relocation of people was the end result of a drastic decision that was many years in the making.

First discussed in government circles in 1582, the possibility of expulsion slowly gained credence as desirable government policy and merited full consideration after Philip III's accession to the throne in 1598. Three factors mainly determined the ultimate acceptance of the expulsion as a remedy for national ills. First, the utter failure of the assimilation of Moriscos into a normative religious and cultural mold underscored the seeming futility of previous governmental efforts. Throughout Spain, and especially in Valencia, where Moriscos were numerous and often lived in separate villages, Moriscos continued to cling to traditional religious and cultural practices. With women often serving as guardians of traditional knowledge, Morisco communities managed, despite great pressure, to maintain specific practices such as circumcision, the ritual slaughter of animals, traditional dress, prayer, and the production of aljamiado literature, which was written in Castilian with Arabic characters. A multitude of signsno matter how equivocalconvinced the authorities that Moriscos could never be fully assimilated into Christian society.

The failure of assimilation partly engendered another factor favoring expulsion that was critical at the time: state security. Constituting a large and visibly different minority, Moriscos often aroused suspicions of collaboration with Spain's enemies. Some contacts between Morisco communities and the Ottomans, Barbary corsairs, and French Protestants had occurred and were known to authorities. Moreover, given the rather hard-fought Morisco revolt of 15681570 in Granada, the crown worried about the possibility of another rebellion coupled with foreign invasion. This constant threat of Moriscos as potential traitors who could threaten the very safety of the state also influenced the decision to expel them.

Finally, the actions of individuals proved crucial to the government's decision. During the reign of Phillip II, fears regarding Moriscos were already evident and perhaps more compelling, yet expulsion was hardly discussed. During the reign of his successor, however, two figures stand out as crucial to the edict of expulsion: Juan de Ribera, archbishop of Valencia, and the Duke of Lerma, favorite of Philip III. Ribera, in a tireless and persistent fashion, was perhaps the most vocal advocate for expulsion. As early as 1601, he urged the king to expel the Moriscos because of their obstinacy, heresy, and the danger they presented to state security. The Duke of Lerma's support for expulsion likewise seems to have been crucial. Until January 1608, the Council of State had continued to discount expulsion as a viable alternative. In an amazing turnaround, however, the Council of State, with Lerma presiding, voted to expel the Moriscos on 30 January 1608. Some historians have speculated that the duke stood to profit greatly from the confiscation of the estates of Moriscos in Valencia.

Spawned by this mixture of long-term causes and individual animosities and opportunities, the expulsion was carried out between 1609 and 1614. Of all the Morisco communities, the ones in Valencia suffered the most as they accounted for approximately 120,000 of the 300,000 expelled. In some areas of that kingdom, moreover, force was necessary to remove the Moriscos. A few thousand irregular troops and their families briefly resisted in the mountainous regions close to Castile before being decimated by Spanish soldiers. Although perhaps more peaceful, the expulsion of Moriscos from other areas inevitably resulted in serious hardship. From Morisco children being kidnapped to save them from the infidel to the abuse heaped on Morisco families by local authorities and seigneurs and from the perils of a voyage at sea to deaths due to malnutrition or banditry once they reached North Africa, the expulsion witnessed many tribulations. At the same time, sympathetic neighbors and local authorities sometimes helped Moriscos remain in Spain or even return after the expulsion. For example, the Count of Oropesa managed to certify the appropriate Christian behavior of his Morisco tenants who remained in Spain. In Catalonia, the Bishop of Tortosa protected many Moriscos and even allowed numerous families to return to his diocese. Other Moriscos remained after taking their case to the courts, while less fortunate ones sold themselves into slavery as the price of staying on Spanish soil. Despite these isolated cases of Moriscos who remained in Spain, the expulsion of 1609 was, for the most part, complete. Historians have estimated that perhaps only a few thousand managed, through some means or other, to remain, though precise numbers may never be known.

Most Moriscos settled in North Africa, Constantinople (Istanbul), and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, although small colonies emigrated to France and Italy. Their fate varied. While those in Tunis managed to prosper and become a political force, many unfortunates who disembarked on the Algerian coast were robbed and killed by marauding Berber bandits. Likewise, while those arriving in Constantinople settled in a specific neighborhood and were reputed to be an influential minority, those who traveled to Morocco were not well received and were insulted as Christians. Their trail as a distinct community within their new homes disappears in archival sources around the late eighteenth century as they became integrated into the dominant communities.

Whereas the expulsion largely curtailed the Moriscos' viability as a distinctive cultural group, the consequences for Spain have been debated mostly from an economic point of view. Mired in an economic depression fostered by debasement, rising prices, and faltering population levels, Spain in the early seventeenth century presumably suffered from the expulsion of such a large and productive group. Valencian historians in particular have castigated the expulsion as harmful to that kingdom's economic viability. Although recent studies have helped contextualize the magnitude of the economic impact and have placed the somber specter of Spanish decline in a more nuanced light, few question that the expulsion of the Moriscos exacerbated an already gloomy economic situation in early-seventeenth-century Spain.

See also Moriscos ; Philip II (Spain) ; Philip III (Spain) .


Casey, J. "Moriscos and the Depopulation of Valencia." Past and Present 50 (1971): 1940.

Clissold, Stephen. "The Expulsion of the Moriscos, 16091614." History Today 28, no. 12 (1978): 817824.

Domínguez Ortiz, Antonio, and Bernard Vincent. Historia de los moriscos. Vida y tragedia de una minoría. Madrid, 1978.

Epalza, Miguel de. Los moriscos antes y después de la expulsion. Madrid, 1992.

Gozalbes Busto, Guillermo. Los moriscos en Marruecos. Granada, 1992.

Lea, Henry Charles. The Moriscos of Spain: Their Conversion and Expulsion. Philadelphia, 1901.

Christian Berco

About this article

Moriscos, Expulsion of (Spain)

Updated About content Print Article