Expulsion of the Moriscos

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Expulsion of the Moriscos at the port of Dénia, by Vincente Mostre.
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On April 9, 1609, King Philip III of Spain decreed the Expulsion of the Moriscos (Spanish: Expulsión de los moriscos, Catalan: Expulsió dels moriscos). The Moriscos were the descendants of Spanish Muslim population that converted to Christianity under threat of exile from Ferdinand and Isabella in 1502. Between 1609 through 1614, the Crown systematically expelled the Moriscos through a number of expulsion orders in Spain's various kingdoms, meeting varying levels of success.[1] They were only allowed to keep possessions they could carry and were threatened with the penalty of death and forfeiture of all their goods in case of being caught taking gold, silver or any other forbidden items out of Spain. The expulsion especially affected the Kingdom of Valencia and the Kingdom of Aragon, harming their economies for generations.

Of those permanently expelled, the majority finally settled in the Maghreb or the Barbary coast.[2] Those who avoided expulsion or who managed to return were gradually absorbed by the dominant culture.[3] The last mass prosecution against Moriscos for crypto-Islamic practices took place in Granada in 1727, with most of those convicted receiving relatively light sentences. By the end of the 18th century, indigenous Islam and morisco identity is considered to have been extinguished in Spain.[4]


Main articles: Morisco and Reconquista

Suspicions and tensions between Moriscos, who were called New Christians, and the other Christians, who were called Old Christians,[5] had been high for some time. While some Moriscos did hold influence and power, and they had some allies such as the nobility of Valencia and Aragon who depended on them as a cheap labor force, their overall political and economic heft in Spain was low. The Old Christian population constantly suspected the Moriscos of not being sincere in their Christianity. However, many of these Moriscos were devout in their new Christian faith,[6] and in Granada, many Moriscos even became Christian martyrs, as they were killed by Muslims for refusing to renounce Christianity.[7] As such the conflict between Old Christians and New Christians was an ethnically inspired one.[8]

Several revolts broke out, the most notable being the 1568–1573 revolt against an edict of Phillip II's banning Arabic, Arabic names, and requiring Moriscos to give up their children to be educated by priests. After the suppression of the revolt, Philip ordered the dispersal of the Moriscos of Granada to other areas. Philip expected that this would break down the Morisco community and facilitate their assimilation into the rest of the Christian population. This may have happened to a degree to Granada's Moriscos, but not in Valencia or Aragon, where Islam was still widely practiced.[9]

At around the same time, Spain recognized the loss of more than half of its holdings in the Low Countries to the Protestant Dutch Republic. The ruling class already thought of Spain as the defender of Catholic Christendom, and this defeat helped lead to a radicalization of thinking and a desire to strike a blow to regain Spain's honor.[10] Some critiques of Spain from Protestant countries included insults of the Spanish as corrupted by the Muslims and crypto-Muslims amongst them, which some of the nobility may have taken personally.

The situation further deteriorated in the early 17th century. A recession struck in 1604 as the amount of gold and treasure Spain's American holdings fell. The reduction in the standard of living led to increased tension between the Moriscos and Old Christians for precious jobs.[10]

Attitudes toward the Moriscos by region[edit]

The number of Moriscos in Spain at the time of expulsion is unknown and most estimates are based on the numbers of Moriscos who were expelled. Figures of between 300,000 and 400,000 are often cited. However, modern studies estimate around one million moriscos present in Spain at the beginning of the 16th century out of a total population of 8.5 million.[11] A significant proportion resided in the former Crown of Aragon, where it is estimated they constituted 20% of the population, and the Valencia area specifically, where they were 33% of the total population. In addition, the Moorish population growth was somewhat higher than that of the Christian population; in Valencia, the Morisco population had an estimated 69.7% growth rate compared to 44.7% for the Old Christians.[12] The rich and those who lived in the cities were mostly Christians, while the Moriscos occupied the outlying countryside and the poor suburbs of the cities.[12]

In the kingdom of Castile, which included the Guadalquivir valley in present Andalusia the situation was considerably different. The number of Moriscos is considered to be lower but more significantly, the majority of them were former Mudejar (Muslims) Christians who were highly integrated in mainstream society, had abandoned many of their distinguishing cultural traits and crucially, unlike in Valencia, they did not suffer from much hostility from their old-Christian neighbours. At the time of expulsion however, an additional Morisco community co-existed with these Mudejar Moriscos: a large number of Granada Moriscos who had been deported or dispersed after the uprising and war of the Alpujarras, who were the target of much more suspicion. Local sympathies for Moriscos meant that Castile and Andalusia experienced only half-hearted efforts at identifying and expelling them. The expulsion was slower and a far less thorough process than in the Kingdom of Aragon and particularly Valencia and a significant portion of Moriscos either avoided expulsion or returned in the years following expulsion.[9]

There was practically universal agreement in Spain that Islam was a threat that should be crushed. However, it was not clear how that should apply to the Moriscos, who were officially Christian. Some clerics such as Fray Luis de Aliaga, a royal councilor, supported giving time to the Moriscos to assimilate and become full Christians.[9] This option was lightly supported by the Catholic Church in Rome, too. The most dedicated defenders of the Moriscos were the Valencian and Aragonese nobility, as their self-interest was involved. These nobles benefited the most from the poor and cheap workforce that the Moriscos provided.

Opposing this view were a variety of notables and classes of people. Clerics against Aliaga included Jaime Bleda, the most prominent member of the Inquisition in Valencia. Bleda made several early proposals to King Philip III to banish or otherwise end the Morisco problem; he even recommended genocide.[9] At first, these entreaties were without success. In 1596 the Duke of Lerma, King Philip III's chief financial officer, accused the Moriscos of collaboration with the Muslim Barbary pirates, a charge that had dogged them for years. Still, while many in the population held to this, others considered that this threat had long since passed. The Council of Aragon, in opposing any punitive measures, wrote that even if they wished to betray Spain, the Moriscos were in no position to do so "for they possess no arms, nor supplies, nor fortified positions, nor a base for the Turkish fleet." Nothing came of it at the time, but the Duke of Lerma continued his antipathy toward the Moriscos.[10]

Among the populace itself, the Valencian peasantry had the most interest in the matter. They viewed the Moriscos with resentment and considered them economic and social rivals.[9] This had bubbled over before in 1520, when in the Revolt of the Brotherhoods, the citizenry of Valencia revolted against not only their nobles but also the Muslim mudéjars. The rebels killed many, and forced the mass baptism and conversion of the remainder of the Muslim population, which had created the Moriscos of Valencia.

Edict and expulsion[edit]

Embarking of the Moriscos at Valencia, by Pere Oromig.
Disembarking of the Moriscos at Oran port (1613, Vicente Mestre), Fundación Bancaja de Valencia

The Duke of Lerma eventually convinced King Philip III with the help of the Archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, who considered the Moriscos as universally heretics and traitors. The archbishop added an idea to make the plan more persuasive to the king: the king could confiscate the assets and properties of the Moorish population, thereby providing a dramatic one-time boost to the royal coffers. Ribera also encouraged the king to enslave the Moriscos for work in galleys, mines, and abroad as he could do so "without any scruples of conscience," but this proposal was rejected.[9]

On April 9, 1609, the edict was signed to expel the Moriscos.[12] The government knew that exiling so many would be problematic. It was decided to start with Valencia, where the Morisco population was greatest. Preparations were taken in the strictest secrecy. Starting in September, tercio battalions arrived from Italy.[13] They took up positions in the main ports of Valencia: Alfaques, Dénia, and Alicante. On September 22, the viceroy ordered the publication of the decree. The Valencian aristocracy met with the government to protest the expulsion, as losing their workers would ruin their agricultural incomes. The government offered some of the confiscated property and territory of the Moriscos to them in exchange, but this didn't come close to compensating for the loss. The Moriscos would be allowed to take anything that could carry, but their homes and land would pass into the hands of their masters. Burning or other destruction of their homes before the transfer was prohibited on pain of death.[13]

Certain exceptions were granted: 6 families out of every 100 would be allowed to stay behind and maintain the infrastructure of towns that had been predominantly Morisco-inhabited. Very few took advantage of this, considering that it was thought likely that they'd be exiled anyway later. Additionally, the exile was optional for children less than 4 years old. This was later expanded to 16 years of age. Archbishop Ribera strongly opposed this part of the measure; he lobbied that at the very least the children should be separated from their parents, enslaved, and Christianized "for the good of their souls."[13]

On September 30, the first of the exiles were taken to the ports, where, as a last insult, they were forced to pay their own fare for the trip.[13] The Moriscos were transported to North Africa, where at times they were attacked as invaders by the people of the recipient countries. Other times, small revolts broke out on the ships, causing some of the exiles to be slain in battle with the crew. This caused fears in the Morisco population remaining in Valencia, and on October 20 there was a rebellion against the expulsion. The rebels numbered 6,000 and held the remote valley of Ayora and Muela de Cortes. Five days later, a new rebellion broke out on the southern coast, with 15,000 rebels holding the Valley of Lugar.[14]

The rebels were defeated by November. In only three months, 116,000 Moriscos had been transported to North Africa from Valencia. The start of 1610 saw the expulsion of the Moriscos of Aragon (the specific area of Aragon, not all the lands of the old Crown of Aragon). 41,952 were sent to North Africa via Alfaques, and 13,470 were sent over the Pyrenees Mountains to France.[14] The exasperated French sent most of them to the port of Agde, and those who took the land route were charged both the transit fee and the sea fare.[14] In September, the Moriscos of Catalonia were exiled. Andalusia exiled some 32,000 Moriscos as well.[14]

The expulsion of the Moriscos of Castile was the most difficult task, since they were dispersed across the land after being broken in 1571 by the rebellion rather than being concentrated in any one place. Because of this, the Moriscos were given a first option of voluntary departure, where they could take their most valuable possessions and anything else that might sell. Thus, in Castile the expulsion lasted three years, from 1611 to 1614. Perhaps 32,000 Moriscos left in total. Official historical accounts of the expulsion (as well as the earlier studies which drew heavily from these) paint a picture of an impressively well-run affair, with an efficient bureaucracy functioned channelling a huge number of people out of the country over a short period of time.[14]

Success of the Expulsion[edit]

It is impossible to know how many Moriscos remained after the expulsion, with traditional Spanish historiography considering that none remained and initial academic estimates such as those of Lapeyre and Lynch offering figures as low as ten or fifteen thousand remaining in the whole country. However, recent studies have been challenging the traditional discourse on the supposed success of the expulsion in purging Spain of its Morisco population. Indeed, it seems that expulsion met widely differing levels of success, particularly between the two major Spanish crowns of Castille and Aragón.

One of the earliest re-examinations of Morisco expulsion was carried out by Trevor J. Dadson in 2007, devoting a significant section to the expulsion in Villarrubia de los Ojos in southern Castille. Villarubia's entire morisco population were the target of three expulsions which they managed to avoid or from which they succeeded in returning from to their town of origin, being protected and hidden by their non-morisco neighbours. Dadson provides numerous examples, of similar incidents throughout Spain whereby Moriscos were protected and supported by non-moriscos and returned en masse from North Africa, Portugal or France to their towns of origin.[1]

A similar study on the expulsion in Andalusia concluded it was an inefficient operation which was significantly reduced in its severity by resistance to the measure among local authorities and populations. It further highlights the constant flow of returnees from North Africa, creating a dilemma for the local inquisition who did not know how to deal with those who had been given no choice but to convert to Islam during their stay in Muslim lands as a result of the Royal Decree. Upon the coronation of Felipe IV, the new king gave the order to desist from attempting to impose measures on returnees and in September 1628 the Council of the Supreme Inquisition ordered inquisitors in Seville not to prosecute expelled moriscos "unless they cause significant commotion." [15]

An investigation published in 2012 sheds light on the thousands of Moriscos who remained in the province of Granada alone, surviving both the initial expulsion to other parts of Spain in 1571 and the final expulsion of 1604. These Moriscos managed to evade in various ways the royal decrees, hiding their true origin thereafter. More surprisingly, by the 17th and 18th centuries much of this group accumulated great wealth by controlling the silk trade and also holding about a hundred public offices. Most of these lineages were nevertheless completely assimilated over generations despite their endogamic practices. A compact core of active crypto-Muslims was prosecuted by the Inquisition in 1727, receiving comparatively light sentences. These convicts kept alive their identity until the late 18th century.[16]


The Council of Castile evaluated the expulsion in 1619 and concluded that it had no economic impact for the country. This was basically true for Castile, as some scholars of the expulsion have found no economic consequences on sectors where the Morisco population was important.[17] However, in the Kingdom of Valencia, fields were abandoned and a vacuum was left in sectors of the economy the Christians could not possibly fill. With the removal by 33% of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Valencia, some counties in the north of the current Alicante province lost virtually their entire population. The infrastructure decayed, and the Christian nobles and landlords fell into arrears. Strapped for cash, many of the Valencian nobles increased rents on their Christian tenants to get even close to their previous income. The increase in rents drove off any new tenants from coming to replace them, and as a result agricultural output in Valencia dropped tremendously.[18]

The expulsion of 4% of the population may seem minor, but it should be noted that the Morisco population was a larger part of the civilian workforce than their numbers would make seem. Practically no Moriscos were trusted to be noblemen, soldiers, or priests. This meant that there was a noticeable decline in tax collection, and the most affected areas (Valencia and Aragon) were economically damaged for decades.

The expulsion was a crippling blow not just to the economies of Aragon and Valencia, but also the power of their nobles. The former Crown of Aragon had been in the shadow of the richer and more populous Crown of Castile for some time, but with this, their stature dropped still further. Of the Eastern Kingdoms themselves, the Catalan nobles now rose to prominence, their incomes far less affected since, unlike their southern and westerly neighbours, they never had a significant morisco population. Thus the expulsion helped shift power away from its traditional centers in Valencia to Catalonia within the Kingdom of Aragon.[19]

Modern initiatives[edit]

In reaction to the policy of Spain to facilitate access to Spanish citizenship by descendants of the Jews who were expelled from Spain, there has been demand from Muslims to apply a similar policy to the descendants of the Moriscos. In 2006 this demand received support from the parliament of Andalusia [20] but has not gained broader support. Supporters consider the cases of the Muslims and Jews to be parallel; opponents argue that the Muslims were colonial oppressors while the Jews had a long history in Spain and were not part of the colonial power, so that, while the expulsion of the Jews was a matter of bigotry, the expulsion of the Muslims was a matter of decolonization.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Trevor Dadson: The assimilation of Spain's moriscos
  2. ^ Boase, Roger (4 April 2002). "The Muslim Expulsion from Spain". History Today 52 (4). The majority of those permanently expelled settling in the Maghreb or Barbary Coast, especially in Oran, Tunis, Tlemcen, Tetuán, Rabat and Salé. Many travelled overland to France, but after the assassination of Henry of Navarre by Ravaillac in May 1610, they were forced to emigrate to Italy, Sicily or Constantinople. 
  3. ^ Adams, Susan M.; Bosch, Elena; Balaresque, Patricia L.; Ballereau, Stéphane J.; Lee, Andrew C.; Arroyo, Eduardo; López-Parra, Ana M.; Aler, Mercedes; Grifo, Marina S. Gisbert; Brion, Maria; Carracedo, Angel; Lavinha, João; Martínez-Jarreta, Begoña; Quintana-Murci, Lluis; Picornell, Antònia; Ramon, Misericordia; Skorecki, Karl; Behar, Doron M.; Calafell, Francesc; Jobling, Mark A. (December 2008). "The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula". The American Journal of Human Genetics 83 (6): 725–736. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2008.11.007. 
  4. ^ Vínculos Historia: The moriscos who remained. The permanence of Islamic origin population in Early Modern Spain: Kingdom of Granada, XVII-XVIII centuries (In Spanish)
  5. ^ Aronson-Friedman, Amy I.; Kaplan, Gregory B. (2 March 2012). Marginal Voices: Studies in Converso Literature of Medieval and Golden Age Spain. Brill Publishers. p. 51. ISBN 9789004214408. As we can see, the Inquisition did not consider heretics only those who did not believe or did not seem to believe in the dogmas of the Catholic Church, but also any person who practiced cultural uses different from those Castilians known as Old Christians. 
  6. ^ Vassberg, David E. (28 November 2002). The Village and the Outside World in Golden Age Castile: Mobility and Migration in Everyday Rural Life. Cambridge University Press. p. 142. ISBN 9780521527132. We know that many of the Moriscos were well acculturated to Christian ways, and that many had even become sincere Roman Catholics. 
  7. ^ Carr, Matthew (2009). The Purging of Muslim Spain. The New Press. p. 213. ISBN 9781595583611. In Granada, Moriscos were killed because they refused to renounce their adopted faith. Elsewhere in Spain, Moriscos went to mass and heard confession and appeared to do everything that their new faith required of them. 
  8. ^ Bethencourt, Francisco (19 January 2014). Racisms: From the Crusades to the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 9781400848416. The next wave of ethnically inspired riots in Castile was launched primarily against New Christians. It started in Toledo in 1449, in a period of political instability, when King John I sent his constable Don Alvaro de Luna to collect a major new tax. The local elite of Old Christians, who refused the tax, accused the New Christians with high positions as merchants, bankers, and farmers of plotting against the city, attacked their houses, and murdered many of them. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Lynch, p. 44.
  10. ^ a b c Lynch, p. 43.
  11. ^ Stallaert, C. 1998
  12. ^ a b c Lynch, p. 45.
  13. ^ a b c d Lynch, p. 46.
  14. ^ a b c d e Lynch, p. 47.
  15. ^ Michel Boeglin: La expulsión de los moriscos de Andalucía y sus límites. El caso de Sevilla (1610-1613) (In Spanish)
  16. ^ Europa Press News Agency: Experto descubre "linajes ocultos" de moriscos que se quedaron en Andalucía, a pesar de la orden de expulsión (In Spanish)
  17. ^ Lynch, p. 48.
  18. ^ Lynch, p. 49.
  19. ^ Lynch, p. 51.
  20. ^ El País: Morisco, palabra maldita (In Spanish)
  • Lynch, John (1969). Spain under the Habsburgs. (vol. 2). Oxford, England: Alden Mowbray Ltd. pp. 42–51.