The name appears to have been derived from Yussuf ben-Serragh, the head of the tribe in the time of Muhammed VII, Sultan of Granada (1370–1408), who did that sovereign good service in his struggles to retain the crown of which he was three times deprived.
Little is known of the family with certainty. The Chambers Biographical Dictionary records that they arrived in Spain in the 8th century but the name is familiar from the romance by Ginés Pérez de Hita, Guerras civiles de Granada, which celebrates the feuds of the Abencerrages and the rival family of the Zegris, and the cruel treatment to which the former were subjected. J. P. de Florian's Gonsalve de Cordoue and Chateaubriand's Le dernier des Abencerrages are imitations of Pérez de Hita's work.
The story is told that one of the Abencerrages, having fallen in love with a lady of the royal family, was caught in the act of climbing up to her window. The king, enraged, shut up the whole family in one of the halls of the Alhambra, and ordered the Zegris to kill them all. The apartment where this is said to have taken place is one of the most beautiful courts of the Alhambra, and is still called the Hall of the Abencerrages.
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 3
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abencerrages". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 42.
- Zelmar ou L'asile; ou, Les Abencerages a drame lyriqueby André J. Grétry, composed in 1801, remained unperformed.