Renaissance and Reformation Spanish Islam, 1350-1614
Benjamin Ehlers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0333


By 1350 Christian kings had reconquered most of the territory that would eventually become Spain from Muslim rule, with the exception of Granada in the south. Thousands of Muslims chose to stay in Spain under Christian jurisdiction, and in the late medieval period these mudejars (“those allowed to remain”) formed a legally constituted religious minority, as did the Spanish Jews. In the decades following the fall of Granada in 1492, however, the Catholic rulers of Castile and Aragon, now joined in dynastic union, ordered the baptism of all Muslims in their Spanish realms. The Moriscos, as baptized Muslims came to be known, occupied a problematic space in Spanish society. Officially Catholic, they nonetheless drew the suspicion of inquisitors, who saw them as crypto-Muslims, and the evangelical efforts of churchmen seeking their “true” conversion. Nominally subjects of the Spanish Crown, even so the Moriscos found themselves accused of gathering weapons and conspiring with the dreaded Ottoman Turks. The century-long Morisco era came to a close in 1609–1614, when King Philip III ordered the wholesale expulsion of the “New Christians” from Spain, condemning them all as traitors and heretics. The stark language of the decree elided the evident diversity of the Moriscos, in dress, language, and customs, and their many ties to the “Old Christian” community. In recent years scholars have addressed the subject of Spanish Islam in the period 1350–1614 from multiple angles, including surveys, regional studies, literary approaches, and inquisitorial examinations. This scholarship has revealed a spectrum of responses to Christian rule among mudejars and Moriscos, from assimilation to accommodation to resistance. The study of late medieval and early modern Spain thus holds important implications for the broader question of Christian-Muslim relations in the West. This annotated bibliography, in keeping with the objectives of the series, is intended as an introduction to the key works on the subject for researchers and students. As such it is highly selective, and emphasizes work in English. Curious readers will find ample suggestions for further reading in these studies’ bibliographies.


In the early 20th century, the Spanish historian Pascual Boronat and the Philadelphian Henry Charles Lea published sharply contrasting histories of the Moriscos. Boronat characterized the New Christians as obstinate crypto-Muslims and traitors to the Crown, and defended Philip III’s expulsion decree as justified in light of the Moriscos’ fundamental antagonism to Christianity and Spanish society. Lea recognized the continued practice of Islam among the Moriscos, but attributed this to the inconsistent policies of Old Christian authorities, decrying the inquisitorial and ecclesiastical persecution that undermined the medieval status quo of toleration. In recent decades, new surveys of Christian-Muslim relations in 1350–1614 reflect a greater sensitivity to regional distinctions and international connections, in parallel to the “Four Kingdoms” approach to British history in the Tudor-Stuart era. In geographic scope, works such as Catlos 2015 build upon earlier studies of Spanish Islam including MacKay 1977 and Fletcher 2006 by expanding the focus beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Though few today would accept Boronat’s view of the Moriscos as an Ottoman army in waiting, works such as Chejne 1983, Harvey 1992, and Harvey 2005 have shown the many connections between Spain and the Islamic world, particularly the Maghreb. Bandits, corsairs, traders, diplomats, and galley slaves moved throughout the Mediterranean world, connecting the diaspora of Muslims in Spain to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire (just as a diaspora of Spaniards inhabited the presidios, ports, and prisons of the Islamic world). Domínguez Ortiz and Vincent 1993 captured the tragedy of the expulsion, but as Bernabé Pons 2009 elaborates, the expelled Moriscos landed in destinations from Orán and Algiers, to the eastern Mediterranean, to the New World. In its transnationalism, the historiography of Spanish Islam reflects the broader trends in our understanding of late medieval and early modern Spain.

  • Bernabé Pons, Luis F. Los moriscos: Conflicto, expulsión y diáspora. Madrid: Catarata, 2009.

    This recent survey follows the structure of its subtitle closely, examining societal conflict, expulsion, and dispersion of Moriscos in turn. By tracing the fate of the exiles after 1609, be it acceptance in the Ottoman Empire, persecution in the Maghreb, or quiet assimilation back in Spain, Bernabé Pons reveals the underlying tensions of the Morisco century.

  • Catlos, Brian. Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom: c. 1050–1614. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    This ambitious and comprehensively researched survey assesses the Muslims of Spain from the mudejar era through the end of the Morisco century. Key themes include regional diversity and conflict within Muslim communities, the changing legal status of Muslims and Moriscos under Christian rule, and the concept of diaspora between the age of al-Andalus and the expulsion of the Moriscos.

  • Chejne, Anwar. Islam and the West: The Moriscos, a Cultural and Social History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

    For many years the only English-language survey of the Moriscos other than Henry Charles Lea’s (1901), Chejne’s work draws upon the aljamiado literature (Romance language works rendered in Arabic characters) to paint a portrait of a quietly defiant Islamic society under Christian rule. While more recent research using other types of documents has fleshed out considerably our understanding of the Moriscos, this remains valuable for its discussion of Morisco engagement with Islamic writings and traditions.

  • Domínguez Ortiz, Antonio, and Bernard Vincent. Historia de los moriscos: Vida y tragedia de una minoría. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1993.

    This Spanish-language survey, first published in 1978, defines the Moriscos as Muslims who conformed to Christianity in public while maintaining their beliefs in private. Tracing the history of Morisco policy from the fall of Granada through the Inquisitorial era, the authors depict the expulsion as the culmination of the tragic persecution of a religious minority.

  • Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain. Oakland: University of California Press, 2006.

    Fletcher’s highly readable survey, written with minimal scholarly apparatus for a general audience, begins by tracing the Western idea of a tolerant, philosophical al-Andalus, before drawing this into question through sober analysis. Privileging social and cultural history over political narrative, Moorish Spain offers an engaging if selective introduction to medieval Spain.

  • Harvey, L. P. Islamic Spain, 1250–1500. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

    L. P. Harvey’s surveys of Islamic Spain provide a valuable complement to previous studies by drawing upon Arabic language sources, several of which appear in translation as well. The first volume paints a vivid portrait of Islamic rule in Granada and of Muslim communities in reconquered areas during the two and a half centuries prior to 1492, with greater emphasis upon political and religious history than society or economics.

  • Harvey, L. P. Muslims in Spain, 1500–1614. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226319650.001.0001

    Harvey’s latter study makes the case for the persistence of Islam among Moriscos after 1500, utilizing the aljamiado literature to explore their clandestine lives. Muslims in Spain, however, neglects to engage recent work arguing for accommodation and assimilation among many Morisco communities.

  • MacKay, Angus. Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000–1500. London: Macmillan, 1977.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-15793-8

    The late 1970s witnessed the publication of a flurry of surveys of medieval Spain, by O’Callaghan, Hillgarth, and others. MacKay’s remains the most readable and a useful point of departure for more recent studies. Adopting as his organizing principle the frontier, MacKay examines first the Reconquest and then the evolution toward empire. Though this work focuses too heavily upon politics in Castile, it offers a valuable transition from earlier debates over Spanish national character to later works that expanded the definition of “frontier.”

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