The historian studying the religious minorities of Christian Spain during the reign of Fernando and Isabel can hardly escape a sense of impending doom and a tendency to comb the documentation for indications of royal plans to eliminate them, through either baptism or expulsion. The Catholic Monarchs' crusades against the sultanates of Granada and North Africa, or further afield against the Ottoman Turks, provide even more reason for pessimism regarding the position of the Mudejars in the late fifteenth century.
Yet the study of Fernando's policy toward the Muslim subjects of the Crown of Aragon, particularly toward those in the kingdom of Valencia, has produced conclusions that defy our expectations. For Fernando had no intention of removing the Islamic presence from his kingdoms, and it seems that at least on this score he and his wife were not of one mind. In the kingdom of Valencia (and presumably in Aragon and Catalonia as well), where Fernando alone ruled, the king made a considerable effort to augment the population of royal morerías by drawing Muslim vassals away from seigneurial lands, by constructing new morerías , or by settling Muslims from the conquered sultanate of Granada in Valencia. The Catholic Monarch saw no need to change in any way the centuries-old tradition of Mudejarism, and was most concerned to ensure that the Crown received as great a share as was possible of the economic benefits accruing from the Mudejars' labor and enterprise.
Nor did the international confrontation with Islamic states divert Fernando from this traditional policy. It is true that the forays of the Ottoman Turks on and around the Italian peninsula caused the king to look
somewhat askance at his Muslim subjects, and it is equally true that those same subjects sometimes collaborated with Maghriban corsairs and Granadan almugavers or attempted to aid the Nasrids[*] in their struggle for survival against the Spanish Christian onslaught. Nevertheless, royal fears were not great enough, nor were Mudejar subversive activities serious enough to undermine the tradition of Mudejarism. Indeed, the position of the Mudejars as a fifth column, whether grounded in reality or fabricated from paranoia, was integral to that tradition and a factor with which Fernando and his predecessors were willing to contend.
The popular Christian view of the Mudejars did not differ substantially from that of the king, for although the crusade against Islam was constantly preached throughout Fernando's reign, the Christian masses did not rise up in violence against the local Moors. If anything, Fernando deemed that many of his Christian subjects mingled with the Mudejars all too closely and freely. While the king preferred that the Mudejars contribute to the kingdom's economy but remain socially segregated, his Christian subjects were unable or unwilling to make such strict distinctions between economic activity and social life. It was above all the daily interaction between Muslim and Christian in the workplace and the marketplace that lent stability to Muslim—Christian convivencia in Valencia, and allowed for the breakdown of some, although by no means all, of the social barriers between them.
It must be emphasized that the economic foundation of convivencia consisted of far more than a desire on the part of the Crown and the nobility to retain Muslim serfs for purposes of taxation. Rather, Christian farmers, artisans, and merchants also had good reason to view favorably the Muslims, with whom they worked, traded, and became commercial partners. Furthermore, the Mudejars themselves were able to profit from this economic activity. Far from being oppressed and immobile serfs, many Mudejars were able to take advantage of the more favorable conditions of the fifteenth century. They changed vassalage with the aim of achieving better working and living conditions; they bought, leased, or reclaimed additional land; and they struck out on new commercial ventures. The Mudejars partook of the relative prosperity that the kingdom of Valencia enjoyed in the fifteenth century.
Nevertheless, beneath the apparent normalcy and continuity of tradition signs of change and a movement toward explosive conflict are evident. By Fernando's reign the towns and the rural nobility were well entrenched in their bitter rivalries over boundaries, irrigation rights, and court jurisdictions. Not infrequently the Mudejars found themselves unwillingly at the center of these disputes. Because they were so
highly valued as vassals, the Mudejars were often victimized by their lord's antagonists, and because they were Muslims the Mudejars' oppressors were not inhibited by conscience and only minimally by law. However, this oppression stemmed from the political and economic strategies of the nobility and the municipal authorities; it was not an expression of widespread hostility against the Mudejars. It took the social revolution of the Germanías (1519–1522), when the animosity between barons and town citizens was most furiously expressed, to bring the latent anti-Muslim sentiments of the Christian populace to the fore. And this did not occur until two years after the revolt had erupted. The anti-Muslim violence of the Germanías , like that of the Christian mob who had assaulted the morería of Valencia in 1455, was an expression of both religious hostility and economic resentment. The difference between 1455 and 1521 was that in the former instance the violence was more limited, order was quickly restored, and convivencia was able to persist, much as it always had, with a potentiality for ethnic violence. In the latter case, although the royal forces restored order through the crushing of the Germanías, convivencia was no longer possible, for the Germanías had taken an irrevocable step: they had forcibly baptized thousands of Mudejars. Now royal policy—that of Carlos I—was dictated by theological considerations, not by tradition or economic pragmatism. Baptism, the theologians had ruled, was ineffaceable, and, lest the faith of the new converts be corrupted by Islam, all Muslims had to choose between conversion and exile.
Of course, the emperor Carlos was merely following the example of his grandparents, Fernando and Isabel, whose decisions to expel the Jews and to convert the Muslims of Granada and Castile were founded on the same inescapable logic. And this was the sad irony of Fernando's Mudejar policy, for despite his determination to uphold Mudejarism in the lands of the Crown of Aragon, he had set a dangerous precedent by acquiescing in his wife's treatment of the Mudejars of her own kingdoms. Notwithstanding the institutional and cultural distinctiveness of Aragon, Fernando's Christian subjects could not remain unaffected by what had transpired in Granada and Castile between 1499 and 1502. Thus they began to murmur about converting or expelling their own Mudejars, and this murmuring continued until the revolt of the Germanías . Moreover, Fernando by his own actions—not merely through his inaction in Castile—had unintentionally strengthened the resolve of these Christians who felt that Castilian Mudejar policy should have a sequel in Aragon. For through his determination to establish the Inquisition in his own kingdoms at whatever cost in order to eradicate the judaizing heresy, Fernando had demonstrated quite clearly not that the Catholic faith was to be used as a tool to unify the Spanish state—which
his subjects only dimly recognized—but that religious unity, or rather the purity of the faith, was an end in itself. Unfortunately, many of Fernando's Christian subjects could not make the fine distinction that their king made between protecting the faith of new converts by converting or expelling their former coreligionists, and protecting all Christians by ridding Christian society of the Islamic and Jewish presence once and for all. Even though Fernando's intention was undoubtedly the former, the goal of the Inquisitors, whom he himself had set loose in his kingdoms, was patently the latter. Mudejarism in the Crown of Aragon expired both despite and because of Fernando's policy.
Yet Islam was to outlive the Mudejars for another century in Spain and then would be carried out of the peninsula by the Moriscos when they were finally expelled in 1609. Islam endured among the Mudejars and the Moriscos not through fervor of religious belief alone, but also through their perpetuation of a distinct social world, structurally coherent and of great vitality. Social structures and mores, family life—even feuding—an Arabic culture, and religious belief all lent the Mudejars a sense of distinctiveness, tradition, and pride which the baptismal waters could not erase. Fernando, Isabel, Cardinal Cisneros, and the Inquisitors were all tragically mistaken in supposing that the true conversion of the Muslim minorities was simply a theological problem. Only the lonely figure of Hernando de Talavera, the first archbishop of Granada, sensed how intimately cultural form and social practice were linked to religious belief. Only his sensitive approach to proselytizing the Muslims by meeting them halfway on their own cultural ground had any chance of success. Because the Spanish Church chose the path of Cisneros, the competition between the Catholic clergy and the Muslim faqih s[*] for the souls of Mudejars and Moriscos had a foregone conclusion.