Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada/Chapter V
EXPEDITION OF THE MARQUES OF CADIZ AGAINST ALHAMA.
Great was the indignation of King Ferdinand when he heard of the storming of Zahara, though the outrage of the Moor happened most opportunely. The war between Castile and Portugal had come to a close; the factions of Spanish nobles were for the most part quelled. The Castilian monarchs had now, therefore, turned their thoughts to the cherished object of their ambition, the conquest of Granada. The pious heart of Isabella yearned to behold the entire Peninsula redeemed from the domination of the infidel, while Ferdinand, in whom religious zeal was mingled with temporal policy, looked with a craving eye to the rich territory of the Moor, studded with wealthy towns and cities. Muley Abul Hassan had rashly or unwarily thrown the brand that was to produce the wide conflagration. Ferdinand was not the one to quench the flames. He immediately issued orders to all the adelantados and alcaydes of the frontiers to maintain the utmost vigilance at their several posts, and to prepare to carry fire and sword into the territories of the Moors.
Among the many valiant cavaliers who rallied round the throne of Ferdinand and Isabella, one of the most eminent in rank and renowned in arms was Don Roderigo Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz. As he was the distinguished champion of this holy war, and commanded in most of its enterprises and battles, it is meet that some particular account should be given of him. He was born in 1443 of the valiant lineage of the Ponces, and from his earliest youth had rendered himself illustrious in the field. He was of the middle stature, with a muscular and powerful frame, capable of great exertion and fatigue. His hair and beard were red and curled, his countenance was open and magnanimous, of a ruddy complexion and slightly marked with the small- pox. He was temperate, chaste, valiant, vigilant; a just and generous master to his vassals; frank and noble in his deportment toward his equals; loving and faithful to his friends; fierce and terrible, yet magnanimous, to his enemies. He was considered the mirror of chivalry of his times, and compared by contemporary historians to the immortal Cid.
The marques of Cadiz had vast possessions in the most fertile parts of Andalusia, including many towns and castles, and could lead forth an army into the field from his own vassals and dependants. On receiving the orders of the king he burned to signalize himself by some sudden incursion into the kingdom of Granada that should give a brilliant commencement to the war, and should console the sovereigns for the insult they had received in the capture of Zahara. As his estates lay near to the Moorish frontiers and were subject to sudden inroads, he had always in his pay numbers of adalides, or scouts and guides, many of them converted Moors. These he sent out in all directions to watch the movements of the enemy and to procure all kinds of information important to the security of the frontier. One of these spies came to him one day in his town of Marchena, and informed him that the Moorish town of Alhama was slightly garrisoned and negligently guarded, and might be taken by surprise. This was a large, wealthy, and populous place within a few leagues of Granada. It was situated on a rocky height, nearly surrounded by a river, and defended by a fortress to which there was no access but by a steep and cragged ascent. The strength of its situation and its being embosomed in the centre of the kingdom had produced the careless security which now invited attack.
To ascertain fully the state of the fortress the marques despatched secretly a veteran soldier who was highly in his confidence. His name was Ortega de Prado, a man of great activity, shrewdness, and valor, and captain of escaladors (soldiers employed to scale the walls of fortresses in time of attack). Ortega approached Alhama one moonless night, and paced along its walls with noiseless step, laying his ear occasionally to the ground or to the wall. Every time he distinguished the measured tread of a sentinel, and now and then the challenge of the night-watch going its rounds. Finding the town thus guarded, he clambered to the castle: there all was silent. As he ranged its lofty battlements between him and the sky he saw no sentinel on duty. He noticed certain places where the wall might be ascended by scaling-ladders, and, having marked the hour of relieving guard and made all necessary observations, he retired without being discovered.
Ortega returned to Marchena, and assured the marques of Cadiz of the practicability of scaling the castle of Alhama and taking it by surprise. The marques had a secret conference with Don Pedro Enriques, adelantado of Andalusia, Don Diego de Merlo, commander of Seville, Sancho de Avila, alcayde of Carmona, and others, who all agreed to aid him with their forces. On an appointed day the several commanders assembled at Marchena with their troops and retainers. None but the leaders knew the object or destination of the enterprise, but it was enough to rouse the Andalusian spirit to know that a foray was intended into the country of their old enemies, the Moors. Secrecy and celerity were necessary for success. They set out promptly with three thousand genetes or light cavalry and four thousand infantry. They chose a route but little travelled, by the way of Antiquera, passing with great labor through rugged and solitary defiles of the sierra or chain of mountains of Arrecife, and left all their baggage on the banks of the river Yeguas, to be brought after them. This march was principally in the night; all day they remained quiet; no noise was suffered in their camp, and no fires were made, lest the smoke should betray them. On the third day they resumed their march as the evening darkened, and, forcing themselves forward at as quick a pace as the rugged and dangerous mountain-roads would permit, they descended toward midnight into a small deep valley only half a league from Alhama. Here they made a halt, fatigued by this forced march, during a long dark evening toward the end of February.
The marques of Cadiz now explained to the troops the object of the expedition. He told them it was for the glory of the most holy faith and to avenge the wrongs of their countrymen at Zahara, and that the town of Alhama, full of wealthy spoil, was the place to be attacked. The troops were roused to new ardor by these words, and desired to be led forthwith to the assault. They arrived close to Alhama about two hours before daybreak. Here the army remained in ambush, while three hundred men were despatched to scale the walls and get possession of the castle. They were picked men, many of them alcaydes and officers, men who preferred death to dishonor. This gallant band was guided by the escalador Ortega de Prado at the head of thirty men with scaling-ladders. They clambered the ascent to the castle in silence, and arrived under the dark shadow of its towers without being discovered. Not a light was to be seen, not a sound to be heard; the whole place was wrapped in profound repose.
Fixing their ladders, they ascended cautiously and with noiseless steps. Ortega was the first that mounted upon the battlements, followed by one Martin Galindo, a youthful esquire full of spirit and eager for distinction. Moving stealthily along the parapet to the portal of the citadel, they came upon the sentinel by surprise. Ortega seized him by the throat, brandished a dagger before his eyes, and ordered him to point the way to the guard-room. The infidel obeyed, and was instantly despatched, to prevent his giving an alarm. The guard-room was a scene rather of massacre than combat. Some of the soldiery were killed while sleeping, others were cut down almost without resistance, bewildered by so unexpected an assault: all were despatched, for the scaling party was too small to make prisoners or to spare. The alarm spread throughout the castle, but by this time the three hundred picked men had mounted the battlements. The garrison, startled from sleep, found the enemy already masters of the towers. Some of the Moors were cut down at once, others fought desperately from room to room, and the whole castle resounded with the clash of arms, the cries of the combatants, and the groans of the wounded. The army in ambush, finding by the uproar that the castle was surprised, now rushed from their concealment, and approached the walls with loud shouts and sound of kettle-drums and trumpets to increase the confusion and dismay of the garrison. A violent conflict took place in the court of the castle, where several of the scaling party sought to throw open the gates to admit their countrymen. Here fell two valiant alcaydes, Nicholas de Roja and Sancho de Avila, but they fell honorably, upon a heap of slain. At length Ortega de Prado succeeded in throwing open a postern through which the marques of Cadiz, the adelantado of Andalusia, and Don Diego de Merlo entered with a host of followers, and the citadel remained in full possession of the Christians.
As the Spanish cavaliers were ranging from room to room, the marques of Cadiz, entering an apartment of superior richness to the rest, beheld, by the light of a silver lamp, a beautiful Moorish female, the wife of the alcayde of the castle, whose husband was absent attending a wedding-feast at Velez Malaga. She would have fled at the sight of a Christian warrior in her apartment, but, entangled in the covering of the bed, she fell at the feet of the marques, imploring mercy. That Christian cavalier, who had a soul full of honor and courtesy toward the sex, raised her from the floor and endeavored to allay her fears; but they were increased at the sight of her female attendants pursued into the room by the Spanish soldiery. The marques reproached his soldiers with unmanly conduct, and reminded them that they made war upon men, not on defenceless women. Having soothed the terrors of the females by the promise of honorable protection, he appointed a trusty guard to watch over the security of their apartment.
The castle was now taken, but the town below it was in arms. It was broad day, and the people, recovered from their panic, were enabled to see and estimate the force of the enemy. The inhabitants were chiefly merchants and tradespeople, but the Moors all possessed a knowledge of the use of weapons and were of brave and warlike spirit. They confided in the strength of their walls and the certainty of speedy relief from Granada, which was but about eight leagues distant. Manning the battlements and towers, they discharged showers of stones and arrows whenever the part of the Christian army without the walls attempted to approach. They barricadoed the entrances of their streets also which opened toward the castle, stationing men expert at the crossbow and arquebuse. These kept up a constant fire upon the gate of the castle, so that no one could sally forth without being instantly shot down. Two valiant cavaliers who attempted to lead forth a party in defiance of this fatal tempest were shot dead at the very portal.
The Christians now found themselves in a situation of great peril. Reinforcements must soon arrive to the enemy from Granada: unless, therefore, they gained possession of the town in the course of the day, they were likely to be surrounded and beleaguered, without provisions, in the castle. Some observed that even if they took the town they should not be able to maintain possession of it. They proposed, therefore, to make booty of everything valuable, to sack the castle, set it on fire, and make good their retreat to Seville.
The marques of Cadiz was of different counsel. "God has given the citadel into Christian hands," said he; "he will no doubt strengthen them to maintain it. We have gained the place with difficulty and bloodshed; it would be a stain upon our honor to abandon it through fear of imaginary dangers." The adelantado and Don Diego de Merlo joined in his opinion, but without their earnest and united remonstrances the place would have been abandoned, so exhausted were the troops by forced marches and hard fighting, and so apprehensive of the approach of the Moors of Granada.
The strength and spirits of the party within the castle were in some degree restored by the provisions which they found. The Christian army beneath the town, being also refreshed by a morning's repast, advanced vigorously to the attack of the walls. They planted their scaling-ladders, and, swarming up, sword in hand, fought fiercely with the Moorish soldiery upon the ramparts.
In the mean time, the marques of Cadiz, seeing that the gate of the castle, which opened toward the city, was completely commanded by the artillery of the enemy, ordered a large breach to be made in the wall, through which he might lead his troops to the attack, animating them in this perilous moment by assuring them that the place should be given up to plunder and its inhabitants made captives.
The breach being made, the marques put himself at the head of his troops, and entered sword in hand. A simultaneous attack was make by the Christians in every part--by the ramparts, by the gate, by the roofs and walls which connected the castle with the town. The Moors fought valiantly in their streets, from their windows, and from the tops of their houses. They were not equal to the Christians in bodily strength, for they were for the most part peaceful men, of industrious callings, and enervated by the frequent use of the warm bath; but they were superior in number and unconquerable in spirit; old and young, strong and weak, fought with the same desperation. The Moors fought for property, for liberty, for life. They fought at their thresholds and their hearths, with the shrieks of their wives and children ringing in their ears, and they fought in the hope that each moment would bring aid from Granada. They regarded neither their own wounds nor the death of their companions, but continued fighting until they fell, and seemed as if, when they could no longer contend, they would block up the thresholds of their beloved homes with their mangled bodies. The Christians fought for glory, for revenge, for the holy faith, and for the spoil of these wealthy infidels. Success would place a rich town at their mercy; failure would deliver them into the hands of the tyrant of Granada.
The contest raged from morning until night, when the Moors began to yield. Retreating to a large mosque near the walls, they kept up so galling a fire from it with lances, crossbows, and arquebuses that for some time the Christians dared not approach. Covering themselves, at length, with bucklers and mantelets* to protect them from the deadly shower, the latter made their way to the mosque and set fire to the doors. When the smoke and flames rolled in upon them the Moors gave up all as lost. Many rushed forth desperately upon the enemy, but were immediately slain; the rest surrendered themselves captives.
*Mantelet--a movable parapet, made of thick planks, to protect
troops when advancing to sap or assault a walled place.
The struggle was now at an end: the town remained at the mercy of the Christians; and the inhabitants, both male and female, became the slaves of those who made them prisoners. Some few escaped by a mine or subterranean way which led to the river, and concealed themselves, their wives and children, in caves and secret places, but in three or four days were compelled to surrender themselves through hunger.
The town was given up to plunder, and the booty was immense. There were found prodigious quantities of gold and silver, and jewels and rich silks and costly stuffs of all kinds, together with horses and beeves, and abundance of grain and oil and honey, and all other productions of this fruitful kingdom; for in Alhama were collected the royal rents and tributes of the surrounding country: it was the richest town in the Moorish territory, and from its great strength and its peculiar situation was called the key to Granada.
Great waste and devastation were committed by the Spanish soldiery; for, thinking it would be impossible to keep possession of the place, they began to destroy whatever they could not take away. Immense jars of oil were broken, costly furniture shattered to pieces, and magazines of grain broken open and their contents scattered to the winds. Many Christian captives who had been taken at Zahara were found buried in a Moorish dungeon, and were triumphantly restored to light and liberty; and a renegado Spaniard, who had often served as guide to the Moors in their incursions into the Christian territories, was hanged on the highest part of the battlements for the edification of the army.