Morisco Revolt

The Morisco Revolt (1568−1571), also known as War of Las Alpujarras or Revolt of Las Alpujarras, in what is now Andalusia in southern Spain, was a rebellion against the Crown of Castile by the remaining Muslim converts to Christianity from the Kingdom of Granada.


The defeat of Muslim Spain

In the wake of the Reconquista most of the Moors continued to live in Spain. They became known as Mudéjares, and until the 16th century were granted religious freedom, albeit subject to some legal discrimination. The Kingdom of Granada, the last Muslim-ruled state in Spain, was defeated in 1492, and the Muslim population was tolerated by the terms of the Treaty of Granada. In 1499, Queen Isabella I decreed that all Muslims must convert to Christianity or leave Spain; she had many Arabic books burned in Byazien Square in Granada. This led up to a rebellion in Granada (1499-1501), so the Muslims violated the terms of the Treaty of Granada, and were thus forced to choose between conversion to Christianity or exile. In 1502 Queen Isabella rescinded official toleration of Islam in all of the Kingdom of Castile, although the Kingdom of Aragon continued to tolerate its large Muslim population. But after the Revolt of the Brotherhoods in Valencia in 1526, King Charles V rescinded toleration of the Muslims in the Kindgom of Aragon.

Spanish Muslims officially ceased to exist, and the converted Catholic people of Muslim ancestry were known as Moriscos. Many Moriscos continued to speak Arabic and Berber languages and to wear Moorish clothing. Despite their public conversion, the Moriscos were held in suspicion by the existing Christians of Spain, who considered them insincere converts and secret Muslims.

The Ottoman threat

In the mid-16th century, the Ottoman Empire emerged as the dominant Muslim power in the Mediterranean. There were increasing clashes between the Ottoman Empire and Spain. Philip II of Spain feared that the Moriscos of the former Kingdom of Granada might support a Turkish invasion of Spain. The Ottoman court planned an armed intervention in favor of the Moriscos, but the Ottoman Sultan, Selim II, was persuaded to instead take Cyprus because of its strategic position for overcoming Christian power in the Mediterranean.

The reaction of the Spanish crown

In 1567, Philip II issued a royal decree ending all toleration of Moorish culture. He banned the Arabic and Berber languages, prohibited Moorish dress, required Moriscos to adopt Christian names, ordered the destruction of all books and documents in Arabic script, and decreed that Morisco children would be educated only by Catholic priests. It is possible that Philip issued this decree with the intent of provoking rebellion so that the Moriscos could be eliminated or expelled, or it could be that Philip wanted to ensure the loyalty of the Moriscos by complete assimilation.

The rebellion

Philip's new harsh approach sparked the outbreak of armed rebellion in the former Kingdom of Granada. The revolt was planned by Ferag ben Ferag, descended from the royal house of Granada, and Diego Lopez Ben Abu. They carefully estimated the feelings of the people of the Alpujarras, where the best stand could be made against the Spanish forces, solicited aid from the kings of North Africa, and persuaded local bandits to embrace their cause.

On Christmas Eve of 1568, monfies and Moriscos of Granada, the Alpujarras, and elsewhere secretly assembled at the Vale de Lecrin. They repudiated Christianity, and proclaimed Aben Humeya (born Fernando de Valor) as their ruler and heir of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The insurrection took the form of guerrilla warfare with military and economic support from Algeria. Aben Humeya was assassinated in 1569, and replaced by Aben Aboo.

To suppress the revolt, Philip sent his half-brother John of Austria with a large force of Spanish and Italian troops. Among those who fought was the writer El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who became a captain because of his service during the revolt. The rebels, despite their number (which increased from 4,000 in 1569 to 25,000 in 1570, including Berber and Turkish mercenaries), soon lost their gains, made a last stand during which Abén Aboo was killed by his followers in a cave at Bérchules, and were defeated by 1571.


After the suppression of the revolt, almost the entire population of the Alpujarras was deported to Castille and western Andalusia and some 270 villages and hamlets were repopulated with settlers brought in from Northern Spain. The remaining villages were abandoned. This led to the destruction of the silk industry over the course of several centuries.

Philip had ordered the dispersal of 80,000 Moriscos of Granada to other parts of the country. Philip expected that this would fragment the Morisco community and accelerate their assimilation into the Christian population. However, the Moriscos from Granada, having been dispersed throughout the Kingdom of Castile (notably to Andalusia and Extremadura), actually had some influence on the local Moriscos who had until then become more assimilated.


  • Kaplan, Benjamin J., Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe, Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 310-311.
  • Zagorin, Perez, Rebels and rulers, 1500-1660, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 13-15.

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