The monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand (commonly known as the Catholic monarchs) signed the Edict of Expulsion in 1492 (commonly referred as the Alhambra decree).It established the expulsion of the communities of Jews of their kingdom.In 1609 another monarch published a decree establishing the expulsion of the members of Muslim communities. The publication of these decree was the last step. Since the 12th century the authorities at the local and national level passed several laws and status such as the status of the purity of blood or the pragmatics of Ayllon. These laws and economic reforms changed how the society perceived the Jews and Muslims and established the basis for future repressive systems such as the one in Germany before the Second World War.
What comes to your mind when someone says the forced expulsion of the Jews or forced conversion? In Spain , the majority will answer the Edict of Expulsion ( commonly known as the Alhambra Decree) (1462) which is a legal document issued on 31 March 1492 by the Catholic monarchs Isabel of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon that order the expulsion of Jews and Muslim from the mentioned territories.The monarchs also passed a decree years later establishing the expulsion of the members of the Muslim community.They are normally mentioned as one and in this text it will be same for simplification. At the school level, usually they only teached as an important event in the Spanish historiography but fail to mention its causes and effects.The reality is more complex. The Jews and Muslim communities were persecuted all across Medieval Europe for a long time. The process was similar to the years before the Holocaust and other posterior prosecution of minorities.It started with some changes in the use of the language and then the passing of different laws. The data shows the slow introduction of terms such as “moros” in the Castillan and Aragonese legislation of the time. (Carrasco,2003)The last stage was the passing of the Edict of Expulsion in 1462.
Document 1: Copy of the Edict of Expulsion ( commonly known as the Alhambra decree)
What is the historical context?
In 711 A.C several tribes of the Northern part of Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula and remained for seven centuries. The former Christian kingdom started what is called The Reconquest which ended with the Conquest of Granada in 1492.This Campaign was fuelled by an anti Muslim sentiment which became prevalent in some areas of the political and economical elite in the 12th century onward in the Iberian Peninsula.
Another important factor was The Crusades in which the European Kingdoms fought for what they considered their Holy land. It promoted several expulsions of Jews occurring all across Europe for several centuries. For example, the English crown expelled the Jews in 1290. The Jews did not return to England until the 1650s, when they were invited to resettle by Oliver Cromwell. The map below includes the dates of the different expulsions of Jews.
Map 1: Map expulsion of Jews in Europe (1100-1600) (Wikipedia)
Laws and their effects in the society
The Medieval Society in Spain and Europe was predominantly Christian which resulted in strong connection between the Church and the legal institutions.The second born sons became part of the church and were encouraged to become more powerful within the church( Adrian , 2023). The increasing power of the Church and the economic interest of their members from powerful families from the 12th century onward had dramatic effects on the new laws.
The existence of different tax and legal systems in the Crown of Aragon and Castille influenced different conflicts and relational dynamics within the different ethnic groups.The minorities used to live in closed neighbourhoods called aljamas which were obligated to pay the “service and half service”( latter called the Service of the Golden Castilians) tax to the king (Vinuales,2003). However, they were exempted to pay the tithe which resulted in unrest in the Church. As a result,the King Sancho VI passed a decree in 1293 in the Court of Valladolid which prohibited jews and muslims to own land and sell the land they already owned within a year. These laws were not fully in force because some areas were fully dependent on the activities of these minorities so they were granted a royal exception( Carrasco, 2012).
The previous protection of the king decreased as time elapsed.Phillip the second approved several laws that prohibited arabic in written or oral format , the moorish dress code, the use of the hijab , moorish celebrations ( songs and dances , musical instruments included) and the use of arabic names ( Dopico, 2003).He also regulated how the different communities should dress and interact after some members of the Church asked him.
Christian authorities discriminate against the jews in different aspects such as housing, food , laws & employment. For example,Christian authorities limited Jewish access to the most lucrative jobs and compelled them to do all kinds of servile jobs. A Christian woman could not work as a nurse in Muslim or a Jewish household. The Valencian Muslims were prohibited to be near the sea due to a fear of plotting with the Ottoman Empire ( Dopico .2003).
After an anti jewish revolt in 1449 the status of the purity of blood was applied all across Europe even though the Pope published the bula humani generis in which he said that converted Muslims should be treated as all other “pure” christians. At the beginning, they established the status of the purity of blood and the city of Toledo passed it as a law in 1547. The cities all across the Iberian peninsula followed quickly (Dopico ,2003). The table down shows easily the timeline of the events before and after the edict.
|Date||Laws / event|
|1293||The king passed a law establishing that prohibited Jews and Muslims could not own land|
|1412||The Pragmatics of Ayllon|
|1457||The first status of the purity of blood was passed in Toledo (Spain)|
|1476||The Catholic King ordered the forced separation between Jews and Christians in Caceres and Soria|
|1480||Publication at the Court of Toledo of the law establishing forced segregation of minorities of the courts of Toledo|
|1482||The Pope Sixto IV published a document confirming the law published in Toledo|
|1492||Edict of Expulsion (Alhambra Decree)|
|1567||Phillip II approved several laws in Granada that prohibited Arabic in written or oral format , the Moorish dress code, the use of the hijab , moorish celebrations ( songs and dances , musical instruments included) and the use of Arabic names|
|1609||Expulsion of Muslims|
|1609||Philip III sent a letter / order to Valencian Archbishop Juan de Ribera establishing the terms of the separation of muslim children and their parents under any circumstance even if the parents refused.|
Table 1: Year and event before and after the publication of the Edict of Expulsion (1492)
The legacy of the Edict of Expulsion and the previous laws
The Edict of Expulsion (1492) ( commonly known as the Alhambra decree) established that the members of the Jewish community were forced to convert to Christianity or leave their hometowns with only the things they could carry by hand. Their homes and properties were acquired by the local authorities.They only had three days to solve their affairs and move to their assigned ports (Dopico 2003). Some people could not reach their assigned ports on time and were burned at the stake. Philip III sent a letter / order to Valencian archbishop Juan de Ribera establishing the terms of the separation of children and their parents under any circumstance even if the parents refused.As a result of this letter some women killed their kids and themselves (Carrasco , 2003). The people who choose to leave their homes were prohibited to carry money and jewelry but manage to do so.Some of them were scammed along the journey and became penniless. Most of the exiled arrived in a variety of places such as Portugal, tetuan, tunez , argel and other places across the Mediterranean and rebuilt their lives there. On the other hand, Some people decided to remain and became catholic due to a variety of circumstances and struggle to recover their properties.(Viñuales, 2003)
In 2015, The Spanish government passed a law that allowed the descendants of the expelled jews to acquire a dual citizenship as a way to compensate for shameful events in the country’s past. The descendants of the exiled Jews can also apply for Portuguese citizenship
In 1924, the regime of Primo de Rivera granted Spanish citizenship to a part of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora, though few people benefited from it in practice. The edict was then formally and symbolically revoked on 16 December 1968 by the regime of Francisco Franco.
The Edict of Alhambra was a result of a long process that started with a political move. Then , it resulted in the passing of several laws at the local and national level. The idea of the historical narrative is deeply reliant on the idea of Catholicism as the backbone of Spanish national identity (Garcia Sanjuan, 2023). . Spain lacks training and public awareness of the persecution of the Jews and Muslims and the darker side of our history. For example,the laws passed before the edicts of expulsion of the jews and muslims are never taught in Spanish high schools.The country and the world should be aware of how the pattern repeats and applies to any minority persecution such as the one that occurred in Germany before the Second World War (1939-1945).
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