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On April 9, 1609, King Philip III of Spain decreed the expulsion of the Moriscos. The Moriscos were the descendants of the Muslim population that converted to Christianity under threat of exile from Ferdinand and Isabella in 1502. From 1609 through 1614, the Spanish government systematically forced to Moriscos to leave the kingdom. They were only allowed to keep what money and possessions they could carry; the rest, including their property, was impounded. The expulsion especially affected the former Kingdom of Valencia and Kingdom of Aragonmarker, harming their economies for generations.


Suspicions and tensions between the Moriscos and the Christians had been high for some time. While some Moriscos did hold influence and power, and they had some allies such as the nobility of Valencia and Aragon who depended on them as a cheap labor force, their overall political and economic heft in Spain was low. The Christian population constantly suspected the Moriscos of not being sincere in their Christianity. As the Moriscos had been forced to choose between conversion and exile, many indeed held little loyalty to either the crown or the church. Several revolts broke out, the most notable being the 1568–1573 revolt against an edict of Phillip II's banning Arabic, Arabic names, and requiring Moriscos to give up their children to be educated by priests. After the suppression of the revolt, Philip ordered the dispersal of the Moriscos of Granada to other areas. Philip expected that this would break down the Morisco community and facilitate their assimilation into the Christian population. This may have happened to a degree to Granada's Moriscos, but not in Valencia or Aragon, where genuine crypto-Muslim enclaves still existed.

At around the same time, Spain recognized the loss of more than half of her holdings in the Low Countries to the Protestant Dutch Republic. The ruling class already thought of Spain as the defender of Catholic Christendom, and this defeat helped lead to a radicalization of thinking and a desire to strike a blow to regain Spain's honor. Some critiques of Spain from Protestant countries included insults of the Spanish as corrupted by the Muslims and pseudo-Muslims amongst them, which some of the nobility may have taken personally.

The situation further deteriorated in the early 1600s. A recession struck in 1604 as the amount of gold and treasure Spain's American holdings fell. The reduction in the standard of living led to increased tension between the Christians and the Moriscos for precious jobs.

Attitudes toward the Moriscos by region

In 1609, there were approximately 325,000 Moriscos in Spain out of a total population of 8.5 million. They were concentrated in the former kingdoms of Aragon, where they constituted 20% of the population, and the Valencia area specifically, where they were 33% of the total population. In addition, the Moorish population growth was somewhat higher than that of the Christian population; in Valencia, the Morisco population had an estimated 69.7% growth rate compared to 44.7% for the old Christians. The rich and those who lived in the cities were mostly Christians, while the Moriscos occupied the outlying countryside and the poor suburbs of the cities.

In the former kingdom of Castile, the situation was quite different: Castile had a population of 6 million people, yet there were only some 100,000 Morisco inhabitants. With the Moriscos not nearly as large a presence, resentment toward them in Castile was much smaller than that of the Christian population in Aragon.

There was practically universal agreement in Spain that Islam was a threat that should be crushed. However, it was not clear how that should apply to the Moriscos, who were officially Christian. Some clerics such as Fray Luis de Aliaga, a royal councilor, supported giving time to the Moriscos to assimilate and become full Christians. This option was lightly supported by the Catholic Church in Rome, too. The most dedicated defenders of the Moriscos were the Valencian and Aragonese nobility, as their self-interest was involved. These nobles benefited the most from the poor and cheap workforce that the Moriscos provided.

Opposing this view were a variety of notables and classes of people. Clerics against Aliaga included Jaime Bleda, the most prominent member of the Inquisition in Valencia. Bleda made several early proposals to King Philip III to banish or otherwise end the Morisco problem; he even recommended genocide. At first, these entreaties were without success. In 1596 the Duke of Lerma, King Philip III's chief financial officer, accused the Moriscos of collaboration with the Muslim Barbary pirates, a charge that had dogged them for years. Still, while many in the population held to this, others considered that this threat had long since passed. The Council of Aragon, in opposing any punitive measures, wrote that even if they wished to betray Spain, the Moriscos were in no position to do so "for they possess neither arms, nor supplies, nor fortified positions, nor a base for the Turkish fleet." Nothing came of it at the time, but the Duke of Lerma continued his in his antipathy toward the Moriscos. Among the populace itself, the Valencian peasantry had the most interest in the matter. They viewed the Moriscos with resentment and considered them economic and social rivals. This had bubbled over before in 1520, when in the Revolt of the Brotherhoods, the citizenry of Valencia revolted against not only their nobles but also the Muslim mudéjars. The rebels killed many, and forced the mass baptism and conversion of the remainder of the Muslim population, which had created the Moriscos of Valencia.

Edict and expulsion

Embarking of the Moriscos at Valencia, by Pere Oromig.
The Duke of Lerma eventually convinced King Philip III with the help of the Archbishop of Valencia, Juan de Ribera, who considered the Moriscos as universally heretics and traitors. The archbishop added an idea to make the plan more persuasive to the king: the king could confiscate the assets and properties of the Moorish population, thereby providing a dramatic one-time boost to the royal coffers. Ribera also encouraged the king to enslave the Moriscos for work in galleys, mines, and abroad as he could do so "without any scruples of conscience," but this proposal was rejected.

On April 9, 1609, the edict was signed to expel the Moriscos. The government knew that exiling so many would be problematic. It was decided to start with Valencia, where the Morisco population was greatest. Preparations were taken in the strictest secrecy. Starting in September, tercio battalions arrived from Italy. They took up positions in the main ports of Valencia: Alfaques, Déniamarker, and Alicantemarker. On September 22, the viceroy ordered the publication of the decree. The Valencian aristocracy met with the government to protest the expulsion, as losing their workers would ruin their agricultural incomes. The government offered some of the confiscated property and territory of the Moriscos to them in exchange, but this didn't come close to compensating for the loss. The Moriscos would be allowed to take anything that could carry, but their homes and land would pass into the hands of their masters. Burning or other destruction of their homes before the transfer was prohibited on pain of death. Certain exceptions were granted: 6 families out of every 100 would be allowed to stay behind and maintain the infrastructure of towns that had been predominantly Morisco-inhabited. Very few took advantage of this, considering that it was thought likely that they'd be exiled anyway later. Additionally, the exile was optional for children less than 4 years old. This was later expanded to 16 years of age. Archbishop Ribera strongly opposed this part of the measure; he lobbied that at the very least the children should be separated from their parents, enslaved, and Christianized "for the good of their souls."

On September 30, the first of the exiles were taken to the ports, where, as a last insult, they were forced to pay their own fare for the trip. The Moriscos were transported to North Africa, where at times they were attacked as invaders by the people of the recipient countries. Other times, small revolts broke out on the ships, causing some of the exiles to be slain in battle with the crew. This caused fears in the Morisco population remaining in Valencia, and on October 20 there was a rebellion against the expulsion. The rebels numbered 6,000 and held the remote valley of Ayoramarker and Muela de Cortes. Five days later, a new rebellion broke out on the southern coast, with 15,000 rebels holding the Valley of Lugar. The rebels were defeated by November. In only three months, 116,000 Moriscos had been transported to North Africa from Valencia. The start of 1610 saw the expulsion of the Moriscos of Aragonmarker (the specific area of Aragon, not all the lands of the old Crown of Aragon). 41,952 were sent to North Africa via Alfaques, and 13,470 were sent over the Pyrenees Mountainsmarker to France. The exasperated French sent most of them to the port of Agdemarker, and those who took the land route were charged both the transit fee and the sea fare. In September, the Moriscos of Cataloniamarker were exiled. Andalusiamarker exiled some 32,000 Moriscos as well.

The expulsion of the Moriscos of Castile was the most difficult task, since they were dispersed across the land after being broken in 1571 by the rebellion rather than being concentrated in any one place. Because of this, the Moriscos were given a first option of voluntary departure, where they could take their most valuable possessions and anything else that might sell. Thus, in Castile the expulsion lasted three years, from 1611 to 1614. Perhaps 32,000 Moriscos left in total. Some even managed to evade expulsion and stayed in Spain; it is estimated that perhaps 10,000 Moriscos remained in Spain after the expulsion officially completed, mostly in Castile.

The expulsion was impressively well-run. The state had kept careful catalogs of the status of its residents, and the bureaucracy functioned efficiently to channel such a huge number of people out of the country over a short period of time.


The Council of Castile evaluated the expulsion in 1619 and concluded that it had no economic impact for the country. This was basically true for Castile, as some scholars of the expulsion have found no economic consequences on sectors where the Morisco population was important. However, in the Kingdom of Valencia, fields were abandoned and a vacuum was left in sectors of the economy the Christians could not possibly fill. With the removal by 33% of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Valencia, some counties in the north of Alicantemarker lost virtually their entire population. The infrastructure decayed, and the Christian nobles and landlords fell into arrears. Strapped for cash, many of the Valencian nobles increased rents on their Christian tenants to get even close to their previous income. The increase in rents drove off any new tenants from coming to replace them, and as a result agricultural output in Valencia dropped tremendously.

The expulsion of 4% of the population may seem minor, but it should be noted that the Morisco population was a larger part of the civilian workforce than their numbers would make seem. Practically no Moriscos were trusted to be noblemen, soldiers, or priests. This meant that there was a noticeable decline in tax collection, and the most affected areas (Valencia and Aragon) were economically damaged for decades.

The expulsion was a crippling blow not just to the economies of Aragon and Valencia, but also the power of their nobles. The former Crown of Aragon had been in the shadow of the richer and more populous Castile for some time, but with this, their stature dropped still further. Of the Eastern Kingdoms themselves, the Catalonian nobles now rose to prominence, their incomes far less affected. Thus the expulsion helped shift power away from its traditional centers in Valencia and Aragon to Catalonia.

Those Moriscos who strongly wished to remain Catholic were generally able to find new homes in Italy (especially Livorno), but the overwhelming majority of those expelled settled in Muslim-held North Africa.

According to a genetic study conducted in 2008, a noticeable proportion of Morisco ancestry remains in Spain, indicating that the expulsion may not have been as effective as it seemed. This is indicated by a "high mean proportion of ancestry from North African (10.6%)" that "attests to a high level of religious conversion (whether voluntary or enforced), driven by historical episodes of social and religious intolerance, that ultimately led to the integration of descendants.". Nevertheless, the also high Sephardim results of the study are in contradiction or not replicated in all the body of genetic studies done in Iberia and has been later questioned by the authors themselves and by Stephen Oppenheimer. The rest of genetic studies done in Spain estimate the Moorish contribution ranging from 2.5/3.4% to 7.7%.

Centuries later, a proposal was made in 2006 to once again offer the descendents of the Moriscos Spanish citizenship as a way of apology.

See also


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