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Spain Expels the Moriscos

Spain Expels the Moriscos

It is said that almost every move made by the Spanish in this sad story was influenced by the church. It is a story worth reading.

THE Spanish monarchy wanted a Christian State under one set of laws. The Moriscos were considered infidels—so the reasoning went—and hence their presence constituted a grave offense in God’s sight. After many years, a decision was made. The solution? They should be expelled! *


For hundreds of years, the Moors in Spain—a Muslim minority, called Mudéjar—lived in relative peace in areas under Catholic control. For a time, in certain areas they enjoyed a legal status that allowed them to retain their own laws and customs and to practice their own religion.

But in 1492, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella conquered Granada, the last part of Iberia still under Muslim control. The terms of its surrender granted the Moorish population there rights similar to those of the Mudéjar. However, Catholic leaders soon increased their persecution and pressure on the Muslim minority within their domain to convert. The Moors protested this violation of prior accords, and in 1499, they  revolted. Government troops put down the uprising, but thereafter Muslims in one area after another were made either to convert or to emigrate. Spaniards called those who converted and remained in Spain Moriscos.


By 1526, Islam was banned throughout Spain, yet many Moriscos secretly continued to practice their religion. For the most part, as a people, they retained their cultural identity.

At first, the Moriscos’ lip service to Catholicism was tolerated. They did, after all, perform a vital function as artisans, craftsmen, laborers, and taxpayers. Still, the Moriscos’ general refusal to assimilate was resented, and they suffered discrimination from both the government and the common people. Such prejudice may have been fueled by the growing suspicions in the church regarding the sincerity of their conversion.

Soon, toleration was replaced by coercion. In 1567, the decision of King Philip II to forbid the Moriscos’ language, dress, customs, and traditions was published. This measure provoked new rebellion and bloodshed.

It is estimated that some 300,000 Moriscos were forced to flee Spain amid great suffering

Spain’s rulers, according to historians, became convinced that “Moriscos were neither good Christians nor loyal subjects.” For that reason, they were accused of conspiring with Spain’s enemies—the Barbary pirates, the French Protestants, and the Turks—to favor a foreign invasion. Both prejudice and fears that the Moriscos would eventually turn traitor contributed to the decision of Philip III to expel them in 1609. * In the years that followed, people suspected of being Moriscos were persecuted. By such ignoble means, Spain became fully Catholic.

^ par. 4 Moriscos means “Little Moors” in Spanish. Historians use the term in a nonderogatory way to refer to people of Muslim background who converted to Catholicism and stayed in the Iberian Peninsula after the fall of the last Muslim kingdom there in 1492.

^ par. 12 Historians also speculate that at least one of Spain’s rulers stood to profit greatly from confiscation of Morisco estates.