Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada

Author: Washington Irving

Chapter XXV. How the Marques of Cadiz Concerted to Surprise Zahara, and the Result of His Enterprise.

The valiant Roderigo Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz, was one of the most vigilant of commanders. He kept in his pay a number of converted Moors to serve as adalides, or armed guides. These mongrel Christians were of great service in procuring information. Availing themselves of their Moorish character and tongue, they penetrated into the enemy’s country, prowled about the castles and fortresses, noticed the state of the walls, the gates, and towers, the strength of their garrisons, and the vigilance or negligence of their commanders. All this they minutely reported to the marques, who thus knew the state of every fortress upon the frontier and when it might be attacked with advantage. Besides the various town and cities over which he held feudal sway, he had always an armed force about him ready for the field. A host of retainers fed in his hall who were ready to follow him to danger, and death itself, without inquiring who or why they fought. The armories of his castles were supplied with helms and cuirasses and weapons of all kinds, ready burnished for use; and his stables were filled with hardy steeds that could stand a mountain-scamper.

The marques was aware that the late defeat of the Moors on the banks of the Lopera had weakened their whole frontier, for many of the castles and fortresses had lost their alcaydes and their choicest troops. He sent out his war-hounds, therefore, upon the range to ascertain where a successful blow might be struck; and they soon returned with word that Zahara was weakly garrisoned and short of provisions.

This was the very fortress which, about two years before, had been stormed by Muley Abul Hassan, and its capture had been the first blow of this eventful war. It had ever since remained a thorn in the side of Andalusia. All the Christians had been carried away captive, and no civil population had been introduced in their stead. There were no women or children in the place. It was kept up as a mere military post, commanding one of the most important passes of the mountains, and was a stronghold of Moorish marauders. The marques was animated by the idea of regaining this fortress for his sovereigns and wresting from the old Moorish king this boasted trophy of his prowess. He sent missives, therefore, to the brave Luis Fernandez Puerto Carrero, who had distinguished himself in the late victory, and to Juan Almaraz, captain of the men-at-arms of the Holy Brotherhood, informing them of his designs, and inviting them to meet him with their forces on the banks of the Guadalete.

It was on the day (says Fray Antonio Agapida) of the glorious apostles St. Simon and Judas, the twenty-eighth of October, in the year of grace one thousand four hundred and eighty-three, that this chosen band of Christian soldiers assembled suddenly and secretly at the appointed place. Their forces when united amounted to six hundred horse and fifteen hundred foot. Their gathering-place was at the entrance of the defile leading to Zahara. That ancient town, renowned in Moorish warfare, is situated in one of the roughest passes of the Serrania de Ronda. It is built round the craggy cone of a hill, on the lofty summit of which is a strong castle. The country around is broken into deep barrancas or ravines, some of which approach its very walls. The place had until recently been considered impregnable, but (as the worthy Fray Antonio Agapida observes) the walls of impregnable fortresses, like the virtue of self-confident saints, have their weak points of attack.

The marques of Cadiz advanced with his little army in the dead of the night, marching silently into the deep and dark defiles of the mountains, and stealing up the ravines which extended to the walls of the town. Their approach was so noiseless that the Moorish sentinels upon the walls heard not a voice or a footfall. The marques was accompanied by his old escalador, Ortega de Prado, who had distinguished himself at the scaling of Alhama. This hardy veteran was stationed, with ten men furnished with scaling-ladders, in a cavity among the rocks close to the walls. At a little distance seventy men were hid in a ravine, to be at hand to second him when he should have fixed his ladders. The rest of the troops were concealed in another ravine commanding a fair approach to the gate of the fortress. A shrewd and wary adalid, well acquainted with the place, was appointed to give signals, and so stationed that he could be seen by the various parties in ambush, but not by the garrison.

By orders of the marques a small body of light cavalry passed along the glen, and, turning round a point of rock, showed themselves before the town: they[6]skirred the fields almost to the gates, as if by way of bravado and to defy the garrison to a skirmish. The Moors were not slow in replying to it. About seventy horse and a number of foot who had guarded the walls sallied forth impetuously, thinking to make easy prey of these insolent marauders. The Christian horsemen fled for the ravine; the Moors pursued them down the hill, until they heard a great shouting and tumult behind them. Looking round toward the town, they beheld a scaling party mounting the walls sword in hand. Wheeling about, they galloped for the gate: the marques of Cadiz and Luis Fernandez Puerto Carrero rushed forth at the same time with their ambuscade, and endeavored to cut them off, but the Moors succeeded in throwing themselves within the walls.

While Puerto Carrero stormed at the gate the marques put spurs to his horse and galloped to the support of Ortega de Prado and his scaling party. He arrived at a moment of imminent peril, when the party was assailed by fifty Moors armed with cuirasses and lances, who were on the point of thrusting them from the walls. The marques sprang from his horse, mounted a ladder sword in hand, followed by a number of his troops, and made a vigorous attack upon the enemy.* They were soon driven from the walls, and the gates and towers remained in possession of the Christians. The Moors defended themselves for a short time in the streets, but at length took refuge in the castle, the walls of which were strong and capable of holding out until relief should arrive. The marques had no desire to carry on a siege, and he had not provisions sufficient for many prisoners; he granted them, therefore, favorable terms. They were permitted, on leaving their arms behind them, to march out with as much of their effects as they could carry, and it was stipulated that they should pass over to Barbary. The marques remained in the place until both town and castle were put in a perfect state of defence and strongly garrisoned.

*Cura de los Palacios, c. 68.

Thus did Zahara return once more in possession of the Christians, to the great confusion of old Muley Abul Hassan, who, having paid the penalty of his ill-timed violence, was now deprived of its vaunted fruits. The Castilian sovereigns were so gratified by this achievement of the valiant Ponce de Leon that they authorized him thenceforth to entitle himself duke of Cadiz and marques of Zahara. The warrior, however, was so proud of the original title under which he had so often signalized himself that he gave it the precedence, and always signed himself marques, duke of Cadiz. As the reader may have acquired the same predilection, we shall continue to call him by his ancient title.


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Chicago: Washington Irving, "Chapter XXV. How the Marques of Cadiz Concerted to Surprise Zahara, and the Result of His Enterprise.," Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, ed. Iles, George, 1852-1942 and trans. Oliver Elton in Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed December 5, 2023,

MLA: Irving, Washington. "Chapter XXV. How the Marques of Cadiz Concerted to Surprise Zahara, and the Result of His Enterprise." Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, edited by Iles, George, 1852-1942, and translated by Oliver Elton, in Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 5 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Irving, W, 'Chapter XXV. How the Marques of Cadiz Concerted to Surprise Zahara, and the Result of His Enterprise.' in Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 5 December 2023, from