Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada

Author: Washington Irving

Chapter XII. Foray of Spanish Cavaliers Among the Mountains of Malaga.

The foray of old Muley Abul Hassan had touched the pride of the Andalusian chivalry, and they determined on retaliation. For this purpose a number of the most distinguished cavaliers assembled at Antiquera in the month of March, 1483. The leaders of the enterprise were, the gallant marques of Cadiz; Don Pedro Henriquez, adelantado of Andalusia; Don Juan de Silva, count of Cifuentes and bearer of the royal standard, who commanded in Seville; Don Alonso de Cardenas, master of the religious and military order of Santiago; and Don Alonso de Aguilar. Several other cavaliers of note hastened to take part in the enterprise, and in a little while about twenty-seven hundred horse and several companies of foot were assembled within the old warlike city of Antiquera, comprising the very flower of Andalusian chivalry.

A council of war was held by the chiefs to determine in what quarter they should strike a blow. The rival Moorish kings were waging civil war with each other in the vicinity of Granada, and the whole country lay open to inroads. Various plans were proposed by the different cavaliers. The marques of Cadiz was desirous of scaling the walls of Zahara and regaining possession of that important fortress. The master of Santiago, however, suggested a wider range and a still more important object. He had received information from his adalides, who were apostate Moors, that an incursion might be safely made into a mountainous region near Malaga called the Axarquia. Here were valleys of pasture-land well stocked with flocks and herds, and there were numerous villages and hamlets, which would be an easy prey. The city of Malaga was too weakly garrisoned and had too few cavalry to send forth any force in opposition; nay, he added, they might even extend their ravages to its very gates, and peradventure carry that wealthy place by sudden assault.

The adventurous spirits of the cavaliers were inflamed by this suggestion: in their sanguine confidence they already beheld Malaga in their power, and they were eager for the enterprise. The marques of Cadiz endeavored to interpose a little cool caution. He likewise had apostate adalides, the most intelligent and experienced on the borders: among these he placed especial reliance on one named Luis Amar, who knew all the mountains and valleys of the country. He had received from him a particular account of these mountains of the Axarquia.* Their savage and broken nature was a sufficient defence for the fierce people who inhabited them, who, manning their rocks and their tremendous passes, which were often nothing more than the deep dry beds of torrents, might set whole armies at defiance. Even if vanquished, they afforded no spoil to the victor. Their houses were little better than bare walls, and they would drive off their scanty flocks and herds to the fastnesses of the mountains.

*Pulgar, in his Chronicle, reverses the case, and makes the marques
of Cadiz recommend the expedition to the Axarquia; but Fray Antonio
Agapida is supported in his statement by that most veracious and
contemporary chronicler, Andres Bernaldez, curate of Los Palacios.

The sober counsel of the marques, however, was overruled. The cavaliers, accustomed to mountain-warfare, considered themselves and their horses equal to any wild and rugged expedition, and were flushed with the idea of terminating their foray by a brilliant assault upon Malaga.

Leaving all heavy baggage at Antiquera, and all such as had horses too weak for this mountain-scramble, they set forth full of spirit and confidence. Don Alonso de Aguilar and the adelantado of Andalusia led the squadron of advance. The count of Cifuentes followed with certain of the chivalry of Seville. Then came the battalion of the most valiant Roderigo Ponce de Leon, marques of Cadiz: he was accompanied by several of his brothers and nephews and many cavaliers who sought distinction under his banner, and this family band attracted universal attention and applause as they paraded in martial state through the streets of Antiquera. The rear-guard was led by Don Alonso Cardenas, master of Santiago, and was composed of the knights of his order and the cavaliers of Ecija, with certain men-at-arms of the Holy Brotherhood whom the king had placed under his command. The army was attended by a great train of mules, laden with provisions for a few days’ supply until they should be able to forage among the Moorish villages. Never did a more gallant and self-confident little army tread the earth. It was composed of men full of health and vigor, to whom war was a pastime and delight. They had spared no expense in their equipments, for never was the pomp of war carried to a higher pitch than among the proud chivalry of Spain. Cased in armor richly inlaid and embossed, decked with rich surcoats and waving plumes, and superbly mounted on Andalusian steeds, they pranced out of Antiquera with banners flying and their various devices and armorial bearings ostentatiously displayed, and in the confidence of their hopes promised the inhabitants to enrich them with the spoils of Malaga.

In the rear of this warlike pageant followed a peaceful band intent upon profiting by the anticipated victories. They were not the customary wretches that hover about armies to plunder and strip the dead, but goodly and substantial traders from Seville, Cordova, and other cities of traffic. They rode sleek mules and were clad in goodly raiment, with long leather purses at their girdles well filled with pistoles and other golden coin. They had heard of the spoils wasted by the soldiery at the capture of Alhama, and were provided with moneys to buy up the jewels and precious stones, the vessels of gold and silver, and the rich silks and cloths that should form the plunder of Malaga. The proud cavaliers eyed these sons of traffic with great disdain, but permitted them to follow for the convenience of the troops, who might otherwise be overburdened with booty.

It had been intended to conduct this expedition with great celerity and secrecy, but the noise of the preparations had already reached the city of Malaga. The garrison, it is true, was weak, but it possessed a commander who was himself a host. This was Muley Abdallah, commonly called El Zagal, or the Valiant. He was younger brother of Muley Abul Hassan, and general of the few forces which remained faithful to the old monarch. He possessed equal fierceness of spirit with his brother, and surpassed him in craft and vigilance. His very name was a war-cry among his soldiery, who had the most extravagant opinion of his prowess.

El Zagal suspected that Malaga was the object of this noisy expedition. He consulted with old Bexir, a veteran Moor, who governed the city. "If this army of marauders should reach Malaga," said he, "we should hardly be able to keep them without its walls. I will throw myself with a small force into the mountains, rouse the peasantry, take possession of the passes, and endeavor to give these Spanish cavaliers sufficient entertainment upon the road."

It was on a Wednesday that the pranking army of high-mettled warriors issued forth from the ancient gates of Antiquera. They marched all day and night, making their way, secretly as they supposed, through the passes of the mountains. As the tract of country they intended to maraud was far in the Moorish territories, near the coast of the Mediterranean, they did not arrive there until late in the following day. In passing through these stern and lofty mountains their path was often along the bottom of a barranco, or deep rocky valley, with a scanty stream dashing along it among the loose rocks and stones which it had broken and rolled down in the time of its autumnal violence. Sometimes their road was a mere rambla, or dry bed of a torrent, cut deep into the mountains and filled with their shattered fragments. These barrancos and ramblas were overhung by immense cliffs and precipices, forming the lurkingplaces of ambuscades during the wars between the Moors and Spaniards, as in after times they have become the favorite haunts of robbers to waylay the unfortunate traveller.

As the sun went down the cavaliers came to a lofty part of the mountains, commanding to the right a distant glimpse of a part of the fair vega of Malaga, with the blue Mediterranean beyond, and they hailed it with exultation as a glimpse of the promised land. As the night closed in they reached the chain of little valleys and hamlets locked up among these rocky heights, and known among the Moors by the name of the Axarquia. Here their vaunting hopes were destined to meet with the first disappointment. The inhabitants had heard of their approach: they had conveyed away their cattle and effects, and with their wives and children had taken refuge in the towers and fastnesses of the mountains.

Enraged at their disappointment, the troops set fire to the deserted houses and pressed forward, hoping for better fortune as they advanced. Don Alonso de Aguilar and the other cavaliers in the van-guard spread out their forces to lay waste the country, capturing a few lingering herds of cattle, with the Moorish peasants who were driving them to some place of safety.

While this marauding party carried fire and sword in the advance and lit up the mountain-cliffs with the flames of the hamlets, the master of Santiago, who brought the rear-guard, maintained strict order, keeping his knights together in martial array, ready for attack or defence should an enemy appear. The men-at-arms of the Holy Brotherhood attempted to roam in quest of booty, but he called them back and rebuked them severely.

At length they came to a part of the mountain completely broken up by barrancos and ramblas of vast depth and shagged with rocks and precipices. It was impossible to maintain the order of march; the horses had no room for action, and were scarcely manageable, having to scramble from rock to rock and up and down frightful declivities where there was scarce footing for a mountain-goat. Passing by a burning village, the light of the flames revealed their perplexed situation. The Moors, who had taken refuge in a watch-tower on an impending height, shouted with exultation when they looked down upon these glistening cavaliers struggling and stumbling among the rocks. Sallying forth from their tower, they took possession of the cliffs which overhung the ravine and hurled darts and stones upon the enemy. It was with the utmost grief of heart that the good master of Santiago beheld his brave men falling like helpless victims around him, without the means of resistance or revenge. The confusion of his followers was increased by the shouts of the Moors multiplied by the echoes of every crag and cliff, as if they were surrounded by innumerable foes. Being entirely ignorant of the country, in their struggles to extricate themselves they plunged into other glens and defiles, where they were still more exposed to danger. In this extremity the master of Santiago despatched messengers in search of succor. The marques of Cadiz, like a loyal companion-in-arms, hastened to his aid with his cavalry: his approach checked the assaults of the enemy, and the master was at length enabled to extricate his troops from the defile.

In the mean time, Don Alonso de Aguilar and his companions, in their eager advance, had likewise got entangled in deep glens and the dry beds of torrents, where they had been severely galled by the insulting attacks of a handful of Moorish peasants posted on the impending precipices. The proud spirit of De Aguilar was incensed at having the game of war thus turned upon him, and his gallant forces domineered over by mountain-boors whom he had thought to drive, like their own cattle, to Antiquera. Hearing, however, that his friend the marques of Cadiz and the master of Santiago were engaged with the enemy, he disregarded his own danger, and, calling together his troops, returned to assist them, or rather to partake their perils. Being once more together, the cavaliers held a hasty council amidst the hurling of stones and the whistling of arrows, and their resolves were quickened by the sight from time to time of some gallant companion-in-arms laid low. They determined that there was no spoil in this part of the country to repay for the extraordinary peril, and that it was better to abandon the herds they had already taken, which only embarrassed their march, and to retreat with all speed to less dangerous ground.

The adalides, or guides, were ordered to lead the way out of this place of carnage. These, thinking to conduct them by the most secure route, led them by a steep and rocky pass, difficult for the foot-soldiers, but almost impracticable to the cavalry. It was overhung with precipices, from whence showers of stones and arrows were poured upon them, accompanied by savage yells which appalled the stoutest heart. In some places they could pass but one at a time, and were often transpierced, horse and rider, by the Moorish darts, impeding the progress of their comrades by their dying struggles. The surrounding precipices were lit up by a thousand alarm-fires: every crag and cliff had its flame, by the light of which they beheld their foes bounding from rock to rock and looking more like fiends than mortal men.

Either through terror and confusion or through real ignorance of the country their guides, instead of conducting them out of the mountains, led them deeper into their fatal recesses. The morning dawned upon them in a narrow rambla, its bottom formed of broken rocks, where once had raved along the mountain-torrent, while above there beetled great arid cliffs, over the brows of which they beheld the turbaned heads of their fierce and exulting foes. What a different appearance did the unfortunate cavaliers present from that of the gallant band that marched so vauntingly out of Antiquera! Covered with dust and blood and wounds, and haggard with fatigue and horror, they looked like victims rather than like warriors. Many of their banners were lost, and not a trumpet was heard to rally up their sinking spirits. The men turned with imploring eyes to their commanders, while the hearts of the cavaliers were ready to burst with rage and grief at the merciless havoc made among their faithful followers.

All day they made ineffectual attempts to extricate themselves from the mountains. Columns of smoke rose from the heights where in the preceding night had blazed the alarm-fire. The mountaineers assembled from every direction: they swarmed at every pass, getting in the advance of the Christians, and garrisoning the cliffs like so many towers and battlements.

Night closed again upon the Christians when they were shut up in a narrow valley traversed by a deep stream and surrounded by precipices which seemed to reach the skies, and on which blazed and flared the alarm-fires. Suddenly a new cry was heard resounding along the valley. "El Zagal! El Zagal!" echoed from cliff to cliff.

"What cry is that?" said the master of Santiago.

"It is the war-cry of El Zagal, the Moorish general," said an old Castilian soldier: "he must be coming in person, with the troops of Malaga."

The worthy master turned to his knights: "Let us die," said he, "making a road with our hearts, since we cannot with our swords. Let us scale the mountain and sell our lives dearly, instead of staying here to be tamely butchered."

So saying, he turned his steed against the mountain and spurred him up its flinty side. Horse and foot followed his example, eager, if they could not escape, to have at least a dying blow at the enemy. As they struggled up the height a tremendous storm of darts and stones was showered upon them by the Moors. Sometimes a fragment of rock came bounding and thundering down, ploughing its way through the centre of their host. The foot-soldiers, faint with weariness and hunger or crippled by wounds, held by the tails and manes of the horses to aid them in their ascent, while the horses, losing their foothold among the loose stones or receiving some sudden wound, tumbled down the steep declivity, steed, rider, and soldier rolling from crag to crag until they were dashed to pieces in the valley. In this desperate struggle the alferez or standard-bearer of the master, with his standard, was lost, as were many of his relations and his dearest friends. At length he succeeded in attaining the crest of the mountain, but it was only to be plunged in new difficulties. A wilderness of rocks and rugged dells lay before him beset by cruel foes. Having neither banner nor trumpet by which to rally his troops, they wandered apart, each intent upon saving himself from the precipices of the mountains and the darts of the enemy. When the pious master of Santiago beheld the scattered fragments of his late gallant force, he could not restrain his grief. "O God!" exclaimed he, "great is thine anger this day against thy servants. Thou hast converted the cowardice of these infidels into desperate valor, and hast made peasants and boors victorious over armed men of battle."

He would fain have kept with his foot-soldiers, and, gathering them together, have made head against the enemy, but those around him entreated him to think only of his personal safety. To remain was to perish without striking a blow; to escape was to preserve a life that might be devoted to vengeance on the Moors. The master reluctantly yielded to the advice. "O Lord of hosts!" exclaimed he again, "from thy wrath do I fly, not from these infidels: they are but instruments in thy hands to chastise us for our sins." So saying, he sent the guides in the advance, and, putting spurs to his horse, dashed through a defile of the mountains before the Moors could intercept him. The moment the master put his horse to speed, his troops scattered in all directions. Some endeavored to follow his traces, but were confounded among the intricacies of the mountain. They fled hither and thither, many perishing among the precipices, others being slain by the Moors, and others taken prisoners.

The gallant marques of Cadiz, guided by his trusty adalid, Luis Amar, had ascended a different part of the mountain. He was followed by his friend, Don Alonso de Aguilar, the adelantado, and the count of Cifuentes, but in the darkness and confusion the bands of these commanders became separated from each other. When the marques attained the summit, he looked around for his companions-in-arms, but they were no longer following him, and there was no trumpet to summon them. It was a consolation to the marques, however, that his brothers and several of his relations, with a number of his retainers, were still with him: he called his brothers by name, and their replies gave comfort to his heart.

His guide now led the way into another valley, where he would be less exposed to danger: when he had reached the bottom of it the marques paused to collect his scattered followers and to give time for his fellow-commanders to rejoin him. Here he was suddenly assailed by the troops of El Zagal, aided by the mountaineers from the cliffs. The Christians, exhausted and terrified, lost all presence of mind: most of them fled, and were either slain or taken captive. The marques and his valiant brothers, with a few tried friends, made a stout resistance. His horse was killed under him; his brothers, Don Diego and Don Lope, with his two nephews, Don Lorenzo and Don Manuel, were one by one swept from his side, either transfixed with darts and lances by the soldiers of El Zagal or crushed by stones from the heights. The marques was a veteran warrior, and had been in many a bloody battle, but never before had death fallen so thick and close around him. When he saw his remaining brother, Don Beltran, struck out of his saddle by a fragment of a rock and his horse running wildly about without his rider, he gave a cry of anguish and stood bewildered and aghast. A few faithful followers surrounded him and entreated him to fly for his life. He would still have remained, to have shared the fortunes of his friend Don Alonso de Aguilar and his other companions-in-arms, but the forces of El Zagal were between him and them, and death was whistling by on every wind. Reluctantly, therefore, he consented to fly. Another horse was brought him: his faithful adalid guided him by one of the steepest paths, which lasted for four leagues, the enemy still hanging on his traces and thinning the scanty ranks of his followers. At length the marques reached the extremity of the mountain-defiles, and with a haggard remnant of his men escaped by dint of hoof to Antiquera.

The count of Cifuentes, with a few of his retainers, in attempting to follow the marques of Cadiz wandered into a narrow pass, where they were completely surrounded by the band of El Zagal. The count himself was assailed by six of the enemy, against whom he was defending himself with desperation, when their leader, struck with the inequality of the fight, ordered the others to desist, and continued the combat alone. The count, already exhausted, was soon compelled to surrender; his brother, Don Pedro de Silva, and the few of his retainers who survived, were likewise taken prisoners. The Moorish cavalier who had manifested such a chivalrous spirit in encountering the count singly was[3]Reduan Vanegas, brother of the former vizier of Muley Abul Hassan, and one of the leaders of the faction of the sultana Zoraya.

The dawn of day found Don Alonso de Aguilar with a handful of his followers still among the mountains. They had attempted to follow the marques of Cadiz, but had been obliged to pause and defend themselves against the thickening forces of the enemy. They at length traversed the mountain, and reached the same valley where the marques had made his last disastrous stand. Wearied and perplexed, they sheltered themselves in a natural grotto under an overhanging rock, which kept off the darts of the enemy, while a bubbling fountain gave them the means of slaking their raging thirst and refreshing their exhausted steeds. As day broke the scene of slaughter unfolded its horrors. There lay the noble brothers and nephews of the gallant marques, transfixed with darts or gashed and bruised with unseemly wounds, while many other gallant cavaliers lay stretched out dead and dying around, some of them partly stripped and plundered by the Moors. De Aguilar was a pious knight, but his piety was not humble and resigned, like that of the worthy master of Santiago. He imprecated holy curses upon the infidels for having thus laid low the flower of Christian chivalry, and he vowed in his heart bitter vengeance upon the surrounding country.

By degrees the little force of De Aguilar was augmented by numbers of fugitives who issued from caves and chasms where they had taken refuge in the night. A little band of mounted knights was gradually formed, and, the Moors having abandoned the heights to collect the spoils of the slain, this gallant but forlorn squadron was enabled to retreat to Antiquera.

This disastrous affair lasted from Thursday evening, throughout Friday, the twenty-first of March, the festival of St. Benedict. It is still recorded in Spanish calendars as the defeat of the mountains of Malaga, and the spot where the greatest slaughter took place is called "la Cuesta de la Matanza," or the Hill of the Massacre. The principal leaders who survived returned to Antiquera. Many of the knights took refuge in Alhama and other towns: many wandered about the mountains for eight days, living on roots and herbs, hiding themselves during the day and sallying forth at night. So enfeebled and disheartened were they that they offered no resistance if attacked. Three or four soldiers would surrender to a Moorish peasant, and even the women of Malaga sallied forth and made prisoners. Some were thrown into the dungeons of frontier towns, others led captive to Granada, but by far the greater number were conducted to Malaga, the city they had threatened to attack. Two hundred and fifty principal cavaliers, alcaydes, commanders, and hidalgos of generous blood were confined in the alcazaba, or citadel, of Malaga to await their ransom, and five hundred and seventy of the common soldiery were crowded in an enclosure or courtyard of the alcazaba to be sold as slaves.*

*Cura de los Palacios.

Great spoils were collected of splendid armor and weapons taken from the slain or thrown away by the cavaliers in their flight, and many horses, magnificently caparisoned, together with numerous standards,—all which were paraded in triumph in the Moorish towns.

The merchants also who had come with the army, intending to traffic in the spoils of the Moors, were themselves made objects of traffic. Several of them were driven like cattle before the Moorish viragoes to the market of Malaga, and, in spite of all their adroitness in trade and their attempts to buy themselves off at a cheap ransom, they were unable to purchase their freedom without such draughts upon their money-bags at home as drained them to the very bottom.


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Chicago: Washington Irving, "Chapter XII. Foray of Spanish Cavaliers Among the Mountains of Malaga.," 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 September 25, 2022,

MLA: Irving, Washington. "Chapter XII. Foray of Spanish Cavaliers Among the Mountains of Malaga." 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. 25 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Irving, W, 'Chapter XII. Foray of Spanish Cavaliers Among the Mountains of Malaga.' 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 25 September 2022, from