Thursday, December 28, 2017

Meet the characters: Sultan Abu'l-Hasan Ali

Fifteenth century Moorish Granada enjoyed the last vestiges of glory under Sultan Abu’l-Hasan Ali of the Nasrid Dynasty, to whom I introduced readers in the Sultana series novel, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree. The history of Abu’l-Hasan Ali culminates in Sultana: The White Mountains. If you haven’t read the new novel and don’t want to know Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s fate, stop reading this post. Right now. Don’t say you did not have a warning!

One of three known sons of Sultan Abu Nasr Sa’d and descended from the first legitimate ruler of the region, Abu’l-Hasan Ali first came to prominence when his father seized the throne in late summer 1454 at the age of fifty-five. By then, Abu’l-Hasan Ali might have been around 17 years old, the eldest of the new ruler’s male heirs, who included the princes Muhammad and young Yusuf, then four years old. The clan Abencerrage supported their parent and had declared for him at Archidona from where he rode to complete his conquest. This family had held influence in Nasrid politics for several generations since the time of Abu Nasr Sa’d’s uncle Sultan Yusuf III, whose daughter had married one of the Abencerrage ministers. The new king of Castile Enrique II also gave tentative backing. In later years under Enrique’s successor, his half-sister Queen Isabella, Abu’l-Hasan Ali became a vigorous warrior and frontier raider, like his father. For his contemporaries in Christian Spain, who called him Muley Hacén, his attacks signaled renewed conflicts with the Moors. He has been protrayed on television, most recently in the Spanish TV series, Isabel.

Before such time, Abu Nasr Sa’d sent Abu’l-Hasan Ali to the court of Enrique II in September 1454. The prince brought gifts in homage to the ruler of Castile in acknowledgement of the tenuous claim of vassalage the Christians had asserted over Granada’s rulers for two centuries. Abu’l-Hasan Ali remained at the court. In January 1455 his father and family fled to Casarabonela near Malaga, after Abu Nasr Sa’d lost the throne to the cousin he had deposed in recent months. Abu’l-Hasan Ali with the aid of Castilian forces routed the enemy at Guadix in April of the same year and came south to reunite with his relatives. Then by late summer, when his father had control of Granada again, Abu’l-Hasan Ali and his brother Muhammad pursued their foe south, capturing him alongside his betrothed wife, Sultana Aisha who was the daughter of a previous monarch. Was this the first fateful meeting of Abu’l-Hasan Ali and Aisha? Readers of Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree will recall a much earlier introduction.

At the start of his second reign, Abu Nasr Sa’d officially declared himself a vassal of Castile. Abu’l-Hasan Ali served as a military commander and oversaw domestic issues, including irrigation and cultivation of the fertile plains around Granada. With the capture and murder of his father’s rival, Abu’l-Hasan Ali not only eliminated a competing claimant for the throne but also the heart of Aisha. He married her, and they had three children, two sons called Muhammad and Yusuf and a daughter named after her mother. When the children were young, two tumultuous events occurred that would affect the future of the Nasrid Dynasty. In July 1462, their grandfather turned against his Abencerrage allies and killed their chieftains, some of whom had served as his ministers, at a banquet. Then two years later, Abu’l-Hasan Ali ousted his father and took the throne, consigning Abu Nasr Sa’d to exile and death. Not the first time a Nasrid had maneuvered against his relative or even an aging parent. Abu’l-Hasan Ali almost faced ouster when his remaining brother Muhammad rebelled against him with the support of the embittered Abencerrage clan in 1470; the youngest sibling Yusuf having died in 1467 of plague. Eventually Abu’l-Hasan Ali and Muhammad reconciled, and became staunch collaborators in the defense of Moorish Spain.

The strife which had arisen became Granada and Castile during the intervening years now abated with the ascension of Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand of Aragón. Truces of short duration occurred in 1475 and 1478. Three years later without any renewal of the terms of the last treaty, Abu’l-Hasan Ali responded to Castile’s request for acknowledgment of his role as a vassal by stating Granada would no longer produce coins as tribute but weapons. Then he attacked and claimed Zahara on December 27, 1481. The Castilians retaliated by seizing Alhama and besieged Loja. Although Abu’l-Hasan Ali could not remove his adversaries from Alhama, he won a decisive victory against the at Loja with the aid of the valiant old warrior Ali al-Attar, whose daughter Moraima had married Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s eldest son.

I’ve speculated about Abu’l-Hasan Ali and Aisha’s possibly fractured relationship because of events that occurred much later, but it’s clear she was not the only woman who held sway over him. In 1471, his brother Muhammad had raided at Martos and returned with a young slave named Isabel de Solis. Abu’l-Hasan Ali fell under her spell and took her to his bed. Renamed Soraya, the slave became a Sultana and the mother of two princes Nasr and Sa’d. While chroniclers have speculated that the rivalry between the Sultanas Aisha and Soraya caused friction in the harem and led to Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s overthrow in late summer 1482, I hold the belief that Aisha gained revenge for the murder of her former betrothed husband when she encouraged the support of the Abencerrage for her eldest son. Abu’l-Hasan Ali fled with his brother, younger wife, and their children to Mondújar, where he had given Soraya a castle as a wedding present, and then on to Malaga, the governorship of his brother.

From Malaga, Abu’l-Hasan Ali launched attacks against regions where he no longer enjoyed support and defeated the Castilians who had invaded the region around Malaga, where he seized thousands of their warriors as captives. After April 1483, when his eldest son and opponent made an ill-advised attack on Castile and endured captivity, Abu’l-Hasan Ali returned to Granada where he imprisoned his wife Aisha and his daughter-in-law Moraima. In the summer of 1483, his eldest son obtained his release and settled in Guadix from where he and his allies tried to attack Granada, but Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s forces repulsed them. He also pursued and obtained a judicial decree, a fatwa, against all the supporters of the rebellion on September 15. While no one knows the origins, by the same time in the following year, historians believe he had started suffering the effects of epilepsy and diabetes, the latter of which deteriorated his eyesight over time. His brother had gained greater power during Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s diminished state. As early as the spring of 1485, rumors abounded that he would abdicate and by the following season, he no longer held the throne. His brother ruled instead while he withdrew to Salobreña and then Almuñecar. There he died that year and purportedly lies buried somewhere along the summit of the highest mountain peak of Spain bearing the name Mulhacén, pictured above.

In Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree and Sultana: The White Mountains, I’ve portrayed Abu’l-Hasan Ali as a proud, vengeful, and wily man, but never boastful. His threats are never empty, and he always has the will and means to carry them out. How much could this have differed from the historical figure who inspired my character? The events of his life, taken from the time he captured his future wife’s betrothed husband, his theft of the throne from his father, his imprisonment of Aisha and quarrels with their sons showed his dangerous nature. But there was another side to him, surely, a man devoted to those who loved him especially Soraya. Had Aisha truly loved him, too, I believe his fate and that of Moorish Spain could have been quite different. His enemies, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand would not have taken advantage of the internal strife among the Nasrids. But fate and matters beyond Abu’l-Hasan Ali’s control led him along a different path. Share his final journey in Sultana: The White Mountains, available now.

If you've missed any of the Meet the characters posts about this novel, find them HERE.

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