Reviewed by Robert Bovington
Half a century ago, in my school history lessons, I received a very blinkered history of Spain. It consisted almost entirely of the Spanish Armada, Christopher Columbus’ Discovery of America, the Inquisition, the Battle of Trafalgar, Catherine of Aragon and something about Francis Drake singeing the King of Spain’s beard at Cádiz. So, most of it was around the time of Ferdinand and Isabella and, yet, we children learnt nothing of the Moors occupation of Spain, let alone the conquest of Granada. Over the years, I have read a number of history books and all appeared to give a one-sided view of the ‘Reconquista’. Washington Irving’s "Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada” is a welcome departure from the norm.
Not only, in my opinion, is the book a jolly good read, but it appears to be a comprehensive history of the series of events and military campaigns that led to the expulsion of the Moors after 700 years on the Iberian Peninsula.
Washington Irving was something of a hispanophile and yet this book provides the reader with a somewhat balanced account of events. At times, he shows sympathy for the Moors – so much so, that he calls attention to the barbarity of the Christians and the prejudices and ignorance of the Spanish Court. He does this in the guise of “Fray Antonio Agapida”, a fictitious character who represents the monkish zealots of the period.
This is no work of fiction, however, though it reads like one. Irving carried out much research during his time in Granada and Seville including visiting the towns and villages that formed the backdrop for the events of this delightful book.