The Revolt of the Moriscos was one of the first real challenges to Philip’s authority that he had to deal with within Spain. The Moriscos were converted Moors who held no important state positions in Spain

The Moriscos communities in Spain had not been integrated and they remained closely associated with the Turks which lead to suspicions over their loyalty. In 1568 there was an outbreak of strife in Andalusia (the Cadiz and Malaga area) which was symbolic of the bitter relationships between the Moricos and the Christians in southern Spain. In simple terms, the Spanish did not trust the Moriscos and doubted that they were loyal to Madrid. The 1568 rebellion was known as the Rebellion of Alpujarras. The Moriscos had long term grievances but it was short-term ones that sparked off the revolt.

There had been a revolt in 1499 but from 1500 to 1550 an uneasy truce existed. In 1508 the Moriscos had been forbidden to wear their traditional costumes and their ancient customs were banned.

However, these laws were on paper only and were not enforced. The Moriscos did preserve links with Islam in that they spoke Arabic and preserved Arabic culture and this failure to become ‘Spanish’ offended many in Madrid and elsewhere in Spain. Spanish Christians claimed that the Moriscos were sexually promiscuous and that they maintained family vendettas. This all fuelled suspicion and a number of Moriscan communities were forced to live in mountainous regions to exclude them from Spanish life.

From 1500 to 1550, civil and ecclesiastical authorities were at odds with each other on what action to take and combined action failed to materialise. This allowed the Moriscans time to develop a new balance of power.

The area in question where this took place was governed by the Count of Tendilla from the Mondejar branch of the Mendoza family. To maintain their position the Moriscans developed a “special relationship” with Tendilla. The position of the Moriscans came to be closely dependent on the ability of the Mondejar’s to maintain their position at court against increasing intrigue against them.

From 1540 to 1550, the position of the Mondejar family was severely undermined and this increasingly affected the Moriscans position. It also coincided with a chronic economic and religious crisis.

The Moriscans depended on silk for their trade. In the 1550’s the export of woven silk was banned and in 1561 a huge tax was put on Granadan silk. This severely hit the Moriscans. Also at this time the Inquisition was very active especially in investigating the ownership of land in Granada. The Inquisition confiscated much land owned by the Moriscans despite the pleas of Tendilla who needed the tax paid by the Moriscans on the land they owned to pay for his own troops.

Combined with these, the Catholic Church went on the offensive. It cured its own problems of absenteeism and poor work done by the clergy and the appointment of a new Archbishop of Granada (Pedro Guerrero) lead to a more forceful campaign by the Church to fully convert the Moriscans to Christianity.

In November 1566, a reform of Moriscan habits were agreed to.

In January 1567 the reforms were published. They were only an attempt to enforce earlier decrees so they were not novel. 1) Arabic was forbidden 2) Traditional Arabic dress was forbidden 3) the Moriscans were to “abandon their traditional habits” (this was a reference to their supposed sexual habits). The Moriscans sent a deputation to Madrid to plead for the reforms not to be introduced but Pedro de Deza was put in charge of enforcing them. It was this attempt to introduce these reforms that sparked off the revolt.

Why were the reforms introduced?

Nobody had bothered to do so for the previous 50 years so why now?

The answer involved 3 people.

A successful enforcement would greatly enhance the prestige of de Deza at court. It would also give him an advantage over the Mendoza family. The Deza and Mendoza families had been fighting out an age-old family feud and Deza did all he could to embarrass someone (Tendilla) who was known to be lenient towards the Moriscans.

The President of the Council of Castille was Cardinal Espinosa. He was a classic orthodox Catholic and he disliked Tendilla’s leniency towards the Moriscans. He was also concerned that the region was experiencing an administrative breakdown which might result in social unrest. His solution was simple remove Tendilla and put the region under the control of the President of the Audiencia who happened to be de Deza. This would ensure stability Espinosa claimed and at this time Philip II was very much under the influence of Espinosa.

Philip himself needed stability in Granada because of the threat of the Turks. In 1565, three Moriscan spies had confessed that there was a plan for the Moriscans to seize the Granadan coast as the Turks attacked Malta. Logic dictated that the Turks would then concentrate an attack on Spain aided by the Moriscans who held Granada. This all confirmed the fears of Philip II and to prevent even the merest chance of this happening, Philip agreed to the enforcement of the reforms.

This enforcement caused a revolt by the Moriscans. It broke out in 1568 and confirmed to Philip that the Moriscos could not be trusted and that Islam was about to attack Spain using the revolt to aid them. The terrain proved very difficult for a military campaign but Tendilla, using his local troops, fought some brilliant campaigns. Fearing that he would be too successful and that his power base would expand, Philip II replaced him with his own half-brother called Don John of Austria. He, however, had to wait for his men to arrive from all over Spain. This gave the Moriscos time to organise themselves and it took him until 1570 to put down the revolt.

Philip II needed a solution to the problem and he decided that he would disperse the Moriscos throughout Castille in small isolated villages and he then replaced them with 50,000 Spaniards. However, between 60,000 and 150,000 Moriscos continued to live in Granada and all this ‘solution’ did was spread throughout Castille some very angry people who in their own minds had done nothing wrong and had been punished for no reason at all.

This had a knock-on effect economically in that the Moriscos had always been advanced in their approach to work and they now had little time for Madrid and Spain’s economy was affected accordingly. They had no incentive to work hard for the country and combined with Spain’s poor economic standing further pushed down Spain’s financial and economic standing.