The Mapmaker's Wife

The Mapmaker's Wife by Robert Whitaker Read Free Book Online

Book: The Mapmaker's Wife by Robert Whitaker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Whitaker
Tags: History, Non-Fiction, South America, World, 18th Century
toiled the fields, who lived by the sweat of his labor, was a man who deserved to be a vassal. In 1248, Castile sacked Seville, near the southern coast, which left Granada as the only Moorish enclave in Iberia.
    Although the Castilians may have reviled the Moors’ religion, they nevertheless adopted many Moorish customs. They studied the Moors’ architecture, their city-planning methods, and their commerce. The Castilians took to sitting on the floor and dressing in long flowing robes. Most notable of all, they adopted Moorish attitudes toward women. Arab poets employed fanciful metaphors to tell of a woman’s beauty and of the romantic love that such beauty could evoke in a man, and soon these conventions appeared in Castilian ballads. A woman’s eyes were “bright as the stars above,” her teeth “white as pearls”—these were the features of a heavenly creature who made men swoon. At the same time, she was a temptress who needed to be removed from society. The Castilians, a historian later wrote,“kept their women sequestered like the Arabs. A duenna or elderly chaperon guarded the women of a household much as if they formed a harem.”
    After the fall of Seville, Christians, Arabs, and Jews lived side by side in Spain in relative tranquillity for two centuries, a pluralistic society unlike any other in Europe. Ferdinand III, who ruled over Castile in the thirteenth century, called himself the King of Three Religions. The reawakening of a crusade against the Moors beganin 1469 with the marriage of Isabella, heiress to the throne of Castile, to Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon, a Christian kingdom in the northeast corner of Iberia. Isabella was a zealous Catholic, and she was intent on purging her dominion of nonbelievers. In 1478, she and Ferdinand obtained a papal bull allowing them to establish an inquisition into heresy, which initially focused on identifying Jews who were “false converts” to Christianity. The first such “heretics” were burned at the stake in 1481, and a year later, Isabella and Ferdinand launched a full-scale effort to conquer Granada, which was still a Moorish stronghold. Unlike during the earlier era of conquest, in which private militias did most of the fighting, the monarchy now raised a public army to wage war. When Granada fell in 1492, Castilians hailed it as the“most distinguished and blessed day there has ever been in Spain.”
    The seven centuries of Reconquest, which had come to a triumphant end, had molded the Spanish character into a distinct type. Other European countries at this time were moving out of the Middle Ages and into a period of intellectual renaissance. The merchant and the scholar were the types that would lead France, England, Holland, and other societies into the Enlightenment. But in Spain, a militant Christianity had taken hold and produced a society that celebrated the soldier who fought the infidels and then lived off the spoils of his victory. And it was at that moment that all of Spain fell under the spell of “romances of chivalry,” tales that reminded them of their great triumph over the Moors and instilled in them a yearning to do it again.
    T HE PRINTING PRESS appeared in Spain in 1473, and soon the verse narratives and ballads of an earlier time evolved into wildly inventive novels of errant knights who saved Christian kingdoms from pagan hordes. The first such tale, Tirant lo Blanch , was published in 1490, and over the next century, Spanish and Portuguese writers produced more than forty such narratives. The most popular of all the storied knights was Amadís de Gaula, who appearedon the literary scene in 1508 and whose exploits—and those of his descendants—were subsequently celebrated in a dozen novels.
    The Amadís romances, one twentieth-century scholar has observed,“mirrored with sufficient fidelity the Spanish gentleman’s dream of himself.” The plots were all much the same, Amadís and the other knights regularly

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