Squire to the Moor King: Christian Spies for Muslim Magnates in Late Medieval Aragon

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:30 PM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Anthony Minnema, Samford University
In 1266, the Muslim emirate of Murcia in southeastern Iberia lost its status as a protectorate of Castile after a failed rebellion and was annexed by the Christian kingdom. Though the Castilian king allowed the ruling dynasty, the Banu Hud, to retain their royal title and most of their lands, he moved the family and the Muslims of Murcia to a suburb, turning over the remainder of the city to Castilian settlement. This development brought a host of Christians to the abandoned neighborhoods and compelled other Muslims to sell their holdings and immigrate, compounding the exodus across the Mediterranean. Various branches of the Banu Hud and their relatives chose to remain and managed their dwindling estates for several generations before disappearing from view in the fourteenth century. Yet the charters that witness the last decades of the dynasty indicate they increasingly employed Christian nobles as agents. These Muslim lords entrusted them with their affairs and sent them as intermediaries to Muslims and Christians alike, even bequeathing Christian squires some of their lands after their death in the place of Muslim relatives. Despite these advantages, Christian agents found themselves in a precarious position as Christian kings sometimes distrusted co-religionists who worked for Muslim employers. This paper explores why Muslim lords employed and sometimes preferred to use Christian agents, as well as why enterprising Christian nobles choose to serve a dynasty with diminishing prospects. In this way, the study contributes to recent scholarship on Christian employment of Muslims in medieval Iberia, but with the roles reversed. The examination of these reciprocal relationships demonstrates how the task of preserving power and the politics of pragmatism transcended and reinforced religious boundaries in late medieval Iberia.
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