In the late 1400s, Arab warlords controlled the Iberian
peninsula from their capital at Granada. It is fair to say that they were
cruel, intolerant, rapacious, demeaning, and overbearing. While most American
readers remember 1492 as the date Ferdinand and Isabella sponsored Christopher
Columbus' voyage of discovery, it was also the year the Moorish princes
were finally defeated and expelled from Spain.
Washington Irving (1783-1859) is better-known for his
works on American life, but his "Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada,"
published in 1829, stands out as one of the great English-language classics
of historical narrative. William H. Prescott, an undisputed authority on
the subject, wrote in Volume II of his pivotal "Ferdinand and Isabella:"
"Mr. Irving''s late publication, the Chronicle
of the Conquest of Granada, has superseded all further necessity for
poetry and, unfortunately for me, for history. He has fully availed himself
of all the picturesque and animating movement of this romantic era, and
the reader who will take the trouble to compare his chronicle with the
present more prosaic and literal narrative will see how little he has been
seduced from historic accuracy by the poetical aspect of his subject. The
fictitious and romantic dress of his work has enabled him to make it the
medium of reflecting more vividly the floating opinions and chimerical
fancies of the age, while he has illuminated the picture with the dramatic
brilliancy of coloring denied to sober history."