She Couldn’t Enjoy Being the Queen of a Great Moorish Kingdom – The Story of the Beautiful Morayma

Maryam bint Ibrahim al-athar or Morayma (1467–1493) was famous for her beauty and gentle manners. She was also the long-suffering wife of Boabdil el Chico, the last Sultan of Granada. In the English-speaking world, her memory or legacy has hardly caused a ripple, so who was this Morayma really and what is her story?

Morayma’s father was General Ibrahim Aliatar or Ali-Atar mayor of La Lonja, Lord of Xagra, Steward of the Alhambra and Governor of the Kingdom of Granada.  Morayma’s father Ali-Atar was a man of peace and negotiation and sought long-term harmony between the Moorish and Catholic kingdoms. He had previously supported the Sultan Muley Hacén, but realised that the Sultan was not interested in pursuing a policy of peace, only aggression and war. Ali-Atar became a trusted loyal advisor to Boabdil during the would-be Sultan’s exile to Guadix.

During his exile to Guadix, Boabdil set eyes on Morayma when he was visiting La Lonja.  He would regularly visit Ali’Atar to discuss the future of Granada.  Boabdil fell in love with Morayma and sought his mother’s permission to wed. Aixa insisted that Boabdil marry strategically. However Boabdil was resolute that the only woman he wished to spend his life with was Morayma.

Morayma’s wedding to Boabdil was a simple affair and far from ostentatious, despite her father’s wealth. It’s reported that she even borrowed her wedding jewellery from friends.  While Aixa accepted her son’s decision to marry Morayma, she decided to not attend the wedding, because she preferred a more strategic marriage that may have secured the future of Granada and her son as the next Sultan of Granada.

Meanwhile, Morayma’s new father in law Muley Hacén was disinterested in the marriage and decided to concentrate instead on liberating  Al-Hama (famous for its thermal baths) from a recent Christian conquest in 1482.  After Muley Hacén suffered a catastrophic defeat at Al-Hama, Aixa decided to take the opportunity of Muley Hacen absence from the Alhambra and place Boabdil as the Sultan of Granada.

Both Muley Hacén and his brother Al Zagal travelled to Malaga to take refuge and plot against dethroning Boabdil.  They both convinced Boabdil to form an alliance with them to reconquer the former Jewish and Moorish City of Lucena in Cordoba, captured by the Catholics from the Moors in 1240.

Morayma was now expecting her second child Yusuf and warned Boabdil against following this route of military might and conquest. Morayma often consulted with astrologers and warned Boabdil that this strategy would bring nothing but destruction. However forced by Boabdil’s advisors to show his military worth as a Sultan, he decided to press ahead.  It was a trap, and while Boabdil was waiting for his father and uncle’s troops to support him, he was captured by the Catholics and imprisoned in Porcuna. Morayma’s father, General Ali-Atar, trusted advisor to Boabdil, not only suffered a devastated defeat but he was also killed in battle.

With Boabdil now a prisoner of the Catholic Monarchs, Muley Hacen resumed his position as Sultan of Granada.  Morayma, her two sons, Ahmed, Yusuf, and Aixa, took refuge in the barrio of Carmen in Granada’s Albaicin.  Aixa used her negotiating skills to gain Boabdil’s freedom, with promises of treaties and peace accords with the Christian’s against Muley Hacen.

With Boabdil’s freedom now on the horizon, it was Morayma who was to pay the highest price. Not only had she spent months apart from Boabdil, Morayma was forced to hand over her son Ahmed, now two years old, to the Catholic Monarchs as a hostage in exchange for Boabdil’s freedom. She was not to see Ahmed until he was nine years old, when Granada was surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs.  When Morayma finally did see her son Ahmed again in 1492, he could hardly speak Arabic and only spoke Castellano (Spanish) and followed the Catholic faith.  Morayma spent years being depressed and inconsolable at the absence of her son.

A tyrannical Al Zagal took reign of Granada’s throne when Muley Hacen died in 1485.  Taking advantage of Al- Zagal’s absence while he was busy defending Malaga, Boabdil placed himself as Sultan of Granada once again. Tired of war, Boabdil contemplated a possible treaty with Al-Zagal and dividing Granada, Malaga and other lands between the two; the Catholic monarchs decided to exercise their wrath, seeing this as a betrayal. Fernando of Aragon, in particular, demanded Morayma’s youngest son Yusuf as a second hostage until the Kingdom of Granada was finally handed over, and Al-Zagal eliminated.

Morayma became even more withdrawn from Boabdil when she lost her second son Yusuf. She was not to see either of her sons until January 1492 during the final handover of Granada.  After the surrender of Granada, Boabdil, Morayma, Aixa and the two princes, Ahmed and Yusuf moved on to Andarax, where they remained until the Monarchs of Spain finally decided to break their treaty and expel Boabdil and Morayma in the summer of 1493.

Yusuf was soon to die aged just five years old in the arms of his mother and Ahmed, feeling alienated from his Islamic upbringing decided to live as a Christian and remained in Spain near the Catholic monarchs.  Just a few days before Boabdil left Spain on to their final destination in Fez, Morayma died. Boabdil was forced to leave Spain and head to Fez without her.  Morayma’s final resting place is believed to be a mosque in Mondujar with other sultans Mohammad II, Yusef I, Yusef III, and Abu Saad. The mosque was demolished and a church was built on the grounds.

Morayma was a Sultana of Granada but was never actually given an opportunity to enjoy what it is to be the queen of a great Moorish Kingdom. However, such was the legacy that the gentle, beautiful Morayma left behind that poets such as Francisco Martinez de La Rosa were inspired to write about. A statue of a weeping Morayma can be found in the town of La Loja south Spain, Andalucia.

Written by Sabera Ahsan

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Sabera Ahsan is a former Primary school teacher, police equality advisor and government policy officer. She currently dedicates her time to writing and reading about Moorish Spain.