Spain's Centuries of Crisis: 1300-1474

By Teofilo F. Ruiz | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Muslims, Jews, and Christians in
a Century of Crisis

Unlike other parts of western Europe where Jews had been expelled by the end of the fourteenth century (1296 in England, early fourteenth century in northern France, and late fourteenth century in southern France), Spain had a substantial Muslim and Jewish population almost into the early modern period. Religious plurality and the manner in which the dominant Christian population dealt with religious minorities made Spain quite different from other realms in the medieval West. Although the history of relations between the three religions is an integral part of the larger peninsular history and it should not be compartmentalized, in this chapter and for the sake of clarity I examine the lives and travails of these minority religious communities and their interaction with each other and with Christians as a separate topic.

The late medieval crises shaped the conditions under which Muslims and Jews lived in Spain and animated the reactions of those in power and their policies against them. These crises also triggered violent upheavals from below. Restrictive laws against Jews and Muslims and widespread violence against them were part of that great sea-change that occurred in Spain from the early thirteenth century onward, transforming social relations, political structures, and Christian perceptions of non-Christians.1 In many respects, the role and place of Jews and Muslims within Christian society serve as a marker for the historical evolution of Spain in the more than century and a half before Jews were exiled or forced to convert in 1492 and Muslims were equally compelled to accept Christianity in the early sixteenth century.

Because we know the denouement of this sad story, one is often led to believe that the history of Muslims and Jews in the late Middle Ages consisted of a series of benchmarks, leading inexorably to intolerance, exile, and/or forced conversion. It was not so, and the tragic final chapter to religious plurality in the Spanish medieval realms was not always a

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