When the kingdom of Granada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella in January 1492, a humanist in their pay hailed ‘the extinction of Spain’s calamities’. The victory, according to a chronicler in the Basque Country, ‘redeemed Spain, indeed all Europe’. The pope agreed, ordering bonfires and bells. The conquest and its aftermath changed the profile of Europe, where, outside the range of Ottoman conquests, no Muslim-ruled state ever re-emerged. Until the creation of an independent Albania in 1928, there was no state with a Muslim majority. It became possible – though the argument is perhaps not convincing – to claim that the culture of Europe, if such a thing exists, is Christian. Until recently, the habit of identifying Europe with Christendom went almost unchallenged.
Before Granada’s fall, its leader, Boabdil, as Christians called him, had not behaved with exemplary valour, relying on conspiracy, compromise and a series of tactical alliances to perpetuate an apparent anachronism. Christian conquerors had long ago swept up every other Muslim kingdom in Iberia. Ferdinand and Isabella could