The perilous situation of the Christian cavaliers pent up and beleaguered within the walls of Alhama, spread terror among their friends, and anxiety throughout all Andalusia. Nothing, however, could equal the anguish of the Marchioness of Cadiz, the wife of the gallant Roderigo Ponce de Leon. In her deep distress, she looked round for some powerful noble, who had the means of rousing the country to the assistance of her husband. No one appeared more competent for the purpose than Don Juan de Guzman, the Duke of Medina Sidonia. He was one of the most wealthy and puissant grandees of Spain; his possessions extended over some of the most fertile parts of Andalusia, embracing towns, and sea-ports, and numerous villages. Here he reigned in feudal state, like a petty sovereign and could at any time bring into the field an immense force of vassals and retainers.
The Duke of Medina Sidonia and the Marques of Cadiz, however, were at this time deadly foes. An hereditary feud existed between them, which had often arisen to bloodshed and open war; for a as yet the fierce contests between the proud and puissant Spanish nobles had not been completely quelled by the power of the Crown, and in this respect they exerted a right of sovereignty, in leading their vassals against each other in open field.
The Duke of Medina Sidonia would have appeared, to many, the very last person to whom to apply for aid of the Marquis of Cadiz; but the Marchioness judged of him by the standard of her own high and generous mind. She knew him to be a gallant and courteous knight, and had already experienced the magnanimity of his spirit, having been relieved by him when besieged by the Moors in her husband’s fortress of Arcos. To the Duke, therefore, she applied in this moment of sudden calamity, imploring him to furnish succor to her husband. The event showed how well noble spirits understand each other. No sooner did the Duke receive this appeal from the wife of his enemy, than he generously forgot all feeling of animosity, and determined to go in person to his succor. He immediately dispatched a courteous letter to the Marchioness, assuring her that in consideration of the request of so honorable and estimable a lady, and to rescue from peril so valiant a cavalier as her husband, whose loss would be great, not only to Spain, but to all Christendom, he would forgo the recollection of all past grievances, and hasten to his relief with all the forces he could raise.
Rodrigo Ponce de Leon
The Duke wrote at the same time to the alcaydes of his towns and fortresses, ordering them to join him forthwith at Seville, with all the forces they could spare from their garrisons. He called on all the chivalry of Andalusia to make a common cause in the rescue of those Christian cavaliers, and he offered large pay to all volunteers who would resort to him with horses, armor, and provisions. Thus all who could be incited by honor, religion, patriotism, or thirst of gain, were induced to hasten to his standard, and he took the field with an army of five thousand horse and fifty thousand foot. Many cavaliers of distinguished name accompanied him in this generous enterprise….
Muley Abul Hassan tore his beard with rage…. He saw that all further effort was in vain; his scouts brought word that they had seen from the heights the long columns and flaunting banners of the Christian army approaching through the mountains. To linger, would be to place himself between two bodies of the enemy. Breaking up his camp, therefore, in all haste, he gave up the siege of Alhama, and hastened back to Granada; and the last clash of his cymbals scarce died upon the ear from the distant hills, before the standard of the Duke of Medina Sidonia was seen emerging in another direction from the defiles of the mountains.
When the Christians in Alhama beheld their enemies retreating on one side, and their friends advancing on the other, they uttered shouts of joy and hymns of thanksgiving, for it was a sudden relief from present death. Harassed by several weeks of incessant vigil and fighting, suffering from scarcity of provisions and almost continual thirst, they resembled skeletons rather than living men. It was a noble and gracious spectacle—the meeting of those hitherto inveterate foes, the Duke of Medina Sidonia and the Marques of Cadiz. At sight of his magnanimous deliverer the Marques melted into tears; all past animosities only gave the greater poignancy to present feelings of gratitude and admiration. The late deadly rivals clasped each other in their arms and from that time forward were true and cordial friends.
Washington Irving, Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893), pp. 56-58, 66-68.
Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 151