The Alhambra Decree 1492 – Edict of Expulsion

The Alhambra Decree

The Alhambra Decree - The 1889 painting by Emilio Sala (1850–1910) shows Torquemada offering the Edict of Expulsion to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
The Alhambra Decree – The 1889 painting by Emilio Sala (1850–1910) shows Torquemada offering the Edict of Expulsion to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

Today, Ferdinand and Isabella are best remembered for commissioning Christopher Columbus to search for a western trade route to the Orient. On August 3, 1492, the Genovese mariner set sail from Spain, but his royal backers had issued the Edict of Expulsion, often known as the Alhambra Decree, demanding “all Jews and Jewesses of whatever age they may be” to either accept baptism and conversion to Christianity or leave the nation.

Throughout the fifteenth century, a fresh wave of anti-Semitism had been simmering. Many Spanish Jews converted to Christianity in order to evade persecution and participate in forbidden activities. The Conversos did well in business and in universities as a group, but their success fostered resentment and fury.

In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella established the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition—or Holy Office, but better known as the Spanish Inquisition—under their own control, rather than the pope’s, in order to expose and punish conversos who they believed were secretly practicing their Jewish faith. The Spanish Inquisition, led by Tomás de Torquemada, fanned the flames of anti-Semitism, eventually resulting to the Edict of Expulsion.

Scholars dispute on the exact number of Jews that fled Spain as a result of the edict, but it’s estimated to be around a hundred thousand out of a population of one million. Aboard August 2, 1492, the last Jews left Spain on ships characterized as a “fleet of misery.” The next day, Columbus and his three ships set off on a journey unlike any other.

Historians have underlined the significance of financially powerful conversos in encouraging Ferdinand and Isabella to sponsor Columbus’s expedition, as well as his reliance on Jewish-supplied naval instruments and astronomical tables.

The Alhambra Decree was declared null and unlawful by military dictator Francisco Franco’s fascist administration in 1968. King Juan Carlos legally repealed his ancestors’ edict in 1992, five hundred years after it was issued, and his government awarded citizenship to the descendants of Jews banished by the decree in 2014, just months before he abdicated the throne.


The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882);

Hitler’s Rise to Power (1933);

The Nuremberg Laws (1935).


The Alhambra Decree

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)