The People of Gibraltar
1356 - Isa Ibn al Hassan - King of Gibraltar

In 1351 The "Black Sultan of Morocco" died in exile in the mountains of the High Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb - although some suggest that he was murdered in the hills of Hentetah. Known in most history books as Abu Al'Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Othman  - or Abu al-Hassan for short, his Marinid Caliphate passed on to his son Abu Inan Faris who was more than a little responsible for his death in those far off hills so distant from his capital in Fez. In fact Faris had forcefully taken over as Sultan in 1348.


Marinid Empire in 1348  ( Modern - Omar Toons )

Both Abu al-Hassan and his son Abu Inan Faris are usually acknowledged as the founders of the town of Gibraltar. They were certainly both responsible for making it into a fortress town, a description that would be associated with the Rock right up to the modern era.  Their work was put to the test in 1349 and 1350 during the Fifth Siege of Gibraltar perhaps best known because the man who besieged the town, Alfonso XI of Leon and Castile, died of bubonic plague while he camped outside the town.


Alfonso XI  of Leon and Castile ( 1410 - Jean Foissart )

From 1352 and for quite a few years after, Abu Inan Faris was kept busy trying to consolidate his Kingdom but by 1357 he was taken ill. His vizier fearing the worst decided that the Caliphate should pass on to Inan's young son Abu Bakr Sa'id instead of the legitimate heir. Inan Faris recovered and the Vizier panicked. He had Inan Faris strangled and his protégée took over in 1358. 

Just prior to Abu Inan's illness and Abu Bakr's short reign - he only lasted a year - the Governor of Gibraltar was Isa Ben Al-hassan Ben Abi Mandel Alascari - known also and perhaps more memorably as Isa Ibn al Hassan. The date of his appointment is given variously as 1354, 1356 and 1358 by the British historians Frederick George Stephens, George Hills and William Jackson respectively.  My own view is that he was made Wali in 1356 , presumably by Abu Innan Faris - who ought to have known better. 

According to the traveller Ibn Battuta (See LINK) who visited the place a few years earlier Gibraltar was quite an impressive place, worthy of the best of governors.
I walked round the mountain and saw the marvellous works executed on it by our master Abu Inán may God strengthen him, and I should have liked to remain as one of its defenders to the end of my days. 
Our late master, Abu'l Hassan built in it the huge keep at the top of the fortress, before that it was a small tower, which was laid in ruins by the stones from the catapults and he built a new one in its place. He built the arsenal there too ( for there was no arsenal in the place before) as well as the great wall which surround the red mound, starting from the arsenal and extending to the tileyard.   
Later on our master, the Commander of the faithful, Abu Inan (May God strengthen him ) again took in hand its fortifications and embellishments and strengthened the walls of the extremity of the mount, which is the most formidable and useful of its walls. He also sent thither, large quantities of munitions, foodstuffs and provisions of all kinds, and thereby acquainted himself of his duty to God Most High with singleness of purpose and sincere devotion.  

The Rock of Gibraltar from the south east ( 1800s Serres )

Isa Ibn al Hassan was obviously tempted by the place - and gave in to his temptation. He has been described as odious, obtuse, cruel and avaricious - as well as extraordinarily ambitious. So much so that he very quickly took the decision to give up his position as Governor and proclaim himself King of Gibraltar. He must have been clever enough to realise that the turmoil going on in what was probably his homeland would be to his advantage. Where his intelligence seems to have deserted him was in how to go about it.

His overwhelming interest in gaining wealth and power for himself seems to have blinded him. His general behaviour was nothing short of scandalous. He refused to try to endear himself to the people living on the Rock at the time choosing instead to terrorise them. Caught unawares, his newly created subjects found it difficult to do anything about it. But they eventually managed to regroup and turned against him. 

Left without support, Isa and his son took refuge in the Tower of Homage. They were perhaps the first of a long line of scoundrels who would use the Castle as a place to evade an angry mob. However they only managed to postpone the inevitable. They were captured, dragged out of the keep, trussed up and sent over to Ceuta. 


The Tower of Homage ( late 19th century - Unknown )

The story of the one and only King of Gibraltar is often treated as a sort of half-joke - there is after all very little literature on the subject and its consequences were insignificant - other than for Isa and his son. However some historian have speculated as to what would have happened if Isa Ibn al Hassan had been a different kind of man and had actually succeeded in making Gibraltar and its extensive Campo an independent Moorish principality. A cleverer man might have been able to make something of its position as an important  fortress, port and landing place between the ever warring factions in both Morocco and Spain.

Instead Isa Ibn al Hassan and his son were made to humble themselves before an unforgiving Abu Inan who ordered that they be subjected to "the most cruel and unparalleled tortures" before they were executed. Gibraltar under a new governor would remain in Marinid hands for another couple of decades after which it would become a possession of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

Isa Ibn al Hassan would be the one and only King Gibraltar has ever had.


Gibraltar, Ceuta and the Kingdom of Granada ( 14th century map )