The Spanish Charlemagne Ballads, Part 1: Count Dirlos; Valdovinos and the Marquis of Mantua; and Count Claros

Spain is home to a large number of beautiful ballads, called romances. Some of these ballads are about lovers. Many are about the Moors who ruled Spain for so many long centuries. There are a large number about the famous Cid who fought the Moors. There is also a large cycle about the Paladins of France, and about Bernardo del Carpio, who, the Spaniards say, killed the mighty Roland in the battle of Roncesvalles. While there are several collections of English translations of the Spanish ballads, scholars and translators tend to focus on the Moorish and love ballads. It is difficult to find any complete account of this branch of the Carolingian legend, which is why I decided to write a summary of every Spanish ballad related to Charlemagne. I quickly discovered that this is an impossible task. The folk tradition is still alive and well, not only in Iberia, but in every land to which the Spanish Jews moved after being exiled by Ferdinand and Isabella. New variants are constantly being recorded, and no Professor Child has yet arisen to make a complete collection of the folksongs and to standardize the titles by which they are known.

The closest thing to a definitive collection of Spanish ballads that currently exists is the Romancero General of Agustin Duran, published in 1877, which includes every ballad printed prior to the 1800’s. This means it does not include any folksongs from the Spain of his day, or, naturally, from later. These folksongs sometimes contain very interesting variants from the printed texts. Many of these later folksongs can be found at the Pan-Hispanic Ballad Project and Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, two confusingly arranged messes of websites which I leave it to you to sift through if my dozen posts on Duran’s ballads leave you wanting more.

Duran’s magnum opus is in two volumes, which are volumes 10 and 14 of the Biblioteca des Autores Españoles. The numbers of the ballads below are those of this collection, as are the divisions into classes, based on antiquity.

Class I ballads are pure folksongs.
Class III are productions of uneducated or scarcely educated minstrels.
Class V are early literary ballads, attempts to imitate the oral tradition.
Class VIII are Renaissance or Siglo d’Oro literary ballads, which do not attempt to imitate the oral tradition.

Also note that most of the titles were supplied by Duran. Spanish ballads are usually identified by their first lines.

The principal English translations of Spanish ballads are:
Thomas Rodd, Most Celebrated Ancient Spanish Ballads relating to the Twelve Peers of France mentioned in Don Quixote. 1812.
John Gibson Lockhart, Ancient Spanish Ballads. 1823.
John Bowring, Ancient Poetry and Romances of Spain. 1824.
James Young Gibson, The Cid Ballads and other Poems and Translation from Spanish and German. 1887.
Roger Wright, Spanish Ballads, 1987.


354. EL CONDE DIRLOS. Anonymous, Class III. “Estabase el Conde Dirlos”.
Count Dirlos, nephew of Beltrane and cousin of Gayferos, is ordered by Charlemagne to war against King Aliarde. He has, however, been married less than a year to a woman whom he fought three years to win. He takes her to Paris, and takes all the Paladins to witness that he leaves all his property in her hands, without steward. He sails away and fights for fifteen years without sending word. Returning home after a dream of his wife in bed with a prince, he finds that she is faithful, despite Charlemagne and Roland pressuring her to marry the Emperor’s son Celinos. The count goes to Paris and is recognized by his uncle and wife despite his disguise. The family, with Rinaldo, go to court, and the count reveals himself, and accuses Celinos of forging the letters with news of his death. Rinaldo sides with Dirlos, Roland with Celinos. All Paris splits and is on the verge of war. Not even the cardinal archbishop Turpin, Charlemagne’s nephew [!] can restore order. Finally, Charlemagne makes peace, and all ends happily.

The essential plot of this ballad is very common and is known to folklorists as that of The Noble Moringer. It is not connected with Charlemagne outside of Spanish tradition.


355. VALDOVINOS AND THE MARQUIS OF MANTUA Anonymous, Class III. “De Mantua salió el marques”.
Urgel [Ogier] the Dane, Marquis of Mantua, goes hunting on the day before Saint John the Baptist’s, is separated from his men and gets lost. He finds a dying knight, who turns out to be his nephew Valdovinos [Baldwin], who tells him how he was mortally wounded by Charlemagne’s son Carloto, who intends to marry his wife, Princess Sevilla. Valdovinos’ squire tells Urgel how the two of them and Carloto had left Paris for a duel, but Carloto had hired two knights to ambush them, and slew Valdovinos by treason. A hermit is found, Valdovinos is shriven and dies. Urgel swears a mighty oath to avenge him.

356. VALDOVINOS – II. Anon. Class III. “De Mantua salen apriesa.”
Urgel sends Count Dirlos and Duke Sanson of Picardy to Paris, where they lay the case before Charles, who summons the plaintiffs (Urgel; Sevilla; Naimo, who is the maternal uncle of Valdovino; the king of Sanseuña, who became Christian for his daughter’s sake; Ermelina, Valdovino’s mother; The King of Dacia, his father) to Paris. They arrive, and Charles chooses judges, including Don Beltrane, Count Galalon of Alemaine, Duke Vibiano of Aigremonte, and Don Guarinos the Admiral.

Sentence is given, after Carloto confesses under torture. Carloto tries to persuade Roldan to rescue him. Roldan starts to gather his men, but is, caught, prevented, and banished for a twelvemonth. Carloto is dragged by a horse and then beheaded.

358. VALDOVINOS – IV. Anon. Class I. “Tan clara hacia la luna”
On a bright moonlit night, Valdovinos meets Sevilla, whom he has loved for seven years. She asks why he sighs. He answers they can never be happy so long as they differ in religion. She agrees to become a Christian if he marries her.
No translation.

359. VALDOVINOS – V. Anon. Class III. “Nuño Vero, Nuño Vero”
Nuño Vero, outside Sevilla’s window, tells her that Valdovinos was killed in a fight last night at midnight, and requests her favor now that his rival is dead. Sevilla laughs and tells him that Valdovinos was with her all last night.
No translation.

360. VALDOVINOS – VI. Anon. Class VIII. “Sobre el cuerpo desangrado”
Sevilla laments over Valdovinos’ body, swears never to love again, and calls for vengeance on Carloto.
No translation.

361. VALDOVINOS – VII. Anon. Class VIII. “Grande estruendo de campanas”
All Paris mourns for Valdovinos. The Cardinal of Ostia is the priest, the Archbishop of Milan the deacon, and the Bishop of Aux [Aix?] the subdeacon at his funeral. He is buried in St. John Lateran, in full armor.
St. John Lateran is in Rome, not Paris. The Spanish ballads make this mistake with surprising frequency.

Not in Duran – From the Flor de various romances nuevos, 1589. “Por estraños espessuras” Three hundred knights travel by darkness, to avoid their movements being known to the king. They are badly wounded, and none worse than Valdovinos. His men carry him into a green field, where he bids them halt here, where he can still feel wind blowing on him from France, which they have left. He bids them carry word of his fate to his mother. He then lets out a great sigh and dies.
No translation

Not in Duran – From the Tercera parte de la Silva de various romances, 1551. “En hombros de caballeros” A sorely wounded Baldovinos is carried by his knights into a flowery meadow and laid under  an olive tree. He longs to hear of France where he was born, and wonders if his mother and his sweetheart Sevilla remember him. He then dies. Sevilla laments his death and swears that she will die within the day, and the Emperor will bury them in one tomb.
No translation.

Not in Duran – Printed by Rodríguez-Moñino. Cinco notas sobre romances, in Anuario de Letras 2 (1962), 15-26 “Cubiertas yvan las andas.” Under the shade of an olive tree, surrounded by his knights, lies Valdovinos, mortally wounded by Carloto’s treason. He asks his knights to let him breathe the air of France, his country, but dies as he speaks.
No translation

The Spaniards have conflated Baldwin the son of Ogier the Dane, from Le Chevalerie Ogier, with Baldwin the son of Ganelon and half-brother of Roland from La Chanson des Saisnes, and have turned Saxony into Saragossa. These ballads were very popular in Spain. Don Quixote knew some of them by heart, and Lope de Vega wrote a play “El Marquis de Mantua” based on them.


362. EL CONDE CLAROS – I. Anon. Class III. “Media noche ere por hilo”
Count Claros of Montalvan, Renaldo’s son, cannot sleep for love of the princess Claraniña. He finally tells her that he’s loved her seven years. They arrange a meeting in the garden, where they act as man and wife, but are surprised by a gardener, who refuses Claros’ offer of land and his sister’s hand in marriage if he keeps silent. The gardener tells Charlemagne, who kills him in a fit of rage, then arrests Claros. He summons his barons, and sentences Claros to death. Claros’ uncle the archbishop [unnamed] visits him in prison, to bring the sad news. Claros sends a message by the bishop’s page to Claraniña, who meets him at the scaffold. Claraniña falls down before her father and beseeches pardon, for the sake of Renaldo his father, who died in battle. She obtains it and marries Claros.
Rodd, Wright.

363. EL CONDE CLAROS – II. Antonio Pansac. Class V. “Durmiendo está el conde Claros”.
Count Claros woos the princess [unnamed], and wins her favors without blessing from the altar. The king [unnamed] finds them, and has the count executed, and presents his heart to the princess on a golden plate. She dies of grief, and the king lays them both in one tomb.
No translation.

364. EL CONDE CLAROS – III. Anon. Class III. “A caza va el Emperador”
Charlemagne rides out hunting with Count Claros. Claros asks for Claraniña’s hand in marriage, since he has had her these six months. Charlemagne rides back to the city in a fury, throws his daughter in prison, and sentences her to be burnt. She writes a letter to Claros, who rides to the court like mad. He presents himself to Charlemagne disguised as a friar, and asks to hear her confession. Instead of so doing, however, he tries to kiss her, and the truth comes out. Claros tells Charles she is innocent, but a knight who loves her and is jealous of Claros accuses the supposed friar of lying. They duel. Charlemagne recognizes Claros by the way he tightens his saddle straps. Claros kills the knight and then rides off with Claraniña.
No translation.

Not in Duran, “A misa va el Emperador,” Primavera y Flor de Romances #192.
The Emperor [unnamed] goes to Mass on St. John’s Day with Count Claros. Claros complains that the Moors have taken his castle of Montalban, which the king gave him. He threatens to turn Moor himself if the king does not succor him. The king promises him arms, and summons Oliveros, Montesinos, Roldan, Urgel [Ogier], and Merian to help him. Claros now asks for the king’s daughter in marriage, but he says she is promised to Don Beltran. Claros returns to his home, but cannot sleep that night for love of the princess. He calls his servants to dress him in fancy clothes, and he goes to the princess, and bids her flee to Montalban. He then goes to the king and explains that the princess is with child and that he is going to marry her. The king calls for his blood, but Claros flees through the streets of Paris. Oliveros and Roldan follow him, but he persuades them to let him go free. They return to the court and stall Don Beltran and the king. They persuade the king to pardon Claros, and the lovers are married.
No translation.

Count Claros, the son of Reinaldos, is known only on the Penninsula. According to the French and Italians, Reinaldos had two sons, named Aymon and John, after their grandfathers. There does not seem to be any real connection between these ballads and authentic Carolingian material. The incidents of these ballads are combined in various ways in popular tradition. The tragic ending of “Durmiendo está el conde Claros” and the rather undramatic ending of “A misa va el Emperador” are unknown in oral tradition. The ending of “Media noche era por hilo” is still sung, but is not nearly as widespread or popular as the disguise as a friar.

For a full analysis of the ballads of Conde Claros, see this article.

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