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, given here in quotation marks.
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.
366, ROLDAN BANISHED – I. Anon. Class III. “Dia era de Sant Jorge”.
On Saint George’s Day, all Charlemagne’s vassals come to court except Reinaldos. Galalon therefore accuses him of treason. When Roldan protests against punishing a man who is not there to speak in his own defense, Charlemagne banishes him. He goes to Spain, and meets a Moor who guards the bridge to a kingdom. All knights who come must do battle. Roldan slays the Moor, switches armor with him, and sends the corpse to Paris with his page, with directions to pass it off as his own. There is much lamenting. Roldan rides to the Moorish king’s court, announces that Roldan is dead, and leads the Moors to attack Paris. Reinaldos meets Roldan in the battle and recognizes him. The two turn on the Moors, slay many, and rout the rest.
This ballad is based on an incident in the Italian poem Leandra Innamorata, by Piero Durante da Gualdo. This poem’s most interesting feature is that it is written in sexta rima, not ottova rima.
367, ROLDAN BANISHED – II. Anon. Class III. “En Francia la noblecida”.
All Charlemagne’s vassals come to court except Reinaldos. Ganalon therefore accuses him of treason. When Roldan protests against punishing a man who is not there to speak in his own defense, and reminds Charles of the many services Reinlados has rendered, such as winning the lovely Saracen princess Beliserma for the emperor, and defeating Madama Ruanza, Charlemagne banishes him. He goes to Spain, and meets a Moor who guards the bridge to a kingdom. All knights who come must do battle. Roldan slays the Moor, switches armor with him, and sends the corpse to Paris with his page, with directions to pass it off as his own. There is much lamenting. Roldan rides to the Moorish king Marfin’s court, announces that Roldan is dead, and leads the Moors to attack Paris. Reinaldos meets Roldan in the battle and recognizes him. The two turn on the Moors, slay many, and rout the rest.
According to Duran, this second romance of Roldan’s banishment is a more literary and polished reworking of the first one.
368, REINALDOS AND THE PRINCESS CELIDONIA – III. Anon. Class V. “Cuando aquel claro lucero”.
On a beautiful day in May, I was walking in the woods, and heard a knight lamenting the ingratitude of Charlemagne, though he had obtained for him Belisandra, the daughter of King Trasiomar. He called on Roldan, Olivieros, Angelores, Angelinos el Infante, and Duke Estolfo of England. This knight, Reinaldos, decides to go fight the Moors, swings by Paris to pick up Roldan, and sallies forth. On Thursday, St. John’s Eve, they come a tournament held by King Agolandro [Agolante?] and see the beautiful Celidonia. Both love her, but Reinaldo claims her, since Roldan is married to Alda. Roldan consents, and they enter the tournament, and Reinaldos overthrows King Gargaray. After the battle, the Peers take lodging with Gargaray, pretending to be Pagans on a pilgrimage to the great temple of Mahomet. Letters arrive from Galalon, revealing their true identity. Gargaray with difficulty restrains his men from killing the Peers instantly, but bids them beware in the tourney. In the tourney the next day, Reinaldos kills Gargaray. He and Roldan rout the Moors and carry off Celidonia, who rejects her suitor and dies of grief. Reinaldos laments, and returns to France, vowing vengeance on Galalon.
Duran suspects that this romance was inspired by number 369, which is certainly the older of the two. It is apparently a Spanish invention, in its current state.
369, ROLDAN AND REINALDOS CONQUER THE KINGDOM OF THE MOOR ALIARDE. – IV. Class III. “Estábase Don Reinaldos”.
Reinaldos, in Paris, asks his cousin Malgesi who the most beautiful woman in the world is. Malgesi’s spirits tell him that it is the daughter of King Aliarde. Reinaldos leaves Paris, and goes to Aliarde, pretending that he has been banished and seeks a refuge. The princess falls for him, but he won’t take her favors unless she marries him and becomes a Christian. At this impasse, letters arrive from Galalon, revealing Reinaldos’ true intentions. Aliarde is about to hang him, when the princess intercedes. The king banishes him instead. Later, the princess having rejected all her suitors, Aliarde offers her as the prize of a tournament. Reinaldos and Roldan plan to enter, but letters from Galalon forewarn Aliarde of their coming. A Moorish champion rides out to meet them, and obtains their oath that they come in peace. At the tourney, the Peers fight their way to the princess’ pavilion, she swings to the croup, and they ride like mad for Paris, where they are met with rejoicing.
Like 366 and 367, this ballad is based on an incident in the Italian poem Leandra Innamorata, by Piero Durante da Gualdo.
370, THE BATTLE BEWTEEN OLIVER AND MONTESINOS, FOR THE LOVE OF ALIARDA. – V. Class III. “En las salas de Paris”.
Oliveros teases Montesinos about his love for Aliarda, calling him a poor lover. Montesinos challenges him to a duel. They agree to meet alone. As Montesinos waits, Reinaldos chances upon him, and hears the story. Oliveros arrives and is outraged to find Montesinos has brought a friend. Montesinos explains, Reinaldos leaves, and the duel begins. Reinaldos brings the whole court to intervene, and the Peers are reconciled. Charlemagne marries Aliarda off to an honorable knight.
Why Duran put this ballad here instead of with the other ballads of Montesinos is a mystery, like many of his decisions in arranging his romancero.
371, THE CONQUEST OF THE EMPIRE OF TREBIZOND BY REINALDOS. – VI. Class III. “Ya que estaba Don Reinaldos”.
Charlemagne has thrown Reinaldos in prison. Roldan, armed with Durlindana and mounted on Briador, confronts him about this. Charlemagne justifies himself, saying Reinaldos is a highway robber. Roldan says this is only because his uncle is unjust in not giving him rich enough fiefs. The Emperor agrees to pardon Reinaldos, if he will go on foot to Jerusalem. Reinaldos sets off, and Roldan meets him three days journey out, offering to give him his armor and horse. Reinaldos insists on keeping his vow, and at last comes to the land of the Great Can [Khan]. The Can is going to war, and offers to make Reinaldos a general in his army which he intends to lead against France. Reinaldos refuses to fight against Christians, but agrees to fight the Emperor of Trabisonda, a tyrant and usurper. He conquers him and sends all the spoils to Charlemagne.
The conquest of Trebisond is from a prose work written in French in the late 1400’s, which was turned into an Italian poem, La Trabisonda, by Francesco Tromba, in 1518, which in turn became a Spanish book, in prose, called Trapesonda, which was published as Part III of Renaldos de Montalban, Parts I and II of which were a translation of another Italian poem, El Innamoramento de Carlo Magno.
372, ROLDAN AND THE TROUBADOUR – VII. Class I. “Salió Roldan a cazar”.
Roldan goes out hunting, and by a tower hears a prisoner singing of his woes. Two old folksongs are incorporated into the ballad here, the first is about a bird that used to sing outside the dungeon window, until a hunter shot it. The second is about how all are happy in May, except the singer. Filled with pity, Roldan conquers the castle and sets the singer free.