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.
373, THE MOOR CALAYNOS. Class III. “Ya cabalga Calaynos”
Calaynos is in Sansueña [Saragossa], and woos the beautiful princess Sevilla, daughter of Almanzor. She will only give her love if he brings her the heads of Roldan, Reinaldos, and Oliveros. He sallies forth to Paris, and challenges the Paladins. Roldan will not deign to fight with him, so Valdovinos jousts, and is overthrown. Roldan, impressed, will joust now. He overthrows Calaynos, who explains why he has come. Roldan laughs, says his lady must not have loved him very much, and kills him.
Lockhart, Rodd, Gibson.
Duran mentions an Italian poem called La Gran Guerra e Rotta dello Scapigliato, which features a very similar story. In the Italian, the Moor is named Scapigliato, the lady is Princess Rosetta of Russia, and is daughter to Almanzor, cousin to Gradasso, and sister to Rovenza, so that it is revenge, and not a ploy to get rid of an unwanted suitor, which moves her to bid him kill Rinaldo and Orlando, out of vengeance. He defeats several Paladins before Rinaldo kills him.
BALLADS OF GAYFEROS AND MELISENDRA
374, GAYFEROS – I. Class III. “Estábase la Condesa”
The Countess combs her son Gayferos’ hair, and tells him that if he lives to be a knight he must avenge his father, who was slain by a traitor in order to marry her. The Count Galvan overhears, angrily denies it, and tells his men to take Gayferos into the woods, kill him, and bring back his heart and little finger. They cut the finger off, but let him go, and take back the heart of a deer. The lad escapes to his uncle.
375, GAYFEROS – II. Class III. “Vámonos, dijo, mi tio”
Gayferos tells his uncle [unnamed, but appears to be Beltran] what happened, they return to Paris, disguised as pilgrims, and come to the Countess’ house. Count Galvan has forbidden her to give food to pilgrims, but she does when they ask it for the love of Gayferos. Galvan arrives, rebukes the countess, and is slain by Gayferos, who reveals himself, to much rejoicing.
376, GAYFEROS –III. Class VIII. “No con los dados se gana”
Charlemagne rebukes Gayferos for playing dice with Oliveros instead of rescuing his wife from Sansueña.
377, GAYFEROS – IV. Class III. “Asentado está Gayferos”
Gayferos and Guarinos are playing dice at court, when Charlemagne tells him that if he was as good a knight as he is a gambler, he might have rescued Melisendra, Gayferos’ wife and Charlemagne’s daughter, by now. Gayferos summons his uncle Roldan, his cousin Oliveros, Durandarte and the others to tell them that his wife has been captive for seven years, he searched three years and could find no trace. He has learned she is in Sansueña, but he’s loaned his horse and armor to Montesinos, who is at a tournament in Hungary. He borrows Roldan’s horse, armor and sword, takes his leave of his uncle Don Beltran, and sallies forth alone. At Sansueña, he learns that Melisendra has been adopted by King Almanzor, but refuses to marry any Moorish prince. He slips into the palace gardens, where Melisendra sees from a balcony that he is a knight-errant, and bids him take a message to Gayferos in France. He announces who he is, she races out of the palace to meet him. They are surprised by the Moors, but escape, much to Almanzor’s chagrin. Gayferos taunts him and gallops off with Melisendra. They ride all the way back to Paris, where there is much rejoicing.
In some of the oral ballads, Melisendra leaps out of the window into her lover’s arms.
378, GAYFEROS – V. By Miguel Sanchez, el Divino. Class VIII. “Oid, señor Don Gayferos”
The speaker addresses Gayferos, tells him that Melisendra, his wife and Charlemagne’s daughter, is in Sansueña. He advises him to stop playing at the tables [backgammon] and go rescue her, before she falls in love with a Moor.
379, GAYFEROS – VI. Class VIII. “El cuerpo preso en Sansueña”
Melisendra is heartsick in Sansueña, sees a knight outside her window, bids him, if he ever goes to France, to tell Gayferos to come rescue her. It is Gayferos! He apologizes for his tardiness, and they flee to France.
380, GAYFEROS – VII. Class VIII. “Cautiva, ausente y celosa”
Melisendra is in Sansueña, sighing, watching the road to France. She laments, wondering why Gayferos tarries.
381, GAYFEROS – VIII. Class VIII. “Mil celosas fantasias”
Melisendra, in the tower of Sansueña, laments and weeps, wondering if Gayferos is faithful to her.
Gayferos appears here and there in French chansons de geste as Gaifires, who seems to be based on Duke Waiofar [r. 745-768] of Aquitaine, who was the son of Hunaud I [r. 735-744, and may have been the inspiration for Rinaldo of Montalban], and possibly the father of Hunaud II. All of these dukes fought the Carolingian line to try and preserve the independence of Gascony and Aquitaine. There is much that is unknown about these dukes. Some speculate that Hunaud II was the real leader of the Basque army at Roncesvalles, though there is no evidence for this.
The story of Melisendra is the one which Don Quixote’s nemesis Master Pedro performs as a puppet-play, and in which the Don is so caught up that he leaps to help Melisendra by attacking all the other puppets.
In some of the oral ballads, Melisendra becomes a very amorously inclined woman. She can’t sleep for love, and tells her nurse so, who bids her go to his bed. She goes through the streets, kills a watchman who sees her, slips into her lover’s bed, and makes him promise to marry her in the morning. He does so.
There is another ballad which is merely a description of Melisendra’s beauty as she walks home from the baths.