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.
436, DURANDARTE. Class VIII. “Durandarte, buen amigo.”
Montesinos asks Durandarte what message to carry to Belerma. Durandarte answers that he will be quite content if she is sad for three days before starting to look for a new lover.
437, BELERMA. By Luis de Góngora. Class VIII. “Diez años vivió Belerma”.
Ten years after Roncesvalles, Belerma is still weeping over the heart of Durandarte. Lady Alda, by now the merry widow of Count Rodulfo, visits to cheer her up, and to suggest that they search for new husbands together, only stopping her praise of married life when Montesinos walks in.
438, ROLDAN. Class VIII. “Señor conde Don Roldan.”
The old Don Beltran gives Roldan advice on how to have a happy married life with Alda.
289, THE SULTAN OF BABYLON AND THE COUNT OF NARBONNE. Class III. “Del Soldan de Babilonia”
The Sultan of Babylon and sixty thousand troops sail to Narbonne, and capture Count Benalmeniquí [Aymeri]. They exhibit him before the castle walls. The Countess offers to pay any price to ransom him. The Count bids her not pay one maravedi.
From La Mort Aymeri de Narbonne.
291, THE PALMER. Class III. “De Mérida sale el Palmero”
A palmer leaves Mérida, and comes to Paris. He asks for Charlemagne, and is told that he is hearing Mass at Saint John Lateran. In the church, the palmer bows to the bishop, and to the Emperor, but not to Roldan or Oliveros. Insulted, they draw their swords on him. Charles restrains them, but demands an explanation from the palmer. He tells how he loved the princess of Sansueña [here, Saragossa], but was captured and imprisoned in Mérida. Charles asks if Mérida is strong. The palmer says yea. Roldan and Oliveros say nay. The palmer then criticizes them and Charles for not coming to Mérida to rescue the Emperor’s son who was captive there, at which the queen recognizes him for her long-lost son, to much rejoicing.
A palmer is a pilgrim who has been to the Holy Land, as distinct from a romero, who has been to Saint James of Compostella. Once again, the Spanish seem to think that the Lateran is in Paris. Duran didn’t list this with the Charlemagne ballads proper in order to link it with another ballad of a pilgrim, number 292, “En los tiempos que me vi” which, while interesting, has no similarities to this ballad, and nothing to do with Charlemagne.
323, COUNT GRIFOS LOMBARDO. Class V. “En aquella peñas pardas”
Count Grifos is captured by Charlemagne’s knights for raping a girl on pilgrimage to Saint James, who was daughter of a duke, and niece of the Pope. He is thrown in the dungeon, and is sentenced to marry his victim.
Grifone is a common name for Maganzans and other traitors. Probably this is one of them, and not Grifone the son of Oliver. According to some early traditions, Bernardo del Carpio was begotten under similar circumstances.
There two ballads in the oral tradition, which seem to be related to this one, but have lost all connection with Charlemagne. In one the knight is rescued from prison by his brother. In the other, he is sentenced to be hanged at midnight. As he is being led out, he calls for his nephew. His nephew’s wife, however, is the king’s daughter, and tells her husband that it is merely the howling of a dog he hears, and so the nephew arrives too late to save the count. He swears vengeance, and kills his wife, cuts off her breasts, shows them to the king, and proceeds to kill the king, the queen, the princess, and all the courtiers he can find. He then embalms his uncle and sits him on the throne.
DOUBTFUL AND SEMI-CAROLINGIAN BALLADS
299, THE ADULTERER CHASTISED. Class V. “Ay qué linda que eres, Alba”
Count Grifos and Alba have an assignation, when her husband Albertos returns early from hunting. He hides in the closet, and she tries to explain why she is blushing, why Grifos’ armor and horse are present, but fails and dies of terror.
Duran seems to think this is the same Grifos as in 323. I don’t see why. See Child’s Ballads No. 274 “Our Goodman” for everything you could ever want to know about this kind of ballad.
298, THE ADULTERER CHASTISED. Class III. “Blanca sois, señora mia”
A knight and lady have an assignation, when her husband the Count returns early from hunting. The lady tries to explain why she is blushing, why someone’s armor and horse are present, but when he asks whose lance is in the hall, confesses.
A version of 299. Again, see Child.
319, THE DISCONSOLATE AND JEALOUS LOVER. Class V. “Caballero, si á Francia ides”
A lament of a woman, asking a cavalier to go to France and tell her lord to come rescue her.
Either an imitation of Melisendra’s laments in Sansueña, or those same laments genericized.
5, PRINCESS SEVILLA AND PERANZULES. Class V. “Sevilla está en un torre”
Princess Sevilla climbs the highest tower of in Toledo, whence she beholds a knight riding towards the city, with seven chained Moors in tow. Another Muslim knight is chasing him, catches up with him, and announces that the captives are his father and brothers, and offers to pay a ransom, or failing that, to duel for them. Peranzules, the Christian knight, overthrows him, beheads him, and leads his prisoners into Toledo to present to Sevilla.
In oral versions, the religion of the two combatants and the victor are highly variable. The Jewish versions tend to make the Muslim win.
The late lamented Samuel Armistead, who probably knew more about the Sephardic Jews’ folklore than anyone else ever has or will, thinks it very possible that this ballad is descended from the scene in Aliscans where William of Orange, sole survivor of a rout of Christians and disguised in Muslim armor, seeks admittance to Orange from his wife Guiborc. She is suspicious, and notices a band of pagans leading Christian captives over the field. They have just ravaged Toledo. She bids William prove his identity by rescuing them, he does so, and sends the freed Christians back to Orange while he pursues those Muslims who have fled.
330, THE TRAITOR MARQILLOS, AND BLANCA-FLOR. Class III. “Cuán traidor eres, Marquillos!”
Marquillos kills his lord and comes to his lady Blanca-Flor’s bed. She begs only one favor: that he not sleep with her till dawn. He, being a gentleman, agrees. When he falls asleep, Blanca-Flor stabs him.
Part of the May Colvin/Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight family [Child 4]. It is only included here because the names, though not the plot, seem to be borrowed from some version of The Dog of Montargis.