The Spanish Charlemagne Ballads 9: The Youth of Bernardo del Carpio

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.

619, THE BIRTH OF BERNARDO DEL CARPIO. Class I. “En los reinos de Leon”
In Leon, Alfonso the Chaste reigned. His beautiful sister, Doña Jimena, and the Count of Saldaña fell in love, and produced Bernardo del Carpio, at which the irritated King threw the count in jail.
Wright.
The real Alfonso II the Chaste of Asturias was born in 760, became king in 791, and died in 842. Bernardo del Carpio is a figment of some patriotic minstrel’s imagination. Despite what some sources claim, the story is not based on King Nepociano, the brother-in-law of Alfonso who attempted to usurp the throne at his death. The real Nepociano, while a usurper, was only a distant kinsman of the Chaste, who had no known sisters.

620, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. By Lorenzo de Sepúlveda. “El conde Don Sancho Diaz”
Count Don Sancho Diaz of Saldaña secretly marries King Alfonso the Chaste’s sister Doña Jimena, and begets Bernardo del Carpio, which irks the King to no end. He arrests the Count, who begs the king to be merciful to Bernardo.

621, HOW KING ALFONSO SUMMONED THE COUNT OF SALDAÑA UNDER SAFE-CONDUCT, AND IMPRISONED HIM TO PUNISH HIS SECRET MARRIAGE WITH HIS SISTER DOÑA JIMENA. Class IV. Perhaps by Timoneda. “Reinando el rey Don Alfonso”
Seventeen years into Alfonso’s reign, Jimena weds Count Sancho Diaz in secrecy, producing Bernardo del Carpio. Alfonso invites Sancho to court under safe-conduct, but seizes him and throws him in prison.

622, HOW THE COUNT OF SALDAÑA WAS IMPRISONED IN THE CASTLE OF LUNA, AND DOÑA JIMENA SENT TO A NUNNERY. Class V. “Sabiendo el Rey cómo el Conde”
While Count Sancho is at court, Alfonso and his men capture him. Sancho asks only that the king be merciful to young Bernardo. Jimena is sent to a nunnery
Duran thinks this is Timoneda’s reworking of 620.

Some later versions of these ballads, from the oral tradition, give the story a happy ending, by having the queen overhear the Count’s laments and obtain his freedom. Others make Jimena the sister not of King Alfonso, but of the Cid. Still others combine these two corruptions.

623, DESCRIPTION OF BERNARDO DEL CARPIO. Class V. “A cabo de mucho tiempo”
When Bernardo is of age, Alfonso summons him to court, and his very pleased with him. He has every knightly virtue.

624, BERNARDO LEARNS THE SECRET OF HIS BIRTH. Class VIII. “Contándole estaba un dia”
Elvira Sanchez, Bernardo’s nurse, tells him that, despite what Alfonso said, he is not a bastard. He is the son of the lawfully married Sancho Diaz and Jimena. The Count is imprisoned in the castle of Luna. Bernardo is the rightful heir to the throne, though Alfonso wishes to leave it to the French.

625, THE LAMENT OF THA COUNT OF SALDAÑA, THAT HIS SON BERNARDO HAS NOT FREED HIM. Class VIII. “Bañado está las prisiones”
Count Sancho Diaz, in prison, laments.
Lockhart

626, BERNARDO ASKS THE KING FOR THE LIBERTY OF HIS FATHER, WHICH IS DENIED. Class I. “En corte del casto Alfonso”
Bernardo, living at Alfonso’s court, does not know his father is imprisoned, though everyone else does. Two courties, Vasco Melendez and Suero Velazquez, tell two noblewomen, Urraca Sanchez and Maria Melendez, to tell Bernardo the truth. Bernardo storms to the throne room, so angrily that Alfonso thinks he has come to kill him. But Bernardo merely asks humbly for the release of his father. Alfonso swears it will never be done while he [Alfonso] lives. Bernardo swears to serve the king loyally until he earns his father’s pardon.
Wright.

627, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. By Lorenzo de Sepúlveda. Class IV. “En Luna está preso el Conde.”
The Count has long been imprisoned in Luna. Bernardo knows nothing of this. Two damsels break King Alfonso’s orders and tell Bernardo the truth. He laments, then goes before the king. Alfonso thinks Bernardo has come to kill him, but he merely asks for his father’s liberty. Alfonso swears it will never be done while he [Alfonso] lives. Bernardo swears to serve the king loyally until he earns his father’s pardon.

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2 thoughts on “The Spanish Charlemagne Ballads 9: The Youth of Bernardo del Carpio

  1. Hi!
    just wanted to say that I’ve chanced upon your website at Rossigignol books, and really like what you are doing and have already done. With best wishes, Michael Newth, Sydney, Australia!

    Like

    • Thank you, I’m flattered! Are you THE Michael Newth, the translator? If you are, I’ve read almost all your books, and I’m honored that you like my work!

      Like

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