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.
628, BERNARDO CONQUERS KING ORES OF MÉRIDA, AND SAVES ALFONSO THE CHASTE FROM BEING DISINHERITED AND IMPRISONED. Class IV. “Hueste saca el rey Ores”
King Ores of Mérida besieges Benavente. Alfonso rides to raise the siege, but is surrounded, until Bernardo arrives and rescues him. Bernardo kills King Ores and routes the Moors, but Alfonso will not free his father.
629, BERNARDO CONQUERS KING ALMAZA OF BADAJOZ, AND SAVES ALFONSO THE CHASTE FROM BEING CAPTURED. Class IV. “Ya pasados pocos dias”
King Almaza of Badajoz lays siege to Zamora. Alfonso rides to raise the siege, is nearly captured, but is saved by Bernardo, who asks for his father’s liberty. Alfonso refuses.
A copy of #628. Duran suspects this is by Timoneda.
630, BERNARDO, CONQUEROR OF THE FRANK DON BUESO, ASKS THE KING FOR HIS FATHER’S FREEDOM. Class IV. “Estando en paz y sosiego”
Don Bueso of France invades Alfonso’s lands. Bernardo defeates Bueso in single combat, and the French go home. Alfonso, in gratitude, promises to free Bernardo’s father, but when he is back in safety, changes his mind.
631, BERNARDO CAPTURES KING VENCEDOR IN HIS FORTRESS OF POLVOREDA. Class V. “No cesando el Casto Alfonso”
Alfonso is annoyed that two Moorish fortresses are on the borders of his kingdom. He sends Bernardo to capture Polvoreda while he takes the other, on the banks of the Duero. Both are successful.
632, BERNARDO RESCUES EL CARPIO AND HIS BELOVED ESTELA FROM THE MOORS WHO BESIEGED IT. By Lucas Rodirguez. Class VIII. “Con ansia extrema y lloroso”
The Moors lays siege to Bernardo’s castle of El Carpio, where his beloved Estela is. He arrives, and learns the current situation from his friend Ascanio. He proceeds to save the day.
This is an invention of Rodriguez’ from beginning to end. Estela and Ascanio are completely unknown outside of this ballad.
633, BERNARDO AGAIN ASKS THE KING FOR HIS FATHER’S FREEDOM. Class VIII. “Al casto rey Don Alfonso”
Bernardo asks Alfonso for his father’s freedom, invoking his father’s great age, and that he has suffered enough. He recalls his services when Charlemagne invaded, and reminds him that, after, all, there was a legitimate marriage, and he [Bernardo] is no bastard, but a loyal and dutiful knight.
634, THE QUEEN PROMISES BERNARDO THE LIBERTY OF HIS FATHER, IF HE WINS A TOURNAMENT, BUT THE KING REFUSES TO HONOR HIS WIFE’S WORD. Class I. “Andados treinta y seis años”
In the year 853 [!], the thirty-sixth year of Don Alfonso’s reign, he is at Leon, and holds a feast. Don Arias and Don Tibalte are saddened to see that Bernardo is absent, and ask the Queen to ask him to come to the feast. She promises his father’s liberty to Bernardo if he comes. He fulfills his end of the bargain, but the King flatly refuses to grant the Queen’s request.
This Queen must be the Queen Mother, since Alfonso never married. His mother was a Basque noblewoman named Munia.
635, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. By Lorenzo de Sepúlveda. Class IV. “El casto Alfonso hizo cortes”
Alfonso the Chaste holds court in Leon. Bernardo does not come. The nobles go before the Queen, and ask her to ask him to come to the feast. She promises his father’s liberty to Bernardo if he comes. He fulfills his end of the bargain. Bernardo then reminds the king of his services, such as killing King Ores, and rescuing the King at the Oruega River. Alfonso refuses to release the Count, and so Bernardo defies him and starts a rebellion.
According to Duran, this is based on an older, more popular ballad, perhaps a combination of 634 and 637.
636, BERNARDO ASKS AGAIN IN VAIN FOR THE LIBERTY OF HIS FATHER. Class VIII. “A los piés arrodillado”
Bernardo throws himself at Alfonso’s feet, and beseeches mercy for his old, grey-haired father.
637, THE KING BANISHES BERNARDO. Class I. “En gran pesar y tristeza”
Bernardo is sorrowful, after Alfonso threatens to throw him in jail, too, if he ever asks for his father’s freedom again. He reminds the king of his many services, such as killing King Ores and King Alzaman, and rescuing Alfonso at the battle of the Orbi River. He then defies the king, and renounces his vassalship. Alfonso gives Bernardo nine days to leave the kingdom, on pain of death. Bernardo retreats to Saldaña, gathers his loyal men, and wars against Alfonso until the latter’s death.