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.
638, ALFONSO THE CHASTE OFFERS CHARLEMAGNE THE CROWN OF SPAIN, IF HE WILL HELP HIM EXPEL THE MOORS. Class IV. “Andados los años treinta”
In the thirtieth year of Alfonso’s reign, the year 841 [!], Alfonso sends messengers to Emperor Charlemagne, offering him the crown of Spain if he will drive the Moors out, since he (Alfonso) has no son of his own. The nobles do not like this, and Bernardo likes it still less.
Duran thinks this is Timoneda’s rewriting of a traditional ballad. More likely it is his versification of a chronicle.
639, BERNARDO REBUKES THOSE WHO WOULD CALL HIM A BASTARD. Class I. “Por las riberas de Arlanza”
Bernardo rides along the banks of the Arlanza. The folk of Burgos see him, and marvel. So does Alfonso, saying this knight must be either Bernardo del Carpio, or Muza de Granada. It is Bernardo. He rebukes the king for calling him a bastard, and for offering the kingdom to the French. He announces that he is gathering the men of every Spanish kingdom to repel the Frankish invaders.
640, BERNARDO RESISTS THE CONCESSIONS THE KING HAS MADE TO CHARLEMAGNE OF HIS COUNTRY, AND DEPARTS TO OPPOSE THE FRENCH ARMY. By Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega. Class VIII. “El valeroso Bernardo”
Bernardo takes the road to Leon, gathering followers on the way. He enters Alfonso’s hall, and rebukes him. He then departs for Saragossa. Alfonso and his courtiers repent their decision, and send word to Charlemagne revoking their offer of the crown of Castile. Charlemagne is furious, and decides to take it anyway.
641, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. By Lorenzo de Sepúlveda. Class IV. “No tiene heredero alguno”
Alfonso the Chaste has no heir, so he offers Charlemagne the crown of Castile, if he will help him fight the Moors. Charles, Roldan, and the Peers rejoice at the message, but the nobles of Spain are displeased. Most of all, Bernardo del Carpio is angry. He persuades Alfonso to revoke his offer, at which Charlemagne, furious, invades. Bernardo and Alfonso defeat him at Roncesvalles, and Bernardo kills Roldan, and many other Frenchmen.
A versification of the old chronicles, like most of Lorenzo’s work on Bernardo.
642, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “Retirado en su palacio”
The barons of Castile debate whether to support Alfonso’s offering of the crown to Charlemagne. The nays carry the day, and Bernardo, their leader, begins rallying the army to fend off Charles.
643, BERNARDO, BANISHED FOR OPPOSING THE SURRENDER OF THE CROWN TO CHARLEMAGNE, GOES TO GRANADA, AND BECOMES FRIENDS WITH MUZA. Class VIII. “Desterró el rey Alfonso”
Alfonso banishes Bernardo for opposing his plan to leave the kingdom to Charlemagne. Bernardo sends a messanger to Alfonso saying he will not return until he has fought Orlando, despite his magic helmet [sic]. He comes to Granada, where a tournament is being held. He overthrows Muza, the Moorish champion, and wins the tournament, along with Muza’s friendship.
A purely literary invention. Muza is unknown to the old chronicles.
644, BERNARDO, TO AVENGE DAMSELS, KILLS LEPOLEMO IN A DUEL. By Lucas Rodriguez. Class VIII. “Cuando el padre Faeton”
Three damsels ride, weeping, through the forest at evening, with four squires before them. They meet Bernardo, and tell him their woe: Lepolemo has killed their brother and occupied their castle. Bernardo kills him and restores their castle.
There is no traditional basis for this. It is merely the sort of adventure that happens to Amadis or Lancelot every day.
645, BERNARDO MAKES ALLIANCE WITH THE MOORS OF ARAGON, AGAINST THE FRENCH OF CHARLEMAGNE. By Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega. Class VIII. “Las varias flores despoja”
Bernardo, dressed like a Moor, rides to Saragossa, where he makes alliance with King Marsilio and meets the mighty Bravonel, who is in love with the Mooress Acoyza. They dine, and make plans, and sally forth for Roncesvalles.
646, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “Con tres mil y mas leoneses”
Bernardo leaves the city with 3,000 men of Leon, followed and cheered by all the folk, the laborers, the shepherds, the peasants, the children, who all cheer their deliver and shout for liberty and independence. They arrive at Saragossa, where the Holy Pillar is, and join Alfonso, Marsilio, and Bravonel to fight the French.
647, BERNARDO REBUKES AND SHAMES THOSE WHO WOULD GIVE THE KINGDOM TO THE FRENCH. Class VIII. “No os llamo canalla vil”
Bernardo gives a rousing speech before the battle of Roncesvalles.