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.
654, THE KING DESIRES TO TAKE BERNARDO BY SURPRISE, BUT IS PREVENTED, AND FLEES IN FEAR. Class I. “Con cartas sus mensajeros”
The King sends letters to Bernardo. Bernardo suspects treason, and tells the messenger to say as much to the King. Bernardo has four hundred men. He leaves a hundred to guard the castle of Carpio, one hundred to guard the frontiers of his fief, and takes two hundred to see the King. The King tries to reclaim Carpio. Bernardo says it is his own by right. The King calls him a traitor, and bids his men seize him, whereupon Bernardo calls on his two hundred. The King pretends it was a mere joke. Bernardo says it wasn’t a very funny one, and says that the King can have Carpio; it will be easy for him to recapture it.
655, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “Con solos diez de los suyos”
Bernardo comes with ten men before the King. The King accuses him of treason. Bernardo denies it. The King orders his men to seize Bernardo. No one moves, for they see Bernardo put hand on his sword hilt. Bernardo tells the King that his men are right to be afraid of him. His men shout “Viva Bernardo!” and all take up the cry. The King pretends it was a joke, and Bernardo says he knew it was a joke all along, and leaves with his men. The King fumes and plots vengeance.
656, BERNARDO OBTAINS HIS FATHER’S FREEDOM, ONCE HE IS ALREADY DEAD. Class VIII. “Antes que barbas tuviese”
Bernardo rebukes Alfonso for not releasing his father. Alfonso swears to release him before Mass is sung tomorrow in the Lateran. He does so, but first he blinds and kills him.
657, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “Hincado está de rodillas”
Bernardo kneels before his father to kiss his hand, but feels it icy cold. Realizing what has happened, he laments, and runs off to seek Alfonso.
658, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. By Lorenzo de Sepúlveda. Class IV. “En Leon y las Asturias”
Alfonso III the Great reigns in Leon and Asturias. Bernardo asks for his father’s liberty. Alfonso refuses, and Bernardo revolts. The barons persuade Alfonso to release Count Sancho Diaz. Alfonso agrees, if Bernardo will render up Carpio. He agrees, and Alfonso sends Don Tibalte and Don Arias to Luna to kill the Count and bring his body from prison. They dress him up, and invite Bernardo to the palace to see him. Bernardo kisses his father’s hand, discovers the trick, and laments.
Versification of a chronicle.
659, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “Mal mis servicios pagaste”
Bernardo laments, and storms out of the palace to raise a revolt.
660, BERNARDO SWEARS TO AVENGE HIS FATHER’S DEATH. Class VIII. “Retraido en su aposento”
Bernardo, safe in his own castle, weeps and laments, and swears to avenge his father.
661, BERNARDO REPROACHS THE KING FOR HIS INGRATITUDE. Class VIII. “¡Inhumano rey Alfonso!”
Bernardo rebukes his uncle King Alfonso of Leon, saying his is ill-repaid for all the times he has saved him, including from Charlemagne at Roncesvalles.
Combines with #655 by Lockhart.
662, BERNARDO SALLIES FORTH TO AVENGE HIS FATHER’S DEATH. By Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega. Class VIII. “Aspero llanto hacia”
Bernardo, safe at Carpio, laments, swears vengeance, and sallies forth, upon a light-brown steed with black caparison. His shield is black with a red heart on it. Three hundred noblemen follow him from Carpio.
663, BERNARDO WEEPS FOR HIS FATHER AND CELEBRATES HIS FUNERAL. Class VIII. “Las obsequias funerales”
Bernardo, at the funeral, weeps by his father’s side, and laments.
664, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. Bernardo, his kin and friends kneel by a black tomb in a church. It is that of Count Sancho. Bernardo laments. At last he rises, turns around, and, heedless of the holy place, rebukes King Alfonso, in ottava rima.
Lockhart, though much abridged.
Felicia Hemans’ poem Bernardo Del Carpio is not a translation of any Spanish ballad.