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 you’re left wanting more.
Based on Floovant, via the Italian Fioravante. Floresvento burns seven cities, and deflowers seven high-born maidens on Christmas Eve. His father wishes to execute him. His mother succeeds in having the sentence commuted to banishment. His father forbids anyone to sell him food. The ballad ends with verses from some version of Duran’s 298 and 299 [Our Goodman/Claralinda/Wife caught in Adultery]. Floresvento discovers his wife Branca’s two lovers hiding in her bedroom; she asks him to kill her then and there. He refuses.
CELINOS AND THE ADULTERESS, or, CELINOS GOES HUNTING
Based on the beginning of Bevis of Hampton, The Queen combs her hair before a mirror, praises God for making her so beautiful, and curses her parents for making her marry an old man. As she looks out the window, she sees Carleto, her lover. They plan to kill the king. He tells her to pretend to be pregnant and to have a craving for a stag/pig/ram/goat that lives in a certain part of the woods. She does so, and he orders his men to prepare for the hunt. She tries to convince him to go alone, but he will have none of it. He meets Carleto, and one of them kills the other. In a few versions, the king dies, but usually he wins and sticks Carleto’s head on a lance, which he presents to the queen. She confesses that most of her children are Carleto’s, and threatens that his relatives will avenge him. The king cuts her head off, and sticks it besides her lover’s.
THE SISTERS, QUEEN AND SLAVE
The Moorish Queen Xerifa of Almeria sends her men on a slave raid into France, to fetch her a serving maid of high birth. They kill Count Flores, capture his wife, and make her a kitchen maid. The queen and maid give birth on the same day, the queen to a girl and the maid to a boy. The midwives [by accident in some versions, for a bribe in others] switch the babies. On day, the queen hears the maid singing to “her” daughter, “If you were my daughter, I would call thee Marguerete/Flor de los Flores/Blancaflor, which was my sister’s name. She was kidnapped by the Moors.” The queen asks her to describe her sister. Thanks to a birthmark, the two women realize they are sisters, and flee home to France.
This ballad probably is not related to Floris and Blanchefleur, but I include it here in case the names are more than a coincidence.
Based on Mainet. A Moorish King accuses Galiana of loving Carolicho [Charlemagne], and threatens to cut his head off and make her look at it at every meal. Carolicho arrives, disguised as a charcoal maker, and bids his lady escape with him.
ROLDAN AL PIE DE LA TORRE
Rondale paces in a light rain, with a gold falcon on his wrist, crying “Who will aid me?” He intends to kill the King of France and his men, and marry his daughter. He comes to the castle of Count Argile [Ogier], a lord of great strength.
I will not swear that they are related, but it is at least interesting that in some manuscripts of the Quatre Filz Aymon, Roland, disgusted with his uncle’s single-minded pursuit of Renaldo and Malagise, threatens to leave him, and says “Ogier, what will you do? Will you come with me? Let us leave this foolish old dotard.”
GUERINOS Y FLORIPAS
Based on Fierabras. Guarinos is held captive by Moors in dungeon. The Princess Floripas hears him weeping, asks why, consoles him, and promises to set him free and wed him the next day. It is done.
Guarinos’ part is filled by Guy of Burgundy in most versions of the story.