Overview of the Legend of Bernardo del Carpio
Chronicles The legend of Bernardo del Carpio is first known in three chronicles: Bishop Lucas of Tuy’s Chronicon Mundi¸ 1236; Archbishop Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada of Toledo’s Historia Gothica, 1243; and the Primera Crónica General (PCG), compiled at the behest of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile, the first version of which was completed 1274. These three chronicles are believed to have drawn on now-lost sources, but those remain a matter for speculation.
After the PCG, the legend of Bernardo is found in subsequent chronicles, but there are no essential reworkings until the Crónica General de Ocampo (1541), an adaptation of the Tercera Crónica General by Florián de Ocampo, who also extended the history down to his own day. He eliminates the most improbable epic details, and transfers some events from the reign of Alfonso III to that of Alfonso II.
Ocampo’s history had an impact on Siglo d’Oro writers comparable to that of Holinshed on the Elizabethans, and was the source, direct or indirect, for almost all the Siglo d’Oro ballads, plays, and epics about Bernardo.
Traditional Ballads A handful of ballads first printed in the Siglo d’Oro appear to be from oral tradition, independent of Ocampo’s Chronicle: Con Cartas y mensajeros, The Birth of Bernardo, By the Rivers of Arlanza, and Bernardo and Urgel.
There are many literary ballads about Bernardo, most of them anonymous, but a few with known authors, including:
Burguillos adapted much of Ocampo into verse, often word for word. His account of Bernardo del Carpio furnished him with material for ten ballads, (one of which is now mostly lost), some of which were reworked by Juan de Timoneda in his Rosa española (1573).
In 1551, Ocampo’s chronicle also furnished Lorenzo de Sepúlveda with material for five ballads about Bernardo in his Romances nuevamente sacados de historias antiguas de la Crónica de España.
Gabriel Lobo Lasso de la Vega wrote eight ballads about Bernardo, (c. 1578).
Plays Plays about Bernardo were written by Juan de la Cueva, Lope de Vega, Cervantes, and others. Among the most significant are Juan de la Cueva: La Libertad de España por Bernardo del Carpio. Lope de Vega: Las Mocedades de Bernardo, and El Casamiento en la Muerte. Cervantes: La Casa del los Celos y Selvas de Ardenia.
Epics No fewer than five Siglo d’Oro epics about Bernardo exist, mostly about Roncesvalles.
1: Segunda parte de Orlando, con el verdadero suceso de la famose batalla de Roncesvalles, fin y muerte de los doce Pares de Francia, by Nicolás de Espinosa, 1555.
2: El verdadero suceso de la famosa batalla de Roncesvalles, con la muerte de los doze Pares de Francia, by Francisco Garrido de Villena, 1583.
3: Historia de las hazañas y hechos del invincible caballero Bernardo del Carpio, by Agustín Alonso, 1585.
4: España defendida, poema heroyco, by Cristóbal Suárez de Figueroa.
5: El Bernardo o la victoria de Roncesvalles, by Bernardo de Valbuena. 1624.
4 is modeled after Tasso, the rest after Ariosto. Only 5 is of any merit at all, but it has been called the best imitation of Ariosto in any language. 2 and 3 are the most likely candidates for the “Bernardo del Carpio” and “Roncesvalles” that Don Quixote’s barber and curate wished to condemn to the flames.
Chapbooks continued to circulate for centuries. Historia fiel y verdadera de Bernardo del Carpio was published as late as the 1700s by Manuel José Martín.
Modern Ballads. The Hispanic ballad tradition is still flourishing in Iberia and Latin America, and clings tenuously to life among the Sephardic Jewry. Our notes on modern tradition are not, and cannot be, exhaustive, thought we will attempt to include as much as we can.
A Note on Spanish Ballads
Spanish ballads are called romances. A collection is called a romancero, a word which also can refer to the corpus of Hispanic balladry. Spanish ballads have no official numbering system, nothing comparable to the Child Ballads or the Roud Folk Song Index. Hence all ballads must be identified by their numbers in the major collections.
Durán: Agustín Durán’s Romancero General, (first volume 1832, final volume of expanded edition 1851) an indiscriminate collection of most of the ballads printed before 1800, whether traditional or literary.
Class I ballads are pure folksongs.
Class III are productions of uneducated or scarcely educated minstrels.
Class IV are versifications of chronicles, mostly made by educated men with little poetic talent.
Class V are early literary ballads, attempts to imitate the oral tradition.
Class VIII are Siglo d’Oro literary ballads, which do not attempt to imitate the oral tradition.
(No Carolingian Ballads fall into Durán’s Classes II, VI, or VII.)
Wolf: Primavera y Flor de Varios Romances. Edited by Ferdinand Wolf and Konrad Hoffman 1856. A collection of romances believed to be traditional and printed by the sixteenth century (essentially a trimming of Durán, with some variants he did not include, and new notes).
Class I: Primitive Romances (=Durán I, II)
Class II: Primitive Romances reworked by learned or artistic poets (=Durán IV, V)
Class III: Minstrel Romances (=Durán III)
Romancero Tradicional: Menéndez Pidal’s multi-volume collection of the old printed romances with some of their modern recorded variants, and many from manuscript collections unknown to Durán. Volume 1 (1957) is dedicated to Roderick, Last of the Goths, and to Bernardo del Carpio. His classes are:
Primitivos: “With roots in the Middle Ages.”
Viejos: Of a purely Minstrel style, or already traditional by 1550.
Eruditos: The “Romancero Medio,” made by versifiers of chronicles.
Artificiosos: The “Romancero Nuevo,” = Durán VIII.
Samuel Armistead’s collections of Sephardic ballads, while not quite on the scale of the above, are nonetheless extremely valuable, and will be cited when appropriate.