The legend of the birth of Bernardo del Carpio is to be found in all three chronicles, in Siglo d’Oro plays, and in ballads both ancient and modern.
Section 1: The Three Chronicles
Lucas of Tuy Book IV, Section 14: The king’s sister Xemena is impregnated by Count Sanctius and brings forth Bernaldus. King Alfonso, furious, imprisons the Count in the Castle of Luna, swearing that he will never come out alive. He confines his sister to a nunnery and raises the boy as his own. The lad grows up to be a strong and daring knight.
Rodrigo of Toledo Book IV, Chapter 9: Alfonso II’s sister Semena secretly marries Count Sancius and bears him a son, Berinaldus. The king, learning of this, imprisons the Count in the Castle of Luna and his sister in a nunnery. As he is childless, he raises Berinaldus as his own son, and the boy grows up to be a fine knight.
PCG Chapter 617: In the 21st year of Alfonso’s reign , the 5th of Charlemagne’s , AD 800, his sister Ximena secretly married Count San Diaz of Saldaña, and bore him a son named Bernaldo. The king, on hearing the news, held a court, and sent Orios Godos and Count Tiobalte to bring the count to him. The count came, suspecting no ill, but Alfonso had him arrested. His men bound the count so tightly he bled, and Alfonso approved thereof. He imprisoned San Diaz in the Castle of Luna, and his sister in a nunnery. The only thing San Diaz asked was that Alfonso would treat Bernaldo well. Alfonso agreed, and raised the boy as his own, and he became a good knight. Some say in their cantares et fablas, however, that Bernaldo was son of Charlemagne’s sister Timbor, who was raped by San Diaz as she returned from a pilgrimage to Saint James. Alfonso adopted their son, since he had no heir of his own [The implication, though this is not stated until later, is that Alfonso was married to Charlemagne’s other sister Berta, as in Pelagius of Oviedo].
Origins and Influence of the Chronicles
No one knows the origins of either version of this story. It would seem that in the version where Timbor was raped by San Diaz, her sister Berta was married to King Alfonso, which would account for his desire to avenge her and the fact that he was willing (and permitted) to raise her son.
Rodrigo may have added the secret marriage not to justify the Count and Princess’ actions, but Alfonso’s; he took part at Lateran IV, when clandestine marriages were condemned. Alfonso’s oath is lacking in Rodrigo and the PCG, but later the PCG explains (in an attempt at rationalizing his conduct) that Alfonso the Great will not free Count Sancho because of the oath his Chaste predecessor had sworn. Later chronicles have no significant variations on the stories, except that the Tercera and Cuarta state outright that the second version is untrue. The Cuarta also claims that Crulor [Timbor] lay with Count Sandias willingly.
Section 2: Traditional Ballad: “En los Reinos de Leon.”
A from the Cancionero de 1550¸ “En los reinos de Leon” is Durán 619, Class I. Wolf 9, Class I. Pidal Romances Viejos de Bernardo 1a. 1500-1550.
B Tomás Perrenot de Chantonnay, in a coded letter of 1562 (he was the Spanish ambassador in France, and wrote this ballad out in secret code to troll the French king’s spies.) Pidal Romances Viejos de Bernardo 1b.
C A few verses sung by characters in Luis Vélez de Guevara’s play, “El conde don Pero Vélez.” 1615. Armistead IV, pp. 276-277.
In Leon (Castile and Leon C), Alfonso the Chaste reigned. His beautiful sister, Doña Jimena, and the Count of Saldaña (who was the most gallant knight in Castile C) fell in love. They came together often, unsuspected A, until the princess brought forth Bernardo del Carpio, upon which she entered a nunnery and the irritated King threw the count in jail A, Bernardo grew up to be a gentle knight, one of the best in Spain B. (C ends with a lyrical description of love that Vélez probably invented).
Section 3: Literary Ballads
Burguillos Pidal Eruditos 1a. “Reinando el rey Don Alfonso.”A mere versification of Ocampo.
Seventeen years into the reign of Alfonso the Chaste , Ximena weds Count Sancho Diaz of Saldaña in secrecy, producing Bernardo del Carpio. Alfonso holds court in Leon, and sends Arias Godo and Don Tibalto to summon Sancho to court, “bringing few companions.” When Sancho arrives, the king orders him seized. Sancho asks what he has done. The king tells him. Sancho asks only that the king be kind to Bernardo. Alfonso imprisons the Count in the castle of Luna. Jimena is sent to a nunnery. Alfonso then sends to Asturias for Bernardo, whom he raises as his own son, for he is childless. The lad has every knightly virtue.
Timoneda, copying Burguillos, divides his ballad into three: Durán 621, “Reinando el rey Don Alfonso”; Durán 622, “Sabiendo el Rey cómo el Conde”; and Durán 623, “A cabo de mucho tiempo.” (Pidal Eruditos 1b:I, II, III).
Timoneda trims his original slightly, omits the names of Arias and Tibalto, and says that Alfonso did not summon Bernardo to court and adopt him until “much time” had passed. (Bernardo is still ignorant of his parents’ fate, however. Timoneda simply needed to alter the lines that began and closed his newly-divided ballads).
Sepúlveda Durán 620, Pidal Eruditos 11, “El conde Don Sancho Diaz.” A slightly less slavish adaptation of Ocampo.
Count Don Sancho Diaz of Saldaña secretly marries King Alfonso the Chaste’s sister Doña Jimena, and begets Bernardo del Carpio, which irks the King to no end. He sends men (unnamed) to summon him to court, whereupon he arrests him. Sancho asks what he has done. The king tells him, and informs him that he will never leave the Castle of Luna alive. Sancho asks only that the king be kind to Bernardo.
Section 4: Siglo d’Oro Plays
Juan de la Cueva’s La libertad de España por Bernardo del Carpio, 1579. Acts I and II tell the story of Sancho and Jimena. In Cueva’s version, Alfonso first lures his sister to court, then Count Sancho. Tibalto, sent on both occasions, is a friend of the Count’s, but is too afraid of Alfonso to warn the lovers of their impending fate. It is not Count Sancho, but Jimena, who entreats the king to care for Bernardo. Sancho never mentions his wife or his child during his trial. The king has the count blinded onstage before imprisoning him.
Lope de Vega’s Las Mocedades de Bernardo del Carpio (unknown date). ACT I: Jimena and Sancho are secretly married, and the Princess is nine months pregnant (concealed, of course). The Count of Barcelona, Alfonso’s cousin, writes to Alfonso asking for her hand in marriage. Alfonso discusses the matter with his most trusted men, Count Sancho and Don Rubio. After they agree to the marriage, Don Rubio privately informs the king of Jimena’s condition, and takes the king to hide in the bushes that night as Alfonso climbs up a ladder to the Princess’ balcony to help her deliver her child, and down again with the baby boy in his arms. Alfonso steps out and confronts him, and Count Sancho confesses all. Alfonso pretends to forgive him, on condition that he entrust the child to his care temporarily, while he (Sancho) takes a reply letter to the Count of Barcelona informing him of the situation, and one to the Castellan of Luna, bidding him prepare the castle for Sancho and Jimena’s wedding. Count Sancho entrusts Alfonso with the boy and departs at once. Don Rubio comes out of the bushes and offers to drown the child, but Alfonso bids him raise him as his own, instead. They baptize the boy Bernardo, it being Saint Bernard’s feast day [August 20, though of course St. Bernard lived four centuries after Alfonso]. Count Sancho delivers the letter to Luna, but of course it actually says for him to be blinded and chained in the deepest dungeon, which is done. Bernardo, meanwhile, is raised by Don Rubio and grows up to be a proud, arrogant, impulsive brat, a far cry from his usual depiction as the flower of courtesy.
Alvaro Cubillo, El Conde de Saldaña, 1660. A reworking of Lope’s Mocedades, tightens the play up slightly, and omits such indelicate scenes as the lying-in of the Princess.
Section 5: Modern Literary Adaptations
Alfonso el Casto, 1841, is a play by Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch, wherein King Alfonso, who is in love with his sister, among other moral failings, redeems himself by secretly arranging (when he is unable to persuade his tribunal to pardon the Count of Saldaña, or to overrule their verdict) for Sancho and Jimena to be married and sent away to a foreign country to live, incognito but happy, for the rest of their lives. He tells the court that Sancho has been imprisoned and Jimena cloistered.
Joaquín Francisco Pacheco’s play, Bernardo, 1848, is based on Cubillo, with arbitrary changes of his own, and makes Bernardo the hero of the entirely unrelated legend that the Christians were obliged to pay a hundred damsels a year in tribute to the Moors until a hero put a stop to it.
Section 6: Modern Ballads – Spanish
In modern tradition, the ballad died out recently in the hinterlands around Madrid. By the time of its decease, the song claimed that when Alfonso the Chaste reigned in Aragon, his beautiful sister Jimena had a child by Don Rodrigo de Vivarra [The Cid]. This child was Juan Prin [Juan Prim y Prats, 1814-1870, a Spanish general and politician who helped depose Queen Isabella II and replace her with Duke Amadeo of Aosta]. The father was sent to prison, the mother to a convent. When Juan was 20, he challenged his uncle to a duel if he would not free his parents. Juan fetches his father from the prison. His father says (in lines taken from Bañando están las prisiones, Durán 625) that when he entered prison he had no beard, but now it is long and grey. Juan says his mother will continue to live a holy life in the nunnery.
Section 7: Modern Ballad – Mañanita Era, Mañana
Is the title usually given to modern ballads about Bernardo’s birth, sung until recently by the Sephardic Jews of Morocco. Pidal Viejos 1c-1n. Armistead IV, Chapter 11, pp 280-293.
On Saint John’s Day, the Moors are holding a tournament in Granada, where knights and ladies look for lovers. The king has a beautiful sister, Ximena, who loves the Count of Saldaña, (because of his prowess in the tourney E) who impregnates her. The king, learning this, locks Ximena in a chamber and the Count of Saldaña in prison. Ximena gives birth in confinement, and weeps over her son. The Queen hears this, and asks Ximena why she weeps. Ximena answers it is because the father of her son is in prison. The Queen swears not to eat until he is free, and goes to the king. The king grants her request, and Ximena and the count are wed. (The queen goes straight to the prison and frees the count herself, without asking the king’s permission F).
Pidal 1k goes off on its own. Ximena gives her son to be nursed by a lioness, since lions respect royal blood. When the boy grows up, he takes arms and a horse and kills his father. He then goes to his mother, who offers him half the kingdom if he will spare her life.
The introductory verses about the tournament are known as the Sanjuanada. Originally from La Pérdida de Antequera, they have migrated to many ballads.
The ending of F is taken from Sancho and Urraca, (one of the ballads of the Cid cycle, having nothing to do with Charlemagne). That of K is from El Infante Parricida.