The Spanish version of how the Battle of Roncesvalles came about is to be found in chronicles, in a traditional ballad called By the River of Arlanza, in various literary ballads, and in plays.
Section 1: Chronicles
Lucas In those days Charles the Great, King of France and Emperor of Rome, expelled the Saracens from Burgundy, Poitou, and all Gaul, and then crossed the Pyrenees via Roscidevallis to continue the war. He brought under his yoke the Goths and Spaniards who lived in Catalonia, in the Basque mountains, and in Navarre, and ordered Alfonso to become his vassal. Bernaldus was indignant at the suggestion, and formed an alliance with the Saracens.
Later, in the days of Alfonso III, Emperor Charles III [the Fat, not the Simple, r. 881-888] invaded Spain, attacking Christians and Muslims alike [this never happened], but Bernaldus raised an army of Christians and allied with King Muza of Saragossa, and turned back Charles’ army before they had even crossed the Pyrenees. Charles made alliance with Alfonso, went on pilgrimage to Santiago and San Salvador, and obtained from Pope John many privileges for those two sites. Bernaldus returned to his fatherland, laden with spoils.
Rodrigo Alfonso, old and tired of reigning, secretly sends word to Charles, Emperor of Italy, Germany, and Gaul, to offer him the throne. Charles drives the Arabs out of France and then sends some men over the Pyrenees, subduing Catalonia. At this juncture, Alfonso’s men, led by Berinaldus, learn of his offer and force him to rescind it or they will depose him. They say they would rather die as free men than live as vassals of the Franks.
PCG In the 27th year of Alfonso’s reign , the 12th of Charlemagne’s , AD 806, Alfonso, being old and childless, sent to Charles offering him his throne, if he would help him fight the Moors. Charles expelled the Moors from Provence, Bordeaux, Piteos, and Aquitaine, and then crossed the Pyrenees to Spain, conquering Catalonia. Lucas of Tuy says he also conquered Gascony and Navarre. The men of Spain, however, led by Bernaldo, learned of Alfonso’s offer and forced him to rescind it, or else they would depose him. Bernaldo formed an alliance with the Saracen King Marsil of Saragossa.
Origins and Influence
Lucas seems to deserve the blame for the inane duplication of the Battle of Roncesvalles, for reasons unknown. Rodrigo and Alfonso’s men are obliged to mention his error, but are not deceived by it. Charles the Fat never invaded Spain. Muza of Saragossa, however, was a real figure: Musa ibn Musa ibn Qasi, descended from a Visigothic renegade, born around 790, half-brother to Íñigo Arista, first king of Pamplona, believed to have taken part in the Second Battle of Roncesvalles in 824, became ruler of Tudela and much territory round about. Musa, with the aid of his brother, repeatedly rebelled against the Umayyads from 840 to 850, and at last set up an independent kingdom, which he continued to expand until a crushing defeat by the Christians in 859, after which Muza’s influence waned rapidly until his death in 862.
The poem of Fernan Gonzalez will have it that King Charles sent Alfonso the Chaste a message that he was coming to Spain to receive homage and tribute. King Alfonso replied that he would not pay him anything, and that though the French fought five years, they could not conquer Spain. Charles’ men gave him bad advice, telling him to invade. Charles, with an immeasurable army, headed for Castile.
Ocampo dates the battle to Alfonso’s 30th year : Charles 12 , AD 809, but leaves this portion unchanged.
Section 2: Traditional Ballad: By the River of Arlanza
Pidal Romances Viejos de Bernardo 2a-2h.
2a, from the Cancionero d’Evora¸ “A cabalo va Bernardo”
2b, by Timoneda, from Rosa española. “Por las riberas de Arlança” is Durán 639, Class I; Wolf 12, Class I.
2c, from a 16th century MS. “Por las riveras de Arlanza.”
2d, from a 17th century MS. “Por las riberas de Arlança.”
2e, from Cancionero manuscrito da Bibl. Públia Hortênsia de Elvas, fol. 4v. Fragment.
2f, from an MS, c. 1590. Fragment.
2g, from a 16th century cartapacio, Bib Real 2-B-10, Poesías varias, IV, fol. 223v.
2h, from an MS, 1582-1600, and the papers of Jacinto López, Musician to His Majesty, 1620.
Bernardo rides along the banks of the Arlanza [B-H, Alarca A], armored, with lance in hand. The folk of Burgos see him, and marvel. So does the King [Alfonso E], saying this knight must be either Bernardo del Carpio, or Muza de Granada [Murcia E]. It is Bernardo. He does not calm his horse, nor put down his lance, but rebukes the king for calling him a bastard, though he is the son of his sister and of Count Sancho Diaz of Saldaña. He announces that his father is no traitor, his mother no whore, and that they were married when he was begotten A, B; when he was born C, D. But Alfonso was willful, and confined his father in prison and his mother in a nunnery, and now he wishes to disinherit him by giving the kingdom to the French. But the Castilians would rather die than see that day. The Montanese, the Leonese, the Asturians, and the King of Saragossa have all agreed to join him in fighting the French A, B. The Basques, Leonese, and Asturians D. If all goes well, Spain is saved. If all goes ill, yet he will die in the effort A, he will die for the republic B. He demands his father’s freedom in exchange for this service B.
C, E, H do not mention Roncesvalles. In C, instead of rebuking Alfonso for disinheriting him by giving Spain to the French, Bernardo threatens, if Alfonso does not give him his rightful inheritance, to join the French, “which will not be good for Spain.”
E Bernardo announces that the King of Saragossa is his ally, and appears to threaten Alfonso with war, saying that if he wins, he will have all Spain, and if he dies, his memory will live on.
H Bernardo reminds the king of the deeds he has done for him, fighting both Moors and Paladins of France, and never done him a wrong. [The ballad ends here, abruptly].
The setting (the Arlanza and Burgos) may be a contamination from the story of Fernán González.1 Burgos is not on the Arlanza, but on the Arlanzon. Pidal thinks this ballad was originally about our hero’s raid on Salamanca before being adapted to be about Roncesvalles. The ballad is long dead in oral tradition; and no examples are known postdating the Siglo d’Oro.
1 Milá y Fontanals, Manuel. De La Poesia Heroico-Popular Castellana. Barcelona, 1959. “Obras de Manuel Milá y Fontanals I. [orig. pub. 1874]. p. 237-238.
Section 3: Literary Ballads
Burguillos Durán 638, Class IV; Pidal Eruditos 2a-b. “Andados los años treinta.” A literal versification of Ocampo.
2a is Burguillos’ work.
2b is Timoneda’s revision.
In the thirtieth year of Alfonso’s reign, the year 847 [Spanish Era=AD 809; really 812], Alfonso the Chaste sends secret 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. In B, the secret gets out somehow. The nobles do not like the news, and Bernardo likes it still less.
Lorenzo de Sepúlveda Durán 641, Class IV; Pidal Eruditos 12. “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.
Durán 643, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 3. “Desterró el rey Alfonso” First printed in the Romancero General de 1600.
Alfonso banishes his nephew Bernardo for opposing his plan to leave the kingdom to Charlemagne. Bernardo sends a messenger 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.
Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega Durán 640, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 5. “El valeroso Bernardo”
Bernardo leaves El Carpio and takes the road to Leon, gathering followers on the way. He enters Alfonso the Chaste’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.
Gabriel’s ballads are mostly his own inventions. They are interesting primarily because he ignores the existence of Alfonso the Great and ascribes the entire story of Bernardo to the reign of the Chaste. This ballad may be the first to suppose that El Carpio was built before the battle of Roncesvalles.2 It is certainly part of the later tradition that makes that battle the climax of Bernardo’s career rather than the beginning of it.
2 Pidal, Rom. Trad. I:228-9.
Durán 642, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 7. “Retirado en su palacio” First printed in the Romancero General de 1604.
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.
Durán 646, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 8. “Con tres mil y mas leoneses” First printed in the Romancero General de 1604.
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 deliverer 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.
The sequel to Durán 642.
Translated by Lockhart.
Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega Durán 647, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 6. “No os llamo canalla vil”
Bernardo gives a rousing speech before the battle of Roncesvalles, then departs
Durán gives this as anonymous, but it has since been discovered to be Gabriel’s work.
Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega Durán 645, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 9. “Las varias flores despoja”
Bernardo, dressed like a Moor, brushes the dew from the flowers as he rides to Saragossa, where he makes alliance with King Marsilio and meets the mighty Bravonel, who is in love with the Mooress Acoyza. They meet, greet each other, and sally forth for Roncesvalles.
A sequel to the foregoing. Unlike Muza of Granada, Bravonel is a purely literary invention, of whom we will speak more in a later post.
Section 4: Siglo d’Oro Plays
De la Cueva:
ACT III: Alfonso, weary of reigning and seeing the Moors advancing, sends to Charlemagne to offer him the kingdom of Castile. Suero Velazquez and Velasco Melendez wish to inform their kinsman Bernardo of his father’s plight, but are sworn not to tell him. They instead make plans with their kinswomen Maria Melendez and Urraca Sanchez, who are both nuns. Alfonso monologues about preferring to leave the kingdom to Charlemagne rather than to a bastard. Meanwhile, the men tell Bernardo what Alfonso is currently planning, then the women tell him what he did all those years ago. Bernardo is shocked, but swears to foil Charlemagne’s plans and free his parents. He enters Alfonso’ presence with a great retinue, enough to unnerve Alfonso. Bernardo explains that he intends to stop Charles. Alfonso is at last persuaded to retract his offer to Charles.
ACT IV: Bernardo prevails upon Alfonso to promise to free his father, when a herald arrives with Charles’ response to Alfonso’s retraction of his offer: there will be war, of course. Bernardo announces that he has allied with King Marsil of Saragossa, and the Counts of Navarre and Biscay arrive at court with tales of French atrocities. Bernardo leads the army to Roncesvalles.
Lope de Vega, Casmiento: Alfonso sends letters secretly, but not so secretly that his barons don’t find out. Bernardo already knows his identity, and that would be the lawful heir if Alfonso would allow his father and mother to marry, thereby legitimating him. In a sub-plot of Lope’s invention, Bernardo engages himself to King Marsilio’s ward Esmerelda, disinherited princess of Constantinople, as the price of protecting Aragon from Charles. Bernardo himself takes the message to France that Alfonso’s offer is rescinded.