The Legend of Bernardo del Carpio 7: Bernardo at Roncesvalles

Section 1: Chronicles

Lucas While Bernardo was making ready for war, Charles was besieging Tudela, which he would have captured if not for Galalon’s treason. Charles did, however, take Nájera and Monte Jardín, and then prepared to return to France.

The barbarian King Marsil of Saragossa rallied an army of Saracens and allied with Bernardo and his Navarrese, and fell on the Frankish rear as they passed through Rocidevallis, killing Prefect Rodlandus of Brittany, Count Anselm, Egiardus the Steward, and many more. King Charles later had his revenge on the Saracens, killing a great number of them, [it is not clear if this is the second battle in the Song of Roland or an entirely new expedition]. After his revenge Charles went on pilgrimage to Saint James, made peace with King Alfonso, rebuilt the city of Iria, and obtained from Pope Leo III for Compostela to be elevated to a metropolitan [archbishopric]. He then returned to Germany with Bernaldus and died soon after, at Aix, where he was buried. Bernaldus served in the imperial household even after Charlemagne’s death, under Louis the Pious (814-840) and Lothair I (840-855).

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, who restored the Mozarabic rite in the churches of Spain. Charles went on pilgrimage to Santiago and San Salvador, and obtained from Pope John Metropolitan [archepiscopal] privileges for those two sites. Bernaldus returned to his fatherland, laden with spoils. Lucas explains that there were three Emperors named Charles: Charles the Great, who lived in the days of Pope Leo and Alfonso the Chaste; another Charles who lived in the days of Pope John, and Charles the Hammer, who succeeded him.

Rodrigo After Alfonso’s men force him to rescind his offer of the kingdom to Charlemagne, the Frankish ruler is furious, and abandons his war against the Arabs to attack Alfonso. As the bulk of his army is crossing the Pyrenees into Spain, they are met with Alfonso’s army, gathered from Asturias, Alava, Biscay, Navarre, Ruchonia, and Aragon. The Spaniards meet Charles’ vanguard, [not rearguard] in Hospita Vallis, also called Val de Carlos, and destroy it, killing Rollandus, Anselmus, and Egiardus, among others. Charlemagne, coming upon the aftermath, blows his horn to rally the survivors. They return to Germany, where Charles plots his revenge, but dies before he can carry it out and is buried at Aachen in a magnificent tomb.

Some of the Franks thought, in their panic, that Bernardo was with an army of Muslims in the Spanish rearguard and led them through Aspae Pass [Somport] and Secolae Pass [Soule]. In reality, however, he was always with Alfonso in the van.

Rodrigo next devotes an entire chapter to refuting Turpin’s account of Charles’ adventures in Spain. He goes through Turpin’s list of conquests city by city and explains when each of them were really retaken. He also denies that Charles was the founder of the Way of Saint James, though he admits that Charles spent time at King Galafre’s court in his youth and married his daughter Galiana, and perhaps he hence had some influence on Spanish affairs.

Some say that it was Alfonso the Great who fought the battle of Roscide Vallis against Charles the Hammer, but this is an error, and the truth is that that battle was fought between Alfonso the Chaste and Charles the Great. This, at least, is what Rodrigo thinks most likely, but he says he is open to correction. Alfonso the Great engaged in many other wars, the details of which are given. [Berinaldus does not feature, and disappears from the chronicle]. Pope John grants the privileges to Alfonso III without Charles III’s intercession.

PCG Chapter 619: In the 27th year of Alfonso’s reign [809], the 12th of Charlemagne’s [811], AD 806. At the time Bernaldo formed his alliance with the Saracen King Marsil of Saragossa, Charles was besieging Tudela, which he would have captured had it not been for Count Galaron’s treason. After taking Nájera, Charles and his army went into the mountains of Spain, where the Christians had fled to escape the sword of the Moors. They all declared, however, that they would rather die than submit to the Frankish yoke, and the men of Asturias, Alava, Biscay, Navarre, Ruconia (the Basques) and Aragon united under Alfonso’s banner against Charles, whose rearguard they encountered in Val Carlos in the Pyrenees. There Alfonso, Marsil, and Bernardo defeated the Franks, killing Don Roldan, Count Anselmo, Guiralte the Steward, and many more. Don Rodrigo says Bernaldo fought with Alfonso in the vanguard. Don Lucas says he fought in the rearguard with Marsil. Be that as it may, Charles hurried back to the valley, but when he saw his men dead, he blew his horn to gather the survivors, and they retreated to Germany to plot his revenge.

Chapter 623: In the 31st year of Alfonso’s reign [813], the 15th of Charlemagne’s [814], AD 810, Charlemagne died [really 814]. His tomb was covered with lavish ornament, save for the side which looked towards Ronçasvalles, which was left blank. But Don Lucas says that after that loss King Charles laid siege to Saragossa, took Bernardo prisoner, and killed King Marsil. Then they returned into France together, and Charles eventually freed Bernardo and bestowed gifts on him. But at last he returned to Spain and fought many battles and died, as we shall relate. But some say in their cantares and fablas de gesta that Charles conquered many cities in Spain and founded the Way of Saint James, but this is a lie. [Rodrigo’s rebuttal of Turpin is copied verbatim]. It is certain, at any rate, that Charles and his host were defeated at Ronçasvalles, whether by Christians or Moors, and hence he cannot have opened the Way of Saint James, though he may have exerted his influence at King Galafre’s court. Don Lucas says that Charles made peace with Alfonso and then went on pilgrimage to Saint James and San Salvador, and obtained privileges for them from the Pope, and King Alfonso imposed the Hispanic rite on all Spain.

Chapter 655: Some say that it was Alfonso III who fought at Ronçasvalles, but the best authors, French and Spanish, say it was Charlemagne and Alfonso II.

Section 2: Ballads

Anonymous Durán 649, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 10. “Con los mejores de Astúrias” First printed 1593.

Bernardo leaves Leon with the best men of Asturias, to stop Charlemagne from usurping the crown Alfonso the Chaste has offered him. He gives a rousing speech to his men, then spurs his horse, shouting, “Follow me, all you who are sons of the brave!”

This is, by common consent, the finest of all the Spanish ballads of Roncesvalles (at least the Bernardo ones. Lady Alda’s Dream rivals it). It was frequently quoted.

Anonymous Durán 648, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 11. “Aguardando que amanezca” First printed Romancero General de 1600.

Bernardo surveys the field from a mountain top, and bids his three hundred men fear not, for ten Spaniards can whip a thousand foreigners. They join with the Saracens, and ride to battle.

Anonymous Durán 650, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 12. “Blasonando está el frances” First printed Romancero General de 1605.

The French are encamped at Roncesvalles. Roldan boasts that he will soon test the mettle of the famous Bernardo. The twelve Peers and Charlemagne are confident that soon they will quarter the fleur-de-lis with a castle and a lion [the arms of Spain], and that no one on earth can stand against them.

Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega Durán 651, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 15a. “Con crespa y dorada crin” First printed 1587

Charles the Frank leads his massive army into Roncesvalles at dawn, to conquer Spain, with his twelve Peers behind him. Alfonso of Castile and Marsilio of Aragon are waiting for him, with their respective champions, Bernardo and Bravonel. After a long and bloody fight, the Spaniards are victorious. Roldan and Oliveros are dead, with the flower of France. Charlemagne flees, with the greatest losses ever known.

Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega Durán 652, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 15b. “Con crespa y dorada crin”

The Gauls lead a massive army into Roncesvalles at dawn. Bernardo and Marsilio are waiting for them. After a long and bloody fight, Bernardo and Bravonel are victorious. The French flee, leaving their banner behind.

This ballad is a reworking of the previous one. Many lines are unaltered, but many details have been lost.

Anonymous Pidal Artificiosos 14. “La visera toda alzada.” From a manuscript c. 1582-1600.

Bernardo proudly stands at the front of the Spanish host and looks out to where Charles and the Twelve are encamped. He blows his horn and challenges them to combat, calling on Roldan, Rugero who defeated Mandricardo, Rienaldos, Oliveros, or any Frenchman. The lord of Braba armed with the helmet of Almonte that he won in Aspromonte, riding Briador, with Durindana at his side, with the quarterings he won from Bombardo, with fine purple feathers in his helmet, and decked in the golden armor of Trojan Hector, sallies forth to meet him, but he was no match for Bernardo, who slew him at the last.

Anonymous Pidal Artificiosos 19. “Bravonel de Zaragoza.” Fragment preserved in a glossa c. 1578-1582.

Bravonel of Saragossa rides through the battle field, with the heads of seven of the best men of France hanging from his saddle. He meets Dardín Dardeña [Thierry d’Ardenois], the king’s standard-bearer, slices him and his horse in two, and captures the standard.

Anonymous Durán 653, Class VIII; Pidal Artificiosos 12. “El invencible frances” First printed Romancero General de 1600.

The invincible Frenchman, the senator of Rome, who converted Agrican, defeated Almonte, held off an army at Abraca by himself, is dead. Brava’s lord could not defeat El Carpio’s. After slaying Dudon, Oliveros, Aquilante and Grifone, and spilling a lake of French blood, Alfonso’s nephew attacked Charles’, and slew him.

No mention is made of Roland’s invincibility requiring Bernardo to strangle him.

Anonymous Pidal Artificiosos 16. “De la sangrienta batalla.” From a manuscript 1578, and one c. 1590-1600.

The valiant Bernardo falls back from the bloody battle, leaving Roldan wounded with seven great wounds, Oliveros cut to pieces, and Charlemagne’s standard fallen. The Frenchmen sound the retreat, and Bernardo, though still in a battle-frenzy, recalls that they are his fellow Christians, and lets them go. He rebukes Charles for trying to usurp Alfonso the Chaste’s kingdom, the land that his (Bernardo’s) fathers had recovered from the infidel Arabs. He says that he is guiltless in this battle, for he was defending his homeland.

Anonymous Pidal Artificiosos 17. “En un furioso cavallo.” From a manuscript c. 1590-1600.

Bernardo gallops to a hilltop to survey the aftermath of Roncesvalles. He sees Oliveros on the ground, Horlando dying, and Charlemagne fleeing on a gasping horse. He sees Dardín de Ardeña cut to pieces, and Montesinos trembling, Durandarte staggering and falling, and Reinaldos tenderly lamenting, as the Spaniards celebrate their victory. He curses the French as treacherous enemies to King Alfonso the Chaste and to all Spain.

Anonymous Pidal Artificiosos 18. “La rota de los franceses.” From a manuscript 1578.

Orlando looks on the carnage wrought by Bernardo, and sees that his men are captured or slain, his armor and magic shield are cut to pieces, Charlemagne is without scepter or horse, and the Paladins are no more. He curses Bernardo.

Pidal Artificiosos 16, 17, 18 all assonate in ao, and seem to be closely related. They were inspired by similar ballads about Roderick, Last of the Goths, surveying the battlefield of Guadalete, where Spain was lost to the Moors.

Anonymous Durán 398, Class VIII. “Por muchas partes herido”

The old Charlemagne, wounded sore, flees after the men of Spain have killed eleven of his Peers. Roldan, who cannot be wounded, is standing by a cross lamenting the defeat, when he sees Charlemagne, and dies of grief.

This ballad does not actually mention Bernardo, but it is included here because of Rodriguez’ treatment of the same theme, and because Lope de Vega adapts it into his Casamiento en la Muerte.

Lucas Rodriguez Durán 399, Class VIII. “Apartado del camino”

Orlando, riding alone and wounded after the battle, holds a crucifix, and beseeches God to take his soul, since the French are lost, and El Carpio has bested him and Durindana. He sees Charlemagne, alone, sad, crownless and bloody, and dies of grief.

Anonymous Durán 396, Class VIII. “Un gallardo paladin”

Not a ballad, but a lyric. The dauphin of France, in Roncesvalles, laments that he and his men could not defeat Bernardo the Castilian, and that Don Beltrane is dead.

This may be the only poem ever to place Louis the Pious at Roncesvalles, though the dauphin is not actually named. In reality, a French army was massacred by the Basques and Arabs (again) at Roncesvalles in the year 824, during the reign of Louis, but not under his command.

Origins and Influence.

The first (known) source to make Roland invincible is the Chanson de Jehan de Lanson, which says he never shed blood, save for three drops once when Charlemagne struck him. The motif was adopted and expanded by the Italians.

Juan de la Cueva has Bernardo strangle Roldan, after Roldan knocks his sword away. Lope de Vega’s Casamiento en la Meurte also has Bernardo strangle Roldan, explicitly because of his enchantment. In the epics, Espinosa features the strangling. Alonso and Balbuena do not. As we have seen, it is not in any of the romances.

Bravonel is a Siglo d’Oro invention, unknown previously. Besides these ballads, Bravonel appears in Durán 208-214, (a string of ballads that tell of his love for Guadalara and have nothing to do with Roncesvalles, Charlemagne, or Bernardo) and his name is mentioned in the parodic 247, 250.

Section 3: Plays

Cueva: Bernardo kills Reinalte, then Ancelino. He next duels Roldan, who disarms him, so Bernardo chokes Roldan to death. The French retreat, Bernardo exults, and Mars descends from heaven to crown Bernardo with laurel.

Vega, Casamiento: Galalon gives true information to the Spaniards (Alfonso and Marsilio) and false to the French, because Roldan had struck him unprovoked. Alfonso promises to release the Count after the battle. Don Beltran, the Frank, doubts Galalon’s words, but Roldan calls him a coward. When the battle is joined, Montesinos swears to carry the dying Durandarte’s heart to Belerma. Roldan breaks Durindaina on a rock, and then hears from Dudon what has become of Charlemagne (an adaptation of Durán 398). Dudon leaves to help Charles, and Roldan to find Bernardo. Bernardo throws his sword away, and the two wrestle. Bernardo, knowing Roldan to be enchanted, strangles him to death.

Brandimarte arrives to reinforce the Franks, too late. He meets Dudon, who tells the story of Don Beltran, as in the ballad. In Brandimarte’s counter-attack, Dudon is mortally wounded. He carries a precious crucifix and image of the Virgin, and prays that they not fall into the hands of the Moors. God hears his prayer and a rock opens up, in which Dudon places the treasures, and it closes. Bravonel then comes up and kills him.

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