The Legend of Girart of Roussillon – Origins and Influence

ORIGINS OF THE LEGEND

Girart of Roussillon, Girart of Vienne, and Girart of Euphrate are all inspired by the same historical figure: Girart II, Count of Paris, born 810, ascended 837, died c. 878.

Now Girart I of Paris had married Rotrude (who may have been the daughter of Carloman, son of Charles Martel), and founded the Girardid dynasty of Counts of Paris. His three sons, Stephen, Begon, and Leuthard I, succeeded him in turn as Counts. Leuthard I had two sons: Girart and Adalard. Adalard served as King Louis the Pious’ seneschal, and Girart became Count of Paris. Meanwhile, Count Hugh of Tours had two daughters: Bertha and Ermengarde. Girart II married Bertha sometime before 819, and Ermengarde married Lothair I, son of Louis the Pious and king of Middle Francia, Bavaria, and Italy, and Emperor of the West. In 836, Girart was sent on official business to Italy. In 837, he was made Count of Paris. He lost the title in 841, when he took the side of Lothair I against King Charles the Bald and broke down the bridges across the Seine to inconvenience the latter. Girart was among Lothair’s soldiers at the Battle of Fontenoy in 841, when that king and his nephew Pepin II of Aquitaine were decisively defeated by Louis the German and Charles the Bald. Lothair nonetheless made Girart his count of the palace in 842. When Lothair I died in 855, his son Charles, still a child, inherited Provence as his kingdom, and Girart became his regent. In 860, Girart repelled a band of Vikings who had sailed up the Rhone. The following year, Charles the Bald attempted to disinherit his nephew, but he was repelled, possibly by Girart, and returned to France. Around this time, Girart and Bertha founded the monasteries of Vézelay and Pothièrs. In 863, Charles of Provence died young and childless, and his lands passed to his brother Lothair II, King of Lotharingia, for whom Girart continued to administer them until that king’s death in 869, whereupon his territories were divided by his uncles Louis the German and Charles the Bald. Charles went to occupy Provence, but met with resistance from Girart and Bertha. Charles laid siege to Vienne, which was ably defended by Bertha while Girart was holding another castle nearby. Charles, however, first burnt all the lands around Vienne and then promised the people mercy if they surrendered. The people told Bertha they wished to surrender, Bertha send word to Girart, and Girart formally surrendered to Charles on Christmas Eve, 870. The couple went into retirement in their fiefs near Avignon, where Girart died between 877 and 879. He was buried in the abbey of Pothièrs, in Langres, where once could be seen Girart’s tomb on the Gospel side of the chapel, Bertha’s on the Epistle, and, in front of the altar, an epitaph for their infant son Thierry.

Bedier would have it, as usual, that the legend was created in the 11th or 12th century by some minstrel who had heard or read the monks’ chronicles of their founder, Girart. He argues that the only similarities between Girart of Paris and Girart of Roussillon are that they fought a king named Charles, had a wife named Bertha, had a son who died young, and founded certain monasteries, all facts that a minstrel could have learned at the abbey. The minstrels did not, however, know about such striking facts as Girart of Paris’ defeat of the Vikings, his protection of the young prince Charles of Provence against his cruel uncle, Bertha’s protection of Vienne on her own, etc., all things we would expect them to know if the story of Girart had been passed down orally.

Although Saint Badilon is real, the cult of St. Mary Magdalene at Vézelay seems to have been an invention of the eleventh century. Although Girart and Bertha did obtain for their monasteries the relics of Ss. Pontien, Eusebius, Andéol and Ostien, there is no record of the relics of the Magdalen there prior to 1050. Unfortunately for Vézelay, in the mid 1200’s a tomb was discovered in Provence. This tomb was, in reality, a Gallo-Roman tomb of the 500’s with a carving of Pontius Pilate washing his hands and a servant holding the washbasin. The discoverer, however, thought the servant was Mary Magdalene preparing to wash the feet of Christ, and the word went out that St. Mary Magdalene’s tomb had been found. The monks of Vézelay now claimed that they had received their relics from the south, but their popularity declined, and the cult in Provence flourished. Had it not been for this discovery, there would have been no association of the Magdalen with Provence, no tradition of St. Lazarus as bishop, no legend of St. Martha taming the Tarrasque, no Holy Blood, Holy Grail, no Da Vinci Code, and Dan Brown would be an obscure third-rate hack writer, instead of a rich and famous third-rate hack writer.

The relics at Vézelay were destroyed the Protestants during the Wars of Religion, and the church turned into a stable. The relics currently venerated there are replacements sent from elsewhere. The shrine in Provence was destroyed during the Revolution, but the skull was saved and is now in a rebuilt shrine. The most likely candidate for the real relics are those brought to Constantinople in the ninth century, but I can find no information on what became of them afterwards, or if they are still preserved today.

Read more on St. Mary Magdalene here.

Val Pergunde is perhaps Valprionda, a suburb of Cahors.

INFLUENCE

Girart of Roussillon appears already in the Oxford Song of Roland as one of the Twelve Peers, and he dies at Roncesvalles. Later works incorporated him into the elaborate genealogies of the Paladins, and made him the brother of Aymon of Dordone, Doon de Nanteuil, and Bueve d’Aigremont. He plays hardly any role, however, in the poems of the Nanteuil cycle or those of the Aymonids. On occasion he fights alongside his kinsmen, but they seldom if ever, if I recall correctly, allude to the events of his life story as given in his own chansons. Later still, Girart was made into one of the twelve sons of Doon de Mayence. Besides the three mentioned above, the other eight were: Gaufrei (father of Ogier the Dane), Grifon d’Hautefeuile (of Altafoglia, one of the Maganzans), Othon, Ripeus, Seguin of Bordeaux (father of Huon), Pierre (father of the Swan Knight), Morant de Riveirs, and Hernaut de Girone.

Some MSS of Hervis de Metz insert an episode, between Hervis proper and the beginning of Garin le Loherain, wherein Girart is at war with Charles Martel. Charles asks the Pope for permission to tax the Church, reminding him that he has always given generously to her and now needs her help. The Pope agrees, but Girart is on the warpath and nearly at Paris. Charles has enough money now, but not yet enough men, and so, reluctantly, sends to Hervis for aid. Hervis makes ready to go to France, but before he gets there, Girart conveniently dies of illness. He is buried in an abbey he founded at Bar-sur-Aube.

There are other minor references to Girart. Auberi le Bourguignon conflates Girart of Roussillon and Girart of Eufrate in a prologue. Adenet le Roi alludes to the story in Bertha Broadfoot, as does the anonymous Italian who wrote the Entrée en Espagne. Girart is mentioned in some of the chronicles, more usually as the founder of abbeys than as the adversarial brother-in-law of Charles the Bald or Charles the Hammer, or as the real Girart II of Paris.

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Book I, Canto VIII, Part 2

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto VIII, Stanzas 21-40

21
Rinaldo says to him, “Thou soon wilt know
Which of us two can better wield a blade!”
And viciously towards the brute he goes.
When the brute saw him, he was so afraid,
He turned his shoulders and he was not slow
But swiftly for a little stream he made.
One only bridge across this stream was thrown,
The which was made of one enormous stone.

22
On one end of the bridge there was a ring,
To which the giant fixed the chain’s hook tightly,
And when Rinaldo on the bridgestone springs,
And is about to slay the giant lightly,
The villain pulls the chain with all his strength.
The bridge collapses, “Holy God Almighty,”
Rinaldo cries, “O Virgin Mother, save –”
And with these words, he fell into a cave.

23
The cavern was tenebrous, foul, and wet,
And over it, rolled on the river black.
Across the mouth of it was spread a net
In which the baron’s captured. Nor doth slack
The foul giant. He takes no rest yet,
But slings the trussed-up knight across his back
And taunts him. “Wherefore didst thou give my friend
Such trouble? I still caught thee in the end.”

24
Rinaldo makes no answer to the churl,
But in his mind he thus laments his state.
“I see, how Fortune in her spite has hurled
Disgrace upon disgrace upon my pate.
Whoever is most luckless in the world
Would count him blessèd if he knew my fate,
For in such misery I have arrived,
I do not know how it could be described.”

25
As he lamenteth thus, tied up and bound,
The giant to the Cruel Castle came,
Where skulls and severed heads the merlons crowned,
And stuck on hooks, dead men and women hang,
But what was worst of all, were strewn around
The limbs and organs of men freshly slain.
The castle’s crimson stones seem from afar
Fire, but covered with men’s blood they are.

26
Rinaldo prays to God. He’s all alone.
I must admit that he was filled with fright.
Before him now appears an ancient crone.
Her dress was black, her unkempt hands were white,
Her face was wrinkled, her hands skin and bone.
She seemed both merciless and full of spite.
She bade the giant drop Rinaldo down.
Thus she addresses him, while he’s still bound.

27
“Perhaps, sir knight, thou’st heard from flying fame,”
The crone beings, “The customs full of sorrow,
Which we upon this barren rock maintain.
If not, then know that thou shalt die tomorrow,
And in what little time to thee remains,
Lest thou shouldst hope a further space to borrow,
I shall relate to thee the root and cause
Of our most cruel customs and fierce laws.

28
“A noble cavalier of matchless might
Was once this castle’s sovereign and lord.
He gave largesse, and kept his honor bright;
All travelers were welcome at his board.
He gave all wand’rers lodging for the night,
Damsels and pilgrims, cavaliers and bards.
His wife a lady was of high degree;
The fairest woman in the world was she.

29
“Grifone was this worthy baron named.
As Altaripa was this castle known.
His lady rightly was as Stella famed,
Because her beauty like the day-star shone.
It was in May, when Earth her joy regained,
Grifone left his castle, all alone,
And passed along the rolling ocean’s strand,
The very beach where you this morn did stand.

30
He roamed into the woods, and chanced to meet
Another knight, who out a-hunting rode.
He hailed him joyfully, and did him greet
With invitation to his own abode.
My husband was this knight of whom I speak:
Marchino, who did fair Aronda hold.
Grifone led him to this very hall,
And honored him, the way he did to all.

31
“Now, as it happened by unhappy chance,
Stella the beautiful he chanced to see.
And Love became his master with one glance.
He saw her comeliness and modesty,
And on her soft and lovely countenance
He gazed, and Love o’er him had mastery.
He longs for nothing, thinks of nothing else
Than how to have the lady for himself.

32
“He left the castle, meditating harm,
And came back home. We saw a great change in
His countenance, but knew not Stella’s charms.
He left Aronda with some of his kin
And took a shield that bore Grifone’s arms,
(For in his face, he somewhat looked like him)
And in the forest he did hide his band,
With armor on, and weapons in their hands.

33
“But he laid by his arms, as if the deer
He meant to hunt, and loud his horn he blew;
Grifon the courteous that winding hears,
For he was in the woods that morning, too.
He finds Marchino the accurst, who peers
Around to spot Grifone’s retinue,
And once he’s certain that he’s all alone,
‘Alas! I’ve lost it!’ he begins to moan.

34
“He hangs his head and sadly looks around,
Then starts, pretending that he just now sees
Grifon, and says to him, ‘I’ve lost my hound,
And know not where to look among these trees.’
They go together, and soon reach that ground
Where Don Marchino’s men plot villainies.
Not to prolong the history past reason,
They fall upon him and kill him by treason.

35
“Guised as Grifon, the gates he passes through,
And doesn’t leave a single man alive.
Young men and old, without remorse he slew,
The maidens, and the widows, and the wives.
Stella alone he spared, fair Stella who
Beholds the dead. He heart in anguish writhes.
To kiss and speak her fair Marchino starts,
But makes no impression on that pilgrim heart.

36
“She always thinks upon the cruel deeds
The wicked traitor wrought deceitfully,
And always close within her heart she keeps
Her much-belov’d Grifone’s memory.
Vengeance for him’s the only thing she seeks,
Vengeance, she thinks no thing could sweeter be.
At last, he cruel desires find consummation
Through the most fearful being in creation.

37
“The creature deadliest, most merciless,
The one most ravenous. More fierce than Hell is she:
A wife, who once was loved, who once knew bliss,
Who has been scorned and thus succumbs to jealousy.
The fiercest lion’s not more pitiless.
Than firedrakes or scorpions more fell is she.
Such is the wife, such is the woeful lover,
Who sees herself forsaken for another.

38
“I may well say it, for I proved it true,
When I found out about my husband’s deeds.
No greater grief I ever had been through.
Like a mad dog I howled in my grief.
When thou hear’st of the cruelty I used
That day, it scarce will win from thee belief.
But when love hath by jealousy been slain,
‘Tis strange if any goodness there remain.

39
“By my Marchino I had two young sons;
I slit the first one’s throat with my own hand.
The other stood and saw what I had done,
And said, ‘Stop, Mother! I don’t understand!’
I grabbed him by his feet, the wretched one,
And dashed his brains out on a boulder grand.
And dost thou think that my revenge was done?
May, rather I had only just begun.

40
“They still were warm, when I them cut in four;
And drew their little hearts out of their chests.
I chopped their limbs up. How my heart was sore!
But lust for vengeance all my soul possessed.
I save their heads, not for the love I bore
Them once. No love remained within m y breast.
I had no love, no pity, no remorse.
I wished to give my vengeance greater force.

Notes

Notes to the Eighth Canto, Part 2

The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto VIII, Stanzas 21-40 Notes

25. Merlon. The stones that stick up in a battlement.
Blood. Blood dries black, as Boiardo and his audience were well aware. The castle must do a lively business in executions.
29. Grifone. Not to be confused with Grifone son of Olivier or the various Grifones of House Maganza.

The Spanish Charlemagne Ballads 12: Bernardo at Roncesvalles

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 my dozen posts on Duran’s ballads leave you wanting more.
Duran’s magnum opus is in two volumes, which are volumes 10 and 14 of the Biblioteca des Autores Españoles. The numbers of the ballads below are those of this collection, as are the divisions into classes, based on antiquity.
Class I ballads are pure folksongs.
Class III are productions of uneducated or scarcely educated minstrels.
Class V are early literary ballads, attempts to imitate the oral tradition.
Class VIII are Renaissance or Siglo d’Oro literary ballads, which do not attempt to imitate the oral tradition.

Also note that most of the titles were supplied by Duran. Spanish ballads are usually identified by their first lines.

The principal English translations of Spanish ballads are:
Thomas Rodd, Most Celebrated Ancient Spanish Ballads relating to the Twelve Peers of France mentioned in Don Quixote. 1812.
John Gibson Lockhart, Ancient Spanish Ballads. 1823.
John Bowring, Ancient Poetry and Romances of Spain. 1824.
James Young Gibson, The Cid Ballads and other Poems and Translation from Spanish and German. 1887.
Roger Wright, Spanish Ballads, 1987.

648, BERNARDO AND HIS MEN SALLY TO THE FIELD AGAINST THE FRENCH. Class VIII. “Aguardando que amanezca”
Bernardo surveys the field from a mountain top, and bids his three hundred men fear not, for ten Spaniards are a match for a thousand foreigners. They join with the Saracens, and ride to battle.

649, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “Con los mejores de Astúrias”
Benardo 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!”

650, THE FRENCH PREPARE CONFIDENTLY FOR THE BATTLE OF RONCESVALLES. Class VIII. “Blasonando está el frances”
The French are encamped at Roncesvalles. Roldan, 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.

651, BERNARDO, THE CHAMPION OF RONCESVALLES, WITH THE DEATH OF ROLDAN AND THE TWELVE PEERS OF FRANCE. By Gabriel Lobo Laso de la Vega. Class VIII. “Con crespa y dorada crin”
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.
Number 652 is a reworking of this one, with many unaltered lines, but much less detail.

652, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. Class VIII. “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.

653, BERNARDO DEFEATS AND KILLS ROLDAN. Class VIII. “El invencible frances”
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.

For the other Spanish ballads of Roncesvalles, see this page.