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.
382, THE BIRTH OF MONTESINOS –I. Class III. “Muchas veces oi decir”
Count Grimaltos is raised at the courts of France, serving first as a page, then as a courtier, finally as chancellor. He marries the king’s daughter, and retires to his fiefs in Leon. Don Tomillas, still at court, accuses Grimaltos of treason. Grimaltos comes to Paris to defend himself, but is banished. The Countess arrives, but her intercession and that of the Peers [Roldan, Oliveros, Estolfo, Valdovinos, old Beltran, Reinaldos, Malgesi, Fincan the Roman, Meridan, etc.] are in vain. The count and countess leave, while all the people weep. Wandering in the wilderness, they find a hermit to stay with. Here the countess gives birth to Montesinos. The family live with the hermit, and the boy is raised and taught all knightly arts, until one day his father takes him for a ride, and they come to Paris.
Duran notes that this is very similar to the birth of Roland. Other authorities note the similarities to a chanson de geste called Aiol.
There is a ballad from oral tradition, which seems to be a distorted version of this one. Count Grismale, a wild man, comes to the court of the [unnamed] king, who gives him a horse and armor, and his daughter in marriage. But envious men slander him, and he is banished with his wife. As they wander in the woods, she dies in childbirth, or of sorrow, or he kills himself so that she can go home. Either way, their child is left orphaned, but two white doves raise him. He grows with prodigious speed, and returns to court, where everyone exclaims that he looks like Don Rondale. The child beheads the king and reigns in his place.
383, MONTESINOS IS AVENGED ON TOMILLAS – II. Class III “Cata Francia, Montesinos”
Grimaltos explains that this is Paris, and that the tallest tower is that of Tomillas, his mortal foe. Montesinos gallops off to avenge him at once, though his father shouts after him to wait. The lad storms into court, and denounces Tomillas in front of all the barons and the king. Tomillas tries to strike the youth, who strikes back and kills him. He is seized, but explains who he is, the grandson of the king. All is forgiven, and Grimaltos is restored to his lands and favor.
384, MONTESINOS AND ROSAFLORIDA – III. Class I. “En Castilla está un castello”
In Castille is a castle called Rocafrida., where lives Rosaflorida, who rejects all her suitors, because she is in love [by report?] with Montesinos. One night her chambermaid hears her weeping, and Rosaflorida bids her send letters to Montesinos, offering her person and her fiefs.
The oral tradition preserves this ballad, and gives it a conclusion. Rosaflorida, who lives in a golden castle, sends her message by a watchman, not her chambermaid, offering jewels, mills, slaves, and other gifts, and concluding by begging him, if he won’t marry her, to marry her still more beautiful sister, so that she can at least be near him. Montesinos arrives and introduces himself. Rosaflorida asks about his family, and he answers he is the son of a charcoal burner. She swoons, but when she recovers he explains he was only joking, and that his father is the king of France and his grandfather the king of Seville, or of Turkey. They are soon wed.
385, DURANDARTE OFFENDED AT HIS LADY – IV. Class III. “Durandarte, Durandarte”
Durandarte’s lady asks why he no longer loves her. He answers that it is because she loved Gaiferos while he was away in exile.
Durandarte, as far as anyone can tell, is Durindana, transformed from the name of a sword into the name of a knight.
386, MONTESINOS SEEKS FOR DURANDARTE IN THE BATTLE – I. By Lucas Rodriguez. Class VIII. “Por la parte donde vido”
Montesinos is always in the thick of battle [at Roncesvalles], he slays the Moor Albernzayde, but shatters his lance in the process. Looking around for a new one, he sees the battle over, Oliveros and the lord of Braña [Roland] dead. He looks for Durandarte.
Though Montesinos’ birth may be based on that of Roland or Aiol, his adventures at Roncesvalles seem to be purely the invention of the Spanish muse.
387, DURANDARTE, DYING, BIDS MONTESINOS CARRY HIS HEART TO BELERMA. – II. Class III. “Oh Belerma! Oh Belerma!”
Durandarte laments. He has served Belerma seven years, but could not win her favor. He bids his cousin Montesinos keep his old promise, to cut out his heart and carry it to Belerma. He dies, and Montesinos weeps. He cuts the heart out and laments over the body.
388, ON THE SAME SUBJECT. – III. By Lucas Rodriguez. Class VIII. “Por el rastro de la sangre”
Montesinos follows the trail of blood, and finds Durandarte under a hedge. Durandarte laments the death of Roldan, and the captivity of Guarinos. He bids Montesinos carry his heart to Belerma, and dies.
389, MONTESINOS, AFTER CUTTING OUT THE HEART, BURIES DURANDARTE. –IV. Class V “Muerto yace Durandarte debajo una verde haya”
Durandarte lies dead, and Montesinos cuts out his heart. He cleans and preserves it, buries his cousin, and rides, sad and pensive, to Paris, to Belerma’s palace.
390, ON THE SAME SUBJECT – V. Class V. “Muerto yace Durandarte al pié de una verde haya”
Durandarte lies dead, and Montesinos cuts out his heart. He cleans and preserves it, buries his cousin, and rides, sad and pensive, to Paris, to Belerma’s palace. He presents the heart. Belerma begs God to pardon Durandarte’s soul.
According to Duran, this is a mere modernization of the preceding.
391, ON THE SAME SUBJECT – VI. By Lucas Rodriguez. Class VIII. “Echado está Montesinos”
Montesinos weeps for his cousin Durandarte, forgetful of all the disaster of Roncesvalles. He cuts the heart out, and rides to take it to Belerma, as he promised.
392, BELERMA RECEIVES THE NEWS OF THE DEATH OF DURANDARTE. – VII. Class VIII. “En Francia estaba Belerma”
Belerma, talking with her damsels in Paris, mentions that Durandarte is a fine warrior, then anxiously explains that she isn’t in love with him or anything. She swoons, and when she revives, thinks it an ill omen. Montesinos arrives, tells the news, and presents the heart.
393, BELERMA LAMENTS THE DEATH OF DURANDARTE – VIII. By Lucas Rodriguez. Class VIII. “Sobre el corazon defunto”
Belerma weeps tears of blood over the heart, and laments.
1893, DURANDARTE DEAD, MONTESINOS CUTS OUT HIS HEART AND SENDS IT TO HIS BETROTHED BELERMA. Class V. “Muerto yace Durandarte”
Montesinos cuts the armor off Durandarte, cuts his heart out, and addresses it in a lament. He goes to Belerma, who laments and dies.
Included in the appendix to Duran’s Romancero, through not being noticed earlier.
Read more about Roncesvalles here.