Historical Tales: 7—Spanish - Charles Morris

Ruy Diaz, the Cid Campeador

Bernardo del Carpio is not the chief Spanish hero of romance. To find the mate of Roland the paladin we must seek the incomparable Cid, the campeador or champion of Spain, the noblest figure in Spanish story or romance. El Mio Cid, "My Cid," as he is called, with his matchless horse Bavieca and his trenchant sword Tisona, towers in Spanish tale far above Christian king and Moslem caliph, as the pink of chivalry, the pearl of knighthood, the noblest and worthiest figure in all that stirring age.

Cid is an Arabic word, meaning "lord" or "chief." The man to whom it was applied was a real personage, not a figment of fancy, though it is to poetry and romance that he owes his fame, his story having been expanded and embellished in chronicles, epic poems, and ballads until it bears little semblance to actual history. Yet the deeds of the man himself probably lie at the basis of all the splendid fictions of romance.

The great poem in which his exploits were first celebrated, the famous "Poema del Cid," is thought to be the oldest, as it is one of the noblest in the Spanish language. Written probably not later than the year 1200, it is of about three thousand lines in length, and of such merit that its unknown author has been designated the "Homer of Spain." As it was written soon after the death of the Cid, it could not have deviated far from historic truth. Chief among the prose works is the "Chronicle of the Cid,"—Chronica del famoso Cavallero Cid Ruy Diez,—which, with additions from the poem, was charmingly rendered in English by the poet Southey, whose production is a prose poem in itself. Such are the chief sources of our knowledge of the Cid, an active, stirring figure, full of the spirit of mediŠvalism, whose story seems to bring back to us the living features of the age in which he flourished. A brave and daring knight, rousing the jealousy of nobles and kings by his valiant deeds, now banished and now recalled, now fighting against the Moslems, now with them, now for his own hand, and in the end winning himself a realm and dying a king without the name,—such is the man whose story we propose to tell.

This hero of romance was born about the year 1040 at Bivar, a little village near Burgos, his father being Diego Lainez, a man of gentle birth, his mother Teresa Rodriguez, daughter of the governor of the Asturias. He is often called Rodrigo de Bivar, from his birthplace, but usually Rodrigo Diaz, or Ruy Diez, as his name is given in the chronicle.

While still a boy the future prowess of the Cid was indicated. He was keen of intellect, active of frame, and showed such wonderful dexterity in manly exercises as to become unrivalled in the use of arms. Those were days of almost constant war. The kingdom of the Moors was beginning to fall to pieces; that of the Christians was growing steadily stronger; not only did war rage between the two races, but Moor fought with Moor, Christian with Christian, and there was abundant work ready for the strong hand and sharp sword. This state of affairs was to the taste of the youthful Rodrigo, whose ambition was to become a hero of knighthood.

While gentle in manner and magnanimous in disposition, the young soldier had an exalted sense of honor and was sternly devoted to duty. While he was still a boy his father was bitterly insulted by Count Gomez, who struck him in the face. The old man brooded over his humiliation until he lost sleep and appetite, and withdrew from society into disconsolate seclusion.

Rodrigo, deeply moved by his father's grief, sought and killed the insulter, and brought the old man the bleeding head of his foe. At this the disconsolate Diego rose and embraced his son, and bade him sit above him at table, saying that "he who brought home that head should be the head of the house of Layn Calvo."

From that day on the fame of the young knight rapidly grew, until at length he defeated and captured five Moorish kings who had invaded Castile. This exploit won him the love of Ximena, the fair daughter of Count Gomez, whom he had slain. Foreseeing that he would become the greatest man in Spain, the damsel waited not to be wooed, but offered him her hand in marriage, an offer which he was glad to accept. And ever after, says the chronicle, she was his loving wife.

The young champion is said to have gained the good-will of St. Lazarus and the Holy Virgin by sleeping with a leper who had been shunned by his knights. No evil consequences came from this example of Christian philanthropy, while it added to the knight's high repute.

Fernando I., who had gathered a large Christian kingdom under his crown, died when Rodrigo was but fifteen years of age, and in his will foolishly cut up his kingdom between his three sons and two daughters, greatly weakening the Christian power, and quickly bringing his sons to sword's point. By the will Sancho was placed over Castile, Alfonso became king of Leon, Garcia ruled in Galicia; Urraca, one of the daughters, received the city of Toro, and Elvira was given that of Zamora.

Sancho was not satisfied with this division. Being the oldest, he thought he should have all, and prepared to seize the shares of his brothers and sisters. Looking for aid in this design, he was attracted by the growing fame of young Rodrigo, and gained his aid in the restoration of Zamora, which the Moors had destroyed. While thus engaged there came to Rodrigo messengers with tribute from the five Moorish kings whom he had captured and released. They hailed the young warrior as Sid, or Cid, and the king, struck by the title, said that Ruy Diaz should thenceforth bear it; also that he should be known as campeador or champion.

King Sancho now knighted the young warrior with his own hand, and soon after made him alferez, or commander of his troops. As such he was despatched against Alfonso, who was soon driven from his kingdom of Leon and sought shelter in the Moorish city of Toledo. Leon being occupied, the Cid marched against Galicia, and drove out Garcia as he had done Alfonso. Then he deprived Urraca and Elvira of the cities left them by their father, and the whole kingdom was once more placed under a single ruler.

It did not long remain so. Sancho died in 1072, and at once Alfonso and Garcia hurried back from exile to recover their lost realms. But Alfonso's ambition equaled that of Sancho. All or none was his motto. Invading the kingdom of Galicia, he robbed Garcia of it and held him prisoner. Then he prepared to invade Castile, and offered the command of the army for this enterprise to the Cid.

The latter was ready for fighting in any form, so that he could fight with honor. But there was doubt in his mind if service under Alfonso was consistent with the honor of a knight. King Sancho had been assassinated while hunting, and it was whispered that Alfonso had some share in the murder. The high-minded Cid would not draw sword for him unless he swore that he had no lot or part in his brother's death. Twice the Cid gave him the oath, whereupon, says the chronicle, "My Cid repeated the oath to him a third time, and the king and the knights said 'Amen.' But the wrath of the king was exceeding great; and he said to the Cid, 'Ruy Diaz, why dost thou press me so, man?' From that day forward there was no love towards My Cid in the heart of the king."

But the king had sworn, and the Cid entered his service and soon conquered Castile, so that Alfonso became monarch of Castile, Leon, Galicia, and Portugal, and took the title of Emperor of Spain. As adelantado, or lord of the marches, Ruy Diaz now occupied himself with the Moors,—fighting where hostility reigned, taking tribute for the king from Seville and other cities, and settling with the sword the disputes of the chiefs, or aiding them in their quarrels. Thus he took part with Seville in a war with Cordova, and was rewarded with so rich a present by the grateful king that Alfonso, inspired by his secret hatred for the Cid, grew jealous and envious.

During these events years passed on, and the Cid's two fair daughters grew to womanhood and were married, at the command of the king, to the two counts of Carrion. The Cid liked not his sons-in-law, and good reason he had, for they were a pair of base hounds despite their lordly title. The brides were shamefully treated by them, being stripped and beaten nearly to death on their wedding-journey.

When word of this outrage came to the Cid his wrath overflowed. Stalking with little reverence into the king's hall, he sternly demanded redress for the brutal act. He could not appeal to the law. The husband in those days was supreme lord and master of his wife. But there was an unwritten law, that of the sword, and the incensed father demanded that the brutal youths should appear in the lists and prove their honor, if they could, against his champion.

They dared not refuse. In those days, when the sword was the measure of honor and justice, to refuse would have been to be disgraced. They came into the lists, where they were beaten like the hounds that they had shown themselves, and the noble girls were set free from their bonds. Better husbands soon sought the Cid's daughters, and they were happily married in the end.

The exploits of the Cid were far too many for us to tell. Wherever he went victory attended his sword. On one occasion the king marched to the aid of one of his Moorish allies, leaving the Cid behind him too sick to ride. Here was an opportunity for the Moors, a party of whom broke into Castile and by a rapid march made themselves masters of the fortress of Gomez. Up from his bed of sickness rose the Cid, mounted his steed (though he could barely sit in the saddle), charged and scattered the invaders, pursued them into the kingdom of Toledo, and returned with seven thousand prisoners and all the Moorish spoil.

This brilliant defence of the kingdom was the turning point in his career. The king of Toledo complained to Alfonso that his neutral territory had been invaded by the Cid and his troops, and King Alfonso, seeking revenge for the three oaths he had been compelled to take, banished the Cid from his dominions, on the charge of invading the territory of his allies.

Thus the champion went forth as a knight-errant, with few followers, but a great name. Tears came into his eyes as he looked back upon his home, its doors open, its hall deserted, no hawks upon the perches, no horses in the stalls. "My enemies have done this," he said. "God be praised for all things." He went to Burgos, but there the people would not receive him, having had strict orders from the king. Their houses were closed, the inn-keepers barred their doors, only a bold little maiden dared venture out to tell him of the decree. As there was no shelter for him there, he was forced to seek lodging in the sands near the town.

Needing money, he obtained it by a trick that was not very honorable, though in full accord with the ethics of those times. He pawned to the Jews two chests which he said were treasure chests, filled with gold. Six hundred marks were received, and when the chests were afterwards opened they proved to be filled with sand. This was merely a good joke to poet and chronicler. The Jews lay outside the pale of justice and fair-dealing.

Onward went the Cid, his followers growing in number as he marched. First to Barcelona, then to Saragossa, he went, seeking knightly adventures everywhere. In Saragossa he entered the service of the Moorish king, and for several years fought well and sturdily for his old enemies. But time brought a change. In 1081 Alfonso captured Toledo and made that city his capital, from which he prepared to push his way still deeper into the Moorish dominions. He now needed the Cid, whom he had banished five years before.

But it was easier to ask than to get. The Cid had grown too great to be at any king's beck and call. He would fight for Alfonso, but in his own way, holding himself free to attack whom he pleased and when he pleased, and to capture the cities of the Moslems and rule them as their lord. He had become a free lance, fighting for his own hand, while armies sprang, as it were, from the ground at his call to arms.

In those days of turmoil valor rarely had long to wait for opportunity. Ramon Berenguer, lord of Barcelona, had laid siege to Valencia, an important city on the Mediterranean coast. Thither marched the Cid with all speed, seven thousand men in his train, and forced Ramon to raise the siege. The Cid became governor of Valencia, under tribute to King Alfonso, and under honor to hold it against the Moors.

The famous champion was not done with his troubles with Alfonso. In the years that followed he was once more banished by the faithless king, and his wife and children were seized and imprisoned. At a later date he came to the king's aid in his wars, but found him again false to his word, and was obliged to flee for safety from the camp.

Valencia had passed from his control and had more than once since changed hands. At length the Moorish power grew so strong that the city refused to pay tribute to Spain and declared its independence. Here was work for the Cid—not for the benefit of Alfonso, but for his own honor and profit. He was weary of being made the football of a jealous and faithless monarch, and craved a kingdom of his own. Against Valencia he marched with an army of free swords at his back. He was fighting now for the Cid, not for Moorish emir or Spanish monarch. For twenty months be beseiged the fair city, until starvation came to the aid of his sword. No relief reached the Moors; the elements fought against them, floods of rain destroying the roads and washing away the bridges; on June 15, 1094, the Cid Campeador marched into the city thenceforth to be associated with his name.

Ascending its highest tower, he gazed with joy upon the fair possession which he had won with his own good sword without aid from Spanish king or Moorish ally, and which he proposed to hold for his own while life remained. His city it was, and to day it bears his name, being known as Valencia del Cid. But he had to hold it with the good sword by which he won it, for the Moors, who had failed to aid the beleaguered city, sought with all their strength to win it back.

During the next year thirty thousand of them came and encamped about the walls of the city. But fighting behind walls was not to the taste of the Cid Campeador. Out from the gates he sallied and drove them like sheep from their camp, killing fifteen thousand of them in the fight.

"Be it known," the chronicle tells us, "that this was a profitable day's work. Every foot-soldier shared a hundred marks of silver that day, and the Cid returned full honorably to Valencia. Great was the joy of the Christians in the Cid Ruy Diaz, who was born in a happy hour. His beard was grown, and continued to grow, a great length. My Cid said of his chin, 'For the love of King Don Alfonso, who hath banished me from his land, no scissors shall come upon it, nor shall a hair be cut away, and Moors and Christians shall talk of it.'" And until he died his great beard grew on untouched.



Not many were the men with whom he had done his work, but they were soldiers of tried temper and daring hearts. "There were one thousand knights of lineage and five hundred and fifty other horsemen. There were four thousand foot-soldiers, besides boys and others. Thus many were the people of My Cid, him of Bivar. And his heart rejoiced, and he smiled and said, 'Thanks be to God and to Holy Mother Mary! We had a smaller company when we left the house of Bivar.'"

The next year King Yussef, leader of the Moors, came again to the siege of Valencia, this time with fifty thousand men. Small as was the force of the Cid as compared with this great army, he had no idea of fighting cooped up like a rat in a cage. Out once more he sallied, with but four thousand men at his back. His bishop, Hieronymo, absolved them, saying, "He who shall die, fighting full forward, I will take as mine his sins, and God shall have his soul."

A learned and wise man was the good bishop, but a valorous one as well, mighty in arms alike on horseback and on foot. "A boon, Cid don Rodrigo," he cried. "I have sung mass to you this morning. Let me have the giving of the first wounds in this battle."

"In God's name, do as you will," answered the Cid.

That day the bishop had his will of the foe, fighting with both hands until no man knew how many of the infidels he slew. Indeed, they were all too busy to heed the bishop's blows, for, so the chronicle says, only fifteen thousand of the Moslems escaped. Yussef, sorely wounded, left to the Cid his famous sword Tisona, and barely escaped from the field with his life.

Bucar, the brother of Yussef, came to revenge him, but he knew not with whom he had to deal. Bishop Hieronymo led the right wing, and made havoc in the ranks of the foe. "The bishop pricked forward," we are told. "Two Moors he slew with the first two thrusts of his lance, the haft broke and he laid hold on his sword. God! how well the bishop fought. He slew two with the lance and five with the sword. The Moors fled."

"Turn this way, Bucar," cried the Cid, who rode close on the heels of the Moorish chief; "you who came from behind sea to see the Cid with the long beard. We must greet each other and cut out a friendship."

"God confound such friendships," cried Bucar, following his flying troops with nimble speed.

Hard behind him rode the Cid, but his horse Bavieca was weary with the day's hard work, and Bucar rode a fresh and swift steed. And thus they went, fugitive and pursuer, until the ships of the Moors were at hand, when the Cid, finding that he could not reach the Moorish king with his sword, flung the weapon fiercely at him, striking him between the shoulders. Bucar, with the mark of battle thus upon him, rode into the sea and was taken into a boat, while the Cid picked up his sword from the ground and sought his men again.

The Moorish host did not escape so well. Set upon fiercely by the Spaniards, they ran in a panic into the sea, where twice as many were drowned as were slain in the battle; and of these, seventeen thousand and more had fallen, while a vast host remained as prisoners. Of the twenty-nine kings who came with Bucar, seventeen were left dead upon the field.

The chronicler uses numbers with freedom. The Cid is his hero, and it is his task to exalt him. But the efforts of the Moors to regain Valencia and their failure to do so may be accepted as history. In due time, however, age began to tell upon the Cid, and death came to him as it does to all. He died in 1099, from grief, as the story goes, that his colleague, Alvar Fa˝ez, had suffered a defeat. Whether from grief or age, at any rate he died, and his wife, Ximena, was left to hold the city, which for two years she gallantly did, against all the power of the Moors. Then Alfonso entered it, and, finding that he could not hold it, burned the principal buildings and left it to the Moors. A century and a quarter passed before the Christians won it again.

When Alfonso left the city of the Cid he brought with him the body of the campeador, mounted upon his steed Bavieca, and solemnly and slowly the train wound on until the corpse of the mighty dead was brought to the cloister of the monastery of Carde˝a. Here the dead hero was seated on a throne, with his sword Tisona in his hand; and, the story goes, a caitiff Jew, perhaps wishing to revenge his brethren who had been given sand for gold, plucked the flowing beard of the Cid. At this insult the hand of the corpse struck out and the insulter was hurled to the floor.

The Cid Campeador is a true hero of romance, and well are the Spaniards proud of him. Honor was the moving spring of his career. As a devoted son, he revenged the insult to his father; as a loving husband, he made Ximena the partner of his fame; as a tender father, he redressed his daughters' wrongs; as a loyal subject, he would not serve a king on whom doubt of treachery rested. In spite of the injustice of the king, he was true to his country, and came again and again to its aid. Though forced into the field as a free lance, he was throughout a Christian cavalier. And, though he cheated the Jews, the story goes that he repaid them their gold. Courage, courtesy, and honor were the jewels of his fame, and romance holds no nobler hero.

It will not be amiss to close our tale of the Cid with a quotation from the famous poem in which it is shown how even a lion quailed before his majesty:

"Peter Bermuez arose; somewhat he had to say;

The words were strangled in his throat, they could not find their way;

Till forth they came at once, without a stop or stay:

'Cid, I'll tell you what, this always is your way;

You have always served me thus, whenever you have come

To meet here in the Cortex, you call me Peter the Dumb.

I cannot help my nature; I never talk nor rail;

But when a thing is to be done, you know I never fail.

Fernando, you have lied, you have lied in every word;

You have been honored by the Cid and favored and preferred.

I know of all your tricks, and can tell them to your face:

Do you remember in Valencia the skirmish and the chase?

You asked leave of the Cid to make the first attack,

You went to meet a Moor, but you soon came running back.

I met the Moor and killed him, or he would have killed you;

I gave you up his arms, and all that was my due.

Up to this very hour, I never said a word;

You praised yourself before the Cid and I stood by and heard

How you had killed the Moor, and done a valiant act;

And they believed you all, but they never knew the fact.

You are tall enough and handsome, but cowardly and weak,

Thou tongue without a hand, how can you dare to speak?

There's the story of the lions should never be forgot;

Now let us hear, Fernando, what answer you have got?

The Cid was sleeping in his chair, with all his knights around;

The cry went forth along the hall that the lion was unbound.

What did you do, Fernando? Like a coward as you were,

You shrunk behind the Cid, and crouched beneath his chair.

We pressed around the throne to shield our loved from harm.

Till the good Cid awoke. He rose without alarm.

He went to meet the lion with his mantle on his arm.

The lion was abashed the noble Cid to meet;

He bowed his mane to the earth, his muzzle at his feet.

The Cid by the neck and the mane drew him to his den,

He thrust him in at the hatch, and came to the hall again.

He found his knights, his vassals, and all his valiant men.

He asked for his sons-in-law, they were neither of them there

I defy you for a coward and a traitor as you are.'"