Gateway to the Classics: A Child's History of Spain by John Bonner
A Child's History of Spain by  John Bonner

The Cid Campeador

A.D. 1064-1099

After some years of confusion the kingdom of Ferdinand fell into the hands of his son Alfonso. It was in his time that the Cid Campeador, or the "Lord Challenger," figured in the old history of Spain; and though his story reads like a fanciful legend, and some pundits have even doubted whether there ever was such a personage, he is too famous in Spain to be passed over.

We must suppose that he really lived, and that he was, at twenty, one of the class of men whom the troublous times called into being—a fighting adventurer, brave, strong, skilful, but ready to sell his services to any one who could pay for them. In those days, when two armies met, it was common for a knight to ride out of the ranks and challenge any knight on the opposite side to single combat, while the two armies looked on. This knight was called a challenger—in Spanish, campeador. Even while he was a mere boy the Cid became famous as a campeador; hardly a day passed that he did not fight some one. Once, when Castile and Navarre were at war, he challenged a huge knight of Navarre, and killed him. For this the King of Castile gave him high command.

But not long afterwards the king grew suspicious of him and banished him, declaring that any one who gave him food or shelter after ten days should lose their possessions and their eyes. The Cid rode away with a few friends, homeless, sad, and cheerless; but he took some comfort when at Bivar he saw a crow on his right hand, and at Burgos another crow on his left. At Burgos he tried to get food and a roof to shelter him; but every door was closed, and when he hammered with his spear, a little girl came out of a house and told him people were afraid to open to him, for the king had said that those that did so should lose their houses and their eyes. He rode on mournfully to San Pedro, where his wife and daughters were, and the good abbot of the monastery fed him and his men.

His wife wept bitterly at the parting, but he comforted her, saying,

"Please God, and Saint Mary, I shall live to give these daughters of mine in marriage, and to do my service to you, my honored wife."

From San Pedro he rode to Saragossa, which was ruled by the Moors, and he offered his sword to the Moorish prince, who quickly accepted it, and despatched him to raid the neighboring state of Aragon. He rode through Aragon like the wind, slaying every man he met, burning houses and trees, tearing up vines, and stealing what he could carry off. I hardly think that this was honorable work for one who relied on God and the Virgin Mary; but you must remember that the Cid was a soldier of fortune.

After a time he left the employ of the Prince of Saragossa, and took service with a Christian prince or count, to serve against the Moors. According to the story, he was the most terrible foe they had met. When the Moors saw him and his body-guard coming at full gallop on their fast horses, every man with his lance in rest and his shield covering his heart, they made a lane for them to pass, while the Cid shouted: "Smite them, knights, for the love of charity!" Queer ideas of charity they had in those days!

Then he went back into the service of the Moors, and the Prince of Saragossa gave him the city of Valencia to rule, and to be his own. From this city he raided the neighboring country, carrying off booty and prisoners for sale at Valencia. On one of these expeditions he strayed too far from home, and his old enemy Alfonso laid hands on Valencia. When he heard of it, the Cid turned furiously on Alfonso's Castilian towns in the valley of the Ebro, and with terrible hand he wasted and harried them, stripped them bare of their riches, and carried everything off that he could handle. But when he returned to Valencia he found the gates closed and the enemy in possession.

He sat down before the town and besieged it for nine months. There was no food to be bought in the place, and the people were in "the waves of death;" tender maidens and strong men were seen to drop of hunger in the streets. The Cid cut off the river Guadalaviar, so that the garrison had to battle with thirst as well as hunger. Valencia surrendered at last, and I am glad to say that the people were not butchered, as the custom of that day was. The Cid took their goods, and then forgave them; after which he proclaimed himself King of Valencia.

Here he kept his promise, sent for his daughters, and married them to two counts, whose name was Carrion. It was a fitting name, for the counts shamefully neglected their wives, beat them, whipped them publicly, and left them bleeding in a wood. I wish the Cid had punished the Carrion counts, but I cannot find that he did.

After a time a great Moorish army marched up against Valencia. The Cid had but a few men, but he was as undaunted as ever. He mustered his forces, such as they were, and at cock-crow they heard mass sung by a valiant bishop, whose name was Hieronymo. When the mass was over the bishop absolved the soldiers, and begged the privilege of leading the attack. It was so arranged; and when the gate was opened, the fighting bishop, on a powerful charger, led the van with a lance in his hand and a mace at his saddle-bow. Presently the voice of the Cid was heard shouting "God and Santiago!" the terrible bishop, who had broken his lance, was smashing a Moorish head with every blow of his heavy mace, and the Moors, scared by the appearance of a body of men whom the Cid had placed in ambush, broke in every direction and scattered.

But the Moors came on again, and this time they drove the Christians back into the city. In July, 1099, we are told in the story that the Cid died of grief for the defeat., That he died is sure; the accounts of his death-bed are hardly so certain. They say that for seven nights his father and his son, who were both dead, appeared to him and said:

"You have tarried long enough here, now come among the people who endure forever."

Then St. Peter appeared to him, and said he should live thirty days and no more. At the end of the thirty days he received the sacrament from the fighting bishop, and passed into his rest.

When he was stiff in death his wife, Dona Ximena, took his body and set it on his horse Barieca, and fastened his body on the saddle so that it should not fall. His sword Tizona was grasped in his hand, his eyes were open and strangely bright, and his long beard floated down his breast. A squire led his horse out of Valencia, five hundred knights rode as a body-guard; behind the body followed Dona Ximena and her attendants. The procession moved slowly and silently, and the Moors, not quite understanding it, made way for it to pass.

It halted at the church at San Pedro de Cardena, and there, under a canopy which bore the Cid's coat of arms, the body was set upright in an ivory chair, still sword in hand. For ten years, says the legend, the corpse forbore to decay; when the skin began to change color it was reverently taken out of the ivory chair and buried before the altar, by the side of the faithful Ximena. Just fifty years ago a coffin, which was said to contain the bones of the Cid Campeador, was dug out of the vault of the church of San Pedro de Cardena, and reburied in the town-hall of Burgos. You will thus perceive that good Spaniards believe that the Cid was a real personage, and that his body was really buried where the legend says. I think it will do you no harm to admit that his story was founded on fact.

A whole library of romance and poetry has been written about the Cid. Some of the poems which narrate his adventures are very fine indeed. One of the most beautiful stories of his life was written by the English poet Southey, and called the "Chronicle of the Cid." There is also in French a tragedy by Corneille, which is written in such pure French and such manly verse that boys read it in learning French at school. The Spaniards always think of the Cid as one of their early heroes.

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