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El Cid

Great popular hero of the chivalrous age of Spain (c. 1040-1099)

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Cid, EL (RODRIGO, or RUY, DIAZ, COUNT OF BIVAR), the great popular hero of the chivalrous age of Spain, b. at Burgos, c. 1040; d. at Valencia, 1099. He was given the title of seid or cid (lord, chief) by the Moors, and that of campeador (champion) by his admiring countrymen. Tradition and legend have cast a deep shadow over the history of this brave knight, to such an extent that his very existence has been questioned; there is, however, no reason to doubt his existence. We must, at the same time, regard him as a dual personality, and distinguish between the historical Cid and the legendary Cid. History paints him as a freebooter, an unprincipled adventurer, who battled with equal vigor against Christians and Moors; who, to further his own ends, would as soon destroy a Christian church as a Moslem temple; who plundered and slew as much for his own gain as from any patriotic motives. It must be borne in mind, however, that the facts which discredit him have reached us through hostile Arab historians, and that to do him full justice he should be judged according to the standard of his country in his day. Vastly different indeed is the Cid of romance, legend, and ballad, wherein he is pictured as the tender, loving husband and father; the gentle, courageous soldier; the noble, generous conqueror, unswervingly loyal to his country and his king; the man whose name has been an ever-present inspiration to Spanish patriotism. But whatever may have been the real adventures of El Cid Campeador, his name has come down to us in modern times in connection with a long series of heroic achievements in which he stands out as the central figure of the long struggle of Christian Spain against the Moslem hosts.

Ferdinand I, at his death (1065), had divided his dominions between his three sons, Sancho, Alfonso, and Garcia, and his two daughters, Elvira and Urraca, exacting from them a promise that they would respect his wishes and abide by the division. But Sancho, to whose lot had fallen the Kingdom of Castile, being the eldest, thought that he should have inherited the entire dominions of his father, and he resolved to repudiate his promise, claiming that it had been forced from him. Stronger, braver, and craftier than his brothers, he cherished the idea of despoiling them and his sisters of their possessions, and becoming the sole successor of his father. At this time, Rodrigo Diaz was quite young, and Sancho, out of gratitude for the services of Rodrigo’s father to the State, had retained his son at the court and looked after his education, especially his military training. Rodrigo later rendered such distinguished services in the war in which Sancho became involved with Aragon that he was made alferez (standard-bearer or commander-in-chief) of the king’s troops. After ending this war with Aragon, Sancho turned his attention to his plan of despoiling his brothers and sisters (c. 1070). He succeeded in adding to his dominions Leon and Galicia, the portions of his brothers, but not until in each instance Rodrigo had come to his rescue and turned apparent defeat into victory. The city of Toro, the domain of his sister Elvira, was taken without trouble. He then laid siege to the city of Zamora, the portion of his sister Urraca, and there met his fate, being treacherously slain before the gates of the city by one of Urraca’s soldiers (1072). Learning this, Alfonso, who had been exiled to the Moorish city of Toledo, set out in haste to claim the dominions of his brother, and succeeded him on the throne as Alfonso VI, though not without opposition, from his brother Garcia, in Galicia, and especially in Castile, the inhabitants of which objected to a Leonese king. The story is told, though not on the best historical authority, that the Castilians refused Alfonso their allegiance until he had sworn that he had had no hand in his brother’s death, and that, as none of the nobles was willing to administer the oath for fear of offending him, Rodrigo did so at Santa Gadea before the assembled nobility. If this be true, it would account in a great measure for the ill-will Alfonso bore Rodrigo, and for his subsequent treatment of him. He did not at first show his hatred, but tried to conciliate Rodrigo and the Castilians by bestowing upon him his niece Jimena in marriage (1074). It was not long, however, before he had an opportunity to satisfy his animosity. Rodrigo having been sent by Alfonso to collect tribute from the King of Seville, Alfonso’s vassal, he was accused, on his return, by his enemies of having retained a part of it. Whereupon, Alfonso, giving free rein to his hatred, banished him from his dominions (1076). Rodrigo then began his career as a soldier of fortune, which has furnished themes to Spanish poets of early and modern times, and which, idealized by tradition and legend, has made of him the champion of Christian Spain against her Moorish invaders. During this period of his career, he offered his services and those of his followers first to one petty ruler and then another, and often fought on his own account, warring indifferently against Christians and Moors, always with distinguished success, and incidentally rising to great power and influence. But in times of necessity his assistance was sought by Alfonso, and in the midst of his career of conquest he hastened to the latter’s support when he was hard pressed by Yusuf, the founder of Morocco. Through some mistake or misunderstanding, however, he failed to join the king, who, listening to the complaints and accusations of the Cid’s enemies, took from him all his possessions, imprisoned his wife and children, and again banished him from his dominions. Disgraced and plundered, the Cid resumed his military operations. Upon his return from one of his campaigns, hearing that the Moors had driven the Christians from Valencia and taken possession of the city, he determined to recapture it from them and become lord of that capital. This he did (1094) after a terrible siege. He spent the remainder of his days there. His two daughters were married to the Infante of Navarre and the Count of Barcelona respectively. His remains were transferred to the monastery of San Pedro de Cardena, near Burgos, where they now rest.

The exploits of El Cid form the subject of what is generally considered the oldest monument of Spanish literature. This is an epic poem of a little over 3700 lines as it has reached us (several hundred lines being missing), the author of which, as is not uncommon with works of those days, is unknown. The date of its composition has long been a disputed question. Many critics whose names must be mentioned with respect, among them Dozy and Ticknor, place it at the beginning of the thirteenth century; but today the best opinion places the poem a half-century earlier. Among those who think it was written as early as the middle of the twelfth century are many eminent Spanish and foreign scholars, including Sanchez, the first editor of the poem, Capmany, Quintana, Gil y Zarate, Bouterwek, Sismondi, Schlegel, Huber, and Wolf. The learned Amador de los Rios, whose opinion carries great weight, thinks that the famous poem must have been written prior to 1157. Though based upon historical facts, the “Poema del Cid” is to a very large extent legendary. Its theme is twofold, the adventures of the exiled Cid and the mythical marriage of his two daughters to the Counts of Carrion. The first few pages are missing, and what remains opens abruptly with the banishment of the Cid by King Alfonso, and ends with a slight allusion to the hero’s death. But the story it tells is not its chief claim to our consideration. The poem deserves to be read for its faithful pictures of the manners and customs of the day it represents. It is written with Homeric simplicity and in the language of the day, the language the Cid himself used, which was slowly divorcing itself from the Latin, but was still only half developed.

The versification is rather crude and ill-sustained. The prevailing metre is the Alexandrine or fourteen-syllabled verse with a ciesural pause after the eighth; but the lines often run into sixteen or even twenty syllables, and sometimes stop at twelve or ten. This, however, may be partly due to careless copying.

The adventures of the Cid have furnished material for many dramatic writers, notably to Guillen de Castro, the eminent Valencian poet and dramatist of the early seventeenth century, whose master-piece, “Las Mocedades del Cid” earned him whatever reputation he enjoyed outside of Spain. This latter work, in turn, furnished the basis for Corneille’s brilliant tragedy, “Le Cid”, which, according to Ticknor, did more than any other drama to determine for two centuries the character of the theatre all over the continent of Europe. Among other works dealing with the life and adventures of the Cid are: (1) “La Legenda de las Mocedades de Rodrigo”, or “La Cronica Rimada”, as it is sometimes called. This work has been thought to be even older than the “Poema del Cid” by some critics, among them so eminent an authority as Amador de los Rios. (2) “La Cronica General 6 Estoria de Espana”, written by Alfonso the Wise. (3) “La Cronica del Cid”, the manuscript of which was found in the very place where the Cid lies buried, the monastery of San Pedro de Cardena. Its author and the time of its appearance are unknown.


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