17.04.06 , Bailey and Giles, eds., Charlemagne and his Legend in Early Spanish Literature and Historiography

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Jace Stuckey

The Medieval Review 17.04.06

Bailey, Matthew and Ryan D. Giles, eds. Charlemagne and his Legend in Early Spanish Literature and Historiography. Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2016. pp. 203. ISBN: 978-1-84384-420-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Jace Stuckey
Marymount University

This volume is the first to be published in the series, Charlemagne: A European Icon. The book has a short introduction and six main chapters or essays. In the introduction, Matthew Bailey and Ryan Giles, the books editors as well as two of the book's contributors, outline the central themes of the collection, which center around the legendary narratives of the Spaniards who defeated Charlemagne's army. The editors argue that "together, the six chapters of this book provide a panoramic, transhistorical view of the legacy of Charlemagne on the Iberian Peninsula, from the earliest chronicles, epics, ballads, to later medieval storytelling and Renaissance chivalric fiction, fittingly concluding with Cervantes' early modern masterpiece" (11). Additionally, the authors are quite right to emphasize the lack of scholarly work on the Spanish reception of the Charlemagne and Carolingian legend material--some of my own work included. Spain was the geographical space upon with Charlemagne and Carolingian legends abound, but even with the incredible output of Charlemagne scholarship, analysis on the Spanish reception has unfortunately remained out of the mainstream of Charlemagne legend studies. In that sense, this is a welcome and long overdue addition to the scholarly discussion. All of the essays in this volume are well-conceived and could certainly be written to stand alone, but within the volume they are much stronger as they work off one another and explore similar stories, themes, and characters over time and from varying perspectives.

Matthew Bailey's opening chapter, "Charlemagne as Creative Force in Spanish Epic," serves in part to set up the remainder of the book's essays addressing some of the major themes and characters that will appear throughout the volume. As such, he moves quickly from the earliest historical record of Charlemagne's incursion into Spain to the literary manifestations of the infamous Roncesvalles episode. By highlighting the wide-ranging sources on Charlemagne's legendary exploits from the late eleventh to the early fourteenth century, Bailey is able to tease out lesser-known counter-narratives to the well-known Roland story. In one alternative, "there existed a narrative of an attempted invasion of Spain by Charlemagne and his defeat by an army led by Bernardo del Carpio. Bernardo and his Spanish army, either wholly Christian or a combined force of Christians and Muslims, are the heroes in this narrative tradition, not Charlemagne" (32). In yet another, the combined armies of Spain invade France, to preserve Spanish sovereignty. These stories among others show an important evolution of the Spanish perspective on Charlemagne's role Spain.

Chapter 2, "Rebel Nephews and Royal Sisters: The Tale of Bernardo del Carpio" by Lucy K. Pick, addresses a variant of one of the most popular literary genres of the Middle Ages: the rebel-baron motif. She centers the story of rebellion against royal authority found within the so-called Alfonsí narrative. Following this alternative narrative thread involving Bernardo del Carpio and his rebellion against his uncle the king, Pick finds a late-tenth-century parallel with the rebellions of the Banu Gómez family and the counts of Saldaña. Additionally, she highlights the anxieties created by a change in royal succession to contextualize Bernardo's rebellion. Pick's essay is an ideal complement to the previous chapter by Bailey that focused on the 'Carolingian narrative' that emerged concerning Bernardo. Although central to the work, Charlemagne rather than a lead 'character' appears more in the background of Pick's analysis of the sources since they may reflect specific earlier Spanish episodes that predate much of the Charlemagne narrative tradition.

Chapter 3, "The Old Counselors in the Roncesvals Matière and the Spanish Epic" by Mercedes Vaquero, concerns an analysis three main sources Chanson de Roland, Siete infantes de Salas, and the Division of the Kingdom by Fernando I. Here again, the Charlemagne material is central, but the figure is Charlemagne is not. Instead, Vaquero shifts the focus away from the king to prominent advisors and a shared character motif among prominent characters such as Naimon in Roland, Arias Gonzalo in DKF and Nuño Salido in SIL become the main focus. Vaquero shows how the old counselors among other things "are like father figures" (71) and "function as supportive characters for the formation of the young warriors" (73). Vaquero concludes that the shared character motif was not at all random, but rather that there seems clear evidence that the Roncesvals Matière and the songs of the formation of the Castile-León [had] been in constant dialogue" and influenced each other for centuries (83).

Chapter 4, "The Construction of Space and Place in the Narrative: Cuento del enperador Carlos Maynes de Roma e de la Buena enperatris seuilla, su muggier" by Aníbal A. Biglieri, focuses on the spatial constructions within the text, which itself centers on the lives of Charlemagne and his family. With extended sections on 'Forests', 'Cities', and 'Dwellings', Biglieri offers a forceful argument that this (literary) text as well as all medieval literature in general have constructed spaces embedded in the story that do not simply serve as "the background of the action," but rather contribute "to the overall meaning of the story" (122).

In chapter 5, "Converting the Saracen: The Historia del emperador Carlomagno and the Christianization of Granada," the author Ryan Giles moves the discussion into the sixteenth century with the examination of this popular Renaissance work. The literary theme of 'converting the Saracen' was a popular one throughout the high and late Middle Ages and as Giles demonstrates continued as a central plot line well into the Renaissance. The book by Nicolás Pamonte is an adaptation of an earlier French work as well as even earlier medieval stories. Giles demonstrates that the story gives not one type or narrative of conversion, but a more complex picture reflecting recent events in Iberia. Additionally, Giles finds strong historical parallels with the forced conversion of Granada--seeing some of the harsh policies of Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros reflected in the novel. The character of Charlemagne included, who seems to favor the harsh treatment of the Moriscos, but also leaves the impression that future policies may be "tempered and reined in, so as to maintain the peace and fidelity of his subjects" (148), something that his historical counterparts failed to secure in early-sixteenth-century Granada and elsewhere.

In chapter 6, "Charlemagne and Agramante: Confusing Camps in Cervantes' El laberinto de amor, La casa de los celos and Don Quijote" by Frederick A. de Armas, we have arrived into the Spain of Cervantes and literary world of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The focus of de Armas's essay stems from a critical scene in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso featuring discord in the camp of the Moorish leader Agramante. However, in Cervantes's hands, it acquires a particular and unique Spanish flavor. Here, Charlemagne and the French army suffer a similar fate of discord and disunity, unable bring peace among the French, Charlemagne ends up with his "own camp of Agramante" (166). In the end, it is ultimately Bernardo del Carpio who rises to the level of a hero leaving the action in France to defend Spain. This is seemingly a long way from where the book started with Bailey's discussion of early sources such as the Historia Silense, Nota Emilianense and the Chanson de Roland. However, it is fitting that the familiar character of Bernardo del Carpio who figures prominently in earlier narrative traditions would once again be central in the concluding essay.

Matthew Bailey finishes the volume with a postscript titled "Later Disseminations in the Hispanic Ballad Tradition and Other Works" showing the persistence of Charlemagne and the Carolingian literary legacy within Spanish memory reaching well into the twentieth century.

This is an important book with impressive scholarship. Although at times, the figure of Charlemagne seems to fade into the background, his legend does represent the critical thread holding the essays together. Of course, Charlemagne need not be the main character for the stories and sources to be connected and inspired by his legend. This collection will go a long way in filling the current void in English-language scholarship on the Spanish versions and Spanish receptions of the legend of Charlemagne. Hopefully there is much more to come.

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