Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Monarchist Profile: “El Cid”

“El Cid” is one of the great heroes of Spanish history, an almost legendary figure in the epic struggle known as the “Re-conquest” of Spain from the Islamic Moors of Africa. He is also upheld as an example of Christian knighthood and the old values of chivalry. The Cid, in addition to all of this, was a devoted monarchist and, somewhat like St Joan of Arc, proved this by being loyal to a king who was not always loyal to him. This, in itself, displays a very Christian aspect of the Cid, obeying ‘not only the good and gentle, but also the harsh’. His Christian chivalry and gallantry were just as great, if not more so, than his abilities as a warrior and it is to the credit of the Spanish people of his time that, even when his fortunes were at their lowest ebb, people flocked to his banner because they knew him to be a just, honorable and upright man and appreciated those qualities more than wealth or worldly power. He was a great man in every sense of the word and remains a Spanish national hero and evocative symbol of the best of the “Re-conquest” to this day.

He was born Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar in 1043 (his birthplace also being known as Castillona de Bivar -hence his name is sometimes rendered as Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar) near Burgos, the capital of the Kingdom of Castile. His father was a veteran soldier, a court official and thus respected and of at least moderate importance. Although he had aristocratic blood in his veins, his humble origins later helped him become even more popular with the peasantry who liked to claim him. He grew up in and around the court of the great King Ferdinand I of Leon and Castile and was well acquainted with his children. He grew up to be a great soldier, fighting in numerous campaigns and became well known for his courage and tenacity as well as being fair and humane. His bravery and the mercy he often showed even his enemies earned him the name of “El Cid” among the Moors meaning “The Lord” (from Sayyid). Because of his numerous victories in single combat the Spanish gave him the title “Campeador” (roughly ‘conqueror’) and hence he became known to history as “El Cid, Campeador”.

When King Ferdinand died his realm was divided among his children with Sancho II becoming King of Castile, Alfonso VI becoming King of Leon and Garcia II becoming King of Galicia. Obviously, this was not a situation destined to ensure peace and tranquility and the brothers began fighting against each other almost immediately. Sancho and Alfonso first joined to defeat Garcia and conquer Galicia and then soon turned against each other. El Cid had been the champion soldier of King Sancho II and he fought for him in numerous battles against the Moors and Christian rivals but he was greatly disturbed by the conflict between the brothers. Hoping to head off a plot against him, King Sancho II sent El Cid to bring King Alfonso VI to him, allegedly in the hope of reasoning with him and ending the war between them. This, El Cid did but he was later horrified when King Sancho was found dead, most believe as the result of a plot by King Alfonso and their sister the Infanta Urraca. According to some sources, when Alfonso VI arrived in Burgos to become King of Leon and Castile, El Cid and other leading nobles forced him to swear on holy relics that he had no part in the death of his brother, which he did, though few believed him.

So, from the outset, relations were not good between El Cid and his new monarch and King Alfonso VI was looking for any opportunity to get rid of him. After a campaign in Granada against the Moors, which was victorious but unauthorized, the King exiled El Cid who became a man without a country and a man without a job. He first offered his services to Count Berenguer of Barcelona but was refused and so was instead employed by the Muslim Taifa of Zaragoza who remembered him for the fairness and humanity he had shown even to his Moorish enemies in the past. Nor was El Cid alone. His reputation for justice, humanity and courage caused many Christian Spanish knights to follow him into exile and fight alongside him no matter which flag he was serving under. El Cid, still professing his loyalty to the King of Castile and Leon, laid siege to Valencia, defeating Count Berenguer with his mixed Christian and Muslim army and effectively established his own independent state on the Mediterranean. He recognized Alfonso VI as his monarch, despite the way the King had treated him, but was also a faithful friend to the Moorish rulers who had sheltered him in his hour of need. El Cid fought with the same skill, using the same inventive tactics that he was famous for under the Muslim king but soon an even greater threat arose from the south.

A new, powerful Berber threat was preparing to engulf the Iberian Peninsula under the leadership of Yusuf ibn Tashfin and he proved to be more than a match for his enemies, Christian and Muslim alike. King Alfonso VI was hard pressed to deal with this invasion and finally he had no choice but to turn to the one man who had proven to be the greatest general in Spain; El Cid. Ever loyal, El Cid answered the call and prepared to defend Valencia from the Berber forces of Yusuf. In his Valencia, El Cid had turned mosques into churches but Christian and Muslim had lived side by side in peace with El Cid enforcing justice for all. If Yusuf captured the city, all of that was sure to change and all of Castile and Leon would be under immediate threat. The tide of the “Re-conquest” might have been turned. Despite having tremendous odds arrayed against him, El Cid rallied his forces and fought with great courage and reckless bravery. Leading from the front, he was struck down by an arrow and carried from the field. Soon, with his beloved wife beside him, he died on July 10, 1099. His entourage was despair. As long as El Cid was leading them, his men felt invincible and up to any challenge. Without his leadership, morale would surely plummet and Valencia would surely fall.
His wife Jimena then came up with an idea and so staged an illusion that would be one of the most fantastic events in history. She took the corpse of her husband, dressed him in his armor, propped up by his lance and tied him to his famous warhorse Bavieca and led the animal and the dead warrior out to stand before Valencia where all could see him. Thinking their hero was still alive, the Spanish knights fought with the zeal and heroism they had always shown for El Cid. The battle was won and the forces of Yusuf were driven away with the Spanish troops learning only afterward that their hero was dead. Jimena Diaz remained as governor of Valencia for two more years after the death of El Cid, ruling in her own right, before another Muslim onslaught forced the city to be abandoned. Of course, it was eventually recovered as the long “Re-conquest” rolled forward. Throughout that long struggle, few rose to such legendary status as El Cid, Campeador. He was famous for his brilliant tactics on the battlefield, his prowess in single combat and his many victories. However, he was also famous for his mercy, his honesty and his fidelity. He was faithful to his King even when his King turned against him, he was faithful to his friends and never forgot a kindness, no matter from whom it came. When one thinks of the best real-life example of a Spanish knight, of gallantry and chivalry in Medieval Spain the one name that first comes to mind is and probably always will be Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, “El Cid”, Campeador.


  1. He embodies traits we would Honour today but cannot fathom. Self Sacrifice, Chivalry, and fierce Loyalty. Today’s world would ask him why he’d bother to be loyal to a King when the King tossed him aside? Wouldn’t it have been better to just say, screw you and team up with who accepted you? This is because Today’s world is so self focused we can’t Imagine placing something more important in our lives than ourselves.

    But this is what was lost with the end of the Age of Chivalry.

  2. ONE thing othe, can you email me, i have lost yoru mail and need some minor help with somerhing.

  3. You'll have to send me your address for that to happen, I don't recall ever having it. You can put it here (I won't post it of course). If you're on facebook you can message me there too.


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