Post-classical history

Gran Conquista de Ultramar

A romanced chronicle (Sp. crônica novelesca) in prose, dating from the end of the thirteenth century, dealing with historical events of the crusades between the years 1095 and 1271.

The original text of the chronicle is in Castilian (Old Spanish), drawing primarily on French sources. It is preserved in three incomplete manuscripts of the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries (MSS Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, J-1 and 2454; Madrid, Biblioteca de Palacio, no shelfmark) and a complete first printed edition (Salamanca, 1503). Two other versions of the chronicle, in Catalan and Gallego-Portuguese, are adaptations of the Castilian text.

There is reason to assume that the Gran Conquista was originally written or compiled by Alfonso X, king of Castile (1252-1284), for propagandistic purposes, as he showed interest in participating in the crusades proclaimed by the two councils of Lyons (1245 and 1274) after the fall of Jerusalem in 1244. The Gran Conquista shows certain conceptual parallels with another of Alfonso’s works, the Esto- ria de Espana. However, Alfonso’s successor Sancho IV (1284-1295) can be considered as responsible for at least parts of the Gran Conquista. It is possible that Alfonso’s text ended with the description of the fall of Antioch (1098), and that it was completed by Sancho, motivated by his own wars against the Muslims on the Iberian Peninsula, which ended with the capture of Tarifa in 1292.

The Gran Conquista is a compilation and translation of several French and Occitan sources, which explains its lack of structural unity. The original narrative nucleus was the text known as the Eracles, the French translation and continuation of the Latin chronicle Historia rerum inpartibus transmarinis gestarum by Archbishop William of Tyre, written between 1170 and 1183 and later continued up to 1291. Another contributory text is a separate French work, the Chronique d’Ernoul et de Bernard le trésorier, which treats events in the Holy Land up to 1229. The Eracles was augmented by various works of fiction, such as the Chanson du Chevalier au Cygne, the Chanson de Godefroi de Bouillon, Les Chétifs, the Chanson d’Antioche, the Chanson de Jérusalem, Berte ausgrans pies, and Mainet. These French poems (in Alexandrine monorhymed stanzas), some of which are drawn from the Old French Crusade Cycle, together make up one third of the Gran Conquista text. It is unclear whether the Spanish translator found this poetic compilation in a French version or whether he undertook the work of compilation himself.

The principal figure of the Castilian text is Godfrey of Bouillon (Sp. Godofredo de Bouillon), ruler of Jerusalem (d. 1100), whose supposed legendary origin as a descendant of the Swan Knight is explained in the Leyenda del Caballero del Cisne, which forms part of book 1. Carolingian themes are treated in book 2, dealing with Charlemagne’s mother Berta, la de los grandes pies (Berta with the Big Feet) and Mainete, dealing with the youth of Charlemagne. Book 3 relates the history of the First Crusade (1096-1099), culminating in the capture of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon, who is then elected king of Jerusalem (1099-1100). Book 4 follows the chronicle of William of Tyre, narrating the reign of Baldwin V, the child king of Jerusalem (d. 1186), the complete defeat of the Christians by Saladin at the battle of Hattin, and the loss of Jerusalem and most of the Holy Land (1187).

The most elaborate of the legends included in the Gran Conquista concerns the mythical origins of Godfrey of Bouillon as a descendant of the legendary Swan Knight, as told in the Leyenda del Caballero del Cisne, which combines a lost French epic called Isomberta with the Chevalier au Cygne and the Godefroi de Bouillon epics. Numerous marvellous and legendary elements are combined with the historical life of the real hero, told from birth to death, as is typical of this literary genre.

Whereas the legendary background of the Swan Knight is closely connected with the key figure of the crusader Godfrey of Bouillon, the Castilian Berta, la de los grandes pies and the legend of the youth of Charlemagne in the Mainete are not essential to the central theme of the Conquista. The various narratives and characters, well known from French epic poems, are now adapted for a Spanish public: Flores and Blancaflor are no longer monarchs of Hungary but of Almeria; Flores conquers great parts of Africa and Spain, while Blancaflor promises to give the realms of Cordoba, Almeria, and the rest of Spain to her grandson Charlemagne. However, when the queen dies, all her territories are lost to the Muslim kings. In a subsequent episode of the Castilian Mainete, Charlemagne has to fight against his bastard brothers and is sent to Spain, where he fights against the Muslim kings of Cordoba and Zaragoza on the side of the Muslim king of Toledo, whose daughter (after she has been baptized and named Sevilla) he will marry. After having defeated his stepbrothers, Charlemagne is crowned king of France. On his way to Spain, where he is to receive the realm of Toledo from his father-in-law, he is informed of an attack by the Saxons on Cologne and returns there. This is the end of the Mainete episode.

The Catalan version of the Conquista was made at the request of King James II of Aragon (1264-1327). The Gal- lego-Portuguese version is included in the Crônica general of 1404, where it is interpolated into the reign of Alfonso VI, king of Castile and Leôn (d. 1109).

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