The Great Champion of Christian Spain

The Great Champion of Christian Spain

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By Harry Stevens

Photo by Beverly Stevens and Teresa Limjoco

Who was Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar? Depends on who you ask, it seems. Various depictions of this heroic knight have emerged in the last thousand years — the legendary, the historic, the Arabic or the Christian.

“This is the will of God and of all His saints…You see the sword bloody and the horse sweating: Thus it is that one (El CID) conquers the Moors in the field.” –Poema del Cid.

The Legendary Rodrigo
In the mid-20th century, the legendary Rodrigo Diaz was depicted in the 1961 Oscar-nominated classic movie El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. This acclaimed film depicts Rodrigo as a romantic military hero dedicated to his king. The production values were huge in this Hollywood epic; that year Time reported “it runs three hours and 15 minutes (including intermission), cost $6,200,000, employs an extra-wide widescreen, a special color process, 7,000 extras, 10,000 costumes, 35 ships, 50 outsize engines of medieval war, and four of the noblest old castles in Spain: Ampudia, Belmonte, Peñíscola and Torrelobatón.” (Rent the film for the surprise finish!)

The Real Rodrigo
Rodrigo was certainly a very real person, born about 1040 into the Castillian minor noble family of Diego Lainez. Affectionately christened El Campeador (‘the champion) by his countrymen, Rodrigo was called ‘El Cid’ (‘the lord’) by the Moors he conquered.

Rodrigo was raised at the Castile court of Ferdinand I; there he studied the military arts and became a military commander under Ferdinand. After Ferdinand’s death, the kingdom was divided equally between all his children, per his wish.

Royal Family Strife
But his son Sancho sought sole kingship for himself, and Rodrigo rose to become the royal standard-bearer (armiger regis) of Castile upon Sancho's ascension in 1065.

Family strife over “who should be king over the lands” led to Sancho’s eventual murder. Alfonso became king, with Rodrigo serving Alfonso but under suspicion. Eventually, Alfonso exiled Rodrigo in 1076.

Rodrigo was raised at the Castile court of Ferdinand I, where he studied the military arts and became a military commander under Ferdinand. After Ferdinand’s death, the kingdom was divided equally between all his children, per his wish. But Sancho sought sole kingship for himself, and Rodrigo rose to become the royal standard-bearer (armiger regis) of Castile upon Sancho's ascension in 1065.

Family strife over “who should be king over the lands” led to Sancho’s eventual murder. Alfonso became king, with Rodrigo serving Alfonso but under suspicion. Eventually, Alfonso exiled Rodrigo in 1076.

Exiled Soldier of Fortune
Exiled from his home, Rodrigo became a soldier of fortune. He worked for the Muslim leader of Zaragoza, and it is said he warred indifferently against Muslims and Christians, but always with distinguished service. Over time, Rodrigo’s fame, power, and influence grew. His followers were many, and he inspired loyalty among his men.

A CLASH OF WILLS: Alfonso sought Rodrigo’s services, but the relationship soured after their continual clashes. With an idea of a political alliance, Alfonso offered Rodrigo his niece in marriage.

However, Rodrigo’s last banishment by Alfonso had the effect of sending him away from his beloved Castile forever. He set his sights on Valencia, a rich Muslim stronghold and set out in command of his army of soldiers. They besieged the Muslim stronghold in 1093-1094.

Lord of Valencia
It was during this siege that Rodrigo’s legend developed into one of a Christian war hero, literally riding his white horse to victory. After this, the El Campeador legend further evolved – Rodrigo became famous for his invincibility in war, a legend which was certainly based in fact. Rodrigo became Lord of Valencia until his death on July 10, 1099.

SPAIN DIVIDED: Rodrigo’s Spain was not one kingdom in the 1100s. It was divided into Gascony, Galicia, Leon, Castille, Navarre, Aragon, Zaragoza, Badajoz, Toledo, Albarracin, Cordoba, Heulva, Sevilla, Granada, and Malaga — each run by various rulers. Several of these were Muslim, ruled by north Africans since the invasion AD 711, more than 300 years before Rodrigo’s birth. Photo CREDIT: Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH

CHRISTIAN FOR A THOUSAND YEARS: After El Cid, Valencia remained in Christian hands, though it was not until 1492 that the Iberian Peninsula was unified under the Christian reconquest led by Ferdinand and Isabella.

 

CLASSIC HERO: Spaniards know Rodrigo Diaz from the Poema del Cid, a classic example of an oral tradition that made a heroic warrior into a legend. Its epic theme revolves around the restoration of honor, which becomes a greater honor then that which was lost.

OLDEST SPANISH EPIC: The poema, written in the mid-twelfth century, is said to be the oldest Spanish epic poem still preserved. It is still studied today in Spanish schools, with the original kept in the Spanish National Library.

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1. “El Cild film poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:El_Cild_film_poster.jpg#/media/File:El_Cild_film_poster.jpg

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