The first two pages of the epic poem El Cantar de Mío Cid are missing. That often happens to old manuscripts without a cover. But scholars say those missing pages told this story.
King Alfonso sent El Cid to Seville to collect a tribute from the Moorish king.
Just when El Cid arrived, the Moorish king’s territory was invaded by an army of the king of Granada. One Moorish king trying to grab land from another.
Considering that he ought to defend the king of Seville, who was a vassal of Alfonso’s, El Cid went to bat, or rather, to sword for him against the invader and defeated him in a great battle under the castle of Cabra. Thereafter everyone called him Campeador or Battler.
The monument to El Cid in downtown Burgos, Spain
The Castillo del Cid in Jadraque, Spain
He took prisoner a Christian nobleman named García Ordoñez who had been fighting for the King of Granada. El Cid grabbed his beard and yanked out a fistful of whiskers. That was the way a knight treated a defeated enemy in those days. Then he let him go. García Ordoñez scampered home to do El Cid as much harm as he could.
El Cid turned all the war spoils over to the King of Seville and his soldiers. The king in gratitude loaded him with rich presents. Then El Cid went back to Leon. What about the Moorish king’s tribute to King Alfonso that El Cid had been sent to collect? Did El Cid remember to deliver it to him when he got home?
El Cid’s fame made a lot of nobles envious. They told the king ugly things about him and the king believed them. They said El Cid pocketed some of that tribute.
Next thing he knew, El Cid got a letter from King Alfonso announcing the confiscation of all his property and giving him nine days to leave the realm.
Manuscript page three starts with El Cid and a few of his men leaving their home in great sadness. On their way out of the kingdom they pass through Burgos and there is no one in the streets, all the doors are closed. No one comes to help, to give them food or a place to sleep. The King has issued a proclamation forbidding any such help on pain of death. El Cid is without a cent and he needs money to feed himself and his men. Since the king would punish anyone who helps him, there is no way to get the money except…by trickery.
He calls in his faithful relative Martín Antolínez and tells him his plan. “Get a couple of big arks and fill them with sand. Take them to the money-lenders in Burgos and tell them they contain all the gold I got in Seville. Say I can’t take them with me now because of their weight and the danger of someone’s stealing them; and ask the two dealers if they would keep them for me for a year and loan me six hundred marks in cash right now. Tell them I will pay any reasonable interest they ask.”
The money-lenders agree. The arks are brought to them by night and they quickly hide them. They swear they will not use the gold to lend out to others or even open the arks while El Cid is away.
Here is one of the arks, high on a wall in the Cathedral of Burgos, with all the sand gone out of it.
It is a perfect swindle. “I only did this because I had to,” El Cid tells his friends, who sympathize with him. They all get a quiet kick out of the way Cid swindles the very professionals. There is no mention of restitution after he gets rich.
See El Cid—Spain’s Champion 4 and read how El Cid says goodbye to his wife and daughters and gallops off with his army of followers to see what adventures lie ahead.
The following is a summary of the poem:
Half of it is about what El Cid does during his unjust exile. He gathers a small army of knights and conquers cities from the Moors, always remembering to send Alfonso, his liege-lord, the royal fifth and other gifts to show his loyalty. Finally Alfonso formally pardons him.
The other half is about the marriage of his daughters to noblemen, those lords’ mistreatment of their young wives, their trial for their behavior, and finally, their defeat in single combat with El Cid’s best men. El Cid ends up re-marrying his daughters to the very King of Barcelona.
Back to El Cid–Spain’s Champion 2