Spanish Ballad: En Burgos está el buen rey.

En Burgos está el buen rey.

1.    En Burgos está el buen rey    –asentado a su yantar,
       cuando la Jimena Gómez    –se le vino a querellar.
5.    Cubierta toda de luto,   –tocas de negro cendal,
       las rodillas por el suelo    –comenzara de fablar:
9.    –Con mancilla vivo, rey,    –con ella murió mi madre;
       cada día que amanece    –veo al que mató a mi padre
13.  caballero en un caballo,    –y en su mano un gavilan;
       por facerme más despecho    –cébalo en mi palomar,
17.  mátame mis palomillas    –criadas y por criar;
       la sangre que sale de ellas    –teñido me ha mi brial.
21.  Enviéselo a decir,    –envióme a amenazar.
       Hacedme, buen rey, justicia,    –no me la queráis negar.
25.  Rey que non face justicia    –non debiera de reinar,
       ni cabalgar en caballo,    –ni con la reina holgar
29.  ni comer pan a manteles,    –ni menos armas armar.–
       El rey cuando aquesto oyera    –comenzara de pensar:
33.  –Si yo prendo o mato al Cid    –mis cortes revolverse han;
       pues si lo dejo de hacer    –Dios me lo ha de demandar.
37.  Mandarle quiero una carta,    –mandarle quiero llamar.–
       Las palabras no son dichas,    –la carta camino va;
41.  mensajero que la lleva    –dado la había a su padre.
       Cuando el Cid aquesto supo    –así comenzó a fablar:
45.  Malas mañas habéis, conde,    –non vos las puedo quitar,
       que carta que el rey vos manda    –no me la queréis mostrar.
49.  –Non era nada, mi fijo,    –si non que vades allá;
       fincad vos acá, mi fijo,    –que yo iré en vueso lugar.
53.   –Nunca Dios lo tal quisiese    –ni Santa María su madre,
55.   sino que donde vos fuéredes    –tengo yo de ir adelante.

Translation: The good king is in Burgos/ seated at his table [to eat]/ when Jimena Gómez/ came to complain to him./ Dressed all in mourning,/ [with] a bonnet of black silk/ kneeling on the ground,/ she began to speak:/– “In disgrace I live, my king/ with that [disgrace] my mother died;/ each day that dawns/ I see [the man] who killed my father/ a knight on horseback/ and on his hand a hawk;/ to make me despair even more/ he feeds it in my dovecot,/ he kills my little doves/ those already born and to be born,/ the blood that runs from them/ has stained my silk dress./ I sent [a message] to let him know,/ he sent [a message] threatening me./ Give me justice, my king/ don’t deny me it;/ the king who does not provide justice/ doesn’t deserve to rule,/ nor ride on horseback/ nor take his ease with his queen/ nor eat bread off a tablecloth,/ nor even bear arms./

The king when he heard this/ began to reflect: “If I take or kill the Cid/ the Court will rebel;/ [but] if I don’t do it/ God will call me to account;/ I’ll send him [the Cid] a letter/ I’ll send for him to come.”

The words are scarcely said/ and the letter is on its way;/ the messenger carrying it/ has given it to his [the Cid’s] father./ When the Cid found this out/ he began to speak out thus:/ “You are behaving slyly, Count [the Cid is addressing his father],/ I cannot rid you of that,/ since the letter that the king has sent you/ you won’t show it to me.”/ “It was nothing, my son,/ except that you should go there;/ stay here, my son,/ I’ll go in your place.”/ “May God never allow such a thing,/ nor Holy Mary, His mother,/ for wherever you go/ I shall go ahead.”

Historical Background. In the Poema de mio Cid, the hero, Rodrigo de Vivar, i. e. el Cid, was portrayed as a dignified, prudent, generous individual who overcame adversity through his leadership and skill in arms. In short, an exemplary heroic figure but one who showed at the same time a surprisingly down-to-earth concern about money –not only for himself but also for his followers– and a deep and tender love for his family. 

There are ballads/ romances that follow this tradition, but there are, too, ballads that show another, less attractive side for the modern reader.  There are, in effect, three ballad cycles dealing with the Cid: 1. those concerning his youth, 2. those dealing with the siege of Zamora (when Sancho of Castile lost his life and his brother, Alfonso – the famous Alfonso VI of the epic poem, and conqueror of Toledo, 1085– replaced him as king), and 3. those inspired by the Poema.

The youth and Zamora ballads are largely fictional and derive from lost epics which responded to a popular demand in the late 13th and 14th centuries for something new about the Cid’s life. One of these poems was the Mocedades del Cid (Youthful Exploits of the Cid), probably the last Castilian epic (Deyermond 47), which invents dashing tales about the Cid’s early life, which any Harlequin reader will appreciate. It includes a love affair with Urraca (Alfonso VI’s sister) as well as his relationship with Jimena, whose father Rodrigo kills over family rivalry. Adding spice to this is the king’s command that Rodrigo marry Jimena as requested by Jimena herself!  Rodrigo then undertakes adventures against Moorish and Christian adversaries and ends up besieging the city of Paris, at which point the manuscript ends.  These fictions enjoyed enormous popularity for centuries.

There are several versions of En Burgos está el buen rey” all centring on Jimena’s request for reparation for the shame suffered from the death of her father. Failure to act will cast doubt on the king’s right to rule. What Jimena wants is not specified here, but she complains about the way the Cid continues to humiliate her, to the point of threatening her. It is behaviour unbecoming of a knight and totally at odds with the hero of the epic Poema.

Jimena’s criticism of the young Cid is confirmed by Rodrigo’s behaviour in other ballads, and even by his haughty response to his father at the end of this poem. At no time in this version of the ballad do we know what reparation Jimena wants nor what the king’s letter to the Cid contains, and the poem ends on a defiant note as Rodrigo says what he is going to do: go to the court. We can suspect fireworks, as indeed the sequel bears out: the youthful Cid insults the king. (In another version of the romance, Jimena asks the king for Rodrigo’s hand in marriage; the ending is the same.).  According to the scholar Ramón Menéndez Pidal, this romance survived well into the 20th century in Andalusia and amongst the Sephardic Jews of Morocco.

Metre and rhyme.
This version of the romance consists of 56 octosyllabic lines (lines of 8 syllables). For practical reasons of space, romances are often written in lines of 16 syllables –as here– with a break at the end of the eighth, so that, for example, En Burgos está el buen rey is line 1 and asentado a su yantar is line 2.

This ballad has an assonance rhyme of a (-e) which, as is customary in Spanish ballads, falls on the even lines: e. g. line 2: a (1)/sen (2)/tad (3)/o a (4)/su (5)/yan (6)/tar (7)/ (+e 8)/; line 4: se (1)/le (2)/vi (3)/no a (40/que (5)/re (6)/llar (7)/ (+e 8)/

(NB. When a line of poetry ends with a stressed vowel –as here–, the syllable count of that line will add up to 7 but a theoretical e (called paragogic e) is appended to create the 8th syllable.)

En Burgos… opens with a passionate petition by Jimena Gómez to the king, Alfonso VI, then moves to a moment of reflection by the king before ending with a brief dialogue between the Cid and his father, Count Diego Laínez.  There are in effect, three parts or scenes: 1. lines 1-30 containing Jimena’s petition, 2. lines 31-38 focusing briefly on the king’s reaction and inner thoughts, and 3. lines 39-56 which capture the moment when the Cid confronts his father over the message received from the king. Neither monarch nor count is named, and the Cid is only identified in line 33. But this would not be an obstacle for the listening audience since the tale was sufficiently well known not to require such clarification.

In such cases of familiarity, what would prevent boredom arising from the repetition of a well-known tale? As much as anything, the role of the anonymous juglares/ minstrels was central. They were performers and their success (and livelihood) depended on their persuasive narrating ability which would include voice modulation, eye contact, timing, body language etc. They needed to attract the attention of their audiences as quickly as possible and maintain it; they needed to know where to begin and when to end. They also knew not to be long winded. These factors influenced the style they adopted. At the same time, they might vary the content, even ad lib etc., which is why we often have more than one version of a ballad.

One of the most salient features of the ballad in general is the sense of movement and drama. The drama here is enhanced by a generous use of dialogue combined with verbs in the preterite tense, the tense most appropriate for moving the narrative along. Underscoring the sense of movement is the astonishing shortage of adjectives (which often slow down a narrative). In the 56 lines that make up this ballad, there is only one true adjective: negro, l. 6!

In Alfonso’s very brief internal soliloquy (ll. 33-38), and the next four lines describing the speed with which Alfonso’s message is delivered to the Cid’s father (ll. 39-42) there is a switch to the present tense. The use of the present tense is much more effective than reported speech, since it conveys much more immediacy and urgency to the king’s dilemma, and in the hands of an accomplished minstrel could have striking impact.

The setting to the En Burgos… begins abruptly and is brief: the king seated at his table, the arrival of Jimena dressed in mourning. Jimena’s passionate address to the king takes up most of this first part.  Her petition is well argued beginning with her distress caused by her father’s death at the hands of the Cid and by her mother’s death as a result of the unavenged disgrace/ dishonour. She paints an unflattering picture of the Cid destroying her property and threatening her when she complains (ll. 21-22). At this point, Jimena appeals/ turns directly to the king for justice.

It is the climax of her petition which ends with a series of negatives (ll. 26-30) that succinctly underline the responsibilities and privileges of monarchs. It is cleverly done. She puts pressure on the king, but she does not personalize the issue and thereby possibly antagonize Alfonso. The implication is that no king would wish to be seen as failing to provide justice, and Alfonso is no different.

In seeking redress for her misfortune and distress, Jimena shows herself to be resourceful and determined. She has taken on the task of seeking justice in a male-dominated, military environment. The speed with which the king quickly weighs the pros and cons of Jimena’s request in reaching his decision is a testament to Jimena’s boldness and persuasive argument. He decides to send for the Cid.

Part 3 moves quickly from the delivery of the king’s letter to a brief dialogue between the Cid and his father in which the Cid chastises his father for keeping the letter from him. There is an element of misunderstanding on both sides. The count’s reply suggests that he wishes to protect his son from repercussions that might arise from the king’s letter. He will go to the king instead. The Cid reply, on the other hand, hints at disobedience: wherever his father is going, he will go ahead of him. [FYI. The ballad that follows this romance portrays a very belligerent Cid in his contempt for the king and his general display of bad manners at court. The ballad begins: Cabalga Diego Laínez/ al buen rey besar la mano.]

For the importance of the oral tradition/transmission in studying the romances, see