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Bernardo del Carpio, also spelled Bernaldo del Carpio, is, since the beginnings of modern historical scholarship, a legendary hero of the medieval Kingdom of Asturias. In contrast with El Cid, he was not based on a real person (and thus could be whatever the creator(s) wanted him to be). Until the end of the nineteenth century and the labors of Ramón Menéndez Pidal, he, not El Cid, was the chief hero of medieval Christian Spain. He was believed to be historical.
Supposedly the nephew of Alfonso II of Asturias, stories feature him striving against Alfonso to release his father from prison. Other stories have him as the rival and slayer of Roland at Roncesvaux.
Bernardo was said to be the son of Sancho, the Count of Saldaña and Dona Ximena (Alfonso II's sister, therefore grandson of King Fruela I of Asturias). Alfonso was not happy with the marriage, so he had Sancho blinded and thrown into prison and took Bernardo. He was raised in Alfonso II's court. Everybody was ordered not to tell the young Bernardo who his father was.
Alfonso invited Charlemagne into Iberia to defeat the Moors, promising to name him as heir. Bernardo's victory at Roncesvaux ended that plan. But Bernardo then joined up with the Moors, hoping to force Alfonso into action; but Alfonso secretly had Sancho killed while in prison.
The original legend of Bernardo del Carpio was sung by the jongleurs of the Kingdom of León. Later, the Castilian poet Pero Ferrús (fl. 1380) mentions Bernardo del Carpio in one of his cantigas, which combines the theme of the good life in Castile with a series of loores, or lyric paeans, to a series of Greek, Roman, Biblical, chivalric, and Arab heroes.
In the opening of Don Quixote, Cervantes has the protagonist especially admiring Bernardo because he crushed Roland with his arms alone, although the context is clear that Don Quixote is placing too much credence in the fantastic stories of romance.
- Burton, David. The Legend of Bernardo del Carpio: from Chronicle to Drama.