“I was now born at Oviedo in Spain. My father’s name was Veremond, and I was adopted by my uncle king Alphonso the chaste.
“I don’t recollect in all the pilgrimages I have made on earth that I ever passed a more miserable infancy than now; being under the utmost confinement and restraint, and surrounded with physicians who were ever dosing me, and tutors who were continually plaguing me with their instructions; even those hours of leisure which my inclination would have spent in play were allotted to tedious pomp and ceremony, which, at an age wherein I had no ambition to enjoy the servility of courtiers, enslaved me more than it could the meanest of them. However, as I advanced towards manhood, my condition made me some amends; for the most beautiful women of their own accord threw out lures for me, and I had the happiness, which no man in an inferior degree can arrive at, of enjoying the most delicious creatures, without the previous and tiresome ceremonies of courtship, unless with the most simple, young and unexperienced. As for the court ladies, they regarded me rather as men do the most lovely of the other sex; and, though they outwardly retained some appearance of modesty, they in reality rather considered themselves as receiving than conferring favors.
“Another happiness I enjoyed was in conferring favors of another sort; for, as I was extremely good-natured and generous, so I had daily opportunities of satisfying those passions. Besides my own princely allowance, which was very bountiful, and with which I did many liberal and good actions, I recommended numberless persons of merit in distress to the king’s notice, most of whom were provided for. Indeed, had I sufficiently known my blessed situation at this time, I should have grieved at nothing more than the death of Alphonso, by which the burden of government devolved upon me; but, so blindly fond is ambition, and such charms doth it fancy in the power and pomp and splendor of a crown, that, though I vehemently loved that king, and had the greatest obligations to him, the thoughts of succeeding him obliterated my regret at his loss, and the wish for my approaching coronation dried my eyes at his funeral.
“But my fondness for the name of king did not make me forgetful of those over whom I was to reign. I considered them in the light in which a tender father regards his children, as persons whose wellbeing God had intrusted to my care; and again, in that in which a prudent lord respects his tenants, as those on whose wealth and grandeur he is to build his own. Both these considerations inspired me with the greatest care for their welfare, and their good was my first and ultimate concern.
“The usurper Mauregas had impiously obliged himself and his successors to pay to the Moors every year an infamous tribute of an hundred young virgins: from this cruel and scandalous imposition I resolved to relieve my country. Accordingly, when their emperor Abderames the second had the audaciousness to make this demand of me, instead of complying with it I ordered his ambassadors to be driven away with all imaginable ignominy, and would have condemned them to death, could I have done it without a manifest violation of the law of nations.
“I now raised an immense army; at the levying of which I made a speech from my throne, acquainting my subjects with the necessity and the reasons of the war in which I was going to engage: which I convinced them I had undertaken for their ease and safety, and not for satisfying any wanton ambition, or revenging any private pique of my own. They all declared unanimously that they would venture their lives and everything dear to them in my defense, and in the support of the honor of my crown. Accordingly, my levies were instantly complete, sufficient numbers being only left to till the land; churchmen, even bishops themselves, enlisting themselves under my banners.
“The armies met at Alvelda, where we were discomfited with immense loss, and nothing but the lucky intervention of the night could have saved our whole army.
“I retreated to the summit of a hill, where I abandoned myself to the highest agonies of grief, not so much for the danger in which I then saw my crown, as for the loss of those miserable wretches who had exposed their lives at my command. I could not then avoid this reflection — that, if the deaths of these people in a war undertaken absolutely for their protection could give me such concern, what horror must I have felt if, like princes greedy of dominion, I had sacrificed such numbers to my own pride, vanity, and ridiculous lust of power.
“After having vented my sorrows for some time in this manner, I began to consider by what means I might possibly endeavor to retrieve this misfortune; when, reflecting on the great number of priests I had in my army, and on the prodigious force of superstition, a thought luckily suggested itself to me, to counterfeit that St. James had appeared to me in a vision, and had promised me the victory. While I was ruminating on this the bishop of Najara came opportunely to me. As I did not intend to communicate the secret to him, I took another method, and, instead of answering anything the bishop said to me, I pretended to talk to St. James, as if he had been really present; till at length, after having spoke those things which I thought sufficient, and thanked the saint aloud for his promise of the victory, I turned about to the bishop, and, embracing him with a pleased countenance, protested I did not know he was present; and then, informing him of this supposed vision, I asked him if he had not himself seen the saint? He answered me he had; and afterwards proceeded to assure me that this appearance of St. James was entirely owing to his prayers; for that he was his tutelar saint. He added he had a vision of him a few hours before, when he promised him a victory over the infidels, and acquainted him at the same time of the vacancy of the see of Toledo. Now, this news being really true, though it had happened so lately that I had not heard of it (nor, indeed, was it well possible I should, considering the great distance of the way), when I was afterwards acquainted with it, a little staggered me, though far from being superstitious; till being informed that the bishop had lost three horses on a late expedition, I was satisfied.
“The next morning, the bishop, at my desire, mounted the rostrum, and trumpeted forth this vision so effectually, which he said he had that evening twice seen with his own eyes, that a spirit began to be infused through the whole army which rendered them superior to almost any force: the bishop insisted that the least doubt of success was giving the lie to the saint, and a damnable sin, and he took upon him in his name to promise them victory.
“The army being drawn out, I soon experienced the effect of enthusiasm, for, having contrived another stratagem 9 to strengthen what the bishop had said, the soldiers fought more like furies than men. My stratagem was this: I had about me a dexterous fellow, who had been formerly a pimp in my amours. Him I dressed up in a strange antic dress, with a pair of white colors in his right hand, a red cross in his left, and having disguised him so that no one could know him, I placed him on a white horse, and ordered him to ride to the head of the army, and cry out, ‘Follow St. James!’ These words were reiterated by all the troops, who attacked the enemy with such intrepidity, that, notwithstanding our inferiority of numbers, we soon obtained a complete victory.
“The bishop was come up by the time that the enemy was routed, and, acquainting us that he had met St. James by the way, and that he had informed him of what had passed, he added that he had express orders from the saint to receive a considerable sum for his use, and that a certain tax on corn and wine should be settled on his church for ever; and lastly, that a horseman’s pay should be allowed for the future to the saint himself, of which he and his successors were appointed receivers. The army received these demands with such acclamations that I was obliged to comply with them, as I could by no means discover the imposition, nor do I believe I should have gained any credit if I had.
“I had now done with the saint, but the bishop had not; for about a week afterwards lights were seen in a wood near where the battle was fought; and in a short time afterwards they discovered his tomb at the same place. Upon this the bishop made me a visit, and forced me to go thither, to build a church to him, and largely endow it. In a word, the good man so plagued me with miracle after miracle, that I was forced to make interest with the pope to convey him to Toledo, to get rid of him.
“But to proceed to other matters. — There was an inferior officer, who had behaved very bravely in the battle against the Moors, and had received several wounds, who solicited me for preferment; which I was about to confer on him, when one of my ministers came to me in a fright, and told me that he had promised the post I designed for this man to the son of count Alderedo; and that the count, who was a powerful person, would be greatly disobliged at the refusal, as he had sent for his son from school to take possession of it. I was obliged to agree with my minister’s reasons, and at the same time recommended the wounded soldier to be preferred by him, which he faithfully promised he would; but I met the poor wretch since in Elysium, who informed me he was afterwards starved to death.
“None who hath not been himself a prince, nor any prince till his death, can conceive the impositions daily put on them by their favorites and ministers; so that princes are often blamed for the faults of others. The count of Saldagne had been long confined in prison, when his son, D. Bernard del Carpio, who had performed the greatest actions against the Moors, entreated me, as a reward for his service, to grant him his father’s liberty. The old man’s punishment had been so tedious, and the services of the young one so singularly eminent, that I was very inclinable to grant the request; but my ministers strongly opposed it; they told me my glory demanded revenge for the dishonor offered to my family; that so positive a demand carried with it rather the air of menace than entreaty; that the vain detail of his services, and the recompense due to them, was an injurious reproach; that to grant what had been so haughtily demanded would argue in the monarch both weakness and timidity; in a word, that to remit the punishment inflicted by my predecessors would be to condemn their judgment. Lastly, one told me in a whisper, ‘His whole family are enemies to your house.’ By these means the ministers prevailed. The young lord took the refusal so ill, that he retired from court, and abandoned himself to despair, whilst the old one languished in prison. By which means, as I have since discovered, I lost the use of two of my best subjects.
“To confess the truth, I had, by means of my ministers, conceived a very unjust opinion of my whole people, whom I fancied to be daily conspiring against me, and to entertain the most disloyal thoughts, when, in reality (as I have known since my death), they held me in universal respect and esteem. This is a trick, I believe, too often played with sovereigns, who, by such means, are prevented from that open intercourse with their subjects which, as it would greatly endear the person of the prince to the people, so might it often prove dangerous to a minister who was consulting his own interest only at the expense of both. I believe I have now recounted to you the most material passages of my life; for I assure you there are some incidents in the lives of kings not extremely worth relating. Everything which passes in their minds and families is not attended with the splendor which surrounds their throne — indeed, there are some hours wherein the naked king and the naked cobbler can scarce be distinguished from each other.
“Had it not been, however, for my ingratitude to Bernard del Carpio, I believe this would have been my last pilgrimage on earth; for, as to the story of St. James, I thought Minos would have burst his sides at it; but he was so displeased with me on the other account, that, with a frown, he cried out, ‘Get thee back again, king.’ Nor would he suffer me to say another word.”
9 This silly story is told as a solemn truth (i.e., that St. James really appeared in the manner this fellow is described) by Mariana, 1.7, Section 78.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50