Richard III and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar aka ‘El Cid’
To continue my series of posts about Richard’s notable genealogical connections, my latest discovery is that he was directly descended from Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar – El Cid!
This time the connection is through his mother’s line and you can see the tree below (in two parts) with red dots showing the direct line of ancestors leading to El Cid.
But who was El Cid?
In an animated version of his story, he is described as: ‘A man who becomes a knight, a knight who becomes a hero, a hero who becomes a legend!’ But what is fact and what fiction? He is seen as the National Hero of Spain, a heroic warrior who fought to drive the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. However, he actually fought both against and for the Moors.
There are many published versions of his life and some fictional incidents have passed into history as fact – something he shares with Richard. So, I have read a book (El Cid: The Making of a Legend by MJ Trow) which analyses all the written records of his life in chronological order and each incident is assessed using likelihood and common sense. Like Richard, contemporary reports are few and the stories became more and more elaborate as time goes on, like a snowball gathering snow. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Rodrigo was born in Vivar, near Burgos, in Spain in about 1043. His family was wealthy and connected to the King, Ferdinand I, being court officials, although they weren’t major players.
One legend associated with Rodrigo is about his horse, Babieca. It is said he was offered the pick of an Andalusian herd of horses by his godfather as a coming of age gift and his choice was considered a weak one, causing his godfather to cry: ‘Babieca!’ which means ‘idiot’. However, there are other theories such as that the horse was a gift from a barbarian and the name came from that. Whatever the truth, Babieca certainly became a formidable warhorse and has his own tomb in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, where Rodrigo himself was first buried.
Like the legendary King Arthur, El Cid also had a special sword – in fact more than one. These swords were named ‘Colada’ and ‘Tizona’ and one (possibly actually ‘Colada’ but labelled ‘Tizona’) still survives and is displayed in the Museum of Burgos. In 1999 it was tested and confirmed to be made in the eleventh century in Moorish Cordoba and contained Damascus steel (which is made by a special process that is no longer known today). It is 36.8 in long and weighs 2.5 lb and the hilt is a later edition as is also the inscription which reads:
‘Yo soy la Tizona [que] fue hecha en la era de mil e quarenta’ (I am the Tizona, who was made in the year 1040). And on the reverse side:
‘Ave Maria gratia plena; dominus mecum [sic]’ (Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord be with me).
Rodrigo was the sworn man of Sancho, one of Ferdinand’s three sons, the others being Alfonso and Garcia. As a young man, in 1057, he fought for Sancho against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza, making its emir, Al-Muqtadir, one of Sancho’s vassals. However, in 1063, he also fought on Al-Muqtadir’s side against Ferdinand’s half-brother, Ramiro I of Aragon, and his army, who were besieging Zaragoza. Ramiro was killed and the Aragonese army routed and it was rumoured that Rodrigo fought and beat an Aragonese knight in single combat, thereby winning the title Campeador – which translates roughly as ‘Champion’. He is referred to as such in this sixteenth century chronicle of his life.
Sancho was assassinated in 1072, probably by his brother Alfonso, who wanted to take over Sancho’s lands, and Rodrigo transferred his allegiance to him. The legend has it that he forced Alonso to swear on the Bible in public that he had had nothing to do with Sancho’s murder but, although this is possible, there is no proof of the incident. It is certainly true that the relationship between Rodrigo and Alfonso was difficult and twice Alfonso exiled Rodrigo. The reasons are disputed, but one possibility is because of rumours spread about him by rivals.
In the first of these exiles, in 1080, he offered his services to other rulers in Spain (which then consisted of many small kingdoms), and in 1081, El Cid was accepted by the Moorish king of Zaragoza, Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud, and served both him and his successor, Al-Mustain II. It was during this period that he was given the title El Cid (The Lord or Master – probably from the Arabic ‘Al-Sayyid’) and served as a successful general of the predominantly Moorish armies, at times against Alfonso.
He became such a formidable foe that, around 1087, Alfonso recalled him for a short time but, when he was exiled for a second time, Rodrigo seems to have decided not to rely on Alfonso’s goodwill but make his own fortune.
Rodrigo had married Jimena in 1075 and another legend has arisen about their relationship, namely that he had killed her father in one of his first battles and that their relationship was therefore understandably strained. However, again there is no evidence that this is true.
Rodrigo eventually invaded and occupied Valencia, which he conquered by gradually getting control of surrounding towns and lands and finally gained by siege with a combined Christian and Moorish army. He became Valencia’s ruler in 1094, to all intents and purposes a king there. The city was both Christian and Muslim, and both Moors and Christians served in the army and as administrators.
However, after living there peacefully with his wife, Jimena, for about five years, the Almoravids, (Berbers originally from North Africa), besieged Valencia to try to take it back and El Cid died on June 10th 1099, probably from the effects of deprivation and starvation because of the siege.
This belies the well-known film version of his story starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren which has a very dramatic scene: after Rodrigo’s death from a battle wound, El Cid’s wife, Jimena dresses him in his armour and mounts him on his famous horse, Babieca, (tied on to prevent him falling off). She sends him off into battle again to inspire his men, who are unaware he has died. A vivid image, but a false one. However, there is a plausible source for this myth, the probably true story that he was buried sitting upright on his throne. His tomb was desecrated during a later attack on the town and some of his bones were lost, but the remains which were saved were reburied in Burgos Cathedral, where they still rest to this day.
It is clear that he was a courageous warrior and intelligent tactician. Before battle, Rodrigo often ordered that classical Roman works on military themes should be read aloud to him and his soldiers, both for entertainment and inspiration. He also utilised brainstorming sessions to discuss tactics and accepted or considered suggestions and ideas from his men. However, he was also ruthless at times and merciful at others. He often used unexpected strategies, utilising what modern tacticians would describe as ‘psychological warfare’ — terror tactics, surprise attacks and distractions for example. He is known to have executed a man by having him buried up to his armpits and then burned alive. In contrast, having captured one of his greatest enemies, Count García Ordóñez, he held him for three days and then let him go.
He probably gained his reputation as a great warrior because he was undefeated in battle (and he fought many, many battles over the years). Regarding one of them, the Historia Roderici tells us ‘… it happened that Rodrigo Diaz fought alone with fifteen enemy soldiers; seven of them were in mail; one of these he killed, two he wounded and unhorsed and the remainder he put to flight by his spirited courage.
To sum up, like Richard, Rodrigo is seen as the ultimate chivalric hero, almost a saint, by some (he was in fact proposed for canonisation by one of his descendants, Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza) and an unscrupulous, violent chancer, only out for his own ends, by others. Fortunately for Rodrigo, it is the heroic persona that has become the accepted legend, whereas for Richard it is the evil one. Doubtless, for both, the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.
El Cid by Stan Sheb via Creative Commons licence.
Babieca statue by CarlosVdeHabsburgo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
Colada by Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon 6. Auflage 1905 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Tizona image by Infinauta (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Chronicle in public domain.
Signature by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1050-1099) Created in vector format by P4K1T0 (File:Firma del Cid.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Tomb by Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.