© 1998 by Inés Cramer, all rights reserved.
The present work is going to analyze the manipulation of a female character
in the Crónica sarracina, by its author, Pedro del
Corral. Although this chronicle was written in 1433, the events it describes
ocurred in 711, right before, during, and after the invasion of the Iberian
Peninsula by the Moors. This invasion caused the destruction of the visigothic
kingdom of King Rodrigo.
Some critics believed that Corral intended to write a historical novel, but the word 'crónica' in the title of his work indicates that very likely he wanted to write a historical account. Therefore, it is very probable that Corral's intention was to create a historical account which would go beyond the dry, specific recollection of 'historical' data. It is also possible that this author believed that the addition of episodes of obvious folkloric or legendary origin, or even of episodes created by his own fertile imagination would not make his account less historical, but rather more entertaining.
Although Corral bases many of the characters he depicts in his chronicle on individuals that actually existed and who played a part in 'la perdida y destruccion de Espana: (Spain's loss and destruction), he manipulates their behavior to mold them into the role he wants each of them to play within the text.
King Rodrigo is one of the characters whose behavior is molded to play a specific role. Corral also utilizes the legend which atributed the 'loss of Spain' to the vengeance of 'el conde Julián' (Count Julian) against King Rodrigo, who had raped his daughter, la Cava. To avenge her rape, Count Julián facilitates the entrance of the Moors into Spain. This story seems to adapt the Spanish legend to a novelistic form common in Europe at that time. However, in this type of story it is usually the avenging husband, and not the father, who lets his rage destroy the offending king. Therefore, avenging the rape of a daughter is an innovation of the Spanish legend (Menéndez Pidal 26).
After Spain was lost to the Moors, a group of its Hispano-Visigothic inhabitants fled to the montainous north, to what today is the province of Asturias. It was in this region that around 718 the Reconquista started (G. de Valdeavellano 1, pt.1: 396), and from there it spread to the rest of the Peninsula. The invaders became known to the Christians as 'Moors', probably because they invaded Spain by way of Morocco (Abercombrie 88), although many of the men in the invading army were not from that North African region (Ubieto 77).
The role of Pelayo, the historical character credited with starting the Reconquista (year 718), has been exaggerated by legend, since apparently he was not as historically important as folklore has tried to depict him. Four years after the beginning of the Reconquista (in 722), the Christians, apparently, had their first victory against the Moslems. Some historians doubt the Christians' triumph at Covadonga, and some are not even sure that the encounter ever took place. Others believe that it was an unimportant one between two small antagonistic groups of Christians and Moslems. In any event, if the encounter really ocurred, its importance seems to be limited to the fact that it was the first time in ten years that the Christians were able to defeat the Moors (Ubieto 81). However, folklore and legend have idealized both that victory and the role played by Pelayo in the first triumph against the Moors, attributing it to the supernatural help given by God to the Christian forces which he led. According to legend, when the Christians were cornered by the Moslems on Mount Aseuva, they took refuge in a cave in the slope of that mountain. After cornering the Christians in the cave, the Moslems started shooting arrows at them. However, God showed the Christians His favor by making the arrows change direction mid-flight, hitting the Moors who had originally shot them. The cave passed on to history with the name of Covadonga and became the symbol of the Christian resistance againsts the Moors.
It is significant that the Crónica mozárabe (year 754), the Christian source closest in time to the actual events, does not record this supernatural event (G. de Valdeavellano 1: pt. 1, 396), which suggests that this legendary episode originated at a later time. However, many later Christian chronicles mention this episode, relating it as a historical fact. One of these is the Primera crónica general de España, written in the thirteenth century by order of Alfonso X the Wise (1221-1284) (1: 318; 2: 322-4), which comments not only on the episode in which the arrows shot by the Moors changed direction and hit them, but also about the fleeing Moors climbing to the summit of a mountain in Liébana. The mountain gave way, killing many of them and throwing the surviving ones into the Deva river, where they drowned. The Primera crónica compares this episode with the one in the Old Testament in which the Red Sea parted for the Israelites and then swallowed the persuing Egyptians (2: 323).
Pedro del Corral, eager to include elements that would add interest to his chronicle, could not fail to see the messianic implication in the account of the Primera crónica general. Therefore, he included it in the Crónica sarracina, emphasizing the messianic character of Pelayo's task.
However, to present Pelayo as the savior of his people, and to establish the messianic character of his task within the text, Corral considered it necessary to fabricate an implicit parallel between him and Moses, from the very moment of Pelayo's birth.
Pelayo's mother, therefore, appears in the text for the specific purpose of fulfilling the literary need of the author to establish a messianic birth for the hero of the Reconquista. The importance given by Corral to Pelayo's parentage becomes evident by the fifty- two chapters he devotes to the narration of his parents' clandestine courtship. Even though they carried on their courtship secretely, the behavior of Pelayo's mother had to be beyond reproach, since the birth of the Messiah that would eventually lead the Spanish people to salvation, both temporal (expelling the invading Moors from the Spanish territories) and eternal (reestablishing the Catholic faith in Spain) could not be stained by his mother's inappropriate behavior.
Corral's manipulation of the literary image of Pelayo's mother within the Crónica sarracina, is made obvious by identifying this image with one of the elements of Aldo S. Bernardo's schematic depiction of the way medieval society viewed women. According to Bernardo, during the Middle Ages, literature identified a female character with either one of two opposing images, which he placed at the extremes of the binomial Ave-Eva. The first element of this binomial, Ave, associates women with the Virgin Mary, while the second one, Eva, associates them with Eve, the temptress of Adam, implying that women had the potential both to lead men to salvation, and to destroy them (Bernardo 65). The literary image of the mother of the Spanish Messiah had to be necessarily identified with the Ave element of Bernardo's binomial.
Practically nothing is said about either of Pelayo's parents in any of the chronicles Corral supposedly consulted, although there is a casual mention of Pelayo's father, Duke Fafila, in the Primera crónica general (1: pt. 2, 304). His wife is mentioned, but her name never appears in any text. The lack of documented data about Pelayo's parents seems to confirm that the episodes related to their courtship are the product of Corral's literary creativity. The Crónica sarracina describes Pelayo's father as a count, ("el conde Favila"), who was at King Abarca's court, not as a Duke, but as a knight of visigothic lineage ["no como Duque, sino como cauallero que venia del linage de los Godos" (2: Chap. LIII)].
There he fell in love with Luz, one of the Queen's ladies. Although they hid their love, they swore that they would get married some day. However, King Abarca also fell in love with Luz, and his desire for her grew to such an extent that he asked her to become his mistress, but she rejected him. Although he persisted, Luz systematically rejected each of his attempts. Luckily for her, the King never forced himself on her, since he did not want to possess her by force.
When Luz told Favila that the King was in love with her, the young man became extremely upset and 'did not know what to do'(trasnslated citation). At this, Luz told him not to worry, since she would never agree to be the King's mistress. Then she proposed for them to marry in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary that she kept in her chamber. In their first night together after the marriage, she became pregnant with Pelayo. The next day Favila had to leave for Cantabria. The text states that although Favila felt sad about leaving Luz, he was sure that she would not turn to anybody else, since she was not a virgin anymore.
After Favila left, the King kept asking Luz to become his mistress, but she never accepted him. However, her pregnancy started to show, so Luz decided to feign an illness in order to remain in her chamber. After two months of isolation in her chamber, she gave birth to a beautiful boy. She kept the boy for fifteen days, but when she learned that the King had become suspicious, Luz placed the newborn Pelayo in an ark. As she placed her baby in the ark, she prayed to God, asking Him to protect her newborn son and to make him the saviour of his lineage. At that moment a voice was heard saying : 'Your request is granted'. That same night, her maid, accompanied by another servant, put the ark in the river. As they watched it float away, they saw it become surrounded by an 'extreme clarity'.
Pelayo, like Moses, was found and saved. The mother's guilt for abandoning her newborn son is redeemed, within the text, by the many descriptions of her suffering when she wondered about the child's fate. After a series of events in which chance plays a significant part, the true identity of Pelayo is discovered and his parents, who finally claim him as their son, marry for a second time, completely ignoring the first wedding. Later this son, who leads his people against the Moors, becomes the hero of the Reconquista. However, what is important within the scope of this work is not Pelayo's role, but the way in which Pedro del Corral manipulates the literary character of his mother.
Whenever the text of the Crónica sarracina positively depicts a female character, this character displays the passive, traditional behavior that the patriarchal society of the Middle Ages expected from women. Within the text, women who display decisive forceful behavior lead men either to their physical destruction or to eternal damnation.
However, Pelayo's mother is the exception. In the episodes which lead to the birth of Pelayo, the role of his mother, Luz, is not passive in any way, but she is still presented in an obviously favorable light, since her active role responds to the author's need to depict Pelayo abandoned in a river like Moses, in order to establish an adequate parallel between both of them. This implies that Pelayo, like Moses, played a messianic role in shaping the destiny of his people. This messianic role is clearly indicated within the text by the voice heard when his mother was placing him as a newborn in the ark. Pelayo's messianic predestination is also stressed by the 'clarity' which surrounded the ark in which he had been placed, as it floated away on the river.
The author justifies the drastic measures that Luz took to hide the birth of her son by the absence of a man to defend her. Thus, Favila's behavior was not typical of that expected from a medieval knight when he sees his lady's honor threatened. On the contrary, the King's advances towards Luz upset him to such an extent that he becomes totally unable to actively support the woman he loves.
It is possible that at some point Corral modified the parallel between Pelayo and Moses, and transformed it into a parallel between Pelayo and Jesus. Assuming that this is the case, it is then possible to associate the passive role played by Pelayo's father with the totally inactive role assumed by Joseph in Jesus' conception in the New Testament. According to the New Testament's account, Mary was the only human who took part in Jesus' conception, while Joseph, from the biological point of view, did not intervene at all. Although within the context of the Crónica sarracina Favila does intervene biologically in Pelayo's conception, his intervention is very limited, since Luz becomes pregnant the very first time that she sleeps with her husband. The narration also implies that, after that first time, there was no more sexual contact between Pelayo's parents until many years later.
Since illegitimacy could not stain the birth of the future savior of the Spaniards, Luz's reaction to her predicament is also not typical, not being the passive type of behavior that the traditional and patriarchal medieval society would expect. Contrary to behavior expected fom women, Pelayo's mother takes the initiative and not only proposes to Favila, but also implies that they should consummate the marriage: 'after we get married you can do with me whatever you wish' ["despues que fueremos desposados en vos esta de fazer de mi a vuestra voluntad?" (2: Chap. LIII)]. The consummation of the marriage is necessary, since the author would have gone too far by creating an Immaculate Conception for the hero of the Reconquista.
The validity of the marriage of Pelayo's parents as described in Corral's text, however, is somewhat doubtful. The text implies this marriage was valid, even though the betrothed themselves were the only witnesses when it took place. It is true that this type of marriage existed and that its validity was accepted, according to the customs and the laws of the Church and of medieval society. The validity of these marriages was supported by the mutual consent of the parties involved. However, they were forbidden by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) because they created an enourmous amount of problems, since either party could easily deny that it had taken place, or could somehow take advantage of it (Alvarez-Hesse 68-9). The reason the validity of this marriage can be challenged, although within the text it took place at a time when this type of union was still valid, is because later Luz and Favila married again, this time in front of the King, and the first ceremony was totally ignored and was never mentioned again.
This is obviously a mistake on Corral's part, since the best way he could have assured Pelayo's legitimacy would have been by emphasizing the secret marriage that had taken place before the hero of the Reconquista was conceived. Although at the XIth Medieval-Renaissace Conference at Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia was called to the attention of the author of the present work that it was customary to make these secret marriages official at a letter date, the total lack of any mention to the secret marriage of Pelayo's parents in the text of the Crónica sarracina at the time they married for a second time is significant. The lack of any mention of the secret marriage may imply that Corral, the author of the Crónica sarracina, was not prepared to defend its absolute validity and therefore, chose to avoid mentioning it again.
However, once Pelayo's messianism was established, the active role played by his mother became not only unnecessary, but also undesirable for a woman whose behavior was supposed to be associated with the Ave element of Bernardo's binomial. Accordingly, after Pelayo's messianic role is well defined within the text, Favila, for the first time, becomes the champion of his lady. King Abarca arranges for a knight to accuse Luz of dishonest behavior (of losing her virginity), and the text states that because of this she is threatened with being burned at the stake. The knight, Melías, challenges any knight who wants to prove Luz's innocence to joust with him, and Favila takes the challenge and defeats him. However, King Abarca does not want Luz acquitted and therefore, he makes another knight, Brestes, accuse Luz. Favila again assumes the role of the honorable medieval knight who, in spite of all dangers, rescues his lady, and he also defeats Brestes.
The analysis just completed allows one to understand why Corral created the literary character of Pelayo's mother and how he manipulated her behavior within the text to shape it into the role of a Messiah's mother. The name Corral gave the mother of Pelayo, Luz, is significant. 'Luz' in Spanish means 'light', and thus, within the context of the Crónica sarracina it can be associated with the light of Christianity, the 'true faith', reestablished in the Iberian Peninsula after the darkness of a 'false religion', brought by the Moslem invasion.
Luz's behavior was also predetermined from the very beginning by the messianic role that, within the context of the Crónica sarracina, her son would play in shaping the destiny of the Spaniards. Luz assumed an active role when the author considered it a necessity for the logical unfolding of events, although it was not the one expected from a respectable lady within the patriarchal medieval society. However, once the author considered this behavior no longer necessary, the behavior of the literary character of Luz changed and it became the typical, passive one expected from a medieval woman.
Thus, it can be declared that the literary character of Luz was created and manipulated within the text of the Crónica sarracinato serve one of the purposes of its author, Pedro del Corral, namely to establish the messianic characteristics of Pelayo, the hero of the Reconquista.
University of Rutgers