El Cid Analysis

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Historical Context

(Epics for Students)

Spain and Feudalism
The shape of Spanish society, as opposed to the situation in France, was not strictly or formally organized by feudal ties that linked a lord to a vassal who, in return for protection, provided military services. Although the social structure in Catalonia (the northeastern corner of Spain) was influenced by France, the northwest was original. The fine gradations of northern feudal society in Spain, become a more or less direct relationship between a man and his king. As the Cantar de mio Cid shows, the sign of the lord-vassal relationship is the kissing of hands. The reason for this less-stratified shape of society has to do with the Reconquest of Moorish Spain and with the resettlement of the lands taken from the Moors. Peasants occupied these frontier lands, often taking up arms to defend their new territory, militia-style. The king, on the other hand, retained his power as warlord, as the organizer of these campaigns against the Moors. The kings of the Spanish provinces ruled effectively over their comparatively small kingdoms, thus remaining in touch with their subjects. Northern feudal society is characterized by two factors: the vassal-knight's monopoly of military duty, and the dominance of the various ties of vasselage—the dependance and reliance of one man on another—over other forms of government. Spanish society, organized to combat a numerous and formidable enemy, rather than to maintain interior peace, took on a different shape. In the Cid, written down in the early thirteenth century, the emergence of the state as a larger organizing force can be charted in the evolution of the portrayal of King Alfonso who, once he pardons the Cid, acts as an arbiter between warring clans. The people who made up Spanish society then included the Christians, who organized themselves in "households" (made up of criados), and who were classified as ricos hombres or wealthy men; infanzones , also called caballeros (the Cid is an infanzon); and knights. There were two types of peasants: the serfs, or solariegos, were tied to the land and were not free to move, whereas the behetrías were freemen, and sometimes moved to the borderlands to become "peasant knights."

Late Twelfth-Century Politics and the 1207 Cid
One of the most important recent studies of the cultural context within which the Cantar de mio Cid was written is María Lacarra's 1980 study on history and ideology in this epic. She considers the poem a frankly propagandistic work that functions as a denunciation of an important Leonese family whose ancestors were hostile toward the Cid. The historical background of the tension between the powerful Beni-Gómez family and the historical Cid seems to uphold this theory. During the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a power struggle developed between the provinces of Castile and Leon. The historical Cid was involved in one phase of these developments. The Cid was the head of the armies of King Sancho II of Castile, but upon Sancho's death, his brother, Alfonso VI, became king of Castile and Leon. Alfonso cultivated relations with the obviously talented Cid, marrying his cousin Ximena to the Cid and verifying his land holdings in Vivar. Alfonso sent the Cid to collect tribute from the Moorish king of Seville in 1079. While in Seville, the Cid confronted García Ordóñez, who was attacking Seville in the company of the king of Granada. The tension between the Cid and García Ordóñez is charted in the epic, and is expanded to reflect the clan feud that marked Castillian politics of the late twelfth century.

When the young Alfonso VIII of Castile ascended the throne in 1158, as often happens when a child becomes king, a struggle ensued for control over his education and for control over the government. The Lara clan, staunch supporters of Alfonso VIII, were soon embroiled in a feud with the powerful Castro family, whose interests were not served by Alfonso VIII's lifelong program to unite Castile and Leon against the...

(The entire section is 3,934 words.)