The Quest for El Cid

by Richard Fletcher

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Quest for El Cid is a 1989 historical and biographical novel written by Robert Fletcher. It tells the story of Rodrigo Diaz, the legendary knight of eleventh-century Castile, known as El Cid, who fought in the crusades and managed to liberate Spain from the Moors. The goal Fletcher had when writing this book was to separate the myth about El Cid from the reality, and present the real portrait of the popular Spanish hero.

Fletcher writes about Rodrigo’s life and focuses on the historical accuracy, thus presenting a character that is different from the popular myths, legends, and poems written in his honor. Instead of showcasing him as the Christian warrior he was usually portrayed as, Fletcher describes Diaz as a mercenary who fought both for the Christians and the Muslims, until he became an independent ruler or “cid” of Valencia. In fact, his nickname “El Cid” has an Arabic origin and comes from the word “sayyid” which means “master.”

Even though he was celebrated in countless literary works while he was alive, El Cid was truly glorified after his death in 1099. Fletcher tried to describe him more as an honorable warlord, instead of a national hero who liberated his homeland, as Spain was hardly unified as a nation in the eleventh century. Essentially, Fletcher focused on Rodrigo’s life and career, and mainly reconstructed them based on historical fact, instead of fiction and mythology, thus creating one of the realest and most honest portrayals of El Cid known in literature.

He explained his sources and their credibility, and aside from showcasing Rodrigo’s life and career, he also managed to accurately describe the times in which El Cid lived in, and the condition Medieval Spain and the Christian and Muslim principalities were in, during and after the occupation from the Moors. Basically, Fletcher “debunked” the legendary El Cid and showed who he was more likely to have been as a person, with both good and bad personality traits.

The Quest of El Cid received many positive reviews and even won several literary awards, including the 1990 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History.

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