Thursday, March 25, 2010

A beer for Amadis fans

Seriously, Legado de Yuste is a historic Spanish beer.

[Detail from Titian's 1548 portrait "Emperor Charles V on Horseback at Mühlberg" on special display right now at the Prado Museum.]


Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, also known as King Carlos I of Spain, (1500-1558) loved novels of chivalry, including Amadis de Gaula. He also loved beer.

After a long and event-filled reign, crippling gout and other health problems forced him to abdicate in 1556. He retired to Yuste Monastery in Extremadura, western Spain, to live his final years in seclusion and peace until he died from malaria on September 21, 1558 – or so the legend says.

In truth, he lived in splendid style, as his infirmities permitted, entertaining many visitors and keeping involved in the events in his realm, with an entourage more than 50 people. It included a staff of 20 to attend to meals and beverages, among them a master brewer from Flanders.

Cruzcampo Foundation and Heineken España S.A. have combined their expertise and resources to recreate the abbey-style beer brewed for the Emperor, the first of its type made in Spain. It's a premium-quality full-bodied amber beer that uses Vienna-style malt made from barley grown in Extremadura. I enjoy it as an accompaniment to fine literature.

In addition, Heineken has created a website of encyclopedic scope, In Spanish, it contains everything you might need to know about Charles V, the monastery, brewing, and regional tourism, such as the popular hiking trail that follows the Emperor's trip across the mountains to Yuste in 1556.

You can also get dozens of recipes from his kitchen, along with information about the Castle-Palace of the Count of Oropesa, where the Emperor stayed while his lodging was being prepared in the monastery; it's now a parador hotel, so you can stay there, too.

Legado de Yuste is only available in selected areas and stores in Spain, which makes it one more reason to visit.

If you can't get to Madrid before May 23, be sure to make a virtual visit to the exhibit at the Prado Museum called "The Art of Power. The Royal Armory and Court Portraiture." Among other treasures, you can see both the Titian portrait of Charles V and the armor portrayed in it, which was made by Desiderius Helmschmid. The exhibit was inaugurated by King Juan Carlos I, who does not wear armor, except perhaps Kevlar. The Prado has created a website, available in Spanish and English, that as usual is a work of art in itself:

You can also play at reconstructing a suit of armor – in Spanish, of course, as a way to learn the Spanish names for the pieces:

Due to Easter Week holidays, Chapter 30 will be posted on Thursday, April 1, rather than on Tuesday as usual. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chapter 29

How King Lisuarte held court, and what happened to him at it.

[Crown of Visigoth King Recesvinto (reigned 653 - 672 AD). It was made in the second half of the 7th century and discovered in 1858 as part of the "Treasure of Guarrazar" in a garden called Guarrazar in Gaudamur, a town near Toledo. The sapphires came from Sri Lanka. Photo by Manuel de Corselas.]


King Lisuarte was made very happy by the news that the dwarf had brought him about Amadis and Sir Galaor, and he decided to convene the most honorable court with the greatest number of knights and nobles ever held in Great Britain. He was only waiting for Amadis and Galaor to arrive.

One day Olivas appeared before the King to complain about the Duke of Bristol, who had treasonously killed his cousin. After conferring with those who knew the most about this, the King set a deadline of one month for the Duke to come and answer the charge, and if by chance he wished to bring two knights with him as part of his response, Olivas would have two on his side who would be fully equal in their estate and skill to maintain law and justice.

This done, the King ordered all his nobility to appear with him at court on the Feast of Saint Mary in September [September 8]. The Queen gave the same order to all the ladies and damsels of high estate.

Although everyone in palace was happily speaking of the things that had to be done for the court, they did not know nor imagine how at times like those, changeable fortune wished to inflict cruel injury through its guile, for as we all know, the plans of men notoriously do not come to pass with the certainty that they expect.

Thus it happened that an extraordinarily well-dressed damsel entered the palace, accompanied by a noble youth. She dismounted from her palfrey and asked who was the King. He answered:

"Damsel, I am."

"My lord," she said, "ye seem to be a king in body, but I do not know if ye are one at heart."

"Damsel," he said, "ye see my body now, and when ye test my heart, ye shall find out."

"My lord," the damsel said, "ye respond to my wish, and remember these words that ye said to me in front of so many good men, because I want to test the strength of your heart when it seems necessary to me. I have heard said that ye wish to hold court in London on the Feast of Saint Mary in September. I will to see there if ye are worthy to be lord of such a great reign and so many famous knights."

"Damsel," said the King, "my works shall show my power better than my words, and I shall be happier the more good men are present to see it."

"My lord," she said, "if the deeds are as the promises, I shall hold myself well content. May ye be commended to God."

"Go with God, damsel," the King said.

All the knights also bid her farewell. The damsel left.

The King remained talking with his knights, but I tell ye that there were many who were troubled by what the King had promised, fearing that the damsel wished to put him in danger, since the King would not hesitate to avoid disgrace, no matter how great the danger. And he was so well loved by all his subjects that they would prefer themselves to be put in peril and disgrace rather than see it happen to him, and they did not hold it wise for such a high prince to make a debt by giving his word to an unknown woman without more deliberation, thus obliging himself to comply without knowing what she would ask for.

After many things had been discussed, the Queen wished to return to her chambers, when three knights entered by the gate. Two were fully armed and the third unarmed. He was large and well built, and his hair was almost all grey, but he seemed energetic and handsome for his age, and he carried a small chest.

He asked who was the King, and they pointed him out. He dismounted from his palfrey and knelt in front of him with the chest in his hands, and he said:

"God save ye, my lord, as the prince who has made the best promise in the world, if ye keep it."

"And what promise is this, or why do ye say so?"

"They tell me," the knight said, "that ye wish to maintain knighthood at its greatest possible height and honor, and because so few princes try to do that, ye should be lauded much more than all others."

"Truly, knight," the King said, "I shall keep this promise for as long as I have life."

"May God let ye do so," the knight said, "and because I hear that ye wish to hold court in London with many good men in attendance, I bring here that which is fitting for such a man as yourself and such festivities."

Then, opening the coffer, he took from it a golden crown beautifully made with so many precious stones and pearls that all were amazed to see it, and it well seemed that it should be placed only on the head of a very great lord. The King gazed at it and desired it for himself.

The knight said:

"Know ye, my lord, that this work is such that none of those who these days know how to work in gold could reproduce it."

"May God help me," the King said, "I think it so."

"However rare its workmanship and beauty may be," the knight said, "it more valuable in another way: the king who wears it on his head will always see his honor maintained and increased. So it was for the king it was made for until the day of his death. Since then no other king has worn it on his head, and if ye, my lord, wish to have it, I shall give it to ye in exchange for protecting my head, which I am in danger of losing."

The Queen, who was at the King's side, said:

"Truly, my lord, it becomes ye to have a jewel like this, and give the knight whatever he asks for it."

"And ye, my lady," the knight said, "may wish to buy a very beautiful cloak that I have brought here."

Then he took a mantle from the chest, the finest and most well worked ever seen, for besides having precious stones and pearls, all the birds and animals of the world were depicted on it, so well-wrought that it was a wonder to behold.

The Queen said:

"May God help me, my friend, this garment seems to have been made by none other than the hand of the Lord, which can do all things."

"Truly, my lady," he said, "ye may well believe that without a doubt that this garment was made and designed by man, but it would be very hard to find someone who could make another like it." And he said: "I also tell ye that this cloak is more fit for a married woman than a maiden, for it has the virtue that from the day she has it under her roof, there shall be no strife between her and her husband."

"Certainly," she said, "if that is true, it cannot be bought for any price."

"Ye cannot see if it is true unless ye have the mantle," the knight said.

And the Queen, who loved the King dearly, felt a deep desire to have the cloak so that anger between them could be prevented. She said:

"Knight, I shall give ye whatever ye wish for that cloak."

And the King said:

"Knight, ask for the cloak and the crown whatever pleases ye."

"My lord," the knight said, "I must go now, with great sadness, called by he whose prisoner I am, and I have no time to stay nor to learn what these items are worth. But I shall be with you in the court in London, and in the meantime I shall leave the crown with you and the cloak with the Queen, with the agreement that ye shall give me what I ask for them or return them to me, having had time to try them on and test them, and I know than ye shall pay me more happily then than now."

The King said:

"Knight, know ye now that ye shall have what ye ask or the cloak and the crown."

The knight said:

"My lords knights and ladies, have ye heard well what the King and Queen have promised me, that they shall give me my crown and my cloak, or what I shall ask for them?"

"We all heard it," they answered.

Then the knight bade farewell and said:

"Be with God, and I shall go to the most vile prison that any man ever had."

One of the two armed knights had taken off his helmet while he waited, and he seemed very young and handsome, but the other did not wish to remove his and hung his head low. He looked so big and strong as to be a foot taller than any of the King's knights.

So all three left, leaving the cloak and the crown in the possession of the King.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why Amadis never heard of the Crusades

The book is rank fiction rather than a chronicle.

[Church of the True Cross in Segovia, said to have been founded by Templar Knights in the 13th century. Legend says that a Templar knight died at its doors and was devoured by crows and choughs before he could be buried, and ever since, these birds have been cursed and no longer perch there. Photo by Sue Burke, taken from the Alcazar.]


A reader asked if Amadis or any other characters in this book ever went on a Crusade. No, they didn't, and that's a good question. There are three reasons why they didn't:

1. The Crusades to conquer the Holy Land lasted from 1095 to 1272, and they were over by the time the first book of Amadis of Gaul was written, which was the early-to-mid 1300s. Amadis was also written in Spain, and the kingdoms of Spain hadn't participated in the Crusades. Crusaders came mostly from France, Germany, and Britain. It wasn't part of Spanish culture.

Instead, Iberia had its own crusade from 778 to 1492 to reconquer the peninsula from the Moors. We can hear distant echoes of this in Amadis: the Castilian landscape was (and still is) dotted with castles, and both Christian and Muslim knights obeyed strict codes of chivalry, which Crusaders in the Holy Lands sometimes ignored. Books like Amadis helped encourage proper behavior among Spanish knights.

On the way to the Holy Land, Crusaders did occasionally aid Iberian Christians. Sigurd I of Norway fought in Portugal and the Baleares Islands in 1109. The Second Crusade paused to help King Alfonso I of Portugal take Lisbon in 1147, and to help Count Raymond Bergenuer IV of Barcelona conquer the city of Tortosa in 1148.

After the Crusades, the Military Orders of the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitaler established themselves in Spain to fight in the Reconquest.

2. However, the Reconquest doesn't figure in Amadis, either, because the book is set long ago and far away (from Spain): that is, in the universe of King Arthur, well before his reign. The first book of Amadis takes place mostly in Great Britain "shortly after the Passion of Our Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ," that is, in the first or second century AD. (Of course, there were no knights and no king of Great Britain at the time, nor was Christianity the state religion. It never rains in that fictional Great Britain, either.)

3. Amadis has nothing do with reality and never did. Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo, who compiled the only extant version of the novel, mentions the feats of Godfrey of Bouillon, a leader of the First Crusade, in the Prologue, but then goes on to explain that his own work ranks among the "false histories about amazing things found outside of the natural order, and they ought to be considered tall tales rather than chronicles … rank fiction."

The characters in this tale are much too busy with their own intrigues involving the courtly love, the treachery of villains, and the affairs of royal families to go running off to join the Crusades, if they had existed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chapter 28

What happened to Balais, who went in search of the knight who set loose Sir Galaor's horse.

[The knight Godfrey of Bouillon, a leader of the First Crusade, depicted in a fresco painted in about 1420 by Giacomo Jaquerio in Castello della Manta, in Saluzzo, Italy.]


Balais of Carsante went after the knight who had set loose Sir Galaor's horse. The knight had gotten far ahead, and although Balais hurried to catch him, night fell and it grew very dark. He traveled until midnight, and then he heard shouting ahead of him on a riverbank. He went there and found five thieves who had a damsel they wanted to force themselves on. One of them was taking her by the hair to put her between some rocks. They were all armed with battleaxes and coats of mail.

When Balais saw them, he shouted:

"Villains, evildoers, traitors! What do ye wish with the damsel? Let her go. If not, ye are all dead!"

He came at them and they at him. He struck one with his lance in the chest, and the iron tip came out of his back. The lance broke, and the thief was dead. But the other four attacked him and immediately made his horse fall dead among them. He got off it as fast as he could, as one who was a brave and skilled knight.

He put his hand on his sword, and the thieves came at him and attacked on all sides where they best could. He struck the one who was closest on top of his head. His sword sunk to the back of his neck, and Balais threw him dead on the ground. He left his sword hang from its chain, quickly took the axe that the villain had dropped, and went at the others.

When they saw what great blows he could give, they fled toward a bog with a narrow entrance, but first he struck one with the axe on the back and cut flesh and bones to his loins. He ran past him toward the two who were in the bog, where there was a large fire. The thieves hurried behind it and turned toward Balais, for they had nowhere else to go. Balais raised his shield and came at them, and the thieves struck great blows on top of his helmet and made him fall onto one hand on the ground. But he jumped up, as one who has great courage, and gave one of the thieves such a wound with the axe that half his head was cut off. Balais threw his body into the fire.

The other thief, when he saw himself alone, let the axe fall from his hands, knelt before him, and said:

"Oh, my lord, by God, mercy! Do not kill me, for I have so long taken part in this evil work that with the loss of my body, I would lose my soul to hell."

"I shall let thee go," Balais said, "for if thy discretion is sufficient to see that thou art lost with such a life, thou shalt turn it around and that way thou wilt be saved."

Thus the thief did, and after that he was a holy man with a blessed life, and he became a hermit.

That done, Balais left the bog and went where the damsel waited, who was very happy to see him safe, and thanked him greatly for what he had done for her to save her from the evil men who had wished to abuse her. He asked her how she had been taken by them.

"They waited in a mountain pass above this forest," she said. "There they killed my two squires who were with me, and they brought me here to hold me prisoner and do their will."

Balais saw that the damsel was very beautiful, and he felt greatly taken by her and said:

"Truly, my lady, if they held ye prisoner as your beauty holds me, ye would never have escaped."

"My lord knight," she said, "if I had lost my chastity by force the way the thieves meant to take it, I would have no guilt, but if I were to give it to you freely, how could I be excused? What ye have done so far ye did as a proper knight, and I beg you that your force of arms be accompanied by the courtesy and virtue that ye are obliged to practice."

"My good lady," he said, "do not take the words I said to you seriously, for knights wish to serve and appreciate damsels and want them as ladies and lovers, but damsels must avoid error as ye wish to do. No matter how much at first we hope to obtain what we want from them, even more we value and esteem them when they protect themselves with discretion and goodness, resisting our low appetites, and maintaining that which, if it were lost, they would have nothing praiseworthy left."

The damsel bowed to kiss his hands, and said:

"To so much more I owe the rescue of my honor than of my life as ye have done, for so much greater is the difference between one and the other."

"Well, now," Balais said, "what do ye order me to do?"

"Let us get away from these dead men before daylight comes," she said.

"How shall we do this?" he said. "They have killed my horse."

"We shall go on my palfrey," she said.

Then Balais mounted and set the damsel behind him on the horse, and they rode until they found a field within the flight of an arrow from a road, and there they rested, speaking of various things. Balais told why he was chasing the knight, and when morning came, he armed himself and mounted the palfrey, and they went to the road, but there was no trace of anyone having passed on it. He said to the damsel:

"My dear, what shall I do with you, since I can in no way cease my search?"

"My lord," she said, "let us go on this road until we find some place, and I shall stay there while ye go on with the palfrey."

Continuing on, as ye hear, soon they saw a knight coming toward them who rode with his leg on the neck of his horse. When they neared, he put it in its stirrup, spurred his horse, and charged at them. He struck his lance on Balais's shield and knocked both him and the damsel to the ground, then he said to her:

"My dear, I am sorry that ye fell, and I ought to take you somewhere to make amends, for this man is not fit to carry you off."

Balais got up quickly and saw that he was the knight whom he sought. He raised up his shield, took his sword in his hand, and said:

"Lowly knight, ye are lucky that I lost my horse, and may God help me, I shall make you pay for the villainy ye did last night."

"What!" said the knight. "Are ye one of the ones who laughed at me? Truly, I shall turn your jest back on you."

He charged at Balais with his lance pointed straight ahead, and it passed through his shield. Balais cut the lance close to its hilt. The knight put his hand on his sword and dealt Balais a blow on the top of his helmet that made the blade sink fully two fingers deep into it. Balais leaned toward him, grabbed his shield, and pulled on it so hard that the saddle twisted and the knight fell in front of him. Balais bent down, cut the laces on his helmet, and struck him on the face and the head with the pommel of his sword so hard that the knight was left stunned.

When Balais saw that the knight could no longer defend himself, he took his sword and struck it on a rock until he had broken it to pieces, then put his in its scabbard. He took the knight's horse, put the damsel on her palfrey, and went on his way toward the tree at the crossroads. On the way, they found the house of two women who had taken holy vows, where within their poverty they found something to give them to eat. They blessed Balais many times for killing the thieves, who had done great evil in those lands.

Thus they continued their travels until they came to the tree at the crossroads, where they found Amadis, who had just arrived, and they did not wait long before they saw Galaor coming. When all three were together, they felt great pleasure to have concluded their adventures with such honor, and they agreed to spend the night in a nearby castle of a very honorable knight who was the father of the damsel whom Balais had brought there.

Thus they did, and at their arrival, they were very well received and served with everything they needed. The next day, after hearing Mass, they armed themselves, mounted their horses, left the damsel with her father, and took the most direct road to Windsor. Balais tried to gave the horse to Sir Galaor, as he had promised, but Galaor did not wish to take it because Balais's had been lost in the effort, and because Galaor had won another one himself.