El Cid

Famous people, History

El Cid

El Cid, as the Moors called him, is one of the best known Military Leaders of the Middle Ages. In an age in which warfare was almost a daily pastime he forged himself a place in popular folklore and is remembered as a great leader: of both sides!

El Cid

El Cid, as he is most popularly called, was born as Roderico Diaz de Vivarin 1043. Born into a Noble family, it was clear from an early age that he was destined for a future under arms. As a child of a noble, albeit a minor one, he was sent to court of King Ferdinand to be raised. Here he served under Prince Sancho and rose to hold the rank of Royal Standard Bearer of Castile when Sancho acceded to the throne in 1062.

Roderico’s early military career began aged just 15. Here he participated in the siege of Moor held Zaragoza. He is believed to have fought well and the Moorish leader, al-Muqtadir, became a vassal and follower of Sancho as a result of the Castilian victory. As a result of this allegiance, Roderico fought alongside Moorish troops against the Aragonese at the Siege of Cinca. It was at this siege that, according to legend, he earns the title by which the Spanish remember him:El Campeador. He gained this title for killing an Aragonese noble during the battle.

As King, Sancho had a policy of expansion. His forces, now often being commanded at least in part by Roderico, conquered both Spanish and Moorish held towns and cities in order to grow their empire. This included victories that brought the towns of Zamora and Badajoz under Castilian control.

Sancho’s policies brought with it dangers though. In 1072 these dangers cost him his life. He was assassinated and quickly replaced as King by Alfonso. It is at this point that the Legend of El Cid starts to emerge. Alfonso and his sister Ursula are widely believed to have been behind the plot to assassinate Sancho. The motive, afterall, is obvious for all to see. Legend has it that Roderico led a group of nobles and forced Alfonso to swear on holy relics that he was not responsible. This would clearly place Roderico at the head of a powerful faction, if true. However, despite that tale being very widely reported and accepted as the truth in many blogs and sites about El Cid, the contemporary accounts don’t actually back the story up, so it may or may not have happened.

El Cid’s fortunes wavered in 1079. He was sent to collect tribute from the Moors of Seville. Whilst there there was an attack by troops from Granada. El Cid and his men joined the Moors in repulsing the Spanish attackers. Indeed, he went further and turned it into a rout, following them deep into Granada. This stunning victory was how he wavered. His foray into Granada anager King Alfonso. It created political problems for the court and El Cid was now viewed with growing suspicion. So much so that in May, 1080, he was sent into exile.

Upon being exiled he sought service in Barcelona, where he was turned away. He then went to Zaragoza. Here he was received with a warmer welcome by the Moors.

Zaragoza and the surrounding areas was at the time split into two regions. The two clashed regularly as both sides attempted to force a reunion on their terms. It was at this point that the Moors officially conferred the title of El Cid, or ‘The Master’ onto Roderico.

El Cid led a successful campaign to repel the Spanish forces attacking Zaragoza. He even captured Ramon of Barcelona and held him captive for a period. Fierce fighting ravaged the region in the period 1081-85.

1086 saw events that have created the lasting legend of El Cid emerge. Southern Spain was invaded by the Berbers from North Africa. spanish Moors and Spaniards alike were routed. Astonished by the ease at which the Berbers were crushing forces, king Alfonso called for el Cid to return from exile.

This provided opportunities for El Cid. He had designs on becoming a feudal lord in his on right: challenging the Counts of Barcelona in order to cease Valencia as his own, for example. By the end of 1093 he was undisputed ruler of Valencia and its surroundings, having fought both Spanish and Moorish troops to fulfil his ambitions. In scenes made famous by the film in his name, he survived sieges and fought off all who sought to prevent him taking charge of the area.

Interested in Visiting Valencia and seeing the places where El Cid fought? Click here to go to a Valencia Travel Guide.

Valencia Castle

El Cid actually didn’t die fighting. His last five years were relatively peaceful by his standards and he died in 1099. It is widely believed that he died of famine and the consequences of years of fighting: in particular the hardships of enduring a long siege.

The film shows his body being sent into combat. Though the film adds a little Hollywood gloss to events, it isn’t far from the truth. When Valencia was attacked, and eventually taken, in 1102 by Masaldi and his forces. Fearful of what would happen to her husbands body, his wife led her retinue out of Valencia, his body on a horse, and they managed to get to safety in Burgos, Castile. From this emerged the legend that he had been strapped into a saddle and, in death, led his men for one last time. As with all legends, there is no concrete evidence to suggest it did really happen like that – but it does make for a nice dramatic ending to a movie!

El Cid’s body now lay in rest in Burgos Cathedral.

El Cid's Tomb


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