Roderick's Great Tournament
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A haze of legends blurs for us the figure of Roderick of the Chronicle. On one side we hear of him as ascending the throne an octogenarian, on another as the impassioned lover of the beautiful Florinda, the brilliant president of a brilliant court; carried to battle in a litter, and riding thither on a legendary steed, fulgent and valiant; disappearing from the field and disgracefully hiding in a monastery; fighting like a hero and falling in the fray.
But the tale of the great tournament with which he started his disastrous reign, must be told at length as one of the most resplendent pages of courtly history. Whatever may have been the end of his reign, he certainly began it in the most sumptuous spirit of hospitality and generosity yet recorded. Was ever such a tournament given before'? Princes and lords and their followers came in swarms from all parts of Europe to high Toledo, upon her seven steep hills. Hearken only to the names, and say if they do not make a page in themselves as delightful as any of Froissart's. The lords of Gascony, Elmet de Bragas, with a hundred cavaliers; Guillaume de Comenge, with a hundred and twenty; the Duke of Viana, with four hundred cavaliers; the Count of the Marches, with a hundred and fifty; the Duke of Orleans, with three hundred cavaliers; and four other Dukes of France, with four hundred. Then came thc King of Poland, with a luxurious train, and six hundred gentlemen of Lombardy; two marquises, four captains, with twelve hundred cavaliers. Rome sent three governors and five captains, with fifteen hundred cavaliers. The Emperor of Constantinople, his brother, three counts, and three hundred cavaliers came, as well as an English prince, with great lords, and fifteen hundred cavaliers. From Turkey, Syria, and other parts, nobles and princes to the number of five thousand came, without counting their followers and servitors, and different parts of Spain alone furnished an influx of fifty thousand cavaliers. What a poor affair our modern exhibitions and sights, even the Queen's Jubilee, seem after reading of such a brilliant and stupendous gathering of guests at King Roderick's court of Toledo.
He was, as I have said, a King to visit, with nothing of Spanish inhospitality about him. He ordered all the citizens to sleep without the city walls in the ten thousand tents he had fixt in the wide Vega, and give up their houses to his foreign guests. Be sure he paid them for the sacrifice in princely style, for out of Eastern fable never was such a prince as Don Rodrigo, the last of the Goths. All the expenses of the foreigners, including their mounts and armor, were his, for they were not permitted to use their own lances, swords, armor or horses. Never were guests entertained with such prodigious splendor. He ordered palaces to be built for them, and laid injunctions on builders, furnishers and purveyors to spare neither expense nor luxury.
The whole Peninsula was scoured in search of armorers and iron-workers, and over fifteen hundred master armorers with their apprentices and underhands were hastily gathered together in Toledo in more than a thousand improvised iron-shops, working for six busy months at shields and lances and exquisitely wrought damascene armor for every lord and knight, the guest of their king. Each guest on arriving received, as well as house and board, his horse, full armor, shield and lance. The tourney opened on a Sunday, and presented such a scene as imagination alone can depict. We are not told the precise spot, but we may sup-pose the quaint three-cornered, the ever irresistible Zocodover. Rasis el More records each guest's formal reply when asked if he desired to fight: "For this we have come from our lands; firstly, to serve and honor these feasts; secondly, to see how they are carried out; thirdly, to prove your body, your strength, and learn what you are worth in arms."
Hearing of these great feasts, the Duchess of Lorraine, persecuted by her brother-in-law, Lembrot, came to Toledo to implore Rodrigo's protection. Rodrigo received her with cordiality, and lodged her in the royal palace, and as official de-fender charged Sacarus with her cause. Lembrot was called to Toledo to meet the Duchess's knight, and came with a great train. He, too, was generously entertained, and pending the clash of steel which was to decide the quarrel between Lembrot and the Duchess, the Queen gave a sarao, which was even a more brilliant and gorgeous spectacle than the tourney. Fifty ladies danced with fifty of the greatest lords, and never was such a constellation of European titles joined in a single diversion. The ladies' names are not recorded, but there were in the first dance the King of Poland, the French prince, the Emperor of Constantinople, the son of the King of England, the Spanish infante, the Duke of Viana, the Duke of Orleans, the Count of the Marshes, The Marquis of Lombardy, and Count William of Saxony.
This enchanting moment preceded bloodshed, for on the next day the two uncles of Lembrot were killed by Sacarus, thus proclaiming the innocence of the Duchess 'to whom Lorraine was then restored, and, along with other fallen knights, lay the King of Africa. The dead were buried with great pomp at the expense of their splendid host, and thus ended a tournament surely without equal as a spectacle in history. The chronicle of Don Rodrigo devotes nearly a hundred pages to this picturesque event.