| Famous Men of the Middle Ages|
|by John H. Haaren|
|Attractive biographical sketches of thirty-five of the most prominent characters in the history of the Middle Ages, from the barbarian invasions to the invention of the printing press. Each story is told in a clear, simple manner, and is well calculated to awaken and stimulate the youthful imagination. Ages 9-14 |
 LATE one sunny afternoon one and twenty knights were riding along
the highway in the northern part of Spain. As they were passing a
deep mire they heard cries for help, and turning, saw a poor leper
who was sinking in the mud. One of the knights, a handsome young
man, was touched by the cries. He dismounted, rescued the poor
fellow, took him upon his own horse, and thus the two rode to the
inn. The other knights wondered at this.
When they reached the inn where they were to stop for the night,
they wondered still more, for their companion gave the leper a
seat next to himself at the table. After supper the knight shared
his own bed with the leper. If the knight had not done this, the
leper would have been driven out of the town, with nothing to eat
and no place in which to sleep. At midnight, while the young man
was fast asleep, the leper breathed upon his back. This awakened
the knight, who turned quickly in his bed and found that the leper
The knight called for a light and searched, but in
 vain. While he
was wondering about what had happened, a man in shining garments
appeared before him and said, "Rodrigo, art thou asleep or awake?"
The knight answered, "I am awake, but who art thou that bringest
such brightness?" The vision replied, "I am St. Lazarus, the leper
to whom thou wast so kind. Because I have breathed upon thee
thou shalt accomplish whatever thou shalt undertake in peace or in
battle. All shall honor thee. Therefore, go on and evermore do
With that the vision vanished.
The promise of St. Lazarus was fulfilled. In time young Rodrigo
became the great hero of Spain. The Spaniards called him
Campeador, or Champion. The Saracens called him "The Cid,"
or Lord. His real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, but he is usually
spoken of as "The Cid."
The Goths, after the death of Alaric, had taken Spain away from the
Romans. The Saracens, or, as they were usually called, the Moors,
had crossed the sea from Africa and in turn had taken Spain from
the Goths. In the time of Charles Martel the Goths had lost all
Spain except the small mountain district in the northern part. In
the time of the Cid the Goths, now called Spaniards, had driven the
Moors down to about the middle of Spain. War went on all the time
between the two races, and
 many men spent their lives in fighting.
The Spanish part of the country then comprised the kingdoms of
Castile, Leon, Aragon and others.
The Cid was a subject of Fernando of Castile. Fernando had a
dispute with the king of Aragon about a city which each claimed.
They agreed to decide the matter by a combat. Each was to choose
a champion. The champions were to fight, and the king whose champion
won was to have the city. Fernando chose the Cid, and though the
other champion was called the bravest knight in Spain, the youthful
warrior vanquished him.
When Alfonzo, a son of Fernando, succeeded to the throne, he
became angry with the Cid without just cause and banished him from
The Cid was in need of some money, so he filled two chests with
sand and sent word to two wealthy
 money lenders that he wished to
borrow six hundred Spanish marks (about $2,000), and
would put into their hands his treasures of silver and gold which
were packed in two chests, but the money lenders must solemnly swear
not to open the chests until a full year had passed. To this they
gladly agreed. They took the chests and loaned him six hundred
The Cid was now ready for his journey. Three hundred of his
knights went into banishment with him. They crossed the mountains
and entered the land of the Moors. Soon they reached the town of
Alcocer, and after a siege captured it and lived in it.
Then the Moorish king of Valencia ordered two chiefs to take three
thousand horsemen, recapture the town and bring the Cid alive to
So the Cid and his men were shut up in Alcocer and besieged. Famine
threatened them and they determined to cut their way through the
army of the Moors. Suddenly and swiftly they poured from the gate
of Alcocer, and a terrible battle was fought. The two Moorish
chiefs were taken prisoners and thirteen hundred of their men were
killed in the battle. The Cid then became a vassal of the Moorish
king of Saragossa.
After a while Alfonzo recalled the Cid from banishment and gave him
seven castles and the
 lands adjoining them. He needed the Cid's
help in the greatest of all his plans against the Moors. He was
determined to capture Toledo. He attacked it with a large army
in which there were soldiers from many foreign lands. The Cid is
said to have been the commander. After a long siege the city fell
and the victorious army marched across the great bridge built by the
Moors, which you would cross to-day if you went to Toledo.
THE GATE OF THE SUN AT TOLEDO
Valencia was one of the largest and richest cities in Moorish Spain.
It was strongly fortified, but the Cid determined to attack it.
The plain about the city was irrigated by streams that came down
from the neighboring hills. To prevent the Cid's army from coming
near the city the Saracens flooded the plain. But the Cid camped
on high ground above the plain and from that point besieged the
city. Food became very scarce in Valencia. Wheat, barley and
cheese were all so dear that none but the rich could buy them.
People ate horses, dogs, cats and mice, until in the whole city
only three horses and a mule were left alive.
Then on the fifteenth of June, 1094, the governor went to the camp
of the Cid and delivered to him the keys of the city. The Cid
placed his men in all the forts and took the citadel as his own
dwell-  ing.
His banner floated from the towers. He called himself
the Prince of Valencia.
BRIDGE AT TOLEDO
When the king of Morocco heard of this he raised an army of fifty
thousand men. They crossed from Africa to Spain and laid siege to
Valencia. But the Cid with his men made a sudden sally and routed
them and pursued them for miles. It is said that fifteen thousand
soldiers were drowned in the river Guadalquivir which they tried to cross.
The Cid was now at the height of his power and lived in great
magnificence. One of the first things he did was to repay the two
friends who had lent
 him the six hundred marks. He was kind and
just to the Saracens who had become his subjects. They were allowed
to have their mosques and to worship God as they thought right.
In time the Cid's health began to fail. He could lead his men forth
to battle no more. He sent an army against the Moors, but it was
so completely routed that few of his men came back to tell the tale.
It is said by a Moorish writer that "when the runaways reached him
the Cid died of rage" (1099).
There is a legend that shortly before he died he saw a vision
of St. Peter, who told him that he should gain a victory over the
Saracens after his death.
So the Cid gave orders that his body should be embalmed. It was
so well preserved that it seemed alive. It was clothed in a coat
of mail, and the sword that had won so many battles was placed in
the hand. Then it was mounted upon the Cid's favorite horse and
fastened to the saddle, and at midnight was borne out of the gate
of Valencia with a guard of a thousand knights.
All silently they marched to a spot where the Moorish king, with
thirty-six chieftains, lay encamped, and at daylight the knights
of the Cid made a sudden attack. The king awoke. It seemed to him
that there were coming against him
 full seventy thousand knights,
all dressed in robes as white as snow, and before them rode a knight,
taller than all the rest, holding in his left hand a snow-white
banner and in the other a sword which seemed of fire. So afraid
were the Moorish chief and his men that they fled to the sea, and
twenty thousand of them were drowned as they tried to reach their
There is a Latin inscription near the tomb of the Cid which may
Brave and unconquered, famous in triumphs of war,
Enclosed in this tomb lies Roderick the Great of Bivar.
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