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The Discovery of the Past
Alfonso the Wise & the Estoria de España

From Manuscript Culture to the Digital Screen

Which are the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of the Estoria de España? How many manuscripts and versions of the text remain? What editions of the text have been published? What is the new digital edition of the Estoria? Explore the most complex manuscript tradition of medieval Spanish literature.

The manuscripts of the scriptorium

The scriptorium begun by the Wise King composed manuscripts of the highest codicological, artistic and textual quality. The best translators, copyists and illuminators of their day collaborated in Alfonso's project. Approximately 10 manuscripts produced by the royal scriptorium are preserved today; two of which are codices of the Estoria de España. These are manuscripts Y-I-2 y X-I-4 of the Library of the Monastery San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

The first of these (known to specialists as E1) contains the first recension of the chronicle from its start to the end of the reign of King Roderick and the "fall of Spain" at the time of the Muslim invasion in 711. Although several scribes took part in the composition of the text, it is a beautifully homogenous manuscript, copied in two columns in a perfect gothic script. The programme of illumination of the manuscript was very ambitious, although it was left unfinished: today E1 contains six miniatures in its first seven folios and there are spaces left for further miniatures throughout the volume, but these were never completed. The manuscript is also notable for its decorated initial letters opening each chapter

In the middle of the 14th century the final two gatherings of E1 were taken from the manuscript and added as the opening to the second of the royal codices of the Estoria: the Escorial composite manuscript X-I-4, better known as E2. Put together during the reign of Alfonso XI (between 1321 and 1344), and perhaps by his Chancellor Fernán Sánchez de Valladolid, E2 is made up of materials composed at different times: beginning with the aforementioned gatherings from E1, it is completed with a manuscript composed in 1289, during the reign of Alfonso's son Sancho IV, and other brief texts which were copied in the fourteenth century to fill in gaps left by these two. The subject matter of the manuscript runs from the sixth year of King Pelayo (the first true year of his reign as king) to the reign of Alfonso X's father Fernando III.

The 14th century reorganization (1): Noah's Ark

Miniature of Noah's Ark. Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, ms. Y-I-2 (f. 3r).
When in the middle of the 14th century the final two gatherings of the original manuscript of the Estoria de España (E1) to put together the second manuscript (E2) to complete the chronicle, the person responsible put a note at the end of E1 and another at the beginning of E2, to indicate the relationship between the two. There are two versions of the note in E2, both in the first column of folio 2 recto. The first of these is reproduced below in The 14th century reorganization (2): Linking notes. The second note is slightly different to the first, most notably in the formula with which it describes E1, that is: "the book if the Estoria in which is painted Noah's Ark". This is the miniature from E1 that drew the attention of the scribe and allowed him to identify the book which, from that point onwards, became the first of the two volumes of the chronicle.

The 14th century reorganization (2): Linking notes

The following are the notes placed in the manuscripts by the scribe who split the royal copy of the Estoria in two manuscripts.
And you can find the reign of this king Pelayo and the other kings in Leon at the beginning of the chronicle of Castile (ms. E1, f. 197r).

In the book of the Estoria which begins with how Moses made the book of Genesis and with the generations who came to inhabit Spain, it is told how the Goths came to Spain and conquered it and kept it in their power until they lost it at the time of King Roderick. And because after this the Moors had Spain for five years without any opposition, Estoria will recount the beginnings of King Pelayo, who was the first king of Leon, and who was surrounded by the Moors in the cave of Onga, which is in Asturias of Oviedo, and for whom God performed a great miracle in that place, as will be recounted in this history among the things that happened in his time. And furthermore, how he reigned, and all of the other kings of Leon will be recounted by the Estoria each one in its place (ms. E2, f. 2r).

A torrent of ink

The first scholars and historians who examined the manuscripts of the Estoria de España found significant differences amongst the manuscripts. Thus, the 16th century historian Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in his Quinquagenas affirmed that "in all of the manuscripts of the so-called General Historia to be found across Spain, at least as far as I am aware, there not two identical and in many places they differ greatly". This proliferation of different texts would lead the author of the first true attempt to apply the methods of textual criticism to the Estoria, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, to compare this textual confusion to the selva selvaggia as described by Dante in the opening verses of the Inferno.

There are currently in existence around 40 manuscripts which contain sections of the Estoria of varying length. If to these we add those texts which employed the Estoria as a source, the number rises to about 100. These witnesses range from the 13th to the 18th centuries; an indication of the value and respect accorded to Alfonso's chronicle over 500 years.

The manuscripts are generally contained in the most important Spanish archives (such as the Biblioteca Nacional, the Monasterio de El Escorial or the Universitaria de Salamanca), although some also can be found abroad (such as the Royal Library in Stockholm or the University of Minnesota). And of course, the possibility of the discovery of new witnesses which will alter our understanding of the textual tradition of the work, cannot be ruled out.

Iconographic tradition

King Pelayo. Biblioteca Nacional de España, ms. 1487 (fol. I).
The interest provoked by the Estoria de España amongst scholars and historians is confirmed by the number of post-medieval manuscripts, as these continued to be copied after the publication of the first print edition by Florián de Ocampo in 1541. Indeed, we still possess many copies of the Estoria from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. One of these, manuscript 1487 of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, is a late copy of the manuscript E2 (Escorial X-I-4), thereby demonstrating the continued prestige of the royal manuscript. In a bifolio added at the beginning there is a large illustration of King Pelayo in ink and watercolour and surrounded by a decorative border. The Alfonsine miniatures seem to have produced an ongoing iconographic tradition in the Estoria de España.

Don Juan Manuel, first scholar of the Estoria

We can consider don Juan Manuel to be the first scholar of the Estoria de España. Indeed, barely 50 years after the composition of the work, the king's nephew made a summary of the chronicle in a chronicle today known as the Cronica abreviada. Despite his close family ties to Alfonso, don Juan Manuel appears not to have had available the genuine text of the Estoria (although he himself believed he had), but rather a post-Alfonsine re-write; something which gives us an idea of the early popularity of the chronicle. In the prologue to his version, don Juan Manuel explained the reasons that led him to carry this out. He appears already to appreciate the textual complexity of the Estoria, and the necessity of comparing different versions:

And he did this because he thought it not wise to begin so complete a work as that of his uncle; rather he took from this complete text a minor version. And he did this for himself, so that he could read it […]. But if anyone should read this text of his and not find it complete, look in the place in the chronicle where he [Juan Manuel] found the text and there he will find the full text […].

A world in the margins

Texts transmitted through manuscript copies in the Middle Ages are living breathing things; they are texts which have not yet been subject to the kind of fixing which would be imposed by the printing process. Amongst other forms of scribal intervention (some of which were involuntary, such as copy errors) scribal notes left for us in the margins are the most interesting. The unusually high number of manuscript witnesses of the Estoria means that we have a large number of marginal notes (or marginalia), which can range from significant textual additions to erudite commentary or even marks made to draw attention to particular passages often in the form of crosses or pointing hands, known as manicules.

The lover and the one eyed man

Anonymous quintains in the bottom margin. Biblioteca Nacional de España, ms. 5795 (f. 150v).
Two of the most curious scribal interventions in the Estoria can be found in manuscripts T and Q. Manuscript T, probably copied in the second half of the 14th century, and currently in the Biblioteca de Menéndez Pelayo in Santander (Ms. M-550), has a very striking peculiarity: a later hand (probably from the end of the 15th or early 16th century) has systematically erased all of the occurrences of the word tuerto in the text (there are 33 of these). The word, then as now, it meant "one-eyed" but also "bad" "offence" "evil", and these are the words which the scribe has used to replace all of the occurrences of "tuerto" that he has erased. Why would a scribe have done this? Perhaps in sensitivity over the use of a word which indicated a physical defect from which he suffered? We can but speculate.

Rather different an intervention can be seen on the bottom margin of folio 150v in manuscript Q (5795 in the Biblioteca Nacional de España) in which a 15th century scribe has copied three quintains (poetic verses) on an amorous theme (reproduced below in Quintains of wounded love). Although not of great poetic quality, the verses, unknown in any other work, are a fine representation of the nature of manuscript culture and its multiple annotators and copyists.

Quintains of wounded love

Following are the three quintains in question. A number of the line ends have had to be tentatively reconstructed due to the later guillotining of the folios that took some letters with it. The tone is anguished due to the absence of the lover; a similar tone seems to pervade a subsequent marginal note by what appears to be the same hand on folio 83v.

I am vanquished by a lady,
the most beautiful ever born;
for her my soul dies
and afflicted is my heart.
Woe is me!

Her beauty won me over,
in this mirror in which I see myself,
I was vanquished by sadness
so I damn my fate
when I see myself in it.

And my passion is such
that no man with a soul
had ever suffered so,
and suffering breaks
my heart. Woe is me!

The three redactions

The comparison of all of the manuscripts of the Estoria de España in the second half of the 20th century led the great philologist Diego Catalán to the conclusion that there was not one single authorised version of Alfonso's greatest chronicle. In fact, specialists have been able to identify three different redactions or versions of the Estoria which, although all based on the same materials prepared in the Alfonsine scriptorium were composed at different historical moments and respond to different ideological imperatives.

The Versión primitiva is the first redaction of the work and it was composed between 1270 and 1274, although there is no agreement amongst scholars as to how far the Alfonsine text of this redaction reached -opinions varying anywhere between the reigns of Fernando I and Alfonso VIII. The composition of this redaction corresponds to moments in which Alfonso still retained the hope of being proclaimed Emperor. A subsequent minor re-write, dubbed the Versión enmendada después de 1274 by Catalán as it contains some references to that year, although again, some scholars have cast doubt on the existence of a separate version from this year.

The second redaction is called the Versión crítica, and it was composed in the last two years of Alfonso's reign (1282-1284) when the rebellion of the nobility and his son and successor Sancho saw him confined to Seville. Our evidence for this redaction covers only the history of the Goths to the death of Fernando II of Leon. It is considered "crítica" because it undertakes a substantial revision of both form and content -it is more pro-monarchical for instance- of the original text. These two redactions are independent re-tellings of the materials compiled at Alfonso's court.

The Versión amplificada or sanchina was composed around 1289, under the direction of Sancho IV and consists in an amplification of the versión primitiva with a marked reduction in the neo-Gothic tone of Alfonso's text and an increase in the prominence of the nobility ad bishops. There are also signs that this redaction was the product of the cathedral of Toledo, rather than the royal court. We now only have the text of this redaction from the reign of Ramiro I onwards, as it is preserved for us in the Escorial manuscript E2).

Manuscript discovered in Salamanca

Folio of ms. Ss (left column) which confirms the dating of the Versión crítica. Biblioteca de la Fundación Caja Duero, ms. 40, f. 66v.

From the very beginnings of the scientific study of the Estoria Ramón Menéndez Pidal postulated the existence of a "versión crítica" of the text (which he called Abreviación), due to a range of similarities between manuscripts which did not fit in with the other versions, however, no complete manuscript of the versión crítica had been discovered. Then, in 1983, the unexpected appearance of a number of additional manuscripts of the chronicle in the archives of what was then known as the Caja de Ahorros de Salamanca confirmed Menéndez Pidal's theories. Manuscript Ss (ms. 40 of Fundación Caja Duero) did indeed contain the redaction in question and it confirmed that this version was indeed composed in the final agonic years of Alfonso's reign.

Key passages

In order to define and date the redactions known as Crítica and Amplificada there are two especially revealing interpolations in manuscripts Ss and E2, which are representatives of the two redactions in question. The first occurs when the Estoria attributes the fall of Spain to divine anger caused by the sins of the Goths, in particular multiple regicides. To the list of these which appears in the Versión primitiva the Versión crítica adds the treachery of prince García against Alfonso III, the murder of Sancho II in the siege of Zamora and, above all, the rebellion of prince Sancho against his father, the very same Alfonso X and the consequences of which were very much relevant at the moment of composition of the Versión crítica in 1282. The second passage can be found in the composite manuscript E2, in one of the passages composed in the reign of Sancho IV; while narrating how "king Ramiro defeated the Normans" the chronicler adds a comment on the successive "invasions" of foregners suffered by Spain. These additions (which are designed to show an unbroken line between the Goths and the "natural people", that is Spaniards of today) conclude with a reference to the year 1289.

Prince García took the kingdom by force from his father Alfonso el Great. Velit Adólfez killed king Sancho by treachery when he was his vassal. Alfonso, son of king Fernando, was deprived of his kingdom by his son prince Sancho. All of the kingdom rose against him with Sancho to imprison the king and exile him, but God, Seville and king Abenjufal of the Banu Marin helped Alfonso, as we will recount in its proper place. But now the history ceases to speak of this and returns to the story of Tarif and Count Julian (ms. Ss, f. 66v).

All of the peoples of the world dared to come and besiege, invade and rule Spain, and they did all that they wished to there; but in the end all of them ended badly until all of htis concluded with the Goths. And so the land returned to its natural people who won it back from the Moors, shedding much of their blood and losing many men of high and low birth; and they won back the land from those enemies of the Cross from the sea of Snatander to the sea of Cadiz, apart from a small section which they still have. And this is in the reign of the very noble and high don Sancho IV, in the era of CCC and XXVII years [=1289 A.D.] (ms. E2, f. 26v).

The general chronicles

Due to the efforts of Ramón Menéndez Pidal at the end of the nineteenth century, we know today that from a very early stage Alfonso X's Estoria de España quickly diversified into a range of re-writings which brought with it the beginnings of a new literary subgenre, the general chronicle, whose form and content were often far from the underpinnings of Alfonso's texts.

Amongst these, the most outstanding is the Crónica de 1344, which is iteself preserved in two versions. The first was composed in Portuguese, using a Galician original as a source, and was written thanks to the initiative of Count Pedro de Barcelos (1287-1354), illegitimate son of king Dinis of Portugal; the only copy preserved today is a Castilian translation. The second version comes from the pen of an anonymous Portuguese compiler from the beginnig of the 15th century; we still have manuscripts in Portuguese and Castilian of this version.

Also of great value is the Crónica de Castilla (composed between 1295 and 1312), which is an account of the reigns from the origins of the kingdom of Castile and its first king, Fernando I onwards. Of particular interest are the additions of various ptherwise-unknown epic tales and a vision of history favourable to the nobility and hostile to the Crown.

Two further re-writings of the Estoria gave Florián de Ocampo material to edit the complete Estoria in print for the first time in the form of his 1541 text Crónica de España. The first of these, a mid fourteenth-century copy which ran from the legendary beginnigs to the Asturian/Leonese kings, is known as the Crónica general vulgata; an interpolated version of this chronicle is of especial importance for the history of epic. The second source for Ocampo, (known as the Crónica ocampiana) contains the history of the kings of Castile, from the reign of Fernando I to the death of Fernando III.

To all of these different re-writings (such as the Crónica carolingia, the Crónica de veinte reyes or the Estoria del fecho de los godos), we know of others which have subsequently been lost, such as the Crónica manuelina, the text used by don Juan Manuel for his Crónica abreviada between 1320 and 1325.

Translation and retranslation

Opening of the Galician translation of the Crónica de Castilla in manuscript A. Biblioteca Nacional de España, ms. 8817 (f. 91).

Alongside the forest of new chronicles written using the Alfonsine materials, we also have evidence for a range of translations and other texts which built on the tradition established by the Estoria de España. This was especially true in the west of the Peninsula, as can be seen in the fourteenth-century Galician translations of the Versión amplificada and the Crónica de Castilla. Both already existed at that time as a composite text called the Crónica xeral galega, to which were added fragments of the Liber regum and the Crónica particular de san Fernando. There was a new translation of the Versión amplificada de la Estoria de España into Galician at the beginning of the fifteenth century, itself translated back into Castilian shortly afterwards. The Crónica xeral galega would provide source materials for other chronicles such as the aforementioned Portuguese Crónica de 1344 and the Crónica de 1404.

The fictionalisation of History

The Crónica carolingia (previously known as the Cróncia fragmentaria), written some time towards the end of the reign of Juan I (1388-1390) is a fine example of how the Alfonsine materials underwent a process of fictionalisation. This chronicle is notable for having added into the chapters of the Estoria on the early Asturian/Leonese kings a series of legendary materials relating to the emperor Charlemagne. Examples include the Castilian versions of Berthe au grands pieds and Floris and Blanchflour, as well as epic materials from the Cantar de Mainete. What follows is a fragment of the story of the grandparents of the French hero, the "greatly beloved" Floris and Blanchfleur. Floris, son of the Muslim king Fines de Almería, and Blanchfleur, daughter of the French prisoner Berthe, are two sould mates; born on the same day and raised together in the court of Almería, from the beginning they profess an unbreakable love for each other. In this passage, the story begins with an intimation of the future painful separtion of the two lovers:

And when king Fines learned that prince Floris his son was of an age when he could read, he ordered that a wise and learned master called Gaydon should be summoned. He gave the wise man greath wealth and entrusted Floris to him so that he would learn to read and learn. And as soon as the king ordered Floris to learn to read and took him away from Blanchfleur he was greatly saddened, for without her he could learn nothing. The queen, when she saw this, begged the king that the two should learn together. And the king, not realising the great love that there would be between them, accepted the queen's request and ordered that they shoul read together. And when prince Floris heard about this he was greatly pleased and from then on the two learned to read together with master Gaydon.

And as is told by Sigibert, a wise man who took this story of Floris and Blanchfleur from the Arabic, the two children had such fine minds that in six years they thoroughly learned logic and learned to speak both Latin and Arabic. And in Latin they wrote love poems in which they took great joy and for all of this they loved each other greatly, and also because they were born on the same day, and were raised togther and suckled from the same breast and eat, drank and slept in the same bed. And becuase they lived the same life they loved each other. And when they were eighteen years old they loved ecah other like man and wife (F. Bautista, La materia de Francia en la literatura medieval española, San Millán de la Cogolla: CiLengua, 2008, págs. 146-147).

The Estoria in print

The vast and intricate textual tradition of the Estoria ensured that there would be no definitive print edition for many years.

The first noteworthy event in the printed history of the Alfonsine materials was the Crónica del famoso cavallero Cid Ruy Díez Campeador (known to specialists as the Crónica particular del Cid), which is none other than a version of the Crónica de Castilla, a fictionalised and fragmentary version of the Estoria de España (Display case 4 – object 5). There were three editions during the 16th century: Burgos, 1512; Medina del Campo, 1552; and agin Burgos, 1593.

The first full edition was that of Florián de Ocampo in 1541 under the title Las cuatro partes enteras de la crónica de España que mandó componer el serenísimo rey don Alonso llamado el Sabio. Donde se contienen los acontecimientos y hazañas mayores y más señaladas que sucedieron en España desde su primera población hasta casi los tiempos del dicho señor rey (Zamora, 1541; reprinted in Valladolid in 1604). Although it is not an Alfonsine Estoria de España (it is based on later rewrites such as the Crónica general vulgata and Crónica ocampiana), it transmits much of the material composed in Alfonso's scriptorium.

Subsequently, there were multiple failed efforts to edit Alfonso's text, among them Tomás Tamayo de Vargas's commission from Philip IV (between 1625 and 1634), Juan Lucas Cortés's commission by order of Carlos II (around 1683), Francisco Cerdá y Rico's efforts on the time of Carlos IV (1798), and that of Pascual de Gayangos, Pedro José Pidal and José Caveda around 1863. The Biblioteca de Autores Españoles of Rivadeneyra also pustulatedthe publication of the work, but this was abandoned in 1875.

It was only at the beginning of the 20th century, and thanks to the work of Ramón Menéndez Pidal, that the first truly critical edition of the Estoria de España, in the form of two volumes bearing the title Primera Crónica General que mandó componer Alfonso el Sabio y se continúa bajo Sancho IV en 1289 (Madrid, 1906); these were expanded and re-issued in and 1977). But what truly is this edition? Despite the view of Menéndez Pidal, today we know that the text he edited (corresponding to the manuscripts E1 and E2) is a mixture of the Versión primitiva (to king Pelayo) and the Versión amplificada (with later interpolations), and the pater addition of the Crónica particular de san Fernando.

The detailed work of Diego Catalán (1962, 1992, 1997) revealed that there is not one Estoria de España, but rather three different versions, none of them ever completed and only partially preserved to this day. Recent printed editions have concentrated on the publication of thes versions; thus the recent editions of the Versión crítica by Inés Fernández-Ordóñez (from Pelayo to Ordoño II; Madrid: Fundación Ramón Menéndez Pidal, 1993) and Mariano de la Campa (from Fruela II to the death of Fernando II; Málaga: Universidad, 2009), or that of the Versión amplificada between the reigns of Pelayo y Alfonso II by Francisco Bautista (Londres: Queen Mary, 2006). Despite all of this, there remain many unpublished sections of the three verisons of the Estoria de España.

¿Primera Crónica General or Estoria de España?

Title page of the first edition of the Primera Crónica General, published by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in 1906.

From the moment that Menéndez Pidal gave the title Primera Crónica General to this edition of the Estoria de España, this has been the name by which the chronicle has been most commonly known. Although the tag of "general chronicle" is a medieval one, it does not appear in any of the earliest manuscripts of the Estoria. It was only the keen eye of Diego Catalán in his analysis of the manuscripts E1 and E2 (display case 4 – object 1) that demomstrated the value of the correct title of Estoria de España. Nonetheless, decades after the clarity provided by his grandson Catalán, the great authority of Menéndez Pidal means that many analyses of our text still refer to it by the incorrect title of Primera crónica general.

The digital edition of the Estoria de España

A few short years before the 750th anniversary of the beginning of Alfonso's historiographical project in 1270, a digital edition of the Estoria de España has been launched. This edition, led by Dr. Aengus ward of the University of Birmingham, includes the transcription of the principal witnesses of the Estoria, the presentation of a provisional edition of the Versión primitiva and the visualisation of some of the manuscripts. It also provides a range of tools which facilitate access to the text and its context -onomastic indices, interactive maps and search engines.

Biography of an idea

In the spring of 1988, Dr. Aengus Ward of the University of Birmingham (UK) was invited to take part in a conference on the theme of History and New Technologies. Dr. Ward's presentation centered on the theory and practice of the critical editing of texts, and in particular on the future of digital editing. THis was the beginnings of the project which would eventually become the digital edition of the Estoria de España. Over ten years later the idea would take concrete form: the activities of the Institue for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) at the Universidad de Birmingham and the arrival of digital editing specialists Peter Robinson and Bárbara Bordalejo to work on their edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales provided the impetus to begin the planned digital edition. After a lengthy process of presentation to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC); el Estoria de Espanna Digital Project (in the form of its full title of An electronic research environment and edition of the Estoria de Espanna of Alfonso X, King of Castile and León) was awarded on 13th July 2012 a total budget of £557,000 over 4 years for the construction of a digital edition of the Estoria. In the final year, the project was also awarded a further £99,600 for the development of Impact activities related to the project. The current exhibition is the fruit of that award.

The digital edition can be found at the following link:

Sounds of Another Time

Audiovisual presentation

This video clip contains an audiovisual presentation of the edition by Dr Ward and some of the collaborators on the Estoria Digital project.

Alfonso's Workshop


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