The Romantic Revival of Castilian Frontier Ballads in England: Its Precedents and Aftermath

The Romantic Revival of Castilian Frontier Ballads in England: Its Precedents and Aftermath

By María Soledad Carrasco Urgoiti

En la España Medieval, No.32 (2009)

Abstract: A review of English knowledge of Spanish literature regarding the Moriscos and Granada beginning in the sixteenth century and its evident revival in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. An analysis of the translations of certain books and the influence of authors like Pérez de Hita and the old frontier romances, and the culmination of these influences in authors like Walter Scott and Washington Irving.

Introduction: The impact and lasting influence of the ballad collection Reliques of Ancient English Poetry compiled by Bishop Thomas Percy (1729-1811) was one of the first signs of a new trend in creative writing and literary taste that would lead to the romantic move ment. Contrary to the Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic codes, which were first developed in romance literatures, the new revolution in literary concepts and practice that would prevail until the advent of realism originated in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic areas, and later took root both in the established and the emerging lit – eratures of Europe and of the American continent. Essential to the literary renewal was the fascination with past eras when heroic deeds occurred and were recorded in apparently artless chant and lore, giving rise to the anonymous ballads surviving in oral tradition.

One of the merits of Thomas Percy’s contribution was that, while concentrating in folk-lore close to his roots, he extended his search to anonymous medieval poetry belonging to the heritage of foreign lands. He collected, translated and discussed texts from several alien languages and expressed his preference for those stemming from the northern and southern borders of Europe: Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula. Norwegian ballads were the most distant in subject-matter to the poetic repertoire of his time and they offered insights into a hitherto unknown mythology, whereas the “reconquered” kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, as the Southern border line of Christian Europe, were frequently engaged in fighting the long established Moslem states of Al-Andalus, facing therefore adversaries of the same faith as those the crusaders had confronted.

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