By Aengus Ward
Edad Media. Revista de Historia, No.12 (2011)
Abstract: Many recent critical studies of the reign of the last of the Visigothic kings have concentrated on the extent to which medieval and early modern representations of the period depict the reign of Rodrigo as a parable of sexual misconduct. A return to late medieval narrative accounts of the events surrounding the invasions of 711 suggests that most medieval chroniclers saw the fall of Visigothic Spain in a different light. The present article examines chronistic narratives of the period and points to the necessity of considering a full range of contextual information when analysing the discourse of medieval chronicles.
Introduction: Of all the kings of medieval Iberia a number stand out for the interest that they have generated in the historical and literary culture of the Peninsula. In the Visigothic period, two are especially notable. Wamba is recalled at great length in many medieval chronicles and appears in several subsequent cultural manifestations, most notably in Lope’s eponymous drama. If the reign of Wamba is recalled as a positive moment of the Iberian past, the opposite can only be said of that of Rodrigo, the last of the Visigoths.
The reason for this is, of course, relatively straightforward. After all, the sudden and cataclysmic collapse of Visigothic Iberia must have required some explanation in later histories of place and people and all the more so since, from the perspective of later centuries, it was configured to lead to an ongoing religious, cultural and ethno-dynastic struggle for domination in the Peninsula. If 711 is the hinge on which later narratives of decline and fall pivot, it is hardly surprising that the figure of the reigning king would attract the attention of later writers and composers, and especially given the mysterious disappearance of the king at the moment of defeat. And so it proves: of all the Visigothic kings, none appears in a greater number of historical and literary accounts than the last of them; the lost king whose reign and defeat is constantly re-imagined as a parable of corruption, both personal and general, betrayal and sexual misconduct.