Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional | Annotated Tale

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King Vamba

DURING the time that the Goths governed Spain, there was once an interregnum. The stock of the last dynasty was extinct, and every one who could collect a few supporters set himself up to rule over the rest, so that there were several calling themselves kings at once, and fighting with each other for the mastery. Of course this led to the greatest confusion, for there was no one to keep order.

               At last, as they found they could not agree among themselves, they sent to Rome to ask the Pope to decide for them. So the Pope went into his oratory, and prayed God to tell him which of all the candidates should be King of Spain. But when he came out again to the envoys, he told them that none of the pretenders were worthy to wear the crown; that he who was to be King of Spain would be found ploughing his land with a grey and white ox, and a priest walking by his side; that he would be found somewhere in Andalusia, and that his name would be Vamba.

               The envoys came back to Spain in no very cheerful mood; for they said, "How shall we find this man?" And then they searched Andalusia over, and could find no one whose name was Vamba. Just as they were going to give up the search in despair, as they were passing through a bank planted with canes they heard a woman with a basket on her shoulder call out, "Come and dine, Vamba! You seem to forget it is twelve o'clock!"

               When the envoys heard that, they turned round again, and saw a man ploughing in a field with a grey and white ox. So they went back, and threw themselves on their knees before him, and spoke in this manner,

               "Give us your hands to kiss, your majesty!"

               But Vamba, full of astonishment, and at a loss to understand them, thought they must want to kill him; and exclaimed, trembling, "Spare my life, Señores! Why do you seek to take it?"

               But they answered, "We have no such thought, Vamba. Far from it. The Pope who now reigns in Rome told us that you were to be our king; and our king you must therefore be."

               But Vamba, who could not believe they were serious, stuck the vara [1] he held in his hand for a goad, into the ground; and said, laughing, "When my vara shall take root, and bring forth flowers, then will I believe that I am King of Spain!"

               Then, behold! before he had finished speaking, the vara became covered with leaves, and from its branches sprang beautiful flowers.

               When Vamba saw that, he hesitated no longer; but called his wife Sancha, and his children, and went along with the envoys to Toledo, which was the capital of the kingdom of the Goths.

               The envoys sent messengers on before, to tell the Council of the kingdom that the king was coming. The Council rose in a body, and went out to meet him; and all the people followed behind, and the joy-bells were set ringing.

               Thus King Vamba made his entrance by the Gate of Cambron, the noblest gate adorning great Toledo; but when he saw the Alcaide of his palace bearing the sword before him according to custom, he begged, in his humility, that he would not bear a sword, but that his children might go before him to show that he loved peace and love, rather than war and strife; and so he went on into the city.

               And all the people looked out of their balconies, and cried,--

"Toledo and Spain for Vamba!     
And also for Queen Sancha!"

                But as the cry swept over the bosom of old father Tagus, the golden Tagus who reflects the glories of all Spain, he bore the cry along gladly and soft, but yet inverting the order,--

"All Spain hails thee first,     
And then her chief city Toledo!"

                Thus they conducted the good king to the palace, and there they led him to the bath; and then they trimmed his red melena [2], and arranged it so that it might not fall into his eyes; and they combed out the hair of his beard, but left it long and noble; and they put on him a royal robe with gold embroidery and an ermine collar, though he would have it sober in colour, and on his breast a blood-red cross.

               Queen Sancha, too, they arrayed in a robe of green velvet, with gold and jewels round the border, her beautiful golden hair unbound, falling loose over her shoulders and reaching down to her palfrey.

               The ladies went before, and strewed the ground with flowers, and filled the air with benedictions.

               And thus they went forth to the cathedral to be crowned. And all the people ran to their balconies as they passed along, and cried,--

 "Toledo and Spain for Vamba!     
And also for Queen Sancha!"

                But as the cry swept over the bosom of old father Tagus, the golden Tagus, who reflects the glories of all Spain, he bore the cry along, gladly and soft, but inverting the order,--

"All Spain hails thee first!     
And then her chief city Toledo!"

                Like King David, taken from the sheep-fold to be ruler of the people, Vamba made a very good king. His reign is spoken of in history as "the era of wisdom and justice." He had not, like later sovereigns of Spain, to fight the Saracen intruder on his own soil; but he did more, he crossed the sea to check his advancing power on the African coast, and returned towing two hundred and seventy vessels which his prowess had taken from the enemy. If equal determination had been shown in succeeding reigns, the Moslem had never obtained a footing on Christian soil.

               Nevertheless, though respected and beloved by his subjects, Vamba was destined not long to enjoy the peace he so ardently loved. The ambitious men who had been contending for the crown before his accession, continued unyielding and restless. Pretenders rose up in Navarre and the Asturias, and Ilderic, Count of Nimes, at the same time set up the standard of revolt in the Gaulish provinces. Vamba marched in person against Navarre, and sent Paulo his general to Nimes. But Paulo, instead of going to chastise the rebel, procured, on his own behalf, the assistance of Remismundo, Duke of Cantabria, and proclaimed himself king. Vamba, though he had been made king without his own seeking, determined that the sceptre entrusted to him should lose none of its authority by his remissness, and had no sooner restored peace within the kingdom, than he set out against the more distant insurgents, whom he soon reduced to obedience also. Paulo was taken prisoner at Narbonne, together with the bulk of his adherents; at the intercession of the Archbishop they were all pardoned, except Paulo himself, who was found hidden in a cave.

               When brought before him, Vamba said to him, "I conjure you now before God to tell me, have you any complaint against me, have I ever done any thing to justify your revolt?"

               "Since you ask me in God's Name," replied Paulo, "I cannot but speak the truth. And I must therefore say, that never have I received evil at your hands, but on the contrary signal favours. I was always highly honoured by you, and it was the devil who led me astray."

               Then the king forgave him the penalty of death, but he had his eyes put out, and took him captive to Toledo with a rope round his neck.

               You might think that Vamba would have had peace, now that he had subdued all his enemies, but it was not so; another noble, Erviga, rose up against him and usurped his authority. By this time Vamba was old and worn down with care. Sancha was dead, and his race seemed well-nigh run. Erviga, though unjust in seeking to take the crown by force, was a brave leader and had the qualities necessary for a good ruler, therefore the good Vamba, instead of spending the blood of his subjects in fighting for a position which he had so little strength left to maintain, settled the question by retiring into a monastery and recommending the people to accept the rule of Erviga.



[1] A long, thin, pointed stick.

[2] Melena is used to signify shaggy hair, when peasants or others leave it uncut and uncombed.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: King Vamba
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Book Title: Patrañas; or, Spanish Stories, Legendary and Traditional
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel
Publisher: Griffith and Farran
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1870
Country of Origin: Spain
Classification: unclassified

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