I have always been enthusiastic about Medieval History, but have to confess I know little about events in Medieval Spain other than the Moors and, of course Ferdinand & Isabella. Recently I had the opportunity to read Jessica Knauss' new novel, The Seven Noble Knights and found it to be an incredibly vibrant time in Spain's history. Below, Jessica talks about the novel and the events that it inspired it.
How the Seven Noble Knights Survived One Millennium … and Counting
A guest post by J. K. Knauss
The events that inspired Seven Noble Knights may have taken place in Spain in the late tenth century. The medieval sources of the tale draw on local geography and include several documented historical people. These include Count García and Almanzor, but also some people who don’t rank as high in government. In chancery documents, we find “Gundisalvus,” a Lord of Lara, and his wife, and “Flammula,” a fascinating name in any context.
Some scholars believe that the story isn’t based on true events, but on previous epic poetry brought from northern Europe with Christina of Norway and her courtiers in the thirteenth century, or via crusaders, who often spent long periods on the Iberian Peninsula before continuing East.
Whether the story is factual or not, the first people likely to pick up on the seven noble knights of Lara were the minstrels, who traveled singing the news in towns where people could pay for their services. The story would have circulated among such entertainers for years, gaining flourishes and a set meter and rhyme as memory aids, with each new singer. At this stage, the names cited in the chancery documents probably found their current forms: Gonzalo and Lambra.
The poem is considered lost because no direct written evidence of it remains. But the story continued its journey through scholarly efforts. The earliest recorded version appears as historical fact in the Estoria de Espanna, created during the reign of Alfonso X of Castile (1252–1284). This elegant version was expanded and romanticized in the Crónica de 1344. Early twentieth-century scholars were thrilled to find that both of these texts contained segments with epic meter and rhyme patterns. The medieval historians had relied heavily on an epic poem! It has since been partially reconstructed.
The seven noble knights must have been real crowd pleasers, because more evidence of their story turns up in the short poems known as romances in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, half a millennium after the events would have occurred. While the epic poem probably stayed under the control of the specialized minstrel community, romances are the poems of the people. These are the stories people would tell each other around the fireside—medieval folktales. Here, the story takes on a rich emotional impact, with monologues full of description and motive, love and rage.
In the hands of the wider population, the story also lent its legendary quality to old structures, weaving into people’s daily lives. Mudarra’s tomb in Burgos Cathedral, for example, was in fact the resting place of a twelfth-century noblewoman. A spot on the Burgos city wall has become known as the height from which Doña Lambra hurled herself, committing suicide. (She doesn’t do that in the Seven Noble Knights novel.) A church in Salas de los Infantes guards a casket with what are said to be the remains of the seven noble knights. The Salas town crest tells the Lara side of the story visually. Additionally, some fascinating spots in Córdoba would be spoilers if described here.
Across the world in the Philippines, a popular movie and comic book continued the story’s legacy in the twentieth century. The seven noble knights are also presented in a yearly pageant in their hometown of Salas.
Any way you tell it, Seven Noble Knights has stood the test of time. It’s a story worth enjoying again and again.
Spain, 974. Gonzalo, a brave but hotheaded knight, unwittingly provokes tragedy at his uncle’s wedding to beautiful young noblewoman Lambra: the adored cousin of the bride dead, his teeth scattered across the riverbank. Coveting his family’s wealth and power, Lambra sends Gonzalo’s father into enemy territory to be beheaded, unleashing a revenge that devastates Castile for a generation.
A new hero, Mudarra, rises out of the ashes of Gonzalo’s once great family. Raised as a warrior in the opulence of Muslim Córdoba, Mudarra must make a grueling journey and change his religion, then chooses to take his jeweled sword to the throats of his family’s betrayers. But only when he strays from the path set for him does he find his true purpose in life.
Inspired by a lost medieval epic poem, Seven Noble Knights draws from history and legend to bring a brutal yet beautiful world to life in a gripping story of family, betrayal, and love.
Born and raised in Northern California, J. K. Knauss has finally found her home in Spain. She worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in medieval Spanish literature at Brown University before entering the publishing world as an editor. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.
Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, will be re-published by Encircle Publications on December 11, 2020. Find out more at http://www.jessicaknauss.com.
Kristin Gleeson is a writer, artist and musician who lives in the west of Ireland in the Gaeltacht.
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