The story of the reconquest is a classic case of history being written by the winning side and has become a highly romanticised version of early medieval Spanish history. El Cid wasn’t the only Spanish hero of the ‘Reconquista’ as many other warriors were fighting for the ambitious northern Kingdoms as they moved south in search of new lands and acquisitions. Another hero of the crusade against the Moorish invaders was the Castilian nobleman Alvar Fáñez de Minaya who fought for King Alfonso VI of Castile-Leon and has been popularised by his appearance in the ‘Cantar de Mio Cid’ in which he is described as a friend and cousin of El Cid. In the picture above El Cid stands over a vanquished opponent while Álvar Fáñez appears supportively behind him mounted on his horse.
In the epic poem, Alvaro Fáñez is mentioned about thirty times as the lieutenant and military advisor of the Cid and the one who was most trusted in difficult circumstances and in the face of adversity. Unfortunately although the poem was written around 1140, relatively shortly after the events, the anonymous minstrel who wrote it was not especially concerned with historical accuracy.
Álvar Fáñez appears in the poem as a sort of alter ego of the Cid, who accompanies him in his campaigns of reconquest and in exile, with the crucial role in romantic literature to express their feelings in the more intimate moments. The poem is full of historical inaccuracies and historians have been able to demonstrate that although it places Alvaro Fáñez as the inseparable companion of El Cid he was actually most of the time elsewhere in the Peninsula fighting completely different campaigns.
The trouble with historians of course is that they can spoil a good yarn and the Spainish Professor Gonzalo Martinez Diaz, in his work ‘El Cid Historic’ goes further still, asserting that he never at any time belonged to the armies of the Cid at all, may not even have met him, and acted completely independently in the campaigns of Alfonso VI. This of course is consistent with what we now know to be the truth about the reconquest of Spain, that it wasn’t a great cordinated patriotic crusade but rather the consequence of the expansionist ambitions of the northern Kings.
In his early career Álvar Fáñez fought as a mercenary knight for King Sancho II of Castile, not against the Moors in the south but instead against the rival northern kingdoms of Galicia and Leon in the north. Once Castile had established supremacy over its rivals and the throne had passed to Alfonso then campaigning turned its attention to acquiring more land in the south and Alvaro Fáñez led succesful campains around Guadalajara in Castile, Cuenca and Murcia and later in and around Toledo. He died in battle in 1114 (fifteen years after El Cid) not fighting the Moors but defending Alfonso’s daughter, Queen Urraca, against a rebellion and uprising against her in Segovia. He is commemorated by a warrior statue in the city of Burgos in Castilla y Leon and there is a hotel Alvaro Fáñez in the city of Ubeda in Andalusia.
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