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Ideological Fictions of the Nation: The Legend of King Pelayo in the Middle Ages

David Arbesu-Fernandez, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The story of king Pelayo is one of the first legends of the Iberian Peninsula after the Moorish invasion of 711. It is clearly a necessary response to this invasion, and also an attempt to legitimize the newly established monarchy of the Kingdom of Asturias. In its effort to restore the "glories" of the now extinct Gothic kingdom, these monarchs needed a miracle and a foundational hero as the backbone of their national historiography. Furthermore, from its early conception until the present day, the legend of Pelayo has never been cast into shadows, and even though it has seldom been a popular story, it has always served as vehicle to the prevailing ideology of its time. In other words, the story of Pelayo was never an innocent one. It has always been subordinated to a very specific ideology and to society's attempts to legitimize itself. This dissertation examines the ties between the historiographic fictions of Spain and the concept of nation-building. My research attempts to analyze the story as it is, a literary fiction that can be traced back to other, older stories and, in short, to prove that this story has been the backbone of Spain's national identity—at least one of them—ever since its first recorded manifestation in the 9th century. The main thesis of this dissertation is not so much the analysis of the origin of this legend—as this is easily found in the Albeldense and Alphonsine chronicles—but, rather, its debt to other "fictions" and its development throughout the Spanish Middle Ages. The different rewritings of the legend during these centuries are an exceptional witness as to what was the prevailing ideology of each different time period, so that, accordingly, every reworking of the legend must be checked against the religious, political and sociological culture that produced it. What is being analysed here is not merely the development of a literary hero, but rather the foundational fiction in which a country's ideological grounds are based.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Romance literature

Recommended Citation

Arbesu-Fernandez, David, "Ideological Fictions of the Nation: The Legend of King Pelayo in the Middle Ages" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325278.