The treacherous countess

García Fernández was the son and heir of Fernán González (the first Count of Castilla). He was a robust and very handsome young man who attracted attention for his beautiful and delicate hands. Such was his discretion that he even wore gloves when he was in the presence of women or his vassals.

The life of the Castilian suffered a change when a marriage of French nobles, who was doing a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, stopped a few days in the castle of Garcia. They were accompanied by their daughter, called Argentina, a young woman of great beauty. Our guest, seeing her, fell madly in love, and he asked for her in marriage and they got married quickly. After some time, a French nobleman, who was also making the pilgrimage to Compostela, requested lodging in the castle. As it turned out to be an acquaintance of his wife, he was welcomed. Since Count Garcia was at that time sick, he could not attend him with the usual hospitality and it was the Countess Argentina who took care of the guest. It must have done so well that both of them ran away together.

By the time the count heard about the betrayal, the lovers were out of Castile. Count Fernandez, very hurt, announced that he was going to go on a pilgrimage to redeem hypothetical sins that would have led to such an affront; but instead of going to Compostela (a place that had not exactly brought him luck) he decided to go in the opposite direction, towards the sanctuary of the Virgin of Rocamadour, in France.

He dressed according to the ritual -that is, poor- and he walk on foot, accompanied by a squire. On his way he passed through the village where the French seducer lived with his wife. He stopped at the inn, and there discreetly he asked about the couple of adulterers. Some villains told him that the happiness of their masters was clouded by their bad relationship with the daughter of the Lord. The young woman was called Dona Sancha and she had a very bad relationship with the unfaithful Argentina.

The next day, the beautiful Dona Sancha set out to perform her charitable deeds (which was the only activity outside the castle of every young single aristocrat). But the troubles that her stepmother Argentina had caused her had left her exhausted. So she gave up going personally and she sent her maid to the town to find her suitable beggars to help them at home. The maid came down from the castle and found herself at the door of the inn with Count Fernandez and her squire. She was struck by the beauty of the hands of the Castilian – an unequivocal sign of not working and a sign of distinction – and also, probably, the natural charms of the squire. So she approached them, inviting them to accompany her to the castle where Dona Sancha would help them with food and some money. The false Castilian pilgrims accepted immediately.

Once in the fortress, the maid took the “most elegant” poor man (Count Fernandez) to Dona Sancha; while she was taking care of the squire. After asking Sancha who he was and where he was going – questions to which Garcia responded by assuming the role of a poor pilgrim – the young woman decided to let off steam with him, asking him to pray for her when his pilgrimage ended. In this way the false pilgrim took charge of the situation of the tense family situation of his rival. For that reason Garcia decided to tell Sancha the truth, that he was not a pilgrim but the Count of Castile, and that the betrayal her stepmother Argentina did had urged him to go out on the roads to seek and revenge. Sancha found the story and intentions of García exciting and promising, so she offered herself for what he ordered. The count promised Sancha that if she helped him get revenge on Argentina, he would marry her and make her Countess of Castile. When Sancha accepted the proposal enthusiastically, Garcia made a formal marriage promise as soon as he killed Argentina and could legally marry. As they had understood each other so well and quickly, the fiances decided not to wait for the wedding to get to know each other more intimately, proceeding to consummate their wedding in advance. Sancha and the count spent most of the night together deepening their relationship; before dawn Sancha and her maid managed to get the count and his squire (who must have also contributed to the Franco-Spanish meeting) to leave the castle without anyone noticing.

Three nights later, Sancha managed to introduce Garcia into the castle, hiding him under the bed of his father and Argentina. Since the Frenchman was somewhat ill, Dona Sancha had given herself to sleep in the same room as the couple, in order to assist her father quickly. The Frenchman and Argentina were delighted with the change of attitude, accessing such an attentive offer. Sancha took advantage of a distraction from the adulterers to tie a rope to the foot of Garcia and thus be able to warn him of the most opportune time to leave. When the couple fell asleep, the young woman pulled the rope, the count came out from under the bed and killed the adulterers. Then he cut off their heads and left with both heads, and with Sancha, back to Castilla. In Burgos he met with his vassals, announced their marriage and explained how he had washed his honor. Shortly after, the Countess of Castile gave her husband a son: Sancho García. The boy was growing strong and ambitious, maybe too fast.

In the year 990 the young heir Sancho García took up arms against his father, Count García Fernández. The fight between both was fierce, circumstance that the Moors took advantage of to invade Castile. These destroyed Ávila, which had just been repopulated, continuing north, where they destroyed Clunia and San Esteban, burning the corn and killing countless Christians.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the count and his son put their duty before their family rivalry, deciding to confront the Muslims. Christians and Moors met in Piedrasalada, where García Fernández was wounded and captured by his enemies, dying in Medinaceli. His faithful vassals rescued his corpse and took him to bury him in San Pedro de Cardeña. The capture of the Count was facilitated by the strange behavior of his horse during the battle. It turns out that Countess Sancha had grown tired of Garcia, and since she already knew her expeditious way of resolving conjugal differences, she decided to be the one to eliminate her husband. That is why she managed to replace the barley with bran in the manger of her husband’s horse; thus, when the horse was thrown into battle, he found himself indisposed and his knight found himself in the circumstances already described. So Sancho Garcia inherited the county of Castilla and Sancha became a widowed countess.

But the story does not end here, it turns out that she really wanted to be a queen, and given the available options, it was best to become a mora queen. For which she also needed to liquidate his son, in order to be the only owner of the county and to be able to contribute to the marriage as a dowry to the Caliph of Cordoba. That is why she decided to poison his son with a potion of herbs. One afternoon, she began to prepare the potion in her room for which she asked her maid to bring her some ingredients. The maid brought Dona Sancha what she asked for, but since she supposed that with them her mistress was going to kill her son, she told her secret lover what was happening. That lover turned out to be one of the monteros del conde; so he went quickly to tell his lord. That night, Count Sancho Garcia sat down in his seat to begin dinner. Circumstance that took his mother Dona Sancha to offer him a glass of wine (which had previously poisoned). The count, courteous, told her to drink it. She was surprised (and alarmed), refused, insisting that it was a wine that she had brought especially for her son, to which he replied that there was more reason for her to drink it. The thing is that the drink shift degenerated into discussion, the count forced his mother to swallow her wine and the treacherous countess died.

Sancho García was not left with a clear conscience. So he decided to build a large monastery so her mother would have something for posterity (apart from this legend, which does not leave her exactly right). The monastery was in the north of Burgos. He called it Oña, nickname because in Castilla they used to call “Mioña” to the lady.

The count also drew far-reaching conclusions from his experience. In first place, that the montero had saved his life for being involved with his mother’s maid and for having told him that she was going to assassinate him. It also caught his attention (it is not known until now why, is pending investigation) the fact that the montero was a native of the town of Espinosa. In addition, there is the fact that it is a town that is also north of Burgos, and near Oña. Faced with such an accumulation of coincidences, he decided that from now on his personal guard would be composed of monteros from that town. And since the counts of Castile were later kings of Spain, the personal guard of the Spanish monarchs has been carried out by young men born in Espinosa de los Monteros. The famous “monteros de Espinosa”, predecessors of the Royal Guard.

And this is the legend of the treacherous Countess, a veritable medieval serial, famous throughout Europe.

Text by Ignacio Suarez-Zuloaga and illustrations by Ximena Maier.

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