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Miguel de Cervantes

Noble Posterity of the Famous Nuno Alfonso, Alcaide of Toledo," written in 1648 by the
industrious genealogist Rodrigo Mendez Silva, who availed himself of a manuscript
genealogy by Juan de Mena, the poet laureate and historiographer of John II.
The origin of the name Cervantes is curious. Nuno Alfonso was almost as distinguished
in the struggle against the Moors in the reign of Alfonso VII as the Cid had been half a
century before in that of Alfonso VI, and was rewarded by divers grants of land in the
neighbourhood of Toledo. On one of his acquisitions, about two leagues from the city, he
built himself a castle which he called Cervatos, because "he was lord of the solar of
Cervatos in the Montana," as the mountain region extending from the Basque Provinces
to Leon was always called. At his death in battle in 1143, the castle passed by his will to
his son Alfonso Munio, who, as territorial or local surnames were then coming into vogue
in place of the simple patronymic, took the additional name of Cervatos. His eldest son
Pedro succeeded him in the possession of the castle, and followed his example in
adopting the name, an assumption at which the younger son, Gonzalo, seems to have
taken umbrage.
Everyone who has paid even a flying visit to Toledo will remember the ruined castle that
crowns the hill above the spot where the bridge of Alcantara spans the gorge of the
Tagus, and with its broken outline and crumbling walls makes such an admirable pendant
to the square solid Alcazar towering over the city roofs on the opposite side. It was built,
or as some say restored, by Alfonso VI shortly after his occupation of Toledo in 1085,
and called by him San Servando after a Spanish martyr, a name subsequently modified
into San Servan (in which form it appears in the "Poem of the Cid"), San Servantes, and
San Cervantes: with regard to which last the "Handbook for Spain" warns its readers
against the supposition that it has anything to do with the author of "Don Quixote." Ford,
as all know who have taken him for a companion and counsellor on the roads of Spain, is
seldom wrong in matters of literature or history. In this instance, however, he is in error.
It has everything to do with the author of "Don Quixote," for it is in fact these old walls
that have given to Spain the name she is proudest of to-day. Gonzalo, above mentioned, it
may be readily conceived, did not relish the appropriation by his brother of a name to
which he himself had an equal right, for though nominally taken from the castle, it was in
reality derived from the ancient territorial possession of the family, and as a set-off, and
to distinguish himself (diferenciarse) from his brother, he took as a surname the name of
the castle on the bank of the Tagus, in the building of which, according to a family
tradition, his great-grandfather had a share.
Both brothers founded families. The Cervantes branch had more tenacity; it sent
offshoots in various directions, Andalusia, Estremadura, Galicia, and Portugal, and
produced a goodly line of men distinguished in the service of Church and State. Gonzalo
himself, and apparently a son of his, followed Ferdinand III in the great campaign of
1236-48 that gave Cordova and Seville to Christian Spain and penned up the Moors in
the kingdom of Granada, and his descendants intermarried with some of the noblest
families of the Peninsula and numbered among them soldiers, magistrates, and Church
dignitaries, including at least two cardinal-archbishops.
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