First edition, 1496; oldest extant edition, 1508.



Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo

Amadís de Gaula


Amadis de Gaula (Amadis of Gaul) was the most famous and bravest knight in the entire Hispanic literary tradition, that is, until a crazy gentleman in a village in La Mancha decided to emulate him. The prose romance of his deeds has roots in the Iberian Middle Ages. A first version of the Amadís de Gaula, divided into three books and known today as Medieval Amadís or Primitive Amadís, was already circulating in the peninsular courts at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Its origin has long been the subject of debate between the Castilian and Portuguese theses. Over time, however, the balance turned to the Castilian side.

Amadís de Gaula (Rome, 1519), Libro primero.

Unfortunately, today there is no evidence of the medieval version of the Amadís. Only one page of the work has withstood the test of time, dated around 1420, written in Spanish and kept at the Bankcroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley. The version we read today, identical to the version read by Alonso Quijano, is the product that Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo reworked on the original text at the end of the fifteenth century. Montalvo acknowledges in the preface that he modified the three original books, authored a fourth book, and then continued the Amadisian saga with a fifth book, Las sergas de Esplandián. The Amadís editio prínceps, now lost, would have been printed in Seville in 1496; the oldest edition preserved today is the one printed by Jorge Coci in Zaragoza in 1508.

The “feigned history (historia fingida) of Amadís, the term with which Montalvo defines his chivalric romance, is culturally indebted to the Matter of Britain. The narrative draws on pre-existing themes, motifs, and forms in the romances of the Knights of the Round Table. Amadís is the result of the secret love affair between King Perion of Gaul and Infanta Elisena of Little Britain. Fearing punishment by the law if her pregnancy is discovered, Elisena abandons little Amadís on a ship on a river with the help of her maid, Darioleta. The baby carries with him two items that, later, will allow the anagnorisis: his father’s sword and his mother’s ring. These objects symbolize both pillars upon which his future life will depend: chivalry and love.

Amadís is rescued by Gandales, taken in as an adoptive son, and educated at the Scottish court along with Gandalín, the knight’s biological son. Under the identity of the “Child of the Sea” (Donzel del Mar), a name he has received from his new family, Amadís enters the service of Princess Oriana, daughter of King Lisuarte of Great Britain. This woman, who becomes the source of his brave actions and achievements, eventually helps the young man to be unknowingly knighted by his own father, King Perion of Gaul. The long-awaited recognition finally takes place when Amadís responds to the call of King Perion, who needs help in his war against King Abiés of Ireland. Later, Amadís meets his younger brother Galaor, born from the subsequent marriage of Elisena and Perion and, later, his older half-brother Florestán, the result f a romantic relationship between Perion and the count of Selandia’s daughter.

Throughout his adventures, Amadís has the support of Urganda the Unknown, a sorceress with a great capacity for metamorphosis who seeks the protection of the knight, while he will face Arcaláus, another great connoisseur of the magical arts. In his first confrontation, Amadís succeeds in preventing Arcaláus from seizing the throne of Great Britain from Lisuarte. After this victory, the knight strengthens his relationship with Oriana and marries her secretly. The couple’s relationship results in the birth of Esplandián. Amadís subsequently begins a new cycle of departure and return to court mediated by different adventures.

The knight travels to the kingdom of Sobradisa to restore Briolanja, dispossessed of the manor by her own uncle. He then passes the tests of the Arch of the Loyal Lovers (Arco de los Leales Amadores) and the Forbidden Chamber (Cámara Defendida) on the Firm Island (Ínsula Firme), of which he becomes the master. As Amadís prepares to return to Great Britain, he receives a letter from Oriana in which she forbids him to return to her, accusing him of being unfaithful to her and loving Briolanja. Dejected, Amadís retires as a penitent to the Poor Cliff (Peña Pobre), adopting the name of Beltenebrós (which might be translated as “handsome tenebrous man”). Don Quixote will imitate this adventure when he retires to the Sierra Morena after having been “rejected” by Dulcinea del Toboso.

Having returned to court after the misunderstanding with Oriana was resolved, Amadís faces new problems. He is expelled from England by King Lisuarte, who was deceived by evil advisers, and embarks on a series of adventures in the East under the name of the Knight of the Green Sword (Caballero de la Verde Espada). Among these is his memorable victory over the monstrous Endriago on Devil’s Island (Ínsula del Diablo).

Meanwhile, Lisuarte agrees to the marriage of his daughter Oriana—against her will—to Patín, the emperor of Rome. Finding out about this plan, Amadís rescues the maiden during her trip to Italy and places her safely on the Ínsula Firme. He then confronts the emperor and Lisuarte in a pitched battle, where he kills the emperor. Taking advantage of the situation, Arcaláus attacks a weakened Lisuarte to steal his throne and install the Arabian king in his place. Amadís comes to the rescue, defeating the charmer once again and reconciling with Lisuarte, who now favors Oriana’s marriage to Amadís.

The Amadisian adventures gave rise, as Cervantes would well recognize, to the most prolific literary prose genre in Golden Age Spain: the chivalric romance. Whether or not they continued the history of the Amadís lineage, several authors launched into the chivalric arena throughout the sixteenth century and part of the seventeenth century to compose feigned histories of knights-errant. Montalvo himself took the first step with his Esplandián (1510), but it didn’t take long for romances of chivalry unrelated to the Amadís lineage to appear, such as Palmerín de Olivia (1511) and Clarián de Landanís (1518). The latter so far seems to be the sixth part of Juan Cano’s Espejo de príncipes y caballeros, written around 1640.

Jesús Ricardo Córdoba Perozo​
Università di Napoli “L’Orientale” 

Work Cited

Montalvo, Garci Rodríguez de. Amadís de Gaula. Ed. Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua. 2 vols. Madrid: Cátedra, 1987.


Spanish-language paperback edition:

  • Amadís de Gaula. Ed. Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua. 2 vols. Madrid: Cátedra, 1987.


English translations:

  • Amadis of Gaul. Books I and II. Translation by Edwin Place and Herbert Behm. The University Press of Kentucky. 2003.
  • Amadis of Gaul. Books III and IV. Translation by Edwin Place and Herbert Behm. The University Press of Kentucky. 2003.
  • Amadis de Gaule. Printed in London by Nicholas Okes, 1619. The University of Michigan Library. Available online.


Critical studies:

  • Amadís: heroismo mítico cortesano. Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua. Madrid: CUPSA, Universidad de Zaragoza, 1979.
  • Amadís de Gaula: el primitivo y el de Montalvo. Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1990.
  • Amadís y el género de la historia fingida. James Donald Fogelquist. México: Porrúa, 1982.


Video from exhibit:


BIbliography supplied by Jesús Ricardo Córdoba Perozo (Università di Napoli “L’Orientale”).


Juan Manuel Cacho Blecua, “Iconografía amadisiana: las imágenes de Jorge Coci”, eHumanista, 16 (September 2010). An article about the images used by Jorge Coci’s printing press.

Books of chivalry covers, Biblioteca virtual Miguel de Cervantes

Engravings and lithographs, Biblioteca virtual Miguel de Cervantes


Libros de caballerías (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes):