Roncesvalles is famous in history and legend for the defeat of Charlemagne and the death of Roland in 778, during the battle of Roncevaux Pass, when Charlemagne's rear guard was destroyed by Basque tribes.
When a party of horsemen from the Kingdom of Navarre arrived at the Duchy of Burgundy in 1439 to negotiate Prince Charles of Navarre's marriage to Agnes of Cleves, the Duke of Burgundy's niece, the prior of Roncesvalles was their chief ambassador. He was described as a "noble knight". 
The small collegiate church contains several curious relics associated with Roland. The battle is said to have been fought in the picturesque valley known as Valcarlos, which is now occupied by a hamlet bearing the same name, and in the adjoining pass of Ibañeta (Roncevaux Pass). Both of these are traversed by the main road leading north from Roncesvalles to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in the French Basque Country.
Since the Middle Ages, this collegiate church has been a favorite resting place for Catholic pilgrims along the Way of St. James, since it is the first place to have a rest after crossing the French Pyrenees. Every year thousands of pilgrims begin their way to Santiago de Compostela at Roncesvalles.
The area was also the site of the 1813 Battle of Roncesvalles during the Peninsular War.