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Royal Revenge in Medieval Portugal

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

King Alfonso IV of Portugal (1291-1357) was known as “the brave.” His son, Dom Pedro, was heir to the throne and he had the misfortune of falling in love with a woman of whom his father did not approve.

A Typical Royal Family

The monarchy in Portugal in the Middle Ages was rife with squabbling, infighting, and jealousy, just like a proper royal family should be. In addition, there was so much bed-hopping going on that it’s difficult to keep track of who was married to whom and who was engaged in extramarital romping.

King Alfonso’s illegitimate half-brother, Afonso Sanches Lord of Albuquerque, had several goes at usurping the throne; they all failed.

Meanwhile, King Alfonso, when he wasn’t romping and fighting off his half-brother, was getting busy marrying Dom Pedro, his son, to a suitable wife. The lucky bride turned out to Constanza Manuel de Villena; she had more monarchs and nobles in her pedigree than you could shake a tiara at.

She had already been married to one king, Alfonso XI of Castile; but as bride and groom were both children at the time and alliances changed, the kids were set free from each other by an annulment.

Dom Pedro’s wedding took place in Lisbon on August 24, 1340, and Constanza was attended by her lady-in-waiting, Inês de Castro.

(We can now take a breather because Inês is the last of our main cast characters to be introduced in this sorrowful drama).

King Alfonso IV.

King Alfonso IV.

Dom Pedro the Widower

Inês very quickly caught Dom Pedro’s eye. Before you can say “marital vows of fidelity” Dom Pedro and Inês were hitting the sack.

Conveniently for the couple, Constanza died in November 1345. Nobody knows how old she was because the date of her birth is unknown, but she was probably in her early to mid-20s. The cause of death was complications following the birth of a son.

Dom Pedro and Inês started to live together openly as a married couple and this offended King Alfonso IV mightily. While Inês came from a good family her forebears were not of a sufficiently high rank to meet with the king’s approval.

Inês was banished from the court but Dom Pedro continued to proclaim his undying love for her. Alfonso made more attempts to break up the relationship, but nothing worked, so he had her shut away in the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra. But, Dom Pedro was determined, claimed that he and Inês had married in secret, and several children were born to the couple.

Dom Pedro the Widower, Again

Intrigues were being cooked up by the family of Inês de Castro aimed at persuading Dom Pedro to claim the throne of Castile, a move that would probably result in bloodshed. King Alfonso was concerned his son, Dom Pedro, was falling into the clutches of the Castro clan. Drastic action was called for, and the king decided Inês had to be killed.

In January 1355, the king and three of his courtiers arrived at the monastery; they found Inês with her children. She appealed to Alfonso for mercy, to no avail. The execution was carried out and her head was removed while her offspring watched.

The Murder of Inês de Castro, painted by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, early in the 20th century.

The Murder of Inês de Castro, painted by Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, early in the 20th century.

The New King Gets His Revenge

Of course, Dom Pedro flew into a rage and joined with the Castros in a rebellion against King Alfonso. Eventually that squabble was patched up in time for the old king to die and Dom Pedro to succeed him 1357.

King Pedro I seems to have been a polarizing figure, known as both Pedro the Just and Pedro the Cruel. Clearly, he had friends and foes. Some of the foes are easy to identify, the three men who killed the woman he loved with great passion.

Old King Alfonso IV was still cooling down when Pedro got his hands on a couple of the killers. (Spoiler alert: This is not going to work out well for Pêro Coelho and Álvaro Gonçalves).

According to Elsa M., writing for theroyalarticles.com, Pedro “had them tortured and executed in a barbaric but highly symbolic way: from one of the men who had killed the love of his life, the heart was ripped out of the body through his back, and from the other, the heart was pulled out through the chest.”

Elsa tells us that this gruesome spectacle was played out in front of the king while he enjoyed his dinner. Another account says the monarch performed the cardioectomy himself. He said the hearts of the assassins had to be removed because they had pulverized his own heart.

The third murderer had taken the precaution of fleeing to France where he was beyond the reach of the grief-stricken monarch.

Time for a Coronation

Not that this story hasn’t already been somewhat macabre, it now takes a ghoulish turn.

King Pedro insisted that his marriage to Inês de Castro was lawful and had been blessed by the Church. So, in 1360, Pedro announced that she should be anointed as the Queen of Portugal. The obvious hitch in this plan was that Inês had been dead for five years. Not a problem, said the king, dig her up.

She was removed from her burial place in Coimbra and taken to the Royal Monastery of Alcobaça, north of Lisbon. There was a magnificent procession attended by nobles, clergy, and a thousand men marching alongside holding candles.

Chronicler Fernão Lopes described how she “was led to Alcobaça between two lines of stars.”

Author Eugene Byrne then tells us that Pedro then “ordered the corpse dressed in a style appropriate to a queen and had her crowned. Pedro sat on a throne next to her as all the nobility of Portugal filed past, lifted her hand, and kissed it as a mark of their fealty.”

In about 1849 Pierre-Charles Comte painted the coronation of Inês.

In about 1849 Pierre-Charles Comte painted the coronation of Inês.

The king had two ornate marble tombs placed in the Royal Monastery at Alcobaça. Inês was placed in one to await the arrival of Pedro who died in 1367.

The tomb of Queen Inês.

The tomb of Queen Inês.

The tomb of King Pedro I.

The tomb of King Pedro I.

The tombs stand beside each other and the bodies were placed so they face one another. An inscription reads “Até ao fim do mundo . . .” or “Until the end of the world . . .”

Bonus Factoids

  • The story of the romance between Pedro and Inês has been immortalized in literature several times. Many plays, operas, and ballets have been created around the love affair. Most recently, the Portuguese composer Pedro Camacho wrote the Requiem to Inês de Castro that was first performed in 2012.
  • Portugal’s royal family, termed The Most Serene House of Braganza, ruled Portugal for 468 years until the monarchy was dissolved in 1910. The Braganzas were not directly descended from Pedro I. The current claimant to the throne is Dom Duarte Pio, Duke of Braganza and is married to Isabel Inês de Castro Curvelo de Herédia. There is no information about whether or not Isabel is descended from the heroine of this story.

Sources

  • “Inês de Castro: The Queen Who Was Crowned After Death.” Elsa M., theroyalarticles.com, January 11, 2009.
  • “The Tale of Peter and Inês.” centerofportugal.com, undated.
  • “13 Weird Historical Facts.” Eugene Byrne, BBC History Extra, June 27, 2018.
  • “Tomb of Inês de Castro.” Anetta Black, Atlas Obscura, undated.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Rupert Taylor

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