• K.E. Berringer

Inês de Castro and King Pedro

The Red Coronation

King Pedro was a 14th-century Portuguese king, while Inês de Castro was a lady-in-waiting in the court of Pedro's wife. After the two fell madly in love, it caused quite a stir in the royal family and would begin a tale of murder, war, and a rather gruesome coronation.

A depiction of Inês de Castro and King Pedro of Portugal meeting in secret.

King Pedro I of Portugal

King Pedro, as depicted in the Kings' Room of the Quinta da Regaleira.

Early Life

Pedro I of Portugal (or Peter, as he is known in the Western world) was born on April 8, 1320, in Coimbra, Portugal. He was the son of Afonso IV of Portugal, the seventh king of the country, and Princess Beatrice of Castile. Pedro had two sisters, Maria, born in 1313 and Eleanor, born in 1328. Pedro would not be his parent's only son, he was actually the third, although, he was the only one to survive past infancy. As such, he was heir to the Portuguese throne.

As heir, Pedro had many expectations to live up to. Among them was the hope that he would form a strong alliance with the neighbouring state of Castile. As some of their closest neighbours, and some of the strongest, a close allyship would be beneficial to Portugal.

Before Pedro would take the throne, his sister, Maria, would be married Alfonso XI of Castile in 1328. It was hoped that this relationship was what would bring the countrys closer together, though the marriage would never be a happy one. Alfonso was known to abuse Maria, and her father felt that this not only dishonoured her, but also that it disgraced his country and power. Afonso wished to end the marriage but found that he was unable to do so.

So instead, Afonso changed his sights to a new ally: Don Juan Manuel, the Duke of Villena. Manuel had offered his own daughter, Constanza Manuel, to Alfonso but she had been rejected in favour of Maria. As a way to get back at Castile, Afonso and Manuel decided that Pedro and Constanza should marry. Thus, the two were engaged.

De Castro, also depicted in the Kings' Room of the Quinta da Regaleira.

Inês de Castro

Early Life

Inês de Castro (also sometimes referred to as Inêz or Agnes) was born around 1323 into an aristocratic Spanish family in the Kingdom of Galicia. Her father, Pedro Fernández de Castro, was a Galician noble, though he was also the illegitimate grandson of King Sancho IV of Castile. Her mother, Alonca Soares de Villadares, was a Portuguese noble.

De Castro's parents were unmarried, which meant that de Castro and her two brothers were illegitimate or, as it was deemed at the time, of bastard birth. As a way to distance de Castro from this title, her parents would send her to live with a wealthy cousin in the court of Villena. There, she was able to receive a proper education and worked her way into the royal court. Though, it was hoped that this time in the court would also bring a proposal of marriage to the young girl.

She would not receive a proposal, though she would be made a lady-in-waiting to Constanza. Sometime between 1336 and 1340, de Castro and the other ladies of the court would accompany Constanza to Portugal for her wedding. There, de Castro and Pedro would finally meet.

Love at First Sight

When de Castro first arrived in the court, it is said that Pedro immediately fell in love with her. He was taken with her grace and beauty, far more than his bride-to-be. Despite de Castro's own commitments to Constanza, she could not help but feel the same way. No matter the impending marriage, the two began to see each other.

Pedro begged Afonso to break off his engagement, declaring that he instead wanted to marry de Castro. Afonso refused. He knew that de Castro was of illegitimate birth, and was appaled that his son wanted to break off a marriage with the legitimate daughter of a close ally. Not only would that ruin Afonso's relationship with his allies, but it would taint Pedro, the future king's, reputation. Pedro was upset, but he would relent and marry Constanza in a large, lavish wedding ceremony.

Pedro and de Castro depicted meeting in the gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas.

But the marriage would not bring to an end the relationship between Pedro and de Castro. They continued to meet in secret, often finding each other in the gardens of Pedro's estate, Quinta das Lágrimas. When the two were apart, Pedro would write de Castro romantic letters and poems, which he would hide throughout the palace for her to find. Occasionally, de Castro would be sent to stay nearby at the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, and they would send each other letters through the aqueducts that connected the two estates.

Pedro and de Castro managed to keep the affair a secret for the most part, but both Afonso and Constanza knew what was happening. They did their best to stop the relationship, but no one could keep Pedro and de Castro apart.

Constanza and Pedro would end up having three children together. When Constanza became pregnant with her third child, she asked de Castro to be the godmother. Her exact feelings on de Castro are unknown, but there was motivation in this request. According to the law of the Catholic church at the time, it dictated that if de Castro was to accept, then she would become a part of the family, no different from blood family. In the eyes of the law, then the affair would be considered incestuous, and de Castro would be considered a criminal.

However, de Castro would decline the offer. This incensed Afonso, who had seen this as one of the last options to peacefully end the affair. He decided that the two had to be kept separate, so Afonso had de Castro exiled to the Castle of Alegrete, roughly 180km from Coimbra. There was nothing that they could do, and de Castro was taken away. There was hope though that this would finally keep Pedro loyal to Constanza.

Although, in 1345, Constanza died as a result of childbirth. Afonso wanted his son to instead marry another Castilian princess but Pedro would refuse, and would not give in as easily this time. He claimed that he was simply too heartbroken to marry again. Of course, he was not so heartbroken that he could not find a way to overrule his father's banishment of de Castro. He had her brought back to Coimbra, and announced his plans to marry her.

Afonso was quick to put a stop to this, but he still could not stop the two from seeing each other. In 1350, de Castro would give birth to their first child, Afonso, who died shortly after his birth. In 1352, their second child John, Duke of Valencia de Campos was born, followed by Denis, Lord of Cifuentes in 1353 and Beatrice, Countess of Albequerque in 1354.

Pedro and de Castro on their alleged wedding day.

Pedro would claim that the two married in secret in 1354, despite the fact that Afonso had forbidden it. Although, the secretive nature of the wedding and marriage means that there is no way to disprove Pedro's claim.

Even though Afonso had no knowledge of this secret wedding, he was still worried about the possibility of de Castro becoming queen. After Pedro appointed both of de Castro's brothers to important roles in the court, he only became more worried. There was concern that one of de Castro's illegitimate children would make a claim to the throne over Ferdinand, Pedro's only son by Constanza. Ferdinand tended to be a sickly child, unlike de Castro's two healthy sons.

At the same time, there was a fear that Manuel would become upset that his daughter's honour had been tread on and he would retaliate. Whether or not Ferdinand's rule was at stake, Afonso felt that Castile may make their own claim to the throne, as they had slowly become more powerful than Portugal.

Once again, Afonso banished de Castro, this time exiling her and her children all the way to Castile. Again, this did not stop the couple, who sent each other countless letters before Pedro eventually brought de Castro back to Coimbra.

Still, this final attempt to banish de Castro left Pedro furious with his father, and de Castro's brothers allegedly attempted to convince Pedro to overthrow his father. Pedro apparently considered it and consulted with several nobles, but would ultimately decide not to. When word reached Afonso, he decided that he needed to permanently end things between de Castro and Pedro.

A painting depicting the attack of de Castro. While she and her children beg, Afonso can be seen on the left, apathetic.

The Attack

In January of 1355, Pedro embarked on a short hunting trip, leaving de Castro and their children alone at the Paços de Santa Clara. As soon as he had left, three assassins -- Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco, likely accompanied by Afonso himself -- entered the palace, where they found de Castro.

It did not take long before de Castro realized what the men were there to do. Upon this realization, she apparently threw herself at Afonso's feet, begging for forgiveness. It is said that when Afonso saw the fear in her eyes, he changed his mind and called off the attack. However, his advisors quickly stepped in and convinced him otherwise. As Afonso left the room, he said to the assassins "Do whatever you want".

The assassins then pulled out their swords and stabbed de Castro. All the while, her children looked on, horrified. Once she was dead, she was hastily buried in the local cemetery. Little else was done to clean the scene and when Pedro arrived home later that day, he was horrified to find her blood spilled across the floor. He knew immediately what had happened, and exactly who was to blame for the grisly scene.

The Fallout and the Coronation

More furious than he had ever been before, Pedro began a rebellion against his father, which quickly blossomed into a civil war. A year into the war, Pedro's mother begged her son and husband to call a truce and put an end to the violence. Pedro agreed, stepping down to his father after only a year of fighting.

For a year after the war, Pedro lived in grief-stricken misery. Then, in 1357, Afonso died. Pedro took his rightful place on the throne, becoming King Pedro I of Portugal.

One of Pedro's first acts as king was to take revenge against de Castro's killers. He ordered that the three assassins be captured and brought to his palace. The three had already fled to Castile, but two of them would be caught. Pedro then arranged for a public dinner party, with Coelho and Gonçalves as guests. There was a brief trial, which of course found the two men guilty. The story then goes that he had the two tortured for hours, ultimately ending the night by ripping their hearts out, one through his back and the other through his chest. From this, Pedro would earn two nicknames. Some would dub him Pedro the Cruel, while others would dub him Pedro the Just, for the way in which he took justice into his own hands.

A noble is forced to kiss the hand of de Castro's corpse.

Pedro was glad to have some sense of revenge, but it was not enough. He still needed his queen. He revealed the secret marriage and claimed that this made de Castro the rightful Queen of Portugal. Therefore, he reasoned, she deserved a coronation.

Pedro then had de Castro's body exhumed, almost five years after her death. She was then dressed in the finest clothes and jewels, and the corpse was decorated to make the queen seem as though she was alive.

An official ceremony was then called. In attendance were nobles, clergy members and peasants alike, who all arrived at the palace to find de Castro's corpse sat upon the throne, awaiting her coronation. The ceremony was conducted, which makes de Castro the only queen crowned posthumously. After the ceremony, each noble, clergy member and peasant were made to prove their loyalty to the queen, and they did so by kissing her decomposing hand.

Once the coronation had ended, Pedro had a special tomb built for de Castro. Carved into the tomb is a depiction of the love story of Pedro and de Castro. Later, Pedro would have a similar tomb built for himself, which was placed across from de Castro's. The tombs are situated this way because Pedro believed that when judgement day was to arrive, then the two would rise from their graves, and the first thing they saw would be each other. Inscribed in each tomb is the phrase "Até ao fim do mundo..." which translates to "Until the end of the world...".

De Castro's tomb in the Monastery of Alcobaça.

King Pedro's Rule

Pedro's tomb on the left and de Castro's tomb on the right. Each carving on the tomb has a meaning to it.

Life returned to some sense of normalcy after de Castro was made queen. Despite his nickname, Pedro was seemingly not so cruel and would come to be rather admired by his people.

During his reign, Pedro would have several major accomplishments. In 1361, after he noticed a rise in fake papal documents and Papal Bulls (or seals), Pedro ordered a decree that would not allow any papal documents to be brought into the country without his approval. This later became known as the Beneplácito Régio and would influence the spread of the Portuguese Church spreading throughout the country.

From 1358 until 1360, Pedro supported Castile as they fought a war against Aragon, thus strengthening ties with the country. However, he would not let this lead to the Castilians taking advantage of him. When his youngest son, John (born in 1357 to a woman named Teresa) came of age, Pedro appointed him to the Master of the Order of Avis. By doing so, Pedro was able to spread his military rule, securing Portugal's strength. Overall, though, Pedro's rule was relatively peaceful.

On January 18, 1367, Pedro died and was buried in the waiting tomb, where he lies until this day. His third child with Constanza, Ferdinand, would succeed him as king to become Ferdinand I of Portugal.

Street graffiti depicting de Castro and Pedro being torn apart by the king.

Legacy

Over the centuries, the story of Pedro and de Castro's love became legend. One of the first dramatizations of the tale was written in the 14th century, likely marking the first time the story was ever put to paper. Over 120 operas have since been composed, as well as countless ballets, paintings, pieces of art, movies and plays, performed not only in Portugal but around the world.

Many of the areas once frequented by de Castro and Pedro like the Quinta, as well as their tombs, are popular tourist destinations in Portugal. Some even say that de Castro's ghost now haunts the Quinta das Lágrimas, and anyone who spies her will hear her crying as she searches for Pedro. It is also said that her blood stains the fountain on the estate, the Fonte Das Lágrimas, although she was actually killed at Paços de Santa Clara, just down the road.

The story is not as popular outside of Portugal, although within the country, it is one of the most famous stories. Apparently, it can be recited by nearly every Portuguese child. The legend would even inspire a colloquialism; 'Agora e tarde; Inês e morta', or 'It is too late; Inês is dead'.

Conclusion

The tragic love story of Inês de Castro and King Pedro is as timeless as Romeo and Juliet, and the doomed lovers tend to mirror each other in their tragedy. It is a story of not only true love, but also of deep cruelty. The monarchy of Portugal was forever changed by the two and had it not ended so suddenly and tragically, the course of the country's history could have entirely changed. Whatever may have happened, it is too late; Inês is dead.


Further Resources:

  • For a further explanation on the carvings on de Castro's tombs, click here.

References

Photos