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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Lover's Grief

(Post originally published February 14, 2013)

  (Image: King Pedro I of Portugal, 1320-1367)

Ah yes, tales of doomed love. The first that springs to mind is Shakespeare's celebrated Romeo and Juliet, lovers from feuding households fated to meet a tragic end.

One cannot help but wonder what masterful drama the Great Bard might have penned if he had turned to Portugal instead of Verona for his inspiration. If I may dare make a suggestion, no doubt the tale of King Pedro I and Inês de Castro would be foremost on his list.

King Afonso IV (1291-1357), Pedro's father, promised him in marriage to a Castillian princess, Constance of Peñafiel. As with all members of royal dynasties in those days, Pedro was left with no choice and married the princess to secure the alliance between their two kingdoms, but immediately he fell in love with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Inês, who was the daughter of a prominent Castillian nobleman.

King Afonso hoped that nothing would come of the affair, but to his dismay, Pedro went to live with Inês in Coimbra after Constance's death, openly declared their love and had several illegitimate children, whom Pedro publicly recognized. The last straw occured when Pedro went so far as to grant several important posts to the Castillians. While Afonso wished to secure alliances with the court of Castille, there was always the danger that one day the Spanish could use these marriage alliances between their households to take over the crown of Portugal. Fearing that Inês and her supporters were growing in power and influence over his son, Afonso ordered that she be murdered. The horrific deed was accomplished in the town of Coimbra on January 7th, 1355. To this day, locals show the site where Inês was stabbed by three assassins. According to legend, a spring immediately began to flow that is now called the 'Fonte dos Amores'.

That is not the end of the story...

descriptionAfter Afonso´s death, the inconsolable Pedro ascended the throne and immediately sentenced to death the two assassins that were apprehended. Hanging would be too good for them, so would a quick beheading. 

What did Pedro demand as the mode of execution? He ordered their hearts to be ripped out, the perfect demise for those who had killed his lady love and in the process, tore out his own heart. According to some reports, he executed them with his own hands. Although there is no proof this ever happened, he was forever called Pedro 'The Cruel'. Next, he stunned the royal court by announcing that he and Inês were married. No one believed him, there was no proof of his claim as the wedding was obviously conducted in secret and therefore invalid, and yet, he commanded Inês´ body to be exhumed, that her corpse be dressed in the full royal regalia befitting a queen, that she be placed on throne beside him, and that all the royal court bow and kiss her hand, thereby publicly recognizing their true queen.

(Image, the dead queen honoured by the court with King Pedro overlooking the scene.)

 He then had her body taken to the monastery of Alcobaça, and had his own tomb prepared facing hers, declaring that she was the first person whom he wanted see when the dead would rise again on the Day of Judgement. Pedro died in 1367 and was buried according to his wishes. Today you can visit their elaborately carved Gothic tombs in the monastery of Alcobaça.

Verily a sad tale of love and grief turned to madness.

description     (Tomb of King Pedro)

(Inês' Tomb, Detail of the Last Judgement )

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