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King Pedro’s courtiers attended his wife’s posthumous coronation

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Oddities, Royalty on Friday, 31 January 2014

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This edited article about Pedro of Portugal first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 536 published on 22 April 1972.

Alcobaca,  picture, image, illustration

The Monastery of Alcobaca where Inez de Castro was buried, as was King Pedro himself, by Stanley Inchbold

All history’s kings have been entitled to their own peculiarities. It has always been one of the advantages of being a king that your eccentricities are above reproach. And of all the world’s kings who have left their catalogue of eccentricities to posterity, few can better the 14th century King Pedro of Portugal.

Pedro’s story is entwined with a woman who became a legend in her country. She was Inez de Castro, and Pedro’s love of her deserves to rank with the love of Hero for Leander, Paris for Helen, and the other immortals.

Inez, a gay, laughing little girl of great charm, was raised with the daughter of a friend of her father, a girl called Constancia.

Constancia’s father was a rich Spanish duke and the two girls played happily together, racing through the echoing corridors of the duke’s palace, inventing endless games and telling each other what they would do when they were grown up and free of the splendid but confining atmosphere of the court.

Even as they chatted, however, Constancia’s future was already being settled for her by her father and his politically powerful friends. It happened that Alfonso, the King of Portugal, was looking for a Spanish wife for his son and heir Pedro, and there were many good reasons in Spain and Portugal why Constancia should marry the young man who would one day make her a queen.

Alfonso quickly agreed the terms; that Constancia should marry Pedro in return for which he would send his Portuguese army to help the Spaniards drive the invading Moors from their country. On 30th October, 1304, at the great and decisive Battle of Salado, his soldiers fulfilled his part of the bargain and the following year Constancia was married to Pedro.

With the child bride on her journey to Lisbon went her lifelong friend, little Inez de Castro, who was to be her principal lady-in-waiting. But poor Constancia! Lisbon terrified her, and she shrank in alarm from her bridegroom whom his people called Collo de Garza, saying his neck was as long as that of a heron.

Within months Pedro realised that his political marriage was doomed and, hurt by his wife’s dislike of him, he turned for companionship to her beautiful young lady-in-waiting, Inez de Castro. Soon the two were hopelessly in love.

In vain Constancia begged her husband and her father to withdraw Inez from the court. Her pleas were totally ignored, for she was a political pawn, and as such was entitled to no feelings whatever.

But Inez, in an effort to keep faith with her childhood friend, retreated to the palace of St. Clara at Coimbra, where, from time to time, Pedro went to visit her.

One day in the year 1345 Constancia died, a month after giving birth to a son, whom she called Ferdinand. Pedro’s years as heir apparent had brought him many enemies among the Portuguese nobles, and now these enemies used the child as a new weapon against him.

They spread the rumour abroad that Constancia had died of a broken heart caused by her husband’s neglect and that her son might well be deprived of his ultimate right to the throne by the intrigues of that wicked woman Inez who had stolen Pedro’s affections.

When the court buzzed with this scandal, the three noblemen who were primarily responsible for it, Alvara Gonzales, Pedro Coelho and Diego Pacheco, confided their fears to King Alfonso.

Alfonso immediately ordered his son to re-marry a woman of the court’s choice. Instead, Pedro fled to Inez in Coimbra, and refused all his father’s pleas to return. Urged on by the noblemen, Alfonso at last agreed that there was only one solution to this dilemma – Inez de Castro must be put to death.

On some pretext of State business, Pedro was lured from Coimbra, and one night four horsemen clattered into the courtyard of St. Clara. They were the King, Gonzales, Coelho and Pacheco. Storming up the stairs they confronted Inez, but it was said that her beauty, tears and protestations of love for Pedro so disarmed the King that he turned and rode away again into the night.

It was too late. The King’s three henchmen stabbed Inez to death and hastily buried her in the palace churchyard, afterwards giving out the sorrowful news that she had died of a sudden seizure.

When Pedro was told what had happened he was distraught with grief and rage. At once he demanded vengeance – but the three noblemen had fled to sanctuary in Spain. Maddened with hate, Pedro raised a rebellion against his father and desolated the lands of his three betrayers. Perhaps, then, old Alfonso knew remorse, for he made a treaty with his son by which Pedro became virtually the Regent of Portugal in return for a promise to pardon Inez’s murderers.

Portugal prospered under Pedro’s rule, but the old King, watching his son’s cold, hard face, mistrusted that promise of a pardon. On his deathbed he summoned Gonzales, Cuelho and Pacheco.

“Fly at once to Castile,” he urged them. “I shall soon be dead, and when I am gone my son will revenge himself upon you.” The three murderers needed no second bidding, and next day they were gone.

Alfonso died, and his fears proved justified. Two years later the new King Pedro forced the King of Castile to deliver up the assassins. Pacheco managed to escape to Aragon, but Gonzales and Cuelho were brought before Pedro.

“Torture them,” ordered the merciless King. “Make them suffer terribly and make certain that they die slowly.”

Vengeance was not yet complete. On 12th June, 1360, Pedro summoned his court at Castando. He told them that after Constancia’s death the Bishop of Guarda had married him to Inez at Braganza.

Then, gazing round the crowded chamber, full of uneasy nobles, he declared:

“Since Inez was my true wife she was also your true Queen. I have therefore had her body raised from its grave, so that she might be given the crown of Portugal, which was her true right.”

So began what must have been the strangest, most macabre coronation ceremony ever seen. All the great men of the country, with their ladies, were marched into the vast throne-room. On one throne sat Pedro in full regalia; in the other was propped the corpse of Inez.

Her body was wrapped in a magnificent gown of shimmering brocade. Embroidered slippers were stuck grotesquely on her feet. Around her mummified neck were strung necklaces of flashing jewels. From her fingers rings winked in the light.

With trembling hands the Archbishop of Braga lifted the crown high and placed it on the dead woman’s head.

Then, one by one, the nobles came forward, knelt in homage at the corpse’s feet and intoned the long speech promising their lifelong desire to defend their Queen.

They were followed by their ladies, some screaming hysterically, who had to make a deep bow before that awful figure.

At last Pedro rose and made a sign to his guards. Reverently, the body of Inez was raised and placed in a heavily decorated coffin while the nobility filed out to collect the torches to light the dead Queen’s last journey to the wonderful tomb of gleaming marble that Pedro had built at Alcobaca.

All along the route the high dignitaries of Church and State took their places, flaming brands held in their right hands. In the deep darkness the cortege started from Castanado. The archbishop led the way; then came the magnificent hearse with the King walking alone behind it; following him were hundreds of his officers.

It was a weird scene. The torchlight flickered over the pathetic Inez riding high in her coach, still dressed in queenly pomp, on the breastplates and head-pieces of the nobles, on the scarlet and purple robes of the bishops, on the set stern face of King Pedro.

For him, vengeance had come full circle. No one dared to question his gaining it, or his motive for doing so, or his grotesque method of attaining it. For, as we have said, it has always been one of the advantages of being a king that your eccentricities are above reproach.

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