Everyone, at some point or another, has fallen victim to a seemingly silly rule imposed by societal expectations. Perhaps you lied about why you had to break a social engagement instead of simply admitting you were tired. Or maybe you avoided wearing a specific garment because it was considered uncool. You might have even been laughed at or gotten in trouble for committing a social faux pas.
Thankfully, you weren’t murdered for it.
Such was the tragic and rather twisted tale of King Pedro I and his doomed lover, Inês. Pedro’s family members, like many others in the 14th century, had no qualms with using murder to solve a problem. It began with his sister Maria, who was married off to the King of Castile, Alfonso XI. In order for the two to wed, Alfonso first had to annul his two-year marriage to Constanza Manuel, the daughter of his cousin Juan Manuel.
Naturally, this was a huge affront. Then, despite their union and the birth of their first child, Alfonso rebuffed Maria in favor of the beautiful widow, Leonor de Guzmán. De Guzmán held authority over Maria in matters of the court and bore Alfonso ten children. Horribly unhappy and humiliated, Maria returned home to her family, who demanded the affair come to an end. It didn’t — and an invasion soon followed. Once the conflict had ended, Afonso returned to Leonor, breaking every promise he had made to resolve the dispute.
A Woman Scorned
Alfonso died in 1350, and it was then that Maria obtained her revenge. Using her political power as the mother to Alfonso’s legitimate son and heir as Queen regent, she had Leonor imprisoned and executed.
Those actions would pale in comparison to those of her father, Alfonso IV.
In order to placate Juan Manuel, who was Prince of Villena and very powerful, Alfonso had endeavored to have the passed-over Constanza marry his son and heir, Pedro. She arrived in Portugal for the wedding with her lady-in-waiting, Inês de Castro.
Inês was reputed to be breathtakingly beautiful, and she came from nobility to boot. She even had ties to the Castilian royal family. It wasn’t long before she and Pedro fell in love, and Constanza was neglected by yet another husband. The two were reputed to have had clandestine meetings in the gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas.
When Constanza died in 1345, a few weeks after giving birth to their baby boy, Fernando, Pedro refused to allow his King father to remarry him to another princess. He declared Inês his to be his true love and went to live with her in secret. Everyone from the king to the court and even the common people did not approve.
Alfonso IV had been certain that the infatuation would flame out, but he was dead wrong. Pedro’s child with Constanza was frail and sickly, but his offspring with Inês were strong and healthy. Even worse, Inês’ brothers, who were exiles from the Castilian court, became fast friends with Pedro.
They were given positions of honor and became his closest advisors. Alfonso feared a civil war, or that once he died, his Portuguese throne would fall into Castilian hands. He made several attempts to separate the lovers, believing it was only a matter of time before all hell would break loose.
When they couldn’t be parted, Alfonso got desperate. Pedro and Inês had been happily in love for around ten years, living at Santa Clara Palace, in Coimbra, when the king reached his breaking point. He ordered three assassins — Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco — to murder his son’s beloved.
They tracked her down to the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha, where she was being detained. There are differing accounts as to what happened next, but most allege that Inês was either brutally stabbed or decapitated in the presence of at least one of her children.
In response, the devastated Pedro swiftly rose up in an open rebellion that was ultimately crushed.
O Skeleton Queen!
Two years later, in 1357, he became king of Portugal. Once crowned, he claimed he had married Inês in secret. This is where the tale takes a fanciful turn. The legend goes that Pedro had Inês’ body exhumed, dressed in fine robes and a diadem, and placed on a throne. He demanded that all of the nobility in kingdom approach the skeleton queen and kiss the hem of her clothes to pay her the homage she was owed in life. Afterward, her body was taken to be enshrined at the lavish Royal Monastery of Alcobaça, where her corpse still rests today.
In 1361, Pedro managed to capture two of Inês’ killers. He executed them publicly, and had their hearts ripped out to reflect his own agony.
In perhaps the most touching twist, the tomb for Inês is exquisitely detailed, and is still one of the finest in Portugal. Pedro’s was carved to match, and the lovers’ final resting place is adorned with intricate scenes of the final judgment. Their likenesses face skyward toward heaven, supported by angels, and beneath them the words “Até ao fim do mundo…” are inscribed.
Until the end of the world.
Though it’s hard to know what shards of truth lie in the legend, few can dispute that the elements of betrayal, heartbreak, and forbidden love surrounding Pedro and Inês will continue to cast a powerful charm over us for centuries more to come.
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