What would you be willing to do for true love?
We usually think of fiction as the best place to find great, tragic love stories that touch our souls. We have the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, Helena and Paris, Troilus and Criseyde, just to name a few. The thing is, and I’m going to sound like one of those crappy reality shows, sometimes reality does surpass fiction. The story you’re going to read today is like that really disturbing episode of Game of Thrones (you'll know which one I'm talking about) mixed with a really dramatic romance that became one of Portugal’s central historical episodes. This is a story about a man willing to do it and risk it all for the woman he loved, even if that meant going to war against his own father, and even crowning her dead body.
Peter and Inês - Ernesto Condeixa (19th century)
Peter was the third and only surviving son of King Alfonso IV of Portugal. He had all the kingdom’s hopes to create strong alliances with their neighbors in Castile. For that matter, Alfonso had offered his son to be married to princess Constanza in order to promote peace with their neighbors and greatest threat. So, in 1340, the couple married in a pompous ceremony that was immortalized in chronicles and songs. As it often happened with arranged marriages, Peter didn’t really love nor care about his new bride. Instead, he was captivated by the beauty of one of her ladies-in-waiting, the young Inês de Castro, the daughter of an important Galician aristocrat.
Infatuated, Peter began sending her romantic letters and heartfelt poems he had written himself, and Inês soon fell for this gallant young prince. Their relationship remained a secret until 1345, when princess Constanza died just a few weeks after delivering their third child, who would later become King Ferdinand I. Peter couldn’t believe how things had worked out so well, and, more than ever, believed that it was in his fate to be with his beloved Inês. However, King Alfonso had other plans. He wanted Peter to marry once again with another Castilian noblewoman and thus maintain the alliance. However, Peter was even more determined than his father, and soon, he started living together with Inês. Alfonso realized that something was really wrong when Peter appointed Inês’ brothers to a state position, and, knowing that this was more than just an obsession with a woman, he decided to banish Inês from the court and send her back to Castile.
Peter and Inês - Lima de Freitas
During this time apart, the couple exchanged countless love letters, while Inês’ brothers kept telling Peter that the only way he could be with Inês was by overthrowing his father, something that he was a bit reluctant to do, although he did toy with the idea for a while. The turning point in this tragic story was when King Alfonso realized that his plan to banish Inês from the court hadn't worked out as he had planned. He needed to do something more drastic to put an end to the problem. Now, history sees him as a terrible villain who didn't care for his son’s happiness, which would be a valid point nowadays, but we’re talking about medieval times, where love wasn’t really something that mattered, especially for royalty and the aristocracy. King Alfonso feared that this obsession with a lady-in-waiting would offend the Castilians and start a war (which they could never win), or that, after his death, a civil war would erupt. So, not willing to leave his kingdom to their neighbors, he decided that the only way to solve the issue was to end the issue itself.
In 1355, he sent three men to find Inês (who had been secretly brought back to Portugal to be near Peter) and kill her. As you can imagine, when Peter found out what had happened and learned that it had been his father’s doing, he was hurt and infuriated. He decided to gather his troops and declare war on King Alfonso, who had unwittingly sparked what he feared the most: a civil war that could weaken his kingdom. The war lasted for almost two years, and Peter lost, but destiny proved to be on his side once again in quite a macabre way. King Alfonso died, and he was crowned Peter I of Portugal. Now, with all the power in his hands, it was time to finally avenge the death of the only woman he had really loved.
Murder of Inês de Castro - Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (c. 1901-4)
He focused all his efforts and resources to finding the men who had killed Inês, and although he could only capture two of them, his revenge was chilling. The men were tortured in public (it’s said that he watched while eating dinner), and their hearts were ripped out from their bodies. This bloody act earned him the nickname of Peter the Cruel, but it was actually a name given to him by his detractors (mainly clergymen and nobles). In fact, according to historical evidence, most people saw him as a righteous and benevolent monarch, and even though his "cruel" nickname stuck, they actually knew him as King Peter the Just, but that’s another story. However, although he had gotten his revenge on the men who had killed the love of his life, he felt it wasn’t enough to repair the damage.
Peter didn’t want Inês to be remembered as "the King’s mistress," so he announced publicly that he had married her in secret, and even brought the Priest and some witnesses as evidence of the ceremony. He wanted people to know her as the rightful Queen of Portugal. For that matter, he organized a ceremony to exhume her body and transfer it to the Monastery Alcobaça, also known as the tomb of kings. Now, up to this part, everything about the story has been verified and confirmed, but what happened at the ceremony is still a mystery because there’s no documented proof. According to the legend, once the body was removed, he set up a throne at the monastery, asked for her to be dressed in royal attire, and crowned Inês’ body as Queen of Portugal. Moreover, he ordered his subjects to swear their allegiance to the Queen by kissing her skeletal hand, giving her the place she deserved and making his detractors bow down before them.
The Coronation of Inês de Castro in 1361 - Pierre-Charles Comte (1849)
Before her death, Inês and Peter had had four children, the youngest of which would succeed his half-brother Ferdinand as John I of Portugal. The story of Inês and Pedro has inspired countless poems, plays, operas, and movies. And it is because, in a time where love didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, the story of a man deeply in love with a woman to the point of actually waging a war against his own kingdom and even forcing his subjects to swear allegiance to her dead body, has that perfect mix between macabre and romantic. The last part of the story might sound more like a myth or a legend, but what's true is that, for Peter, his love for Inês wasn’t a weakness, as many believed: she was just the person who complemented him and who inspired him to be the man he was. After all, he’s also considered one of the best monarchs in the history of Portugal, creating endless benefits for his people, and not just for the upper classes.
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