A love beyond death: Pedro and Inês

Portugal, half XIV century: Dom Pedro I, only son of King Alfonso IV and Queen Beatrice, was going to be the next king. And, as we all know very well, arranging marriages according to political convenience was the rule amongst noble people at that time. Clearly Dom Pedro could not escape this destiny, so he had to marry Lady Constança of Castile when he was still very young.

But there was something that his father, the King, could not expect: that Costança would bring to Portugal with her the woman who would very soon become Dom Pedro’s true love, the Galician Inês de Castro. The legend says that she was very charming and beautiful and that they fell in love in the blink of an eye. Even though she was born in a noble family, Inês did not have a high enough rank to marry the Prince: she was indeed Lady Constança’s lady-in-waiting.

The passion between Dom Pedro and Inês was not a secret at court, everybody knew about it, included the King, who attempted to separate them several times with no success. Also Lady Constança tried to keep the two lovers away from each other, by having Inês as the Godmother of her son: since Godfathers/Godmothers and parents of the child were considered as brothers and sisters, it would be a crime if the relationship continued. But this plan was one of the many that failed: nothing could stop Pedro and Inês from being together.

Then Constança died and Dom Pedro was convinced that he would be free to marry Inês and freely and happily live in Coimbra with her and their three children who were born during the years. But this love found obstacles again: the King feared the weakened relationship between Portugal and Castile, so he wanted another politically conveniently arranged marriage. The solution was one and extreme: Inês had to die.

At this point there are different versions of the legend, saying that at the very last moment the King had changed his mind out of mercy but the murderers he had hired killed the woman anyways, or saying that Inês was decapitated or stabbed in front of her own children while the King, who had been moved to pity, had left the final decision to the three men.

When Dom Pedro came to know that it was his own father the one who had commanded his love’s murder, he became so furious that a civil war in the country started. It ended soon thanks to the effort of the Queen, however Pedro was left desperate and helpless with Inês gone.

A couple of years later, King Alfonso died and Dom Pedro succeeded to him. His first act as a King was to have Inês’ murderers killed. It seems, though, that he had the wrong people caught, not the real murderers. So two innocent men (because one had managed to escape) had their hearts ripped out while still alive, one from the front and the other from the back.

The next things Dom Pedro did were having Inês declared his legitimate wife and therefore the lawful Queen of Portugal and ordering her body to be exhumed and taken from the Monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra to the Medieval Roman Catholic Monastery of Alcobaça, the tomb of Kings, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

But the legend, which becomes macabre at this point, says that King Pedro first wanted Inês’ (decomposed!) body sat on the throne next to him, with the Queen’s crown on her head, and that he forced everyone in the Kingdom to kiss the corpse’s hand.

King Pedro then reigned for ten years, during which Portugal was prosperous and not involved in any war. When he died, he was buried not next to his love Inês but in front of her, so that they could see each other right away on the day of the last judgement. Their tombs are remarkable works of art.

This tale between history and legend became a myth and inspired several authors across the centuries, starting with the Portuguese Luís de Camões, who wrote about them in his famous XVI century poem “Os Lusíadas”.

The story is present also in the Spanish literature contemporary to Camões (“Nise lastimosa” and “Nise laureada” by Jerónimo Bermúdez; “Reinar despues de morir” by Luís Vélez de Guevara), in the English XIX century drama “Inez de Castro” by Mary Russel Mitford, in the French XX century playwright “La Reine morte”, by Henry de Montherlant and she appears frequently in Ezra Pound’s incomplete poem “The Cantos”, just to mention the most famous ones.

Moreover, during the XVIII and XIX century, several operas and ballets about Inês have been created.

Still recently, musicians from all over the world have been composing about Inês: the Scottish James MacMillan, the Swiss Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini, the American Thomas Pasatieri, the Canadian James Rolfe, the Portuguese Pedro Macedo Camacho, whose Requiem was performed in Coimbra’s Cathedral in occasion of the 650th anniversary of Inês’ death.

Posted on December 15, 2014 .