Heritage

The Forbidden Love Story of the King of Portugal and His Corpse Queen

Pedro I and Inês de Castro were the real-life Romeo and Juliet.
IMAGE PUBLIC DOMAIN/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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The epic love story of Peter I of Portugal and Ines de Castro is one that’s characterized by passion, intrigue, mystery, jealousy, and murder. It’s spawned several legends and has even become a source of inspiration for poets and artists alike. There’s even a Portuguese saying derived from the story that’s still used in everyday life: “Agora e tarde; Ines e morta” (“It's too late, Ines is dead”).


Peter I of Portugal

Peter the Just or the Cruel, as he was called, was born to King Afonso XI of Castile, León, and Galicia and his wife Maria of Portugal. When Peter was 16, he was betrothed to Constanza Manuel of Villena the daughter of Prince Juan Manuel of Villena and his second wife Constance of Aragon. Much like other unions at the time, the marriage was done in a bid to create an alliance with another kingdom. Since Portugal was at war at that time, Peter and Constanza had a marriage by proxy. It wasn’t until four years later that the war would end and the two would meet.

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In 1340, Constanza arrived in Portugal with her entourage in tow. It was said that Peter initially found his wife suitable until he met her cousin and lady-in-waiting, an aristocratic Castilian named Ines de Castro, just minutes later. The newly married Peter fell in love with Ines almost immediately. The young Ines was said to have golden hair with blue eyes to match with milky white skin.

The two became embroiled in a love affair that caused quite a scandal at the royal court. At the same time, Peter got his lawful wife Constanza pregnant. The relentless Constanza plotted to end the scandalous love affair by making Ines the godmother of their son Luís. In the Catholic church, a godparent essentially becomes a member of the family, making the affair an incestuous one. This and other attempts didn’t faze Peter and Ines, who continued the affair much to the chagrin of Constanza.


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Soon, Peter’s father got wind of the affair and sternly told his son to end it. Peter outright refused and in an attempt to nip the relationship at the bud, the King banished Ines from the kingdom to a convent in Coimbra. But still, Peter and Ines continued to meet in secret. He would send messages through the use of a small wooden boat which would then go through the convent’s water ducts. The young lovers would also meet in the surrounding woods.

In 1345, Constanza died weeks after giving birth to her third child with Peter. As if a huge burden was lifted, Peter went to the Santa Clara Palace in Coimbra to live with Ines as a married couple. They had four children in a span of 20 years: Afonso (who died shortly after his birth); Beatrice, Countess of Alburquerque; John, Duke of Valencia de Campos; and Denis, Lord of Cifuentes.

Following a number of blissful years, Peter asked his father for permission to marry the love of his life. The King and the court, however, found the immoral affair more offensive than ever as Ines’ father and brothers had become powerful figures in Castile, who were also involved in a plot to overthrow the government.

On January 1, 1354, Peter and Ines decided to marry in secret in Braganca. While they lived out their days in marital bliss, the royal advisers grew concerned over the crown due to the possibility of Ines’ children usurping Constanza’s—the throne’s legitimate heirs. For the next 12 months, Afonso was fed these thoughts until he finally yielded and ordered the murder of Ines.

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While Peter was away on a hunting trip, the King traveled to Coimbra to assassinate Ines. When the time came, it was said that the King was so moved upon seeing his grandchildren that he had the order stopped. His persistent advisers convinced him otherwise, and he left the room saying, “Do whatever you want.” The three assassins—Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco—stabbed her to death with their swords. Ines’ corpse was quickly buried in the cemetery of the Santa Clara Church.

When Peter learned of his beloved’s death, he declared war against his father. He was, however, quickly defeated amid all his efforts. Two years later, King Afonso died and Peter ascended the throne. One of his first orders was a public execution of the assassins, save for Lopes Pacheco who managed to escape. After being tortured, the two were maniacally executed by the ripping of their hearts—one through his back, and one through his chest. Peter later announced to the court that he had married Ines in secret. Though he had no proof, no one had dared to contest the King after witnessing what happened to the two assassins.

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The King demanded that Ines be recognized as the Queen of Portugal. Upon his orders, Ines’ body was exhumed from her grave. The corpse was then dressed in royal robes, and given a proper procession. According to the royal archivist of Portugal, “he brought her corpse from the monastery of Santa Clara de Coimbra, where she had been laid, in the most exalted procession that could be arranged. She arrived in a procession with extremely correct protocol for the time, carried by great cavaliers, accompanied by gentlemen of noble birth and many other people, and ladies, and damsels and a great number of clergy.”

He continued, “By the side of the road stood many men with great candles in their hands, organized in such a way that, wherever the corpse went, along the entire route, it traveled between lit candles. And thus they arrived at the aforesaid monastery, seventeen leagues distant, where with many masses and great solemnity, her corpse was placed in that monument. And that was the grandest funeral procession which had been seen in Portugal as of that time.”

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When the corpse arrived at the monastery, it was placed on a throne, anointed, and then crowned. All of the kingdom’s noblemen as well as the clergy and peasants then lined up to bow and kiss the dead queen’s hand. Ines was finally laid to rest at a tomb in Alcobaça Monastery, and when the King died, he was placed next to her.

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Paolo Chua
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