As one of the most cruel and heart-rending tragedies of the middle ages, the love-story and the assassination of Iñez de Castro has lived in song and story for five hundred and fifty years, and still awakens echoes of pity and sorrow whenever read or heard.
Constancia, the wife of Pedro, son of Alfonso the Fourth of Portugal, and heir-presumptive to the crown of that kingdom, died in 1344, and left to her husband a son of tender age, named Ferdinand. Pedro thereupon desired to marry the countess Iñez de Castro, a young lady of great beauty and loveliness, and, like himself, sprung in direct lineage, but on her mother’s side, from the royal house of Castile. Iñez de Castro was of an illustrious family, it is true, but her rank was not deemed sufficient to entitle her to become the wife of the Crown Prince; therefore when Dom Pedro mentioned to his father his intention to marry her, the King positively refused his consent. Dom Pedro, however, instead of obeying his father, secured permission from the Pope, and secretly married her, bestowing upon her the full rank and all the rights of a legitimate wife.
In the meantime the King and his advisers urged Dom Pedro to get married again, and proposed a number of young princesses of renowned beauty and ancestry for his choice. But Pedro, without disclosing the secret of his marriage with Iñez de Castro (rumors of which were nevertheless whispered and busily circulated at the court of the King), persistently rejected all these proposals, giving no other reason for his refusal than his personal disinclination to marry. While Pedro’s father reluctantly accepted his son’s emphatic declaration, the most trusted advisers and counsellors of the King, Diego Lopez Pacheco, Pedro Coello, and Alvaro Calvarez, did not, because they were afraid lest the influence of the beautiful and accomplished Iñez de Castro—no matter whether she was legally married to Pedro or not—would be dangerous and possibly fatal to their own preëminence at the court, as soon as Pedro should succeed his father on the throne. They shrewdly worked upon the King’s mind by insinuating that if the rumor of Pedro’s secret marriage should prove to be true, the ultimate succession of Ferdinand, Pedro’s son by his first wife, to whom the King was very much attached, might be endangered, and that possibly the son of Iñez de Castro would become Pedro’s successor on the throne.
The King summoned Pedro to a private interview, and asked him concerning his relations with Iñez de Castro, informing him at the same time of the rumor of his secret marriage. Pedro denied the truth of this rumor, admitting, however, that Iñez de Castro, while not his wedded wife, was so dear to his heart that on her account he would not consent to form a new matrimonial alliance, no matter how illustrious by birth or beauty the princess proposed to him might be. The emphasis with which Pedro made this assertion satisfied his father that the rumor of a secret marriage was true; and when the King, at the next cabinet council, repeated to his confidants the result of his interview with the Crown Prince, they predicted that the greatest calamities would arise, after the King’s death, from the Crown Prince’s infatuation for Iñez, which they ascribed rather to unnatural evil influences than to the surpassing beauty and loveliness of the young woman. The King, a man of very irascible temperament, became excited and indignant; he declared again and again that, if there were no other means of separating Pedro and Iñez, the young woman would have to die. The council then broke up.
It was but a short time afterwards that Dom Pedro left the court for a few days to go out hunting with some friends. But warned by his mother, who had heard of the King’s evil designs upon Iñez de Castro, he had taken her and her two children to Coimbra, where he left them in a convent to await his return. On the day after his departure, King Alfonso suddenly appeared at the convent and demanded to see Iñez de Castro. Pedro’s wife immediately made her appearance, accompanied by her two children. As she looked upon the King, whose mien was grim and menacing, and who was surrounded by a number of his knights in full armor, a presentiment of some terrible calamity which was to befall her and her two children entered her breast, and from an impulse of both fear, and of hope to save her children, she threw herself at the King’s feet, imploring him to forgive her and to take pity on her innocent children. Alfonso’s heart melted with pity at the sight of so much beauty and innocence. He raised her from her kneeling position and told her to be of good cheer, and that no harm would befall her. And then turning round, he left the convent, followed by his attendants, who were not a little surprised at this peaceful ending of a visit which had promised to be a tragedy.
But while Iñez already congratulated herself on her lucky escape from a terrible death, and even on her good fortune in having softened the King’s heart toward herself and her two children, she was nevertheless doomed to ruin. The three counsellors so hostile to her had not accompanied the King on his visit to the convent; they were waiting for the return of their sovereign at some distance from Coimbra, and were greatly disappointed when they learned from his own lips that, instead of having slain with his own hands, as he had promised to do, the woman who had seduced his son and enthralled him either by her beauty or by the employment of supernatural means, he had changed his mind concerning her, and now spoke feelingly and affectionately of her and her sweet children. The counsellors concealed with great difficulty the irritation and disgust with which the King’s weakness filled them; they immediately proceeded to counteract the favorable impression which Iñez had made, uttering the foulest insinuations and aspersions upon her character. The very change which she had succeeded in effecting in the King’s sentiments toward her was made the means of renewing and corroborating the charge that evil spirits were assisting her in bewitching the royal family for her own selfish purposes. “Since she has so easily captured your majesty,” said one of them cunningly, “who can hope to resist her and her ambitious designs? Poor Ferdinand!”
The artful mention of the name of the young prince, whose right of succession was endangered by the recognition of Iñez de Castro, was sufficient to elicit from the King the promise that his son’s mistress should never be received at the court. Having obtained this concession, the three counsellors found it comparatively easy to persuade him that the original purpose for which they had come to Coimbra—the death of Iñez—was the only salvation for the throne and the dynasty, and that it was his duty as a monarch to remove her as soon as possible in order to avert greater calamities. They told him that it was perhaps right that he had not soiled his royal hands with the blood of one who was unworthy of the high distinction of dying by his sword, but that it was a duty he owed to the state and to the legitimate heir to the throne to order her death at the earliest moment. Alfonso was weak and foolish enough to believe them and to sanction the murder of the fair and innocent wife of his son. That very night Iñez de Castro fell a victim to the daggers of two assassins.
The assassination provoked terror throughout Portugal and Spain, and general were the denunciations of the King and the counsellors who had advised him to commit the crime. But in this case what followed the murder has, even more than the atrocity of the crime itself, made it famous in song and story. The murder of Iñez de Castro occurred in 1355.
A rumor of the tragedy reached Dom Pedro while he was taking dinner at the small tavern of a village, some thirty leagues from Coimbra. The Crown Prince was travelling incognito, and neither the host nor the guests of the tavern, except his own companions, knew him and how deeply he was interested in the terrible news which a cattle dealer had just reported as the latest sensation in the city. Dom Pedro hurried back to Coimbra and to the convent. The rumor was only too true. His idolized wife was dead. Three horrible wounds, each of which would have been sufficient to cause death, disfigured her beautiful corpse; but her countenance shone with angelic radiance and sweetness, and the agony of death seemed to have left no trace on it. When Dom Pedro learned from the nuns how the assassins had demanded entrance in the name of the King and had burst open the bedroom of Iñez and butchered her without mercy, he knelt down by the coffin and swore bloody vengeance against all those who had taken a hand in this inhuman and atrocious crime. He called upon Heaven to assist him in bringing the assassins and their instigators to justice, and laying his hands upon the breast of his murdered wife, he swore that he would not desist from the pursuit of the guilty persons, even if he had to seek them on the throne. The meaning of these words could not be misconstrued, for it was generally understood that, while the three counsellors had proposed the murder, the King had given his consent to it. When Dom Pedro’s threat was repeated to him, the King, highly incensed, loudly proclaimed that Iñez de Castro’s death was a just punishment for her criminal liaison with the Crown Prince, in open violation of the King’s order, and assumed the full responsibility for the murder. The Crown Prince, so rudely repelled by his father and deeply wounded by the disgrace heaped upon his virtuous wife, refused to return to the court; on the contrary, he called his friends, and the friends of Iñez de Castro, her brothers and cousins, to arms. The cruel and unjustifiable homicide he justly ascribed to the calumnies and intrigues of a set of rapacious cut-throats who were ready to sacrifice everything to their own personal interests, and who had deceived the King. In a very short time Dom Pedro found himself at the head of an army, with which he invaded those provinces in which the castles and mansions of the counsellors were situated. With merciless severity their lands were laid waste, their castles razed to the ground, their families and friends killed, and everything was done to make their very names and memories odious to their fellow-men.
By that time the King had also been informed by high dignitaries of the Church that the union between his son and Iñez de Castro had been consecrated, that the Pope himself had granted them permission to get married, and that strict secrecy had been observed simply out of high regard for the King, in the hope that he would never hear of it and would consequently not feel irritated by it. This information had a powerful effect on the King’s mind. He began to see what a great crime he had committed in sanctioning the murder of a virtuous and innocent young wife, whose only fault had possibly been her yielding, against the King’s outspoken wishes, to the Prince’s ardent wooing. And when the Queen, Dom Pedro’s mother, added her supplications and tears in behalf of her son, whom the murder of his wife had made nearly insane from grief, the King became more and more willing to be reconciled to him. He not only forgave his acts of rebellion, but even made amends, as much as he could, for the cruel wrong he had done him.
Under such circumstances it was comparatively easy for the Archbishop of Braga, whom the Pope had authorized to impart to the King the information concerning Dom Pedro’s marriage, to effect a reconciliation between father and son. Thereupon the son returned to the court, where he was received with the highest honors, after he had solemnly promised not to take revenge on the counsellors who had been instrumental in causing the death of his wife, and who had already been so severely punished by the devastation of their lands and the destruction of their castles. To consent to this condition was the cruelest sacrifice on the part of Dom Pedro, but he finally yielded to the tears and prayers of his mother—very likely, however, as we shall see, with a mental reservation.
Two years later, King Alfonso the Fourth died, and Dom Pedro ascended the throne of Portugal. The old King’s death was also the signal for the flight of his three counsellors, Pacheco, Coello, and Gonsalvez, whose absence was first noticed at the King’s obsequies. They had sought refuge in Castile, because they felt instinctively that it would not be safe for them to remain in Portugal, and that the ill-concealed hatred of Dom Pedro might break forth at any moment and punish them terribly for the part they had taken in Iñez de Castro’s death. In fact Pedro had never forgiven the assassins of his wife. On the contrary, his heart had never ceased to yearn for the day when he could not only take full and bloody revenge on her persecutors and murderers, but also restore the honor of her name and memory, which had been sullied by the calumnies of those scoundrels.
Castile was at that time ruled by Pedro the Cruel, one of the worst and most bloodthirsty tyrants that ever sat upon a Spanish throne. Some of his victims had made their escape into Portugal and had found protection at the court of Alfonso, Dom Pedro’s father. But when the counsellors of Alfonso arrived at his court, Pedro the Cruel formed the diabolical plan of delivering them up to Pedro of Portugal, provided the latter would deliver, in exchange for them, the Castilians who had found an asylum in his kingdom. No more agreeable proposition could have been made to the King of Portugal, and the exchange was readily made. Two of the counsellors, Coello and Gonsalvez, were transported in chains to Portugal, and executed with inhuman cruelty. They were put to the torture in the hope of extorting from them the names of other accessories to the crime; thereupon they were burned at the stake, and their hearts were torn out; and thereafter their ashes were scattered to the winds. Pacheco, however, escaped this terrible fate. Being absent from the court of Castile when his two colleagues were arrested, he fled to Aragon.
After having in this manner satisfied his vengeance on the assassins, King Pedro assembled the high nobility and the great dignitaries of his kingdom at Cataneda, and in their presence swore that, after the death of his first wife, Constancia, he had legally married Iñez de Castro; that the Pope of Rome had given him special permission to do so, and that the marriage ceremony had been performed by the Archbishop La Guarda, in the presence of two witnesses, whom he mentioned by name. He ordered these facts to be entered upon the archives of the state and to be proclaimed publicly in every city, town, and village of the kingdom. The children of Iñez de Castro were declared legitimate and entitled to all the rights and prerogatives of princes of the blood, including succession to the throne of Portugal. Proceeding thence to Coimbra, the King ordered the vault in which the remains of Iñez had been deposited to be opened, her corpse, which had been embalmed, to be dressed in a royal robe and placed upon a throne, and her head to be adorned with a royal crown. He compelled his attendants, composed of the highest men of the monarchy, to pass by the throne and bow their knees and kiss the edge of the Queen’s robe,—in fact, to show the same reverence and respect to the dead Queen as they might have shown to the living Queen on the day of her coronation. As soon as this ghastly ceremony was over, the corpse was placed in a magnificent metal coffin and escorted by the King and a most brilliant cortège of knights and noblemen to Alcobaza, a royal residence about seventeen miles from Coimbra, and placed in a royal vault. A magnificent monument, which represented Iñez de Castro in her incomparable beauty and loveliness, was shortly after erected near the vault. It was the last tribute which the love and admiration of her husband could render to her memory.