Thinking about yesterday’s wallpaper, and how the Taj Mahal is really a monument to love, reminded me of a wonderful bit of Portuguese history.
In 1340, two women arrived in Portugal as part of a royal wedding alliance: Infanta (Princess) Constança de Castela, and her lady in waiting, Inês de Castro. Though a mere lady in waiting, Inês had quite a royal lineage of her own, but since it was mostly through illegitimate relations, it didn’t count.
Constança de Castela had been imported from Spain to Portugal to marry Pedro, the crown prince. Unfortunately Pedro fell in love with Inês instead, apparently the moment he set eyes on her “heron neck.” It was mutual. Various attempts to separate the two lovers, including a royal banishment of Inês from the court, failed to have any effect. Pedro simply left his wife behind and rode to Castela (Castilla) to visit his true love.
When Constança died in 1345, Pedro immediately brought Inês back from her banishment and set up housekeeping with her in Coimbra, where they proceeded to have four children together. King Afonso IV kept trying to marry him off in another acceptable alliance, but Pedro wanted nobody but Inês. Alas for him, the love of his life did not have a suitable bloodline for a queenship. She also came with some serious baggage: a pair of brothers who eventually convinced Pedro to make a play for the Castilian throne. Fearing that Pedro would drag Portugal into the unending dynastic wars of the Spanish kingdoms, and that his only legitimate heir — who was a frail child — might be put aside in favor of the healthier but illegitimate children of Inês, King Afonso did what any worried father might do: he had Inês killed. Stabbed to death, actually, by three courtiers. In front of her children.
As you can imagine, this did not endear the father to the son. A revolt ensued, with Pedro laying siege to Porto, but after several months the Queen managed a reconciliation. Pedro promised to forgive. Two years later Afonso died and Pedro, upon ascending the throne, promptly broke his promise of forgiveness and tracked down two of the three men who had murdered his love. Both were publicly executed in front of the Royal Palace — the first by having his beating heart pulled out through his back, and the second by having his heart pulled out through his chest. Since they had destroyed Pedro’s heart by killing Inês, he felt it was only fair that he destroy theirs.
Having satisfied his need for revenge (or as much of it as he could, given that the third man got away), Pedro then made a surprising announcement: he and Inês had been secretly married, which made her the lawful Queen of Portugal. (Never mind that the witnesses couldn’t seem to recall the actual date of the marriage.) Thus she needed to be buried properly as a queen.
Chronicler Fernão Lopes (ca. 1378-1459) described it thus: “[King] Pedro ordered a tomb of white marble, finely surmounted by her crowned statue, as if she was a Queen; and then he caused the tomb to be placed in the Monastery of Alcobaça […] and made the corpse come from the Monastery of Santa Clara of Coimbra, escorted by many horses and noblemen and maids and clergymen. And all the way through, a thousand men were holding candles, in such a way that always the body was enlightened; and thus it arrived at the Monastery, which was seventeen thousand leagues away from Coimbra, where the body was buried with many religious services and great solemnity. And it was the most magnificent translation ever seen in Portugal”. The extraordinary splendour of this unique ceremony was so impressive that Heinrich Schöffer (Historia de Portugal, ed. 1893) described the scene with a memorable metaphor: “Inês de Castro was led to Alcobaça between two lines of stars”.
Here is where history merges into myth, though I prefer to believe the myth is real. Before Inês was reburied, Pedro was said to have propped her corpse on the royal throne and put the crown on her head. Then he forced every member of the court to swear allegiance to her, and acknowledge her as the true Queen of Portugal, by kissing her hand.
It’s not quite the Taj Mahal, but it’s undeniably romantic. And I just love the idea of Pedro rubbing his court’s face in it…literally.
There is a wonderful ironic ending to the story. That frail child of Pedro and his first wife Constança did indeed become king after Pedro. But he was the last of that dynasty. In 1428, the heir to the Portuguese throne married Leonor of Aragon — the great granddaughter of Inês. The kings of that dynasty, who presided over the era of The Discoveries, were all descendants of Inês. In the end, Afonso and his murderous courtiers failed to keep her bloodline from the throne.
Not only that, but Inês lives on in a Portuguese idiom used when something is past repair: “Agora é tarde, Inês é morta” (It’s too late, Inês is dead). There is no greater immortality than being preserved in language.