The dead queen

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.

the dead queen

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.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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18 Responses to The dead queen

  1. M. says:

    What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. MJ Valente says:

    My favorite Portuguese “historical story”. Alcobaça Monastery is worth the visit just to see their tombs. United even after death indeed.

    Here’s a (probably fake) gossip that you will like. Apparently during the 40s or 50s some Hollywood people tried to put the story into a movie… but Salazar (the dictator) didn’t allow it.

    Hm… seeing Inês played by Ingrid. Or Ava. Or Deborah. Or Liz. 🙂 Oh, Liz might be perfect. ]:) → memories of Ivanhoe, I’m sure.

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    Good! Stories and legends!
    I’m remembering that beautiful post “The almonds of Al-Gharb”

    MJ, please, I’m curious. If true, why would Salazar do that?

  4. Jbrandao says:

    Yeah, I don’t see why Salazar would prohibit that. In fact, it would be a movie exhalting portuguese history. he would be all over it.

    But yeah, it would still make a great story for a hollywood movie.

  5. MJ Valente says:

    Well, as I mentioned above I’m not really sure the Salazar story is true. However, Salazar’s reaction doesn’t strike me as weird as you might think. Jbrandao is right on the movie’s exaltation of the Portuguese history… in OUR perspective. But bare in mind that Salazar wasn’t appreciative of foreign stuff and most probably thought Hollywood movies were crap. Also we don’t really know who was involved in the movie’s production… maybe it was low quality or they had chosen Jayne to play Inês! (Well, even Amália refused to play in Hollywood, and that seems to be a TRUE fact.)

    • Ana_ñ says:

      “… in OUR perspective” and nothing foreign. Oh yes, you are right, that is the key.
      Franco loved those pseudo-historical awful Spanish films, which he could fully control. As for Hollywood films, I think he only was happy with “El Cid”… but that is another story.
      The majority of Hollywood films were terribly cut by censors and manipulated in the dubbing. And they were so idiots that they created monsters. See the funny story of Mogambo: apart from many cuts, in order to prevent an extramarital affair, the married couple became siblings. So, now we have an incomprehensible plot with a weird impression of incest.

      • oregon expat says:

        !! So in Franco’s world, incest was preferable to marital cheating? Just goes to show how morals are relative.

        • Ana_ñ says:

          No, no, no. They didn’t realize what they were doing. Their idea was, a sister (Grace Kelly) falls in love with a non-suitable man, and the brother tries to prevent it: “The bad man (Clark Gable) with the bad woman (Ava Gardner)” No complications, no love triangles, a safari, beautiful Africa, that’s all. But, in spite of the missed parts, non-stupid people perceived an incestuous subtext because they could sense the jealousy, etc. As I say, idiots.

          • oregon expat says:

            Ah, I get it. Hm, there must be an idiom for making things worse while trying to make them better…

          • Lilaine says:

            Oregon Expat said : “..there must be an idiom for making things worse while trying to make them better…”

            In French we say : “Le remède est pire que le mal”

      • M. says:

        LOL And here I thought our censors were bad 😀

  6. oregon expat says:

    Yes, that’s it! We have it in English too: “The cure is worse than the disease.” Thanks!

  7. E.P. says:

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing. I can’t imagine another context in which I would have heard it.

  8. Anahit says:

    A beautiful story, though sad, I started searching about it after watching a randomly chosen film called “La reine morte”. the plot being unusual one, I wanted to know its historical background, (the actress playing Ines(Gaelle Bona) being so beautiful and so convining ), and here I am 🙂

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