You may not be aware that the Portuguese have their very own Romeo and Juliet – Pedro and Inês. Their story is more romantic, tragic, and macabre than anything that Shakespeare could have imagined!

By Sophie Sadler

I learnt of this real-life tragic love story when I visited Coimbra. A tour guide joked that only in Portugal could such a tale have evolved. It is a medieval drama including politics, family feuds, murder and a posthumous Queen – all taking place within Portugal’s royal family. You couldn’t make it up, and their doomed union has inspired writers and poets and been the subject of myths and legends ever since.

Born in 1320 to Afonso IV Portugal and Beatrice of Castile, Pedro was betrothed to Constança of Castile when he was 19.

Afonso was driven to align their dynasty with a powerful Castilian aristocrat as a rebuke to Alfonso XI of Castile, who had abandoned his eldest daughter, Princess Maria, in favour of a mistress. Maria returned to her father in Portugal in 1335 after bearing a son, the future Pedro of Castile. 

Pedro’s bride arrived in Portugal in 1340, but this new union was to prove no more successful. The arranged marriage hit rocky ground when the heir to the throne fell head over heels for Constança’s lady-in-waiting, the beautiful Inês de Castro.

Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears) in Coimbra is the setting for this story of star-crossed lovers. Nowadays, the former palace is a luxury hotel, but it was once the backdrop to Pedro and Inês’ affair. During the Romance period, a folly was built in the botanical gardens to mark a place where Pedro and Inês probably met in secret. It is believed they used a secret tunnel nearby to avoid discovery.

Despite this precaution, their affair was an ill-kept secret that Constança was well aware of. She even made Inês godmother to one of her children so that the bond between her adulterous husband and her lady-in-waiting was deemed incestuous by the rules of the time. This could not quell their passion and Inês bore four children, three of whom survived her. The neglect of his lawful wife caused even more tension with Castile. 

Constança of Castile died in 1345, weeks after giving birth to a son, who eventually became the first of Pedro’s sons to succeed him as king of Portugal. Despite Afonso IV attempting to arrange another marriage for his son, Pedro refused to marry anyone but Inês, who was not considered eligible to be queen. To add insult to injury, Pedro’s legitimate son, the future King Ferdinand I of Portugal, was sickly and frail.

On the other hand, Pedro and Inês’s illegitimate children were strong. Inês brothers were given more power, creating even more discomfort among the Portuguese nobles, who feared the increasing Castilian influence over Pedro. 

Despite this, it is reported that Pedro and Inês lived together at Santa Clara Palace, in Coimbra, with their three children for many years. 

If this all sounds quite romantic – wait for the next part! Maddened that his attempts to keep the lovers apart had been unsuccessful, Afonso IV ordered Inês’s death. Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves and Diogo Lopes Pacheco were employed as the assassins. Inês was detained at the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra and was killed by decapitation in front of her small child. 

Unsurprisingly, Pedro was distraught with grief and rage, and sought his revenge. He captured two of his love’s killers and executed them publicly by ripping their hearts out, claiming they didn’t deserve one after having broken his own heart.

Pedro never forgave his father and revolted against him. Afonso defeated his son within a year but died shortly after, and Pedro succeeded to the throne in 1357. He ruled for a decade, stating that he had secretly married Inês, who was consequently the lawful queen. His word was, and still is, the only proof of the marriage. 

The new king ordered the body of Inês to be moved from Coimbra to the Royal Monastery of Alcobaça in April 1360. Two magnificent tombs were built so that he could rest next to his eternal love forever. Their children were also legitimised and became John, Duke of Valencia de Campos Denis, Lord of Cifuentes and Beatrice, Countess of Alburquerque.

Pedro ordered that Inês now be recognised as Queen of Portugal. Legend has it that he had her corpse adorned in royal robes and jewels and she was placed in a throne. According to this account, his courtiers were made to kiss the skeleton bride’s hand, thus rendering her when dead the homage which she had not received in her life.

This grisly post-mortem coronation has been disputed as being the stuff of legends since the story only appeared in 1577 in Jerónimo Bermúdez’ play Nise Laureada. Depending on your interpretation of the story, he is now known as Pedro the Just (o Justo) or the Cruel (o Cruel).

Pedro ordered that Inês’ coffin be built opposite his final resting place so that, at the Last Judgment, the two lovers could look at each other as they rose from their graves. The marble coffins are intricately sculpted with scenes from their lives and a promise by Pedro that they would be together até ao fim do mundo (until the end of the world).

Thus, the most overwhelming Portuguese love story is immortalised in stone – the rest is the stuff of legend.

Who was Inês de Castro?

Born in 1325, Inês was the daughter of Pedro Fernández de Castro, Lord of Lemos and Sarria, and his noble Portuguese mistress Aldonça Lourenço de Valadares. Her family descended both from the Galician and Portuguese nobilities. She was also well connected to the Castilian royal family (by illegitimate descent), which allowed Inês to move in the right circles.

Inês came to Portugal in 1340 as a lady-in-waiting to Constança and had a connection to the country, being legitimately descended from Infanta Sancha Henriques of Portugal, the daughter of Henry, Count of Portugal.

The love affair and father-son conflict inspired more than twenty operas and many writers, including: the Portuguese national epic Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões, the Spanish Nise Lastimosa and Nise laureada (1577) by Jerónimo Bermúdez, Reinar después de Morir by Luís Vélez de Guevara, as well as Inez de Castro by Mary Russell Mitford and Henry de Montherlant’s French drama La Reine morte.

The Alcobaça Monastery

The Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça is located in central Portugal, 120 km north of Lisbon. The monastery was established in 1153 by the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques. It was favoured by the Portuguese monarchy throughout its seven-century-long history and is now a World Heritage Site.

It is unknown who created the tombs of Pedro and Inês in Alcobaça, but they are among the best works of Gothic sculpture in Portugal. The King’s Tomb is supported by lions and Inês’ tomb with sculpted half-men half-beasts, which lift the recumbent figures of the deceased assisted by a group of angels. 

www.mosteiroalcobaca.gov.pt

Jardins da Quinta das Lágrimas

According to legend, this beautiful parkland in the centre of the city is where Dona Inês de Castro (aka Portugal’s Juliet to the Infante Pedro’s Romeo) was murdered on the orders of King Afonso IV. Nowadays, it’s home to a five-star hotel, but anyone can take a turn about the romantic grounds and track down the Fonte dos Amores (Lovers’ Fountain), which reputedly marks the spot where Inês was struck down. Look also for a sequoia tree planted by the Duke of Wellington.

You can even stay at Quinta das Lágrimas Hotel in five-star luxury (www.quintadaslagrimas.pt).

Interesting fact:

Pedro’s second son to succeed him was King John, who was the result of an affair with Teresa Lourenço after the death of Inês. She is believed to have been a commoner from Lisbon. After the birth of John, nothing further is known about Teresa.