The King’s Mistress – The Mystery Woman Who Founded a Dynasty

Among the many Portuguese historical figures whose names you might recognise, one name that is probably not familiar to you is Teresa Lourenço. She was not a queen or princess, yet she was the grandmother of Henry the Navigator and founded a great dynasty of Portuguese and European royalty.

A story you may be more familiar with is the tragic tale of Peter and Inês. This tale of star-crossed lovers is a Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, but a lot more gorey. I became fascinated by the legend following a trip to Coimbra and wrote about it in the January 2022 edition (see link below). In short, this tale begins with Peter´s arranged marriage to Constança of Castile when he was just 19. 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.

There followed a love story of illicit passion carried out amidst the stunning backdrop of the palace of Quinta das Lágrimas. After Queen Constança died, Pedro and Inês lived together, seemingly happily, with their children. That is until Afonso IV, enraged at his son´s impropriety and refusal to wed again, ordered Inês’ death. Our unfortunate heroine was detained at the Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra and killed by decapitation in front of her small child. 

Understandably, Pedro´s grief and rage knew no bounds. He inflicted a bloody revenge on her killers, rebelled against his father and had Inês posthumously crowned queen.

However, it would appear that later in life, Pedro sought companionship with another woman named Teresa. According to Fernão Lopes, a 15th-century Portuguese chronicler, she was a noblewoman called Dona Tareija Lourenço from the Kingdom of Galicia. In the eighteenth century, this claim was disputed. António Caetano de Sousa found a document in the Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo which established that she was a common woman from Lisbon. Her parents were Lourenço and Sancha Martins, who were merchants. The only other thing we know about this mysterious lady, who captured a king´s heart or, if we are being cynical, bed, is that she gave birth to a son called John.

Pedro entrusted the boy to Teresa’s father, to give him a good education and raise him to be a knight. In 1364, John was created Grand Master of the Order of Aviz. 

King Pedro was succeeded by Ferdinand I, his second but eldest surviving son with Queen Constança. However, Ferdinand died in 1383 without a male heir. Strenuous efforts were made to secure the succession for his daughter Beatrice, who was Ferdinand’s only surviving legitimate child, with his queen consort, Leonor Teles. However, Beatrice was already queen consort to King John I of Castile.

On her father’s death, Beatrice was proclaimed queen regnant of Portugal and her mother assumed the regency in her name. There was much opposition to the regency, as it effectively meant that Portugal became an annexe of Castile. John I of Castile claimed the throne of Portugal by right of his wife, which meant that Portugal would lose its independence as a separate country. The discontent led to a popular rebellion and civil war. Ferdinand I’s illegitimate brother, John of Aviz, seized control of the regency from the dowager queen and the supporters of Beatrice and her husband. In 1385, John of Aviz was proclaimed King of Portugal, and the King of Castile was definitively defeated in the Battle of Aljubarrota. This effectively ended any prospects for Beatrice and her husband to assert their rights to the Portuguese crown.

Philippa of Lancaster (1360-1415), Queen consort of Portugal due to her marriage to King John I of Portugal. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So, the son of an unknown woman became king of Portugal. On 2 February 1387, John I married Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, in Porto. From that marriage were born several famous princes and princesses of Portugal who became known as the “illustrious generation” (Ínclita Geração). King John and Queen Philippa founded a dynasty that made historically significant contributions in their own right. Edward became the eleventh king of Portugal and was known as “the Philosopher” or “the Eloquent”. Henry the Navigator sponsored expeditions to Africa. Isabela married Philip III of Burgundy and their son was Charles the Bold. John became Constable of Portugal, Lord of Reguengos, and grandfather of two 16th-century Iberian monarchs (Manuel I of Portugal and Isabella I of Castile).

Through her son John of Aviz, Teresa is the ancestor of an impressive list of royals, yet after the birth of John, nothing further is known about Teresa. You may like to reflect on the character of a woman who has been lost in the annals of history and whose lineage founded a royal dynasty.

For the article on Peter and Inês

Main image: Portrait of King John I of Portugal. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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