Pedro the Cruel

Pedro the Cruel Photo Credit- Luis García
Pedro the Cruel Photo Credit- Luis García

No one looks at their sweet newborn baby and thinks some day his nickname is going to be “the cruel”.  However, let’s say with start Pedro had it’s not surprising.  His father, Alfonso XI, King of Castile, ditched his wife, Maria of Portugal, for his mistress.  Once his wife gave him a son, he shipped them both off to exile away from court.  He continued living with his mistress, with whom he had 10 children two of which were twin boys, leaving Maria to pour bitterness in Pedro’s ears.

Pedro remained under his mother’s control away from court until 1350.  When Pedro was 16, his father died of the black plague leaving Pedro to take the Castilian throne.  He inaugurated his reign by killing a supporter of his half brothers, who were rivals of his for the throne.  He also had his father’s mistress killed.  Basically if someone looked sideways at him, Pedro had them killed.  One of his former ministers on the eve of his execution, wrote to the young king pleading, “Now at the moment of death, I give you my final counsel – if you do not put aside the dagger, if you do not stop committing such murders, then you shall lose your realm and place your person in the greatest jeopardy.”  Those pleas fell on deaf ears.  Historian L.J. Andrew Villalon described the Castilian king this way, “From early in Pedro’s reign, it became clear to friend and foe alike that the monarch had a suspicious and vindictive personality. He employed deceit and cruelty wherever he encountered opposition, real or imagined. His unforgiving nature, combined with a very long memory, made it very hazardous for an opponent to attempt reconciliation with the king. Time and again, the aristocracy looked on as one of its members thought he had made peace with the king, only to be executed or assassinated when the opportunity arose…a modern psychiatrist could scarcely avoid a diagnosis of progressive paranoia, aggravated by homicidal rage and sadistic tendencies.”  Fun guy.

Going against his chief minister, Pedro fell in love and secretly married María de Padilla.  María had her own ambitions and did not like his chief minister.  Scrambling to save his position, he convinced Pedro to marry Blanche of Bourbon, the daughter of the Duke of Bourbon.  Politically, it was ideal as she sealed a needed alliance with the French and brought him a huge dowry.  In a situation much like his childhood, Pedro married Blanche then immediately went back to María, who influenced him to get rid of the scheming minister who arranged his marriage.  This caused a huge scandal and alienated France and the Pope.  He only spent two nights with Blanche, who he eventually had murdered in 1361.

In the meantime, instead of fighting the Muslims of Granada, like his forefathers, he teamed up with them and turned on the Aragonese.  In the midst of that war, he invited his half brother, Fadrique, to dinner and the dessert course was a mace to the head.  The murder of his twin enraged Enrique and he allied with Aragon.  Help put Enrique on the throne and the war with Castile ends.  This was working and Enrique had driven Pedro from Castile by 1366.  However, Pedro had one more trick up his sleeve.

Pedro struck a deal with Edward, the Black Prince of England.  The Hundred Years War spilled over to Spain as the English beat a French Castilian army at Najera in 1367.  However, the English alliance fell apart after Pedro killed one of the prisoners in a fit of rage and kept forgetting to pay his English allies.

The wars drug on and through some double dealing Pedro ended up in a tent with his half brother, Enrique.  Cage match 1369 was about to begin.  Accounts differ as to what happened inside the tent.  One story says Enrique didn’t recognize Pedro so someone had to point him out.  Enrique must have needed glasses because when he still didn’t get it, Pedro screamed, “It’s me!  It’s me!”

Peter's beheading, from a 14th-century French manuscript.
Peter’s beheading, from a 14th-century French manuscript.

Froissart’s version is a bit more inflammatory.  He says Enrique came into the tent demanding. “Where is the son of a Jew whore who calls himself king of Castile?”  Them was fighting words. Pedro answered, “You are the son of a whore, for I am son of the good King Alfonso!”

In any case, weapons were drawn and they both came out swinging.  Most accounts say Pedro had the upper hand until someone pulled him off Enrique, who took that opportunity to plunge his sword into his half brother’s stomach.  Pedro the Cruel lay dead on the ground.  Enrique had Pedro’s body beheaded and left to be abused for several days.  A fitting end to a man nicknamed “the cruel”.


Sources available on request


Manco Inca Yupanqui

Photo- Manco Inca - Artist Unknown
Photo- Manco Inca – Artist Unknown

The Inca had a great empire in what is now Peru, parts of Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and Chile and a small part of southern Colombia.  They were the Roman Empires of the Americas.  However, they when the Spanish explorers first encountered them the Inca were coming off a debilitating civil war and in the middle of a smallpox epidemic.  160 Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Peru with Francisco Pizarro, and they took full advantage of the destabilizing political situation.

The civil war was between two brothers who both claimed the throne-  Atahuallpa and Huascar.  The war was only ended when Atahuallpa killed his brother, however, the kingdom was left weakened.  Pizarro appeared and Atahuallpa was carried to him on a golden throne lined with parakeet feathers wearing a necklace of large green emeralds and gold ornaments in his hair.  The wealth hungry Spanish were immediately interested.  The priests in Pizarro’s party tried to convert Atahuallpa to Christianity and the accept the King of Spain as the ruler of the Inca.  Atahuallpa refused.  He was the emperor of the Inca and had just fought his own brother to get there, now a bunch of strangers wanted him to give that up?  I imagine some choice Incan words were also shared.  The Spanish did not take kindly to this, and the Emperor was taken prisoner.  Realizing the Spanish were money hungry, Atahuallpa tried to bribe his way to freedom.  He promised them a room full of silver and gold.  They agreed, but when they got the goods Pizarro had Atahuallpa strangled.  So much for bribery.

After Atahuallpa’s murder, Pizarro had his younger brother , Tupac Huallpa, upon Atahualpa’s death, but he died shortly thereafter of smallpox.  They moved on to the next brother, Manco, and had him crowned as the Spanish’s puppet emperor and went about their business of making the Inca slaves and taking as much wealth as they could carry.  Manco was not treated well by his captors, who were rough men and did not respect any natives.  Pizarro’s brothers tortured him for the location of more wealth, and even kidnapped and raped both Manco’s wife and sister.  Manco tried to escape, but was captured and beaten, urinated on, and imprisoned in chains.  Really nice guys.  Knowing his captors hunger for gold, in 1536 Manco promised to show the Spanish where a solid gold statue of his father was located.  Manco got away and looked for ways to get back his empire.

In May of 1536, Manco led a massive army of 100,000 native warriors in a siege of Cuzco.  The Spanish only survived by occupying the nearby fortress of Sachsaywaman.  He did accomplish killing Juan Pizarro, one of the men who raped his wife and sister.  Pizarro sent reinforcements from Lima, but Manco had a plan for them.  Quizu Yupanqui, Manco’s general, ambushed the Spanish in a gorge and crushed them with rock slides.  Yupanqui was on a role and took out a second Spanish column a few weeks later and marched on Lima.  However, a surprise cavalry attack saved Lima before it could fall to the Inca.  Manco and his army were forced to fall back.

Manco set up an capital in exile in Vilcabamba in the Amazon jungle, and led guerilla attacks on the Spanish.  In 1539, Gonzalo Pizarro was sent to attack Vilcabamba, but sent two of Manco’s brothers ahead to negotiate.  Manco was having none of it, and sent his brothers’ heads back to the Spanish.  The Spanish attacked, and the Inca forces held them off with captured guns.  However, they were not proficient in using the guns and the Spanish got the upper hand.  Manco escaped Vilcabamba across a river, but his wife was left behind and was executed by the Spanish.  On the run and soaking wet, Manco Inca was still defiant and proud.  Surrounded by his warriors, he walked back to the river bank and shouted at the Spanish chasing him, “I am Manco Inca!  I am Manco Inca!”  Then he disappeared into the jungle.

The rebellions continued until Manco was assassinated by the Spanish in 1544.  He was succeeded by his son Sayri Tupaq.


Sources available on request

Mary Tudor and Philip- Another match made in hell

Painting of Mary and Philip at Sudeley Castle Photo Credit-
Painting of Mary and Philip at Sudeley Castle Photo Credit-

Mary Tudor was going to be a royal spinster. Under her father’s pronouncement of bastardy, no Catholic prince would have her, and she would take no Protestant suitor. She seemed doomed to live her life alone, bereft of husband and family that she longed for. Then a miracle happened. In 1553, she ascended the throne of England after her brother’s death and the usurpation of Jane Dudley nee Grey. At the age of 37, she became the hottest property on the marriage market of Europe.

Several candidates had been suggested for the Queen’s hand, including Edward Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, who had just been released from the tower. However, Charles V, Mary’s devious cousin and King of Spain, had other ideas. He instructed his special envoy, Simon Renard, to request a private audience with the Queen and formally offer her Philip of Spain’s hand in marriage. Philip was Charles’ son and was ten years Mary’s junior. He thought the match was a good one politically, but was less than enthusiastic personally. However, the prospect of a solidly Catholic husband to provide Mary with the desperately needed Catholic male heir was very appealing to her. Unless she had a child, England’s heir was her half sister Elizabeth. Besides being very Protestant, Mary also had doubts that they were even sisters. She swore that Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and her lute-player, Mark Smeaton. She told her ladies in waiting often that Elizabeth had his ‘face and countenance’.

Philip II of Spain by Titian Photo Credit- Wikipedia
Philip II of Spain by Titian Photo Credit- Wikipedia

When rumors of the Spanish marriage hit the xenophobic English court, they were not pleased with the prospect of a foreign husband for Mary. Stephen Gardiner lead a deputation made up of members of both Houses of Parliament to convince Mary marry an Englishman. Renard was afraid that Mary would bow to pressure and abandon the idea. He should not have worried. When presented with a portrait of Philip, she declared she was ‘half in love’ already.

Despite the misgivings of the English court and rumblings of rebellion it caused, the marriage took place at Winchester Cathedral on July 25, 1554. Philip and Mary had only met two days prior and Philip spoke no English. Mary was delighted with her new husband and ‘very lovingly, yea, and most joyfully, received him.’ Philip returned the affection with good grace, but from the reactions of his courtiers we can only imagine what he thought. Ruy Gomez, Philip’s closest friend and adviser, said Mary is ‘rather older than we had been told. She is not at all beautiful and is small and flabby rather than fat. She is of white complexion and fair, and has no eyebrows.’ He went onto say she ‘dresses badly’ and had lost most of her teeth. It is a fair assumption that these were Philip’s thoughts as well as he most certainly confided in Gomez. Not the most flattering description of your future wife.

"Maria Tudor" by Antonis Mor - Photo Credit- Museo del Prado Catalog
“Maria Tudor” by Antonis Mor – Photo Credit- Museo del Prado Catalog

This seemed to set the tone for the rest of their marriage, as Mary was head over heels for Philip and him seeing her as a political ally. Their marriage was a difficult one and Mary died pining for him several years later. A tragic end to a marriage that brought her so much hope.  (For more on Mary’s marriage with Philip, please see this post: )


Sources available on request

Werewolf of Alleriz

10685432_162863537389070_5228426016954290561_nLycanthropy is a mental disorder where a person believes that have the ability to turn into animals, in most cases the animal is a werewolf but can range anywhere from a hyena to a bear. This is exactly what occurred in the first recorded serial killer case in Spain, his name was Manuel Blanco Romasanta, or better known as the Werewolf of Allariz.

Most of Manuel’s life is not documented as he led a fairly average life up until the murders began but what is known shows a man who had a troubled past. Manuel was born on November 18, 1809 in Regueiro, a small village in the Ourense Province in Spain. His birth certificate would show a different story altogether as he was not named Manuel but Manuela. No, there was no sex change in Manuel’s life but instead a case of mistaken sexual identity. For the first six years of his life, Manual was thought to be a female until a doctor discovered that he was in fact a male and not a female.

When Manuel left home he did what most men did of the time, he found a trade and married. Until the death of his wife in 1833, Manuel worked as a tailor and was generally thought to have come from a wealthy family since he was able to read and write, traits that were not commonly practiced among the lower classes of Spain at the time.

Apparently Manuel lost his way in life after his wife passed for he left his career as a tailor and began traveling around Spain holding a variety a jobs. First he was a traveling salesman and then a guide for those who were traveling across the mountains.

The first run-in with the law occurred in 1844 when Manuel was charged with murdering the Constable of Leon, a man by the name of Vicente Fernandez. Manuel accrued a debt of 600 reales, about $151 in today’s currency, after purchasing some merchandise from a merchant, Manuel didn’t have the money to cover the debt so he killed the constable and fled.

The trial for the murder was held even though Manuel had already left and failed to appear, leaving his verdict as guilty by default. The judge had sentenced Manuel to 10 years in prison and upon hearing this, Manuel created a fake passport under the pseudonym Antonio Gomez but oddly never left Spain, never even left Ourense Province. Instead, Manuel worked as a cordmaker but more importantly, he returned to his work as a guide specifically helping women and children through Ourense Province. It is these women and children that began disappearing in the area and Manuel was the number one suspect.

At first, Manuel was questioned about the missing women and children but he provided stories that they had moved away and were settling into their news lives. These stories were believed as Manuel provided letters to the families of the missing persons, of course it was Manuel who wrote the letters, not the missing women. It wasn’t until he was caught selling the clothes of the victims that he was an official suspect and the arrest came in September of 1852.

Another incident that led to his imminent arrest was the rumor that he was using the fat of his victims for soap which he was selling along with their clothing.

Manuel was brought to the town of Allariz where is trial began in September and would continue over the next several months. In October, doctors were brought in after Manuel admitted to killing 13 people due to his curse: lycanthropy. After days of examination, the doctors determined that Manuel fabricated the story about turning into a werewolf and he was charged with 9 out of the 13 murders. The judge sentenced Manuel to death by way of the garrotte, a hand-held strangling device made with wire, rope, or chain.

The strange thing about the trial is that 4 of the victims that Manuel admitted to, the ones he was acquitted of, were actually attacked by wolves. It should be noted that during this same time there was a large famine in the Ourense Province leading to mass migration as well as insanity due to a lack of available food. This was found irrelevant in Manuel’s trial.

Death did not find it’s way to Manuel swiftly as his trial caught the attention of various people from around the world. A hypnotist from France had been known to be able to cure lycanthrophy and wrote to the Minister of Justice requesting that his death sentence be delayed in order for this Mr. Phillips to study Manuel. Queen Isabella II of Spain was contacted by the Minister of Justice who officially requested the delay resulting in Isabella changing the death sentence to imprisonment for life.

By a royal order issued by Isabella herself, Manuel was transferred to a prison where he could live out the rest of his days on May 13, 1854. And this is where our story ends. Sort of.

After being transferred to the prison in Celanova, Manuel apparently died within a few days but there is no documentation to reinforce that as fact. The prison no longer exists and neither do any of the records that were kept with the prison. But there were rumors aplenty about what happened. The most widely accepted of those rumors was that a strange illness overtook Manuel that caused his quick death after arriving. Another rumor is an officer wanted to see Manuel turn into the wolf but after stating that the curse is longer with him, the officer shot him dead. There is also the possibility that Manuel successfully escaped the prison and continued to live his life as a werewolf. The newest, maybe most sound reason, is he could have died from stomach cancer.

Unfortunately, this story provides no closure as no death date or cause of death has ever been officially given in the case. All that can be deduced is that Manuel Blanco Romasanta probably died sometime during the later half of the month of May in 1854.

An interesting fact about Galicia (where Ourense Province is located within Spain) is their folklore of werewolves. It was believed that the seventh son, or in some cases the seventh child regardless of sex, would become a werewolf. These children were killed or abandoned up until 1920 when the President of Argentina wrote a law that he would be the godfather of every seventh son. Not only was the child given a godfather but they also received a gold medal during baptism and a scholarship for education when they turned 21. The abandonment and killings came to an end thanks to the new law. Presently, the President of Argentina is still the godfather of the seventh son in any family.

Not that Manuel was the seventh son but the belief in werewolves in Galicia was a very real fear that continued well into the 20th century.


Zugarramurdi – The Town of Witches

The Zugarramurdi Museum of Witchcraft
The Zugarramurdi Museum of Witchcraft

In northern Spain lies the town of Zugarramurdi, home to just under 250 people. This small town, situated next to the border of France and Spain, and nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, is famous for being a major part of the Basque Witch Trials of the 17th century, the biggest witch hunt ever undertaken by the Spanish Inquisition. It began in the year 1609 and by the end around 7000 suspected cases of witchcraft had been examined.
Basque witches, or priestesses also known as Sorginak, are the assistants of the Goddess Mari in Basque Mythology. Before the arrival of Christianity, the indigenous people of the area that is located around north-central Spain and south -west France had a belief system focussing around Mari and her consort Sugaar. Most of what we know about it today is based on the analysis of legends and the few historical references to Pagan rituals practised by the Basques.

Zugarramurdi was a Basque town. Isolated, and mainly inhabited by women, while the men worked away on whaling boats for months at a time. It had been given a pretty negative reputation from as early as 1140, when Aymeric Picaud wrote the Codex Calixtinus, a “tourist’s guide” to the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great. He described the Basque people as “fierce-faced men who terrorize people with their barbarian tongues, full of evil, dark of complexion, of aberrant appearance, wicked, treacherous, disloyal and false”… not exactly painting a pleasant picture was he? It was also common practise amongst the town folk, to make remedies, creams and brews from the wide variety of vegetation found on the mountains, added to the fact there was a very high percentage of stillborn babies amongst the population, the suggestion these people were cursed by God, as pagan worshipers was not entirely unbelievable to the Christian people of Spain. Modern day research has suggested the large number of stillborn babies may have been caused by the high percentage of Basque women with Rhesus Negative blood.

The Cave of the Witches
The Cave of the Witches

In 1608 a 20 year old girl named Maria de Ximildegui returned to Zugarramurdi after several years living in Cibourne in France. She claimed to have been a witch for 18 months, and during that time had taken part in Akelarres, or witches Sabbaths, in Zugarramurdi, and that another local woman; named Maria de Jureteguia had participated as well. Ximildegui claimed she had been saved by a priest through confession, after a struggle to break away from the Devil which had resulted in weeks of illness. She was extremely convincing. The townspeople began to believe her, and urged the terrified Maria de Jureteguia to confess. Overtaken with fear she fainted, after which she believed she could only save herself by confessing and asking for mercy. She stated that she had been led into witchcraft by her 52 year old aunt, Maria Chipia Barrenechea.

Hysteria gripped the town, a string of denunciations followed, the village comradery unravelled, as neighbour turned on neighbour, family member on family member. Searches were carried out to locate toads and other necessary companions of witches, which eventually led to Graciana, the 80 something year old sister of Barrenechea, who would go on to confess to being the queen witch of Zugarramurdi. Ten witches confessed in total, describing between them a crime spree which included murdering children to suckle their blood, using powders and spells to kill a total of 29 people, ruin crops, and kill livestock. The town somehow managed to resolve the entire event without bloodshed, using local Basque law, the confessed witches were pardoned. It would have ended there, if someone, who to this day remains anonymous, hadn’t reported the matter to the Inquisition.
In 1609 the Inquisition seized four of the confessed witches from the town, and further horrifying details were reported. Cannibalism, infanticide, defiling of tombs, incest, and vampirism were admitted to; an initiation ceremony involving sexual intercourse in a variety of ways including homosexual intercourse were described, all apparently supervised by Graciana Barrenechea. One witch even confessed to poisoning her own grandchild.


Celebrating the Summer Solstice Zugarramurdi style
Celebrating the Summer Solstice Zugarramurdi style

y the time the famous Logrono trials began in 1610, just 21 of the witches who had been imprisoned remained alive. 13 had died in prison, and 6 had already been burned. Only 9 of those left had confessed. Sentences were handed out by the Inquisition at an elaborate public ritual known as an Auto de fe, an Act of Faith. Those who had not confessed were sentenced to be burned alive, alongside 25 heretics. In March 1611 the population of Zugarramurdi was 390, the Inquistion had discovered that 158 were witches, and 124 were under suspicion. In all, 1590 witches were discovered in Navarra, and more than 30000 people had witnessed the trials.
Today, Zugarramurdi is not ashamed of it’s past. There is a museum dedicated to recreating the lives these victims of the largest witch trial in history lived. Every year the people celebrate the witches with a feast by the “Cave of the Witches” where the rituals were said to have taken place, on Midsummers eve, for the Summer Solstice, they light spectacular fires, and they remember…