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!”
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