Eastern Europe,  ER,  Portugal

The Cadaver Queen-  The Tragedy of Inês de Castro

Painting of Ines on the throne by Pierre-Charles Comte (1823-1895) Photo Credit- Joconde database: entry 000PE025897, CC BY-SA 3.0
Painting of Ines on the throne by Pierre-Charles Comte (1823-1895) Photo Credit- Joconde database: entry 000PE025897, CC BY-SA 3.0

The story of Inês de Castro is a sad one.  She found her prince for all the good it did her, but ended up a tragedy.  Inês was born in 1320 to Pedro Fernandes de Castro, who was a powerful noble as well as the illegitimate grandson of King Sancho IV of Castile.  Like many noble born girls, Inês ended up as a lady in waiting to the queen, in this case Infanta Constança of Castile.  Constança was betrothed to Dom Pedro, the son and heir of King Dom Afonso IV of Portugal.  As with most royal marriage, this was not a love match.  However, Dom Pedro took one look at Inês and fell head over heels.  It is no wonder as Inês is described as a lady of great beauty and grace, with fair hair and cerulean eyes.  Her long graceful neck gave her the nickname of “heron neck”.  This doesn’t sound exactly complimentary, but at the time was apparently a good thing.

Dom Pedro did his duty and married the Infanta, but began a relationship with Inês, who returned his feelings.  Many attempts were made to break up the lovers, including Constança requesting that Inês to be the godmother of her son, Infante Dom Luís.  Why does this matter?  In the eyes of the Catholic Church at the time, by making Inês the child’s godmother would make her a member of the family and make her affair with Dom Pedro incestious as well as adulterous.  The scheme didn’t work and the affair continued.  Dom Pedro’s father stepped in and separated the two lovers by exiling Inês when Dom Pedro began to neglect his lawful wife.  Distance did not cool their passion as they exchanged fiery letters.

In 1345, Constança died giving birth to her only living son Dom Fernando.  As soon as Constança’s body was cold, Dom Pedro brought Inês back to Portugal where they began living together openly.  The couple had four children, Afonso, who died in infancy, Beatriz, born around 1347, João, born in 1349, and Dinis, born in 1354.  This would have all been fine except that Dom Pedro allowed himself to be influenced by Inês’ brothers.  They talked him into throwing his hat into the ring to claim the throne of Castile, which threatened the fragile relationship between the two countries.  Dom Pedro’s father, Dom Afonso, feared these maneuvers would endanger the prospects of Dom Pedro’s legitimate heir, Dom Fernando.  There were even fears Inês’ family would do away with little Fernando to clear the way for Inês’ children.  Something had to be done.

Dom Afonso called his counsellors to a meeting in the Castle of Montemor-o-Velho, at the end of which he finally decided to send three of his courtiers – Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves and Diogo Lopes Pacheco – to Coimbra, in order to kill Inês.  Cristóvão Rodrigues Acenheiro’s Chronicles paint the scene as this.  When the King and the counsellors arrived, Inês surrounded herself with her children and begged the King to take pity on her as the mother of his grandchildren.  He considered this for a while, but eventually left the room and said to his counsellors, “Do whatever you want.”  As soon as he left the room, Inês was executed.  The myth of the story places the murder at Quinta das Lágrimas [Estate of Tears], where people believe her blood stains the red stone bed of the spring.  However, the assassination actually took place at  Santa Clara-a-Velha.  Wherever it happened, Inês was dead and Dom Pedro was inconsolable.

Together with Inês’ brothers, Dom Pedro led a revolt against his father eventually laying siege to the city of Porto.  Before more blood could be spilled, the Queen intervened and reconciled the father and son.  They both formally promised to forgive the incident.  However, Dom Pedro did not forget.   Two years later in 1357, Dom Afonso died and Dom Pedro became king and all bets were off.  Two of the three assassins were fetched from Castile and tortured then executed by having their beating hearts ripped out of their bodies.  Symbolism much?   The king watched this grizzly site while having a delicious dinner at the Royal Palace.  Some stories say he ripped the assassins hearts from their bodies himself.

Dom Pedro declared that he and Inês had secretly married making her his lawful wife.  The bishop of Guarda, Dom Gil, and one of his servants, Estêvão Lobato, were presented as witnesses of the wedding – although nobody seemed to remember the date when it had taken place.  No matter.  Inês was declared Dom Pedro’s lawful wife and the Queen of Portugal.  Then in an even more macabre turn of events, Dom Pedro had Inês’ body exhumed and brought to the Royal Palace.  Dressed in royal gowns, her two year old decomposing body was crowned and seated next to her grieving husband.  A parade of nobles, clergy and peasants were required to bow to the cadaver queen and kiss the hem of her gown or her rotting hand.

Her body was then taken to Monastery of Alcobaça (the tomb of kings), where she was buried on April 2, 1361.  Chronicler Fernão Lopes described the ceremony: “D. 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”.

Portugal, Centro Region, Alcobaca, Alcobaca Monastery,Tomb of Ines de Castro Photo Credit- Getty Images
Portugal, Centro Region, Alcobaca, Alcobaca Monastery,Tomb of Ines de Castro Photo Credit- Getty Images

Dom Pedro died in 1367 and was married next to his beloved Inês, but with their bodies facing each other so they at Judgment Day they could rise and embrace.  Between them “Até o fim do mundo…” (“Until the end of time…”) is carved in the marble.  Two sayings came out of this extraordinary reign, “que taes dez annos nunca houve em Portugal como estes que reinara el Rei Dom Pedro”  – For these ten years, there never was in Portugal one like the one that reigned King Dom Pedro.  And more tragically, “Agora é tarde; Inês é morta”-  “It’s too late; Inês is dead”.


Sources available on request