In Portugal we have a beautiful, tragic, romantic story that equals that of Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde…but certainly has an advantage, because this story is part of history, even if over the years it has become inextricably linked with legend.
Pedro was a prince, the son and heir of King Afonso IV of Portugal. As was usual in the early 14th century, his father arranged for his marriage with an infanta of Castile, Constança, and she came to Portugal to marry him. In her entourage was a beautiful young lady of noble origin, called Inês de Castro, and the story goes the prince, instead of paying attention to his bride, only had eyes for the beautiful lady in waiting.
Soon they were madly in love with each other, and not even his father the King’s threats made Pedro change his mind. He led a formal life at court with his wife but whenever he could he ran to the arms of his beloved Inês, whom he kept hidden in a beautiful, secluded old hunting lodge in the outskirts of the Santa Clara Monastery by the Mondego River (near the city of Coimbra, in the centre of Portugal).
Meanwhile Pedro had become a father: his wife gave him the much desired heir to the throne and he also had four children by his beloved Inês.
His wife was of course aware of what was going on and she was deeply unhappy. At a certain point she died in childbirth, something very common at the time. Pedro was now free to marry Inês, which he did in the utmost secrecy as his father would not have it. Now he came to see her more and more often, and they lived together as husband and wife, with their three children, two boys and a girl.
But the King was most upset with the situation as he feared the romance might have political consequences: not only did he fear Inês’s sons might displace Pedro’s legitimate heir, the prince Fernando who was a frail child, but he was worried about the nasty influence her ambitious brothers had in Pedro as well. In fact the Castro brothers – and ultimately even Inês, who was a childhood friend of the leader of the revolt against the Castilian king – were intent on convincing Pedro to involve himself in the dynastic conflict for the Castilian throne, which would certainly bring war and strife King Afonso was anxious to avoid. Finally he convened his most trusted advisors and together they came to the conclusion that the only way to put an end to this unpleasant state of affairs would be to kill Inês. The story goes that on an ominous day when they were certain the prince was out hunting, the King and three of his nobles rode to Inês’s and Pedro’s love nest. They found Inês sitting by a fountain in the gardens. As she saw them she knew what they had come for and she feared for her life. On her knees she begged the king to spare her life on account of the love his son bore her and also because of her three small children, in fact his grandchildren, but to no avail. At a certain moment it is said the king left, moved by pity, but not so the nobles. Two of them grabbed her and the third cut her down with his sword. They hastily left, leaving her dead body on the grass by the fountain which would henceforth be known as the Fountain of Tears. Another version of this story says the fountain was created by Inês’s tears and the red algae that grow there are the remains of her blood which was so cruelly spilled on that fateful day.
When Pedro heard what had happened he was mad with grief. He declared war against his father and the country was ravaged by brutal conflict. Only the mediation of the Queen, his mother, managed to put an end to it, but Pedro never forgave nor forgot. When his father finally died, old and repentant and Pedro became king he immediately looked for the murderers so as to punish them, but they had long escaped to Castile. However, he sent his men after them and managed to get hold of two of them. They were brought back to Portugal and to justice – and were executed after terrible torture, as no revenge would be enough for the devastated Pedro. He declared that as by killing Inês they had broken his heart, their beating hearts should now be ripped out of their bodies, and so they were. Pedro and his court watched the executions while enjoying a banquet.
Soon Pedro declared he and Inês had been married and he legitimized their children. This also meant, of course, that she had been his Queen. And then, he did the unthinkable: he had Inês’s corpse taken out of her grave; had it dressed with the most magnificent robes; had her remains sit on the throne beside him and ordered every one of the courtiers, lords and ladies, to come forward and pay homage to his Queen, long dead by then. Chroniclers who wrote about this scene described it as “totally macabre” and everyone would have flown in horror and disgust, but no, the king forced them to come forward, bend their knee and kiss the hem of the dress (or, according to some versions, whatever remained of the hand) of his lost love, who would forever be known as “the one who became a queen in death”.
But not even this macabre ceremony, or the spiteful revenge he had on those who had destroyed his life, managed to appease Pedro’s tormented soul. He was a harsh ruler and soon he was known as “Pedro the Cruel”, but on the other hand he will always be remembered as a man who loved deeply and truly and who was denied happiness with the love of his life; a man who was happy in love and could not face life without the woman he loved. A man who would have been a great king, and a happy man, if only he had been allowed to reign with the woman he loved by his side.
The story of Pedro and Inês is undoubtedly the most romantic, but also the most tragic love story of Portuguese history. Even if it has the stuff of a legend, most of it is based on true, historical facts. But it is every bit as powerful as other, legendary stories of star-crossed lovers that will forever live in our dreams.
Pedro and Inês lived their love story in a hunting lodge surrounded by magnificent gardens that is now the location of a beautiful hotel, appropriately called “Quinta das Lágrimas“ (a loose translation might be “the Domain of Tears”), where you can still find the fountain said to have been created by Inês’s tears. It is perfect for a romantic escapade, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by pictures of the two ill-fated lovers and feel the power of their story… even if it has happened several centuries ago. We just have to close our eyes and picture the lovely Inês and the fierce Pedro sitting under the trees holding hands and exchanging vows, promising to love each other forever. Which, in the end, they did. Their love is still very much alive under every stone, in the soft summer breeze; in the whisper of the trees… death did not put an end to their love. Their tombs can be seen in the beautiful and imposing Alcobaça Monastery, facing each other in death as they walked side by side in life. According to famous Portuguese historian José Hermano Saraiva , their tombs convey strong messages engraved on the stone for posterity. On Pedro’s, an enigmatic angraving shows a message which has been interpreted as “Until the end of the world”. On the opposite side, Inês’s tomb depicts a scene of the Final Judgement, and Paradise is shown as several closed windows. The only open window shows Pedro and Inês together, finally reunited for all time.
According to Mr. Saraiva, the final, strongest message conveyed by the tombs’ engravings is that true love is no sin, whatever the circumstances. I wholeheartedly agree, of course. A love such as this one is certainly hard to find, it must be something unique, something to be treasured, not the object of persecution. A love that lasts beyond death.
And so this story, this legend will go on, and will continue to be known over the years and the centuries, as long as people’s romantic hearts are moved by the unique, tragic, passionate, and ultimately inspiring story of one love that – no doubt about it – will last forever.