The tragic love story between Pedro I and Inês de Castro, the woman who became queen after her death | EC Stories | WORLD

“It is a story as old as time: two lovers unfairly separated. But while the drama of King Pedro I and his queen Inês de Castro has nuances of Romeo and Juliet in its origins, it ends in an even more macabre place: imagine Shakespeare’s love story but with a horror movie ending.”

With those words, the journalist and writer Holly Williams describes for the BBC one of the most adapted stories of all time.

Based on a true story from medieval Portugal, the myth of Pedro and Inês it has everything -as Williams says-, from passionate youthful love to the coronation of a corpse.

According to the chronicle written around 1440 by the Portuguese historian Fernão Lopes, about 100 years earlier Prince Pedro I fell in love with Inês de Castro, who was his wife’s lady-in-waiting and whose father was a Spanish nobleman.

Pedro’s father, the Portuguese King Afonso IV, did not approve of this love and exiled Inês. But after the death of Pedro’s wife, the exiled woman returned to Portugal, she was reunited with her lover and they had four children.

but the story does not have a happy ending.

King Afonso and his advisers continued to disagree with this union. In 1355, they decided that Inês’s presence was too great a political risk for the Portuguese royal line and had her killed.

She was buried in the city of Coimbra while Pedro swore revenge.

The prince led an uprising against his father, starting a civil war within Portugal. When Pedro came to the throne, after Afonso’s death in 1357, he sought out the two murderers of his beloved and ripped out their hearts.

Pedro also swore to make Agnes queen of Portugal, even in death. In 1360, several years after her murder, he unearthed Inês’s decomposing body and carried it in procession from Coimbra to Alcobaça, where he was royally buried, so that he could always rest in front of her. “This is a terrible and amazing story, but when it became a widely recounted myth, it became even darkerand the haunting ending to the story was expanded to include a more literal take on the idea of ​​crowning a dead queen,” writes Williams.

From history to myth

The first adaptation was the 1577 play Nise Laureada, by the Spanish playwright Jerónimo Bermúdez, in which Inês was not only moved to a new tomb, but her corpse was crowned in a ceremony.

The tragic story of Pedro I and Inês de Castro found in the opera one of its greatest diffusion platforms. GETTY IMAGES

“Since then, the scene of a mad king insisting that his lover’s rotting body be dressed in coronation robes, propped on a throne, crowned, and with his hand kissed by the nobles, has proved irresistible to most. of the adapters, forming a grotesque scene for dozens of plays, poems, paintings, operas and novels,” says Williams.

According to the journalist and writer, this fascination offers a place to explore all kinds of topics: love and devotion, innocence and injustice, politics and war, madness and obsession, death and pain, femininity and masculinity.

“Because there are so few historical documents from the period, artists have a lot of wiggle room,” says Aida Jordão, a Portuguese-Canadian scholar at York University in Toronto, who has extensively researched Inês de Castro’s depictions.

And it really is hard to overstate how foundational this story is in Portugal.

“It’s in our collective memory,” says Jordão, who was born in Lisbon. “Most Portuguese schoolchildren know history in fourth or fifth grade; My nephew played the killer in the school play! This is very common, although the story is stripped down.” Portuguese teenagers also meet Pedro and Inês when they study their national poet, Camões, at school, usually focusing on the episode in which they appear in his 1572 epic poem The Lusiads.

“Camões is largely responsible for the story being such an iconic representation of Portugal”, says Jordão, adding that it was the translation of Camões into other languages ​​that “took Inês out of Portugal and into Europe”.

From pawn to queen

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Pedro and Inês endlessly made their way across the Old Continent.

His doomed love served as the basis for operas in Italian, English and German.

Inês de Castro is often portrayed as a minor character in her own drama.  GETTY IMAGES
Inês de Castro is often portrayed as a minor character in her own drama. GETTY IMAGES

“And in 1843, Agnes was the subject of a painting by the Russian artist Karl Bryullov, which showed her pleading for her life on her knees, dressed in white in a world of reds and dark browns, clutched by two small children: the definitive image of innocence”, writes Williams. But Jordão’s research does not point to this innocence of Inês but to her protagonism, that is, to stop being a secondary character in her own story.

“The story revolves around him: how he declares civil war, how he tortures the murderers, how he takes Inês out of her resting place”, says Jordão and adds:

“Even in children’s stories and popular culture of the 20th century, Inês’s sentimental femininity and passivity are totally exaggerated. She is described as someone who is beautiful, but does nothing.”

It is partly out of frustration at this that Jordão has written his own play – “I, Castro” – which will have a staged reading this summer, which puts Inês in conversation with other women ignored in the narrative, such as her sister and daughter of Peter.

A historical novel by the Portuguese writer Isabel Stilwell, published last October, whose slogan is “spy, lover and queen of Portugal” is also part of this line.

In this work, Inês is a player, rather than a pawn, in the political chess game of her time.

In all her versions, historical and mythical, Inês is -as Holly Williams defines her- “a dead queen who simply will not be forgotten”.


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