Prince Pedro and Inês de Castro

Between 1325 and 1357, while the Genoese set up trading posts along the West African coast, Portugal floundered under Dinis’ son Afonso IV. Afonso, his siblings, and their relatives in Castile and Aragon constantly warred with one another. The situation went from bad to worse when Afonso’s son, Pedro, the heir apparent, hooked up with a Castilian mistress named Inês de Castro.

There is an old Portuguese saying, “It is too late, Inês is dead” that simply means, “No use.” The saying came from the tragic story of Pedro and Inês, which occurred between the years 1339 and 1355. Portuguese writer Luís vaz de Camões immortalized the tale in an epic poem known as the Lusíadas [literally ballads of light]. Camões is to the Portuguese as William Shakespeare is to the English. Pedro and Inês are the counterparts to our Romeo and Juliet, except that Pedro and Inês were real people.

Luís Vaz de Camões wrote the Lusíadas in 1572.(1) The ballad chronicles the entire period of Portugal’s Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. But it is Canto III, verses 120 to 135 that tell the story of the two hopeless lovers. We will summarize:

Pedro, Prince of Portugal, was the third but only surviving son of King Afonso IV and Beatrice of Castile. Like every good prince, young Pedro followed his family’s wishes and married his father’s choice of bride(2), Constanza Manuel of Villena. But it was a marriage of spite.

Constanza was the daughter of Juan Manuel, the Prince of Villena in Castile. She was the granddaughter of King James II of Aragon through her mother, Constanza of Aragon. As a child bride, she had been married off to King Alfonso XI of Castile, also a child at the time. But in 1327, King Alfonso of Castile annulled the marriage so that he could marry Pedro’s sister, Maria, the oldest daughter of King Afonso IV of Portugal. Insulted and infuriated by the Castilian king’s rejection of his daughter, Juan Manuel waged war against the Castilians. During the struggle, which lasted until 1329, King Alfonso kept the fair Constanza imprisoned in the Castilian castle in Toro.

Four years later, in 1334, King Alfonso XI cast Maria of Portugal aside to take on a lover, the beautiful and newly widowed Leonor de Guzman. The scorned Maria returned to her father, King Afonso, in Portugal. Now it was King Afonso who was angry. To get even with King Alfonso of Castile, King Afonso of Portugal married his son and heir Pedro to Constanza. [Did you get all that?]

Accompanied by hundreds of attendants, Constanza arrived in Portugal for her marriage on August 24, 1339. She was somewhere between sixteen and twenty-four years old. Pedro was nineteen. One day the court was at the royal quinta [country estate] in Coimbra, where they hunted. Pedro saw an alluring fourteen-year-old named Inês de Castro among Constanza’s ladies-in-waiting and was smitten.

Inês was the daughter of nobleman Pedro Fernández de Castro, Lord of Lemos and Sarria and his Portuguese mistress Aldonça Lourenço de Valadares. Ines’ mother, Aldonça, had descended from Portuguese and Galician monarchs, which is probably how Inês was invited to court. Inês’ father, Pedro Fernández, served as a chief steward to the Castilian king.

The young lovers met in secret. Inês resided in a small house near the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha founded by Queen Santa Isabel, Pedro’s grandmother. Queen Constanza was probably staying at the convent. A small stream led from the quinta to the convent and passed the little house. According to the legend, Pedro built tiny wooden boats into which he inserted love notes to his beloved. Inez quickly snatched the boats from the stream as they floated by. The stream is now called Loves because it started at the Source of Love, which was the royal garden where the lovers first met. [That part of the story was told much better by the Portuguese lyrics of Camões’ ballad.]

In spite of their precautions, Pedro and Inês’ romance became known throughout the court and countryside of Portugal. Even though similar relationships were rampant in the Portuguese and Castilian courts, this one caused much angst for King Afonso. He was concerned about diplomacy with Constanza’s father, Juan Manuel, and he was distressed by how much influence Ines’ brothers, Fernando de Castro and Alvaro Perez de Castro, had upon his young son, Pedro. The rumor was that the brothers had been exhiled from the Castilian court and Pedro was giving them important positions in the Portuguese court. Afonso IV adamantly declared his disapproval, but Pedro ignored him.

In 1344 King Afonso IV banished Inês from court. By that time she was twenty-four. He sent her into exile at his castle in Albuquerque on the Castilian border. The distance did not diminish the love between Inês and Pedro, and they wrote to each other frequently.

Things changed in October of 1345 when Constanza died a few weeks after giving birth to her third child, the future King Fernando I. Against his father’s wishes, Pedro released Inês from her captivity and had her brought to his castle in Coimbra to live with him.

The next year, 1346, Inês gave birth to a little boy, Afonso. He died shortly after, but she would have three more children. All were healthy, and all would live to adulthood: Beatriz was born in 1347, João in 1349, and Dinis in 1354. The same year baby Dinis arrived, Pedro secretly married Inês in Bragança in the northeastern corner of Portugal [map below]. But his pronouncement of that marriage, which was confirmed by his chaplain and a manservant to make it legal, would not be made public until six years later in 1360. By that time it would be “too late, for Inês would be dead.”

Hearing only rumors of the marriage, King Afonso worried that Pedro’s favoritism toward Inês and her brothers would lead to her eldest son passing over little Fernando as heir to the throne. Afonso himself had nearly been passed over for king by a bastard child of his father, King Dinis.

When rumors circulated that the Castro family were conspiring to assassinate fifteen-year-old Prince Fernando, the Portuguese Cortez [council of lords] approached the king and demanded he do something.

Afonso insisted that his son marry someone of royal blood, but Pedro claimed he could not. He said he was still grieving from the loss of Constanza. Everyone else knew otherwise. Relations between father and son would never recover.

Meanwhile, Pedro and Inês moved into the Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha and set up residence. The move made King Afonso even more angry. The king’s mother, Queen Santa Isabel, had lived there during the last years of her life. The religious queen, who had been acutely disturbed by the frequency of illegitimate relationships within her royal court, had specifically expressed that the castle be home to only legitimate kings, princes, and their wives.

King Afonso IV and the Portuguese nobles decided that the only answer was to execute Inês. They gave orders to three Knights of the Order of Christ: Pero Coelho, Alvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco to do so. On January 7, 1355, while Pedro was out hunting, the king and his counselors sent in the assassins. As Inês sat with her children in the garden of the quinta [Beatriz was eight, João was six, and Dinis was one] the men slew her, separating her head from her body.

Camões wrote that the tears shed by Inês, her children, and later by Pedro, fed the Stream of Love, which in turn fed into the River Mondego that flows through Coimbra. The same tears created the Fountain of Tears in the royal hunting grounds, known today as Quinta das Lågrimas [Farm of Tears]. The blood that Inês shed caused the reddish colored algae that grows in the fountain. [One version of the legend states the rock itself is stained red]. Today, a luxury hotel stands where the garden once was.

The furious and distraught Pedro led a revolt against his father. The fighting would have lasted until one of their deaths had not Queen Beatriz intervened. She was able to keep peace for two years until King Afonso IVdied. Pedro became the rightful monarch with all the powers bestowed on the throne of Portugal. In June of 1360, while in Cantanhede, a city in the district of Coimbra, Pedro, his chaplain, and his manservant publically pronounced that he and Inês had secretly married in 1354. The announcement legitimized their marriage and their children, but again, it was too late.

Pedro then ordered his men to seek out the three assassins and avenge Inês. The assassins had fled Lisbon for Castile upon Pedro’s coronation. Pero Coelho and Álvero Gonçalves were caught and brought to trial in Santarém, some fifty miles northeast of Lisbon. After they were found guilty, so the legend says, King Pedro ripped out their hearts with his own hands to pay them back for ripping out his own heart by Inês’ death. Diogo Lopes Pacheco escaped to France.

Inês was first buried in Coimbra. Then, so the story continues, Pedro had her body exhumed. He ordered the ladies in waiting to dress her in coronation robes and jewels, then prop her up on the throne next to his. He ordered his bishops to crown Inês as Queen of Portugal. After that, he commanded each of his lords and vassals to present themselves to her, kneel, and kiss her royal, but very cold and lifeless hand.(3) Once again, it was too late. Inêz was dead.

Pedro was king for seven more years. On at least one occasion, he found solace with a common girl named Teresa Gille Lourenço. She was about ten years younger than he was. Her parents, Lourenço and Sancha Martins, worked as merchants in Lisbon. Teresa became pregnant with a son christened João [John in English] after his birth on April 11, 1357. Nothing more is known about Teresa. But João will grow up to become one of Portugal’s three most important kings. We will get back to him in a few articles.

Meanwhile, Pedro finally lay on his deathbed in 1367. As an act of atonement – to increase his chances of getting into heaven when he finally expired – he pardoned Pacheco, the third assassin, even though he, Pedro, had spent his entire reign obsessed with chasing after him.

Pedro had built a magnificent tomb for his beloved Inês in the monastery of Alcobaça, and a matching tomb for himself. The lovers were originally buried side by side with their feet facing east. The words, “Até o fim do mundo…” [Until the end of the world…] were inscribed on a marble face above them. During the18th century, the Portuguese built a Royal Pantheon and moved the tombs there, placing them face to face so that Pedro and Inês could look each other in the eyes when they woke up on the Day of Judgment.(4) Today you will find their tombs back in the Mosteiro de Alcobaça, still the largest church in Portugal. They are placed at opposite ends of the transept, foot to foot. Inês lies to the left of the altar and Pedro to the right. Each has a dog resting at his or her feet. [Pedro’s dog is very large and Inês’ dog is tiny.] There is very little decoration anywhere else in the huge church.

But the worst thing that happened in Portugal during the reign of Kings Afonso and Pedro had nothing to do with Inês de Castro.

The sarcophagi of Inês in the east arm of the transept. Pedro in the west arm of the transept.(5)

Close-up of effigy of Pedro.(6)

Close-up of effigy of Inês.(7)

The Monastery of Alcobaça, commissioned in 1385 to honor the Battle of Aljubarrota, which took place at today's Batalha [which means Battle].(8)

Nave of the Monastery of Alcobaça.(9)

Coimbra as seen from the terrace of the later-built Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha.(1)o

Queen Saint Isabel built the original convent near the Mondego River. But the river flooded it frequently. So the convent was moved to the hill where it is now, and where the author was standing when she took this photo. The University of Coimbra and the government building – where the Cortez once met – crown the hill. The large green grassy area to the left was part of the royal grounds where Pedro was hunting on the day his lover was beheaded. The hunting grounds were on the opposite side of the Mondego River from the town.

Pedro’s grandparents King Dinis and Queen Saint Isabel. (11)

The statue of King Dinis stands at the entrance to Coimbra University. He looks across the Mondego River at his queen on the other side. The statue of Queen Saint Isabel stands in front of the later-built Convent of Santa Clara-a-Velha, right behind where the author was standing to take the photo of Coimbra above. The queen looks over at Coimbra toward the statue of her husband.


  1. Camões was, in 1548, exiled to the town of Constância southeast of Tomar by Queen Catarina for having an affair with one of her ladies-in-waiting. Today there is a bronze statue of him by the riverbank.
  2. Pedro had been contracted to marry Blanche of Castile in 1325, when he was five years old and she was six. Blanche remained at her home in Aragon, assuming she would join Pedro in Portugal when she came of age. But in 1330, King Afonso annulled the marriage on grounds of non-consummation, freeing his heir Pedro to marry another. Blanche never did marry. King Alfonso XI of Castile gave all her property to the children of his mistress Leonor de Guzman. Blanche became an abbess of the Monastery of Santa María la Real at Las Huelgas. Blanche was the first cousin of Constanza Manuel. She was Juan Manuel’s niece.
  3. Modern evidence does not support this legend, however Pedro did have Inês’ body moved to a new grave.
  4. Many factions of the Christian Church believe that there is a day in the future when Jesus will return to Earth as God and pronounce the final sentence on all humanity. He will raise those people who have been very good to Heaven and he will send those people who have been very bad to live forever in Hell.
  5. The sarcophagi of Inês and Pedro. Photo ©October 2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  6. Close-up of effigy of Pedro. Photo ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  7. Close-up of effigy of Inês. Photo ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  8. The Monastery of Alcobaça. Photo ©October 2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  9. Nave of the Monastery of Alcobaça. Photo ©October 2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  10. Coimbra. Photo ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
  11. Statues of Dom Dinis and Queen Saint Isabel. Photo ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.

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