The love affair between Inês de Castro and King Pedro I of Portugal is one steeped in myth, love, and tragedy. Like Portugal’s very own tale of Romeo and Juliet – with quarrelling families, banished lovers, and heartbreaking revenge – what makes this legend so enduring is that this story actually happened. The fictionalised trials and tribulations of star-crossed lovers pale in comparison to these Portuguese lovers, so join us as we discover why this love affair was so forbidden and the reason why our heroine ultimately became Portugal’s first and last posthumous queen.
Like many a Galician noblewoman, the life of Inês de Castro started out as a fairly comfortable one. Born in 1325, Inês was the daughter of Pedro Fernández de Castro, Lord of Lemos and Sarria, and his noble Portuguese mistress Aldonça Lourenço de Valadares. Her family descended both from the Galician and Portuguese nobilities and she was also well connected to the Castilian royal family (by illegitimate descent), which allowed Inês to move in the right circles.
In 1339, aged just 14, everything was going to plan and Inês arrived in Portugal as a lady-in-waiting to Constanza of Castile, who soon after married Pedro, the aforementioned prince and son of King Afonso IV of Portugal. Much like many marriages at the time, it was set up to create an alliance with another kingdom.
It’s said Pedro initially found his wife to be suitable (how gallant) until he laid eyes on Inês, who was said to have had golden hair with blue eyes and milky white skin. Almost immediately, ignoring the future that had been laid out for him, Pedro fell in love with the young Inês.
The two became entangled in an intense teenage love affair, but while his attentions were now fully on Inês, Pedro, like the stand-up guy he was, still found the time to get his wife Constanza pregnant. Up until then, Constanza had been left to look on as her husband became more and more infatuated with her lady-in-waiting, so in a bid to squash the affair, she made Inês the godmother of their son Luís. The drive behind this was that in the Catholic Church, a godparent essentially becomes a member of the family, which would thereby make the affair an incestuous one. Though their lives were beginning to sound like a far-fetched plot from a bad soap opera, Pedro and Inês ignored these implications and continued their romance regardless.
Not only did the prince’s marriage start to fray, this affair only put more strain on the relations with Castile, the medieval state in the Iberian Peninsula, which Constanza was from. Pedro’s infatuation also had other consequences as it brought exiled nobility closer to power, with Inês’ brothers becoming Pedro’s friends and trusted advisors.
In 1344, while the pair had kept the affair secret (as secret as a pair of teenagers can be anyway) the king, Afonso IV of Portugal, caught wind of the tryst. He reacted like most dads would on discovering his son was ruining the royal bloodline – he banished Inês to the castle of Albuquerque on the Castilian frontier to get her out of the way. Despite the distance, Pedro and Inês continued to meet in secret. Like a love-sick puppy, he would send messages using a small wooden boat which would slip through the castle’s water ducts. Who needs phones when you have water ducts?
A year later, Constanza of Castile died just weeks after giving birth to their third son, Fernando.
Without wasting any time, Pedro immediately, if a little callously, brought Inês back against the will of the king, leading to a major fight between the two.
Several times – after banishing Inês from the court once again, this time to a monastery in Coimbra – the king tried to arrange marriages for Pedro to other Castilian princesses. He continually refused, at first saying that he mourned for his dead wife but eventually declaring Inês as his true love. Unsurprisingly she was deemed to never be eligible as queen by the king and his advisors. So what did the pair do? Well they ignored the uproar and scandal of course. So much so, Pedro ran away to live with Inês where they began to have children together, four over the course of 10 years in fact, including two boys.
Nobles and the like were outraged by their continued relationship and with the addition of children, the rumor mill went into overdrive. There was talk the Castro family planned to disinherit Pedro’s son Fernando (the true heir to the throne), in favour of Inês and Pedro’s children. Others began to speculate the pair had secretly married while they were living at Santa Clara-a-Velha.
For 12 months, Afonso was fed these stories and speculations, and after several more failed attempts at keeping the lovers apart, the king ordered Inês’ death. In January 1355, while Pedro was out hunting, three assassins (Pêro Coelho, Álvaro Gonçalves, and Diogo Lopes Pacheco) as well as Afonso, went to the convent. Legend has it that when the time came, the king was supposedly so moved upon seeing his grandchildren he had the order stopped. His persistent assassins somehow convinced him otherwise though, and he ended up just leaving the room saying: “Do whatever you want”. Lovely. The three assassins stabbed Inês to death and finished by decapitating her with their swords, which was witnessed by one of her children. She was just 29 years old.
Heartbroken and fuelled by revenge, when Pedro found out his beloved had been brutally murdered he declared a civil war against his father and sought out the killers. He was quickly defeated despite all his efforts, however two years later, King Afonso died and Pedro ascended the throne in 1357.
One of his first acts as king was his declaration that he and Inês had actually secretly married years ago, so despite now being dead he claimed this made her the lawful queen and legitimized her children as rightful heirs. Even now, centuries later, there’s never been anyone to confirm whether this was true or not, so Pedro’s word remains the only proof of their marriage.
Making Inês the country’s posthumous queen wasn’t Pedro’s wildest act as king. Some versions of the legend take Pedro’s love for Inês to new heights, suggesting after he declared her as queen, he had Inês' body exhumed from her grave. If that wasn’t enough, Pedro then forced the entire court to swear allegiance to their new queen and kiss the hem of her dress in an act that’s more Shakespearean than Shakespeare himself. But of course, while it would make a tragic story even more tragic for Pedro to be driven insane by love, this part of the story only began to be circulated in the 1500s, and modern sources have found no evidence. Sorry drama-fiends!
This wasn’t the end of the story though as six years later, Pedro finally managed to get his vengeance on Inês’ killers. After years of searching he managed to capture two of the assassins (the third somehow got away) after exchanging them for Castilian fugitives. Pedro publicly executed them both by ripping their hearts out while they were still alive, one from the chest and the other from the back, mirroring how they had destroyed his. It was an act that shaped his reign, for he was thereafter known for serving up justice in some of the most brutal of ways.
In a final act of love in 1360, to honour his posthumous queen, Pedro ordered the body of Inês to be moved from Coimbra to the Royal Monastery of Alcobaça. He’d commissioned two ornate marble tombs to be built, decorated with scenes from their lives and a promise that they would be together until the end of the world. In fact the tombs are opposite each other, to allow Pedro and Inês to “look at one another” in the afterlife.
Inês’ tragic story has been immortalized in several plays and poems in Portuguese, Spanish, and French including The Lusíadas by renowned Portuguese poet Luís de Camões. There have also been over 20 operas and ballets created about Inês as well as numerous pieces of music and artworks.
The twists and turns in this story make it ripe for translating into pieces of drama. But while we celebrate the passion and romance between this lovestruck pair, it’s important to remember the real hero of the story: Inês. Swept up in a bubble of love, secrets, and sacrifice, she was unfortunately the only one who paid the price for following her heart. And that’s why Inês, as the country’s only posthumous queen, still holds an important place in Portugal’s history.