The most famous love story in Portuguese history takes us to Coimbra and Alcobaça to learn more about the intense passion between Prince Pedro, the heir to the Portuguese throne, and his mistress, Inês de Castro, and Pedro’s enduring love for her after her death. The story is often described as the Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, but there are also elements of obsessive love and political intrigue reminiscent of Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn. The story begins in 1340 when Pedro married Constança Manuel of Villena and she brought her cousin, Inês de Castro, to Portugal with her as her lady-in-waiting. Inês was illegitimately connected to the Castilian royal family and had spent her childhood in Albuquerque Castle in Estremadura in Spain, during which time Afonso Sanches, the illegitimate half-brother of King Afonso IV of Portugal (Pedro’s father), was taking refuge in the castle to escape his brother’s death threats. This connection with Afonso Sanches became a problem when Pedro fell madly in love with Inês and they began a passionate affair. When Pedro’s father found out about their relationship he expelled Inês from Portugal. She returned to Albuquerque Castle where she stayed until Constança’s death in 1345, when she came back to Portugal and resumed her affair with Pedro. Pedro declared that she was his one true love, but King Afonso IV refused to let them marry. The King was distrustful of this relationship partly due to Inês connection to Castile and the possibility that Portugal would become involved in the civil war that was taking place there in which the insurrection against the King of Spain was being led by the son of King Afonso’s arch enemy, the aforementioned Afonso Sanches, further complicated by Pedro declaring himself pretender to the Castile throne in 1354; and partly because if Pedro and Inês were to marry their children would have a legitimate right to the throne which the King wanted to avoid. Despite this opposition, Pedro lived with Inês in Coimbra and they had three children together. However, on a January day in 1355 Inês was arrested and taken to Santa Clara-a-Velha convent where she was beheaded by three assassins acting under the King’s orders.
After her murder Pedro’s immediate reaction was to declare a rebellion against his father, which he ultimately did not go through with and they were reconciled by the time of the King’s death in 1357. However, the story does not end there, for once Pedro was crowned King Pedro I he confessed that he and Inês had got married in secret, allegedly at the Igreja de São Vicente in Bragança. But the marriage could not be proven and the Pope refused to recognize it, thus preventing their children from having a legitimate right to the throne.
Not surprisingly various legends have developed around the story of Pedro and Inês over the centuries and while they may not be true they have given it a mythic quality. One legend is that King Pedro I had Inês’ decomposed corpse exhumed and then crowned her Queen of Portugal, insisting that everyone in his court kiss her hand. Another legend is that when Pedro had her assassins arrested he then tore out their hearts and ate them. The myth has been perpetuated through the centuries in art, literature, music and film. There is an Inês de Castro Foundation dedicated to historical research, art and cultural events related to her and Alcobaça has a Pedro and Inês route around the city with ceramics made by local factories depicting episodes from the Luís Vaz de Camões version of the story from Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads, 1572).
Canto III, verses 118-136 of Os Lusíadas tells the story of Pedro and Inês, with some artistic licence on the part of Camões, and verse 135, which describes the legend of the Fonte das Lágrimas (Spring of Tears) in the Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra, is carved on a plaque at the place where Inês is reputedly said to have been murdered and where, after her death, a spring created by her tears as she was dying allegedly rose.
‘As filhas do Mondego a morte escura
Longo tempo chorando memoraram,
As lágrimas choradas transformaram.
O nome lhe puseram, que inda dura,
Dos amores de Inês, que ali passaram.
Vede que fresco fonte rega as flores,
Que lágrimas são a água e o nome Amores.’
(‘The nymphs of Mondego long mourned the memory of that dark death, And, in eternal memory, the tears were transformed into a clear spring. The name they gave it, that still endures, came from the love of Inês who spent time there. See the cool spring watering the flowers, whose tears are the water and whose name is Love.’)
A further legend says that her blood still remains on the stones of the channel that is fed by the spring.
Nearby is the fourteenth-century Fonte dos Amores (Spring of Love), where Pedro and Inês carried out their love affair. This is a peaceful place in the grounds of the Quinta das Lágrimas, which is entered through a nineteenth-century gothic arch.
Before walking through the arch there is a wooded area with ribbons hanging from the trees. It has become a tradition to write the name of a loved one on the ribbon and attach it to a tree.
Pedro’s love for Inês did not fade and after ascending the throne in 1357 Pedro ordered tombs for him and Inês to be built at the Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery.
Inês’ body was moved from Coimbra to her tomb in Alcobaça and after his death in 1367 Pedro was interred in his tomb. The tombs are in the transepts of the church and are made of white marble in an elaborate gothic style. They are unusually placed facing each other rather than side-by-side and both are carved with the phrase ‘Até ao Fim do Mundo’ (‘Until the End of the World’), which is believed to refer to Judgement Day when the first sight they will have will be of each other. Recumbent statues of Pedro and Inês lie on top of their respective tombs and both are supported by angels. Pedro has a dog at his feet to represent fidelity and on the side of his tomb is the Portuguese coat of arms and scenes from the life of his patron saint, Saint Bartholomew. On the end is a wheel of life showing scenes from Pedro’s life and depicting his love for Inês. The tomb stands on lions.
The scenes on Inês’ tomb are more unsettling, with episodes analogous to her violent death, including the crucifixion of Christ and the Last Judgement, where the innocents are shown going to Heaven, the guilty going to Hell and Pedro and Inês reunited in Paradise. Her tomb is supported by figures that are half-men and half-beast, representing the men who murdered her.
Despite damage over the centuries, particularly in the early-nineteenth century when French troops pillaged the church, the tombs are beautiful and both Pedro and Inês look as if they are peacefully sleeping and waiting until the end of the world when they will be together again.