The story of Pedro, Crown Prince of Portugal, and InĂ©s de Castro, lady-in-waiting to a Spanish Princess, is one of the greatest love stories ever told (at least 20 operas have been written about it). In Portugal, it is at least as well-known as the story of Romeo and Juliet in the USA or England.
In fourteenth-century Europe, everything was alliances: children of royal families were but pawns to their elders, married off for military and political purposes. In the Iberian Peninsula, which at the time was home to several kingdoms, these alliances were crucial.
In 1339, Crown Prince Pedro of Portugal, at the age of nineteen, was wed to Constance of Castile, then sixteen, the daughter of the cousin of the King of Castile. This marriage cemented an alliance between the two Iberian powers. King Afonso IV of Portugal, Pedroâ€™s father, was pleased.
But as always in love, things got complicated. Pedro married Constance, but did not fall in love with her: instead, he fell in love with one of her handmaidens, InĂ©s PĂ©rez de Castro. Their affair was no secret, and the two had four illegitimate children. The affair jeopardized Portugalâ€™s relationship with Castile, and Afonso IV tried everything he could to split up his son and InĂ©s, but nothing worked. When Constance died in 1349, Pedro refused to marry anyone but InĂ©s, who was not considered worthy of being the future Queen of Portugal.
Afonso IV got desperate, and in January, 1355 he sent three assassins after InĂ©s at the Monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra, where she was cut down in cold blood. Rather than settle the matter, however, Pedro, in a rage, rebelled against his father, dragging the country into civil war. Although the two did reconcile, Pedro never forgave his father.
After he assumed the throne in 1357, Pedro announced that he had wed InĂ©s in secret, and openly recognized their previously illegitimate children. He even ordered her body dug up so that the Portuguese nobles could swear loyalty to her. He managed to capture two of the three assassins his father had sent to kill her: according to legend, he ripped their hearts out with his bare hands.
Pedro ordered that the body of his beloved be entombed in an ornate sarcophagus inside the elegant Monastery of AlcobaĂ§a. His own tomb is across from her, supposedly so that when they both rise for judgment day, the first thing they see will be each other.
In addition to the operas, the story has been the inspiration for plays, at least two movies, books and more. This timeless love story is part of Portugalâ€™s national heritage and references to it can be seen all throughout Portugal.