The Corpse bride of Portugal
Dealing with in-laws can be murder, and this tragic tale of love and deception will probably make you thankful all you have to put up with is a father-in-law who stays up all night watching TV and drinking your whiskey. Luckily, most of you won't marry into a family hellbent on decapitating you (better luck next time, huh, Ed). But sadly, this was the fate of the dearly departed Inês de Castro, more famously known by her moniker, “The corpse bride of Portugal”. The tragic story of Inês, is not widely known outside of her home country, but it has inspired hundreds of different artistic ventures including the well known movie, Corpse Bride by Tim Burton.
I learned about this macabre story before we visited Lisbon, and knew that seeing the resting place of Inês was right up our alley. Thankfully, we had the company of our new friend and guide, Ivo, from the wonderful tour company Go Caldas to take us there.
In order to understand the story of Inês, you have to keep in mind that Spain and Portugal never really got along that well. They were constantly bickering and fighting like 2 brothers who were forced to share 1 Playstation controller. As was done back in the day, the way these spats were often settled was by marrying family members into each other’s aristocracy to create bonds between the 2 feuding countries. Inês was born into nobility in 1320, and was the great-granddaughter of King Sancho the IV of Castile. She arrived in Portugal in 1340, and although she was of noble blood, she was not slated to marry anyone from Portugal’s royal family. Instead, she was a lady in waiting to her cousin, Infanta Constança of Castile. Constança was set to marry the heir to the Portuguese throne, Dom Pedro, son of King Afonso IV, thereby uniting the 2 countries in matrimony. However, when Inês entered the royal court behind her cousin, Pedro instantly fell in love with her. Unfortunately, the cards were already dealt and Pedro married Constança in 1340 despite his feelings. Pedro’s and Inês's love was anything but secret, and the king, as well as the new princess, made numerous attempts to keep the pair apart. My favorite scheme was when Constança tried making Inês godmother to her new baby - which, in the eyes of the church, made Inês blood family and Pedro and her relationship would then be considered incestuous. When this did not pan out as expected, Inês was banished from Portugal and sent back to Castile by King Afonso. This did not stop the 2 lovebirds, as Pedro would often neglect his wife to sneak out and visit Inês in Castile.
In 1345, Constança died after giving birth to her and Pedro’s 3rd child. Her death opened up the opportunity for Inês and Pedro to become a legitimate couple and marry, ultimately making Inês princess to the throne of Portugal. Fearing the drama their potential marriage was causing with the nobles in Castile, as a last ditch effort to separate the lovers, King Afonso decided to have Inês murdered. As legend goes, She was beheaded in front of her and Pedro’s child at the Quinta das Lágrimas - translated to "the estate of tears". Portuguese people believe that her blood still stains the rocks of a river on the estate.
When Pedro heard of Inês’s murder, he went into a rage (obviously), knowing that it was his father that ordered the killing of his bride. He and Inês’s 2 brothers staged a revolt and laid siege to the city of Porto. Ultimately, the queen needed to intervene to quell the revolt and mediate a peace between Pedro and his father the king. Pedro promised to forgive his father and was crowned king in 1357.
This is where things start to get a bit weird. Pedro’s first act as king was to capture and kill the men who had murdered his bride. Out of the 3, only 2 of the men were able to be recovered hiding out in Spain. Pedro brought the men back to Portugal, where he proceeded to torture the men in a similar manner to the way he felt tortured over Inês’s death. The 2 men's hearts were ripped out of their bodies while they were still alive, 1 through the chest, and the other through his back while King Pedro sat watching, enjoying a nice dinner.
After avenging her death, King Pedro let it be known that he had actually married Inês in secret prior to her death, thus making her a Queen. As no one could refute Pedro's claim (probably because he would have ripped their heart out), he had Inês exhumed and placed on the throne by his side. He then proceeded to place the crown on her skull and forced the entire court to swear allegiance to the corpse bride by kissing her cold, decaying, dead hand. Both King Pedro and his love Inês were eventually laid to rest in the Monastery of Alcobaça,
which today is a UNESCO world heritage site, and can be visited with relative ease as it is about an hour outside of Lisbon. The tombs encasing the bodies are incredibly ornate, beautifully carved marble depicting the scenes of the final judgment.
The lids of the coffins have been meticulously chiseled to depict the couple being embraced by angels. The tombs of the lovers face each other and are inscribed with the phrase "Até o fim do mundo..." which translates to “until the end of the world…”