The Story of King Pedro and his bride Inez de Castro is indelibly linked with the Portuguese psyche and is a dramatic and tragic tale of intense passion. It really is one of the greatest love stories throughout the history of the world. It equals Heloise and Abelard, Lancelot and Guinevere, think of the Taj Mahal in India built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

This story has the same passion, tragedy and intensity and  has inspired works of art : plays, paintings, poetry, film and opera and there is a foundation based in Coimbra that promotes art works on this topic. The tombs of Pedro and Inez can be found at Alcobaça and they are ornately carved. Pedro commissioned them after the murder of Inez and placed his own tomb so that when Inez finally awakes the first person she will see is Pedro who is lying opposite.

There is a historical account of this love story held at  Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra. It all began in the 14th century when Dom Alphonso IV, King of Castile, chose Dona Constanca Manual, to marry his son, Dom Pedro. She was a Castilian princess and should have been the perfect match for him. Soon after they married in 1340, Constanca brought her cousin, Inés de Castro, to Portugal to keep her company and Dom Pedro fell in love with her. Ines and Dom Pedro conducted a steamy affair with her, and Dom Pedro would allegedly send messages via the conduit that flowed from her living quarters to his. When Constanca died during childbirth, Dom Pedro installed Inés and brought the wrath of the King’s advisors to his door. I find there is so much to inspire in Portugal with its deep tradition, rich literary tradition and wonderful language. There is no doubt, Central Portugal is a unique space in which to run a writing retreat.

Vivienne Neale has written a verse novel based on this passionate tale of Pedro and Inés. Here is the moment when Pedro sees her for the very first time.

Ines Perez de Castro

 I stand searching the expansive horizon, through the narrowest arrow slit window. The time is right; Constanca my  ife,  will offer me  comfort tonight.  I snort in derision at plaguing  thoughts:  it’s  a desperation,  but necessary, those sweating nights of disappointment, rage, frustration, call it what you will. She always smiles  but within,  is hidden rennet  that curdles  feeling.  She dresses for me in silks and furs, not touching, not sad, not anything,  really, a nothing – we are in pursuit of an heir. 

Today  another meeting will be sought, this dreaded homecoming, I always fear. ‘Fodas’ I hiss to myself stalking through the corridors towards her, feeling  a burden akin to that of Atlas and I kick the door open striding through the room, pushing the endless hangers-on from  my path and storm towards her in my usual imperious manner, No one says ‘no’ to me.’. Like having walked into a wall I am stopped dead, my head empties I am prevented from moving forward, by a force; the pressure in my brain is overwhelming, building, building. Shocked, I stare: all I ever dared dreamed of, stands in my sight; my skin prickles as if each  hair has been plucked out, one by one. My body smarts with a frisson I felt had long collapsed in the ashes of this life. My Spanish wife holds out both hands, in supplication:

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