The Ghoulish Tale of Inês de Castro

7 January 1355, the Portuguese princess royal Inês de Castro was decapitated at Coimbra by order of her father-in-law King Afonso IV.

“Thus Inez, while her eyes to heaven appeal, / Resigns her bosom to the murd'ring steel: / That snowy neck, whose matchless form sustain'd / The loveliest face where all the graces reign'd, / Whose charms so long the gallant prince enflam'd, / That her pale corse was Lisbon's queen proclaim'd, / That snowy neck was stain'd with spouting gore, / Another sword her lovely bosom tore. / The flowers that glisten'd with her tears bedew'd, / Now shrunk and languish'd with her blood embru'd.” (Luís Vaz de Camões “The Lusiads“)

Pierre-Charles Comte’s (1823-1895) imagination of the eerie
“Couronnement d'Inés de Castro“ (1849)

Days were uneasy for King Afonso IV of Portugal in mid-14th century, with the Moorish neighbours in the South and the mighty neighbour Castile, having recently swallowed the Kingdom of Leon, now enveloping his domains in the North and East. It was bad that he was forced to agree to a marriage of his son Peter with a Castilian princess, but worse that the young man fell in love with the bride’s lady-in-waiting, Ines de Castro. Ines was the daughter of a powerful Galician nobleman, Afonso’s immediate northern neighbour, and descended from the Kings of Leon. Afonso was thus a bit beside himself, when his filius secretly married Ines against his express wish and that perhaps explains why he finally decided to have her put out of the way. In the meanwhile, Peter and Ines had lived happily together for four years and brought three children into the world and Peter was out hunting when the assassins came and put an abrupt end to “ever after”.

Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1857 - 1929): "Murder of Inês de Castro" (around 1901)

Legend has is that Ines des Castro was decapitated by three men at the Fonte das Lagrimas, the Fountain of Tears, at Coimbra, in plain view of her one-year-old son and that Peter found the head of his beloved wife when he came home. He swore bitter revenge, started a civil war against his father the king that ended with an uneasy peace through the mediation of the queen and when Peter finally ascended the throne of Portugal two years later, the first thing he did was capturing two of the three murderers – one had fled to England – and personally ripped their hearts out, because of what they had done to his own heart, earning himself the nickname “the Cruel” or, alternatively, “the Just”. Then, in 1361, six years after her death, he had Ines body exhumed and brought to the throne room, dressed up in regal finery and the nobles knelt before her, kissed the corpse’s hand and swore allegiance to the Queen of Portugal. When the ghoulish ceremony had ended, Ines was reburied in the royal monastery at Alcobaça in a richly decorated tomb, facing his own so the first thing they would see when they’d raise from their graves on Judgement Day would be each other.

The Fonte das Lagrimas, Fountain of Tears, in Coimbra*

The tale inspired plays, operas and poems and when the Duke of Wellington stayed at Coimbra during the Peninsular War in 1808, he was so enchanted by the tale that he had a sequoia tree planted at the fountain that stands to this day and the Fonte das Lagrimas became a favoured venue for lovers to be faithful etc. to each other.

* Image found on