Peter of Castile

Peter of Castile

Peter (or Pedro; August 30, 1334 – March 23, 1369), sometimes called the Cruel ("el Cruel") or the Lawful ("el Justiciero"), was the king of Castile from 1350 to 1369. He was the son of Alfonso XI and Maria of Portugal, daughter of Afonso IV of Portugal. He was the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Burgundy.

Popular memory generally views Pedro as vicious monster. Much of Pedro's reputation comes from the works of the chronicler López de Ayala who served Pedro's usurper. After time passed, there was a reaction in Pedro's favour, and an alternative name was found for him. It became a fashion to speak of him as "El Justiciero", the executor of justice (the Lawful). Apologists were found to say that he had only killed men who themselves would not submit to the law or respect the rights of others. Pedro did have his supporters. Even Ayalla confessed that the king's fall was regretted by the merchants and traders, who enjoyed security under his rule. The English, who backed Pedro, also remembered the king positively. Geoffrey Chaucer visited Castile during Pedro's reign and lamented the monarch's death in The Monk's Tale, part of The Canterbury Tales. (Chaucer's patron, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, fought on Pedro's side in his struggle to reclaim the throne.)

quote= From The Monk's TaleO noble, O worthy PEDRO, glory OF SPAIN,Whem Fortune held so high in majesty,Well oughte men thy piteous death complain.Out of thy land thy brother made thee flee,And after, at a siege, by subtlety,Thou wert betray'd, and led unto his tent, Where as he with his owen hand slew thee,Succeeding in thy regne and in thy rent.

Pedro began to reign at the age of sixteen, and found himself subjected to the control of his mother and her favourites. Pedro was to be married to Joan Plantagenet, the daughter of Edward III of England, but on the way to Castile, she travelled through cities infested with plague, ignoring townspeople who had warned her not to enter the town. Joan soon contracted the disease and died.

He was unfaithful to his wife, as his father had been. But Alfonso XI did not imprison his wife, or cause her to be murdered, which Pedro did. He had not even the excuse that he was passionately in love with his mistress, María de Padilla; for, at a time when he asserted that he was married to her, and when he was undoubtedly married to Blanca of Bourbon, he went through the form of marriage with a lady of the family of Castro, who bore him a son, and then deserted her. María de Padilla was the only lady of his harem of whom he never became quite tired.

At first he was controlled by his mother, but emancipated himself with the encouragement of the minister Albuquerque and became attached to María de Padilla, marrying her in secret in 1353. María turned him against Albuquerque. In the summer of 1353 the king was practically coerced by his mother and the nobles into marrying Blanca of Bourbon, but deserted her at once. This marriage necessitated Pedro's denying that he had married María, but his relationship with her continued and she bore him four children. A period of turmoil followed in which the king was for a time overpowered and in effect imprisoned. The dissension within the party striving to coerce him enabled him to escape from Toro, where he was under observation, to Segovia.

From 1356 to 1366 he engaged in constant wars with Aragon in the "War of the Two Peters", in which he showed neither ability nor daring. It was during this period that he perpetrated the series of murders which made him notorious. In 1366 began the calamitous Castilian Civil War which would see him dethroned. He was assailed by his bastard brother Henry of Trastamara at the head of a host of soldiers of fortune, including Bertrand du Guesclin and Hugh Calveley, and abandoned the kingdom without daring to give battle, after retreating several times (first from Burgos, then from Toledo, and lastly from Seville) in the face of the oncoming armies. Peter fled, with his treasury, to Portugal, where he was coldly received by his uncle, King Pedro I of Portugal, and thence to Galicia, in northern Iberian Peninsula, where he ordered the murder of Suero, the archbishop of Santiago, and the dean, Peralvarez.

Henry continuously depicted Pedro as "King of the Jews," and had some success in taking advantage of Castilian anti-Semitism. He instigated pogroms, beginning a period of anti-Jewish riots and forced conversions in Castile that lasted approximately from 1370 to 1390. Peter took forceful measures against this, including the execution of at least five leaders of a riot by boiling and roasting.

In the summer of 1366 Peter took refuge with Edward the Black Prince, who restored him to his throne in the following year after the Battle of Nájera. But he disgusted his ally with his faithlessness and ferocity, as well as his failure to repay the costs of the campaign, as he had promised to do. The health of the Black Prince broke down, and he left Iberian Peninsula. Left to his own resources, Peter was soon overthrown by his brother Henry, with the aid of Bertrand du Guesclin and a body of French and English free companions. After Pedro's decisive loss at the Battle of Montiel, he was murdered by Henry in du Guesclin's tent on March 23, 1369.

Pedro's daughters by María de Padilla, Constance and Isabella, were both married to sons of Edward III, king of England, Constance to John of Gaunt and Isabella to Edmund of Langley.

The great original but hostile authority for the life of Pedro the Cruel is the "Chronicle of the Chancellor Pedro López de Ayala" (Vitoria, Spain 1332 – 1407). To put it in perspective there is a biography by Prosper Mérimée, "Histoire de Don Pedro I, roi de Castille" (Paris, 1848), and a modern history setting Peter in the social and economic context of his time by Clara Estow ("Pedro the Cruel of Castile (1350-1369)", 1995).

Strictly speaking, Pedro was not defeated by Henry but by the opposing aristocracy; the nobles accomplished their objective of enthroning a weaker dynasty (the House of Trastámara), much more amenable to their interests. Most of the bad stories about Pedro are likely to be colored by Black Legend, coined by his enemies, who finally succeeded in their rebellion. The Chancellor López de Ayala, the main source for Pedro's reign, was the official chronicler of the Trastámara, a servant of the new rulers and of Pedro's aristocratic adversaries.

The change of dynasty can be considered as the epilogue of the first act of a long struggle between the Castilian monarchy and the aristocracy; this struggle was to continue for more than three centuries and come to an end only under Charles I of Spain, the grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragon (Ferdinand V of Castile) and Isabella of Castile (The Catholic Kings), in the first quarter of the 16th century.


* Mérimée, Prosper. "The History of Peter the Cruel, King of Castile and Leon." London: R. Bentley, 1849. [,M1] Accessed November 17, 2007

Further reading

* [ Bibliography of recent works (in Spanish)]
* [] Santiago Sevilla, "El Rey Don Pedro el Cruel" , "King Peter the Cruel", "Peter der Grausame König" a tragedy in Spanish, English, and German versions.
*1911|article=Peter of Castile|url=

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