From Peter the Cruel, The Life Of The Notorious Don Pedro of Castile Together With An Account Of His Relations With The Famous Maria de Padilla, by Edward Storer; London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York: John Land Company, 1911; pp. 320-333.
“Thus with mortal gasp and quiver
While the blood in bubbles welled,
Fled the fiercest soul that ever
In a Christian bosom dwelled.”
— SIR WALTER SCOTT’S translation of
the Ballad of Peter the Cruel.
“IN the quarter of the Occident between the mountains and the sea, there will arise a great black bird, cruel, carnivorous, insatiable for blood. It will seek only to devour all that which it encounters. All the honey of the world will never satisfy its hunger. It will engorge in its stomach all the gold and all the riches of the Universe. It will vomit what it has swallowed, and then return to its vomit. Yet not for all this shall it die. Its wings shall fail it, and all its feathers fall, and be dried in the sun. From door to door it shall go in search of an asylum, but no one will receive it. And it shall be obliged to creep into the woods, and to hide itself in the deepest shade and the thickest of forests, and then it shall die twice: once in the eyes of men, and once in the eyes of God. And this shall be its end.”
The above will be recognisable as a prophecy by 321 its vague and general terms, its fine soaring tone, and its lofty poetical disregard for detail.
The prophet responsible for the above prediction is Merlin of Arthurian fame, and, of course, the great black bird, for whom “not all the honey of the world” will suffice, is Don Pedro: Don Pedro, now fallen upon evil times, with all his sins sown in the soil sprung up and leering at him like a Cadmian brood.
This prophecy of Merlin was, according to Ayala, found in some chests belonging to the King after his death. With it was an exposition and reading of its meaning by a certain Benegatin, a famous Moor of Granada who quaintly styles himself Pedro’s “little philosopher.”1
Pedro, it may be noticed, has somehow faded in the last few chapters, paled and faded in the lustre cast by knights like Edward and Du Guesclin. He had been made inconsiderable, but in his dying he becomes important again.
The stage is all his for his death, which took place in a manner and under conditions rare, if not unique, in the history of the kings of Europe.
When Enrique was preparing for his second invasion of Castile, Don Pedro found himself supported but indifferently well by those towns which had lately accepted his restoration.
His influence among the nobility was completely shattered. Only the Commons and the people were in any way prepared to support his cause. His chief friend, and the only one in whom he had any 322 confidence, was the King of Granada. Surrounded always by a body-guard of Saracens, Pedro drifted unhappily about Andalusia, causing strange stories to be spread through his friendship with the Moors, so little beloved of the inhabitants of Castile. Thus it was commonly reported, that when the rumours of Trastamara’s second coming were borne to him, the King of Castile swore to abjure the Christian faith and to become a Mahomedan if victory should fall to his arms. Then, too, it was that he reaped from the Arabian prophet’s lips the foregoing gloomy prediction, which was duly fulfilled in all particulars.
In France, preparations were being hurriedly made for the second invastion of Castile. The English were much too fully occupied in defending their own lands in Guyenne, to render any further assistance to Don Pedro, even if they had so wished.
Enrique had, further, on his side Pope Urban.
Towards the middle of August, he set out for Castile, determined, on this occasion, as he said, to become king, or never to return. To inspire his followers with something of his own confidence, he took with him his wife and son.
On the way he met with but little opposition. In Aragon, though Pedro IV. proffered a formal protest against his advance, as a matter of fact he did little or nothing to hinder the approach of the invaders.
Indeed, the King’s uncle Don Pedro was plainly in favour of the Pretender, and assisted him with guides and forage.
All along the route, country folk came out 323 to welcome Enrique as he passed, and his little column grew as it went into a considerable host. In Navarre, he found little or no opposition, and, crossing the Ebro near Azagra, he came at last into Castile.
And when his knights told him in what country he was then standing, he dismounted from his horse, cast himself upon his knees, and tracing a cross upon the sand, kissed it.
“By this cross,” he declared to those standing by, “I swear that whatever dangers or troubles come to me, I will never again leave Castile alive. Here I await death or such better fortune as Heaven may have in store for me.”
Calahorra, where a year before he had been crowned king, now received him with eagerness. Thither there came to him many of the men who, in the fortune of war, had been scattered at the battle of Najara. In this second coming of their leader, they saw an omen of ultimate success.
When his volunteers had reached a certain number, Enrique determined to take the bold step of marching on Burgos. From every castle and village on the way, knights and men came riding to join him, and signs of joy at his approach marked every instant of the advance.
Burgos declared for him, with the exception of the Jews, who shut themselves up in their Ghetto and prepared for a siege.
Thus, while Enrique’s standard flew in one part of the town and he was receiving the homage and submission of the city’s elders and the nobles of the 324 neighbourhood, a rain of hostile missiles poured from time to time on to his soldiers from the rebellious Jewry. These adherents of Don Pedro were, however, brought in a few days to submission, and Burgos and its environs became finally Enrique’s.
During the happenings of these events, Don Pedro was in Andalusia, where his presence suffered to hold the countryside in a state of submission.
The news of the fall of Burgos was the signal for the final division of the land into two camps, each inspired with deadly hatred for the other and equally resolved that this time at least matters should be brought to a definite issue.
To Enrique’s standard flocked from all over the country the victims of Don Pedro’s tyranny, while the legitimate King of Castile was compelled to rely principally on his Moorish allies. He placed in the city of Carmona, under a strong guard, his treasure and the children whom he had had by his various mistresses. His daughters by Maria de Padilla were then living as hostages in the keeping of the Prince of Wales at Bayonne.
Then he began his last march through Castile to meet his brother. With him, beside his Granadine warriors, were some Castilian knights who were still faithful to him, among whom we find Ferdinand de Castro, one of the truest and most generous knights of the time. Some men from Galicia and Estremadura also rallied to the Royalist banner, and from the Andalusian cities of Seville, Ecija and Jerez he was able to collect a few reinforcements.325
Enrique left some knights before the city of Toledo to continue the siege, and set out for the last encounter.
At the town of Orgaz, he was joined by Bertrand Du Guesclin and some five hundred French cavalry, whom Charles V. had sent to his aid. The French king evidently placed considerable importance on the determination of the Castilian succession if he allowed himself to send to his ally his best general at a time when he was himself on the eve of a great struggle with England.
Eagerly and swiftly did the Bastard’s army march through the land, until at last, outside Montiel, it was reported that Pedro’s host was in sight.
The latter was taken unawares, and something like a panic spread through his camp at the almost supernatural swiftness of the enemy’s approach. In the night there were desertions, and fear and dismay ran through all the ranks.
But there was no desire on Don Pedro’s part to avoid the ultimate issue thus thrust on him. All his old fury and ferocity remained; even if his power, authority, wisdom, and generalship had wholly left him.
We have Don Enrique’s speech to his soldiers before the battle. “To-day, brave warriors,” he said, “must decide for ever our fate. To-day will make us masters of a kingdom and cover us with glory and riches, or deprive us for ever of those things.” And then he spoke to the listening knights and squires of the cruelties of his brother and foe, Don Pedro.
“Let us avenge to-day,” he concluded, “our 326 country desolated by his violences. Avenge to-day the blood of your fathers, your children, and your friends, which this monster has so feely spent!”
And then the battle began with an appalling ferocity and vigour. On Enrique’s side the Bègue de Villaines was remarkable for his courage and daring. He sought all over the field for the nephew of the Moorish king, Belmavin, and when he found him, cut him in two with a great blow of his axe.
King Pedro fought with the most diabolical ferocity and fury, and reaped a full harvest of death with his battle-axe, which he wielded with great strength and skill.
Fortune soon declared itself for the Conde, and the Moors broke before the energetic assault of Du Guesclin’s experienced knights. For a little while, the Castilian remnant of Pedro’s army strove to mend the breach in the lines, but before long it became evident that the battle was hopelessly lost.
Then, with a few knights, Pedro escaped into the castle of Montiel, while the victors and the vanquished counted their dead.
When it was known where the King was, Enrique and Du Guesclin made immediate preparations to secure him, and tired though their men were, they compelled them forthwith to invest the place where Pedro was sheltering. And by the time that dark fell on the land, a circle of armed men surrounded the king’s asylum so closely and circumspectly that “not even a bird might escape.” Then Enrique took his rest, with a quiet confidence in the morrow.327
The closeness of the investment soon became apparent to Don Pedro. who thus perceived himself in the most desperate plight in the world, for, though the castle was safe against assault, there were provisions but for four days.
He soon recognised that his only chance lay in the possibility of an escape by night.
With the faithful De Castro, he discussed the matter, and at the dead of night, accompanied by eleven others, he set out to try and break through the cordon surrounding the castle.
Ayala, whose version of this final episode differs from that of Froissart and the other French chroniclers, writes that, before this Pedro had sent a knight of his, Rodriguez de Senabria, to treat secretly with Du Guesclin.
The Castilian chronicler tells how this man came by stealth into the Breton’s tent by night, and sought with every artifice and fair promise to seduce Du Guesclin from his alliance with Enrique.
“I, for my own part,” said Senabria, “do conjure you to have pity on so noble a king. Think how it will reflect to your honour, when all the world knows that to you alone he owes his life.
Further, on behalf of his royal master, the envoy offered the towns of Soria, Almazon, Atienza, Diza, and Seron together with two hundred thousand doublons of Castilian gold in return for his assistance.
Betrand was indignant at the whole request, and told the knight that he made a mistake in thinking he was addressing a traitor.328
“I am in the pay of King Henry,” he added.
Rodriguez refused to take his dismissal until he had extracted from Du Guesclin a promise to consider Don Pedro’s proposals.
When Senabria had gone, the Breton General called his knights round him, and told them what had happened. He asked them their advice as to whether he should communicate the news to King Henry.
It was a point of chivalric honour for them to decide, and they all agreed readily enough, that he could owe no consideration whatever to Don Pedro or his messenger, and would assuredly be right in acquainting his own lord with the circumstance.
Du Guesclin accepted the decision of his comrades, and forthwith went to King Henry, and told him the whole story. So pleased was the bastard with the loyalty of his lieutenant, that he promised him both the lordships and the money which Don Pedro had offered.
At the same time, Enrique urged that Du Guesclin should appear to accept the advances made by Senabria, and conspire to entice Don Pedro into their camp.
For, according to Mérimée, the Pretender had already determined to bring about the death of his brother. Only by his death could he hope to establish himself securely upon the throne; a Pedro in captivity would have been little better than a Pedro openly in arms against him.
And, if Ayala’s account be the true one — and there seems no reason why it should not be so — the fact of Enrique’s unwillingness to wait ever for a day or two for famine to deliver up his brother to him points to 329 the suggestion that he did desire his death. In such an adventure as he was urging Du Guesclin to contrive, a sudden, almost accidental death would be entirely possible and natural. while to murder his brother in cold blood would have been difficult as well as perhaps even repugnant to Enrique’s nature. Whether by invitation of Du Guesclin or not — and for my own part, I think that, though there may have been invitations, this sortie was spontaneous — certain it is that on the 23rd March 1369, at midnight or so, Pedro and his eleven comrades stole out of the castle of Montiel. It was very dark, and round the shoes of their horses all had bound cloth. The escaping party led their mounts down the steep hill on which the castle stood, until they reached ground where they could ride them. Don Pedro was wearing a coat of mail instead of his usual dress — does not this and the binding of the horses’feet suggest an attempt at flight? — and all moved stealthily, making the least possible sound. Froissart says that the Bègue de Villaines had the command of the watch with 300 men.2
Quietly as they were moving, the sound of their approach did not escape the French knight’s ears.
“Gentleman,” he said to his comrades, “keep quiet; make no movement! for I hear the steps of some people. I suspect that they are victuallers who are bringing provisions to the castle, for I know it is in this respect very scantily provided.”330
Then, as the little column drew near, the Bègue, “with his dagger on his wrist,” seized the bridle of one of the strangers and addressed him: —
“Who art thou? Speak, or thou art a dead man!”
The fellow happened to be an Englishman, who, wrenching his bridle free, dashed off in the darkness.
The Bègue de Villaines was now aroused; and with his men’s help he grasped the bridle of the next man’s horse, and scanned his features closely with the aid of what little light there was.
And in the man’s face he fancied that he saw a likeness to Don Enrique, and he thought that it must be Don Pedro himself.
So he placed his dagger on the man’s breast, and cried out: —
“And you, who are you? Name yourself and surrender this instant, or you are a dead man.”
And Don Pedro seeing himself thus surrounded and lost, answered: —
Bègue, Bègue, I am Don Pedro, King of Castile, to whom much wrong has been imputed, through evil counsellors. I surrender myself and all my people, but twelve in number, as thy prisoners. I beseech thee, in the name of gentility, that thou put me in a place of safety. I will pay for my ransom whatever sum thou shallst please to ask, for, thank God, I have yet a sufficiency to do that, but thou must prevent me from falling into the hands of the bastard.”3
SEAL OF PETER THE CRUEL; AND GOLD COIN OF HIS CURRENCY (IN RIGHT-HAND TOP CORNER)
But it was the hour of Don Enrique, and there was 331 no more hope and no more chances left in all the world for Peter the Cruel.
The Bègue took no notice of his prayers, and treated his promises with silent scorn. He led the King, followed by some of his men, to a tent near by, whither rumour of his capture brought several of the leaders of King Henry’s army. These formed a circle round Don Pedro, as though anxious to see at last the man who had made such strife and desolation in Europe.
There was a strange silence upon all. It seemed as though they were expecting something to happen. The knight-companions stood regarding Don Pedro as if he were some kind of wild beast, until the curtain of the tent was drawn on one side, and Don Enrique entered fully armed, with visor up.
The brothers had not seen each other since they were children. Enrique did not, it seems, in the half-light of the tent, recognise his brother at first as his eyes strayed over the faces of the captives from Montiel.4
“Where then is this bastard who calls himself King of Castile?” he asked.
“There,” answered a knight, “there stands your mortal enemy!”
“Yes, I am. I am, and always will be. All the world knows I am the legitimate son of King Alfonso. Thou art the bastard!”
At this insult, wilfully provoked, Enrique struck Don Pedro lightly on the face with his dagger. The injured man, closely pressed by the onlookers, had no 332 room to draw his sword, so he seized his brother in his arms, and sought to bear him to the ground.
Fiercely the two men wrestled and fought for their lives, while the spectators, hushed by the strange and unusual sight, made way for them as they swung about the tent.
Pedro was the stronger of the two, and when the closely-locked fighters came to the ground at last over a camp bed, it was he who was uppermost. A great gasp of excitement was drawn from those present, for they saw Pedro feeling in his belt for a poignard. His arms, gripped by his brother, prevented him, at first, from drawing the blade, but when Enrique, weakened by the struggle, seemed to be giving his opponent the arm-play necessary for him to draw the poignard, some one of the onlookers, aghast at the turn of things went to the aid of his master. He seized Pedro by the leg, and twisted him over, so that Enrique had the advantage. And as the Conde struggled for position, his hand touched his own dagger which had fallen on to the floor in the fight. Then, lifting Pedro’s mail at a vulnerable point, he plunged it fiercely two or three times into him.
Who the offender against fair play was is a matter of many opinions, but his action made the small tent blaze immediately with a swift and fearful carnage.
The fight became almost general, and two Englishmen, the Green Knight and James Roland, were killed for attempting to defend Don Pedro. Enrique, after the first blows, felt his brother’s arms slipping from 333 him, and rising, called on some of his men to finish his handiwork for him.
“Thus,” as Froissart says, “died Don Pedro, King of Castile, who had formerly reigned in great prosperity.
1 “Pequeño filosofo” — Ayala.
2 Ayala says that the scene passed in Du Guesclin’s tent. He, Froissart, and the other French chroniclers all vary as to the details of this last episode.
4 Ayala says that the two brothers stumbled against each other in the dark.
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