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. 3-23.
IT is more than one hundred years ago, as far as I can be sure, since any one in England has written a book on the subject of Peter the Cruel.
In France, for more than half a century, writers seem to have left him alone with his cruelties, his loves, and his legendary fame beneath the splendid mausoleum of Mérimée’s work.
In Spain, as might be expected, he has more often troubled the learned and caught the attention of the frivolous. In that land, as is natural, he continues to interest the poets, the playwrights, and the historians.
In truth, in dealing with him one moves in good company, for Calderon1 and Dumas2 among others have written of the cruel King of Castile.
His earliest biographer was his contemporary Pedro Lopez de Ayala, from whose courtly chronicle the greater part of all that follows is directly or indirectly taken.
From being page to Don Pedro, Ayala, who was a 4 most distinguished gentleman, rose to be Grand Chancellor of Castile.
In 1788, Sir John Dillon wrote a life, and produced certainly the most important, if not the only, account of him in English.
In 1847, the author of Carmen turned his attention towards the subject of this memoir, partly, it would seem, at the invitation of his friend the Comtesse de Montijo,3 who, perhaps from patriotic motives, wished Don Pedro to be shown again to the world in as goodly a guise as might be.
M. Mérimée found his task no light one. In his letters to the Countess, he tells her that the attempted restoration of the King’s character is proving a very difficult task. Once he speaks of him as “this poor devil of a King, who had the misfortune to be born a century too late,” and again, in a moment of despair with his task, he refers to him as “mon ennemi, Don Pèdre.” He did his best for his friend, the Countess, as he did his best for his “enemy Don Pedro.” The extent of his research, and the untiring energy which he gave to the work, take away the breath of the humble follower in his footsteps. To gather materials for his history, he journeyed to three countries, and he concluded his labours with the modest hope that posterity would admire at the least his industry.
One does indeed admire it, and, further, must avail oneself liberally of its fruit, without, however, too troublesome a conscience, for, after all, he took from the others, as one takes from him.5
And as for Ayala, who, like myself, for good or ill has “gone to’t in rhyme,”4 he, I am sure, will make me welcome of his chronicle, for the sake of her whom in our several ways we have sought to love.
Be that as it may, with an impertinence that is at any rate well meant, I turn to him and the others in the dimness of the past, and take off my hat, and bow with what grace I can command: —
MY DEAR AUTHORITIES: your very humble Servant!
It was when Edward III. was reigning in England, and when John the Good was reigning in France, that Don Pedro the Cruel was born.
The year 1333 gave to the world this extraordinary man, the son of King Alfonso XI. This was a time when chivalry was growing decadent, and yet a time chivalrous and feudal and mediæval enough, as we shall see.
For if the perfect flower of chivalry was a little time-weary and wind-blown, there was as yet no newer ideal ready to delight men’s minds.
Not yet had the Renaissance stirred.
The old convention lingered, and if but few believed in its sanctity with the whole-hearted fervour of other days, there it was, cumbering mankind — an ideal grown old, like a faithful servant, whom one hesitates to put away.
For it can hardly be doubted that it was the idealising instinct in man, strong, ancient, and ineradicable, 6 that evolved the complicated system of chivalry. It was this instinct that made of war, slaughter, and violent death, disguised with a host of honourable and romantic trappings, a kind of pleasant illusion and romance, in which acquisitive and ideal instincts could be satisfied at one and the same time.
This came about naturally enough, for war was almost the only outlet open to the romantic instinct, which was at the same time available for every gentleman of the land.
In these latter days of chivalry, however, not much of the romantic part of the matter remained. In practice, the unideality of the subject had been too often shown. And so, only the bare husk and convention were left, and the warriors of the time fought, to a great extent, disillusioned about any mystical beauties there may have been in their military religion.
The invention of gunpowder has generally been adduced as the influence which broke down the chivalry of the middle ages, but it decayed as much from its own over-ripeness as from anything else. Yet though it was passing, in 1333 or so, many of its chief incidents yet remained.
The fourteenth century still deals with tournaments and knights in armour. There is still the old phantasmagoria of mediævalism, a thing which it is hard to see without some enshrouding sentimental glamour; a thing which it is impossible broadly to conceive without it. Though the old order was decaying, it was not gone.
TYPE OF CHAIN ARMOUR IN USE IN THE PENINSULA TOWARDS END OF FOURTEENTH CENTURY
As a rule, knight only fought with knight, and 7 squire with squire, though there are instances to be found in which this strict canon of etiquette was abrogated. Still, a chevalier’s unknightly conduct was made the object of an elaborate ritual of disgrace. Heraldry still flourished, and the heavy mail armour, and the cumbrous pomp and machinery of war.
The weapons in general use were still the wooden lance, the sword, the battle-axe, and the dagger. To these Spain added another weapon especially her own. Her genetours or javelin-throwers were an arm of war not in universal employment in Europe. Their use is said to have been due to the wars between the Spanish kingdoms and the Moors, thought it is, perhaps, possible to see in them some relation to the weapons of some of the legions which Cæsar led into Spain. England, and later the other countries, had of course archers as well.
Yet some of the most picturesque incidents of the old order had vanished. The troubadours and jongleurs, or, as they were called in Spain, the trovadores and juglares, those romantic and charming figures of the early middle ages, were silent now and forgotten. Music had drifted into the towns to form itself into companies and associations in the peace of calm, respectable burgherdom. No more along the sunny ways of Provence and Spain wandered the Bohemian noble and his jongleur. In vain would a romantic girl of the time have looked for the passing of one of those charming Knights, those gay and laughing Lords, of whom she had heard so much in tale and legend from her nurse’s lips.8
Alas! he could never come. He was a respectable fellow now, master or member, as the case might be, of some mediæval confrérie des ménétriers. Only a few remained, the true rebels and inconvertibles. Pierre Vidal lay in the earth of France with the story of a hundred loves locked in his heart; the vielles and rebecs of Geoffroi Rudel, of Riquier, and Améric de Pegulhan were broken, or lost and forgotten in some dusty cupboard or other.
What names they had, some of these primitive songsters, these little throstle-singers that introduced the nightingales of the Renaissance.
Améric de Pegulhan! it is like a glass of Château Lafitte!
Thibaud de Champigne! Allow me, Madame, to introduce the Chevalier Thibaud de Champigne. A courtly and admirable fellow, on whom, were you a lady of the Middle Ages, you would surely be pleased to smile.
But if they took a less active interest in music in the fourteenth century, this was not the case with war.
It was a crude enough thing though at this time. Chivalry had not lent itself to so plebeian a matter as science. Generally, the opposing armies blundered into each other, met with a terrific shock, and fought till superior strength asserted itself. Often enough, the opponents had but the slightest idea as to their enemy’s whereabouts.
Before Poitiers, for instance, the Black Prince and John of France were completely in the dark as to each other’s position.9
Commissariat arrangements were mainly a matter of plundering the enemy’s lands. If one were successful in the fight, there was no necessity (as well as no means) of carrying provisions about; if one were not successful, one did not require any commissariat at all. That was the way the tacticians of the period argued. Foot-soldiers came into greater prominence at this time. Their larger employment was due to the success of the English archers. But if war was crude, so were manners and morals, in Spain as well as elsewhere. There had been a university at Salamanca since the year 1234, but it was a poor thing, producing poor results. Learning throughout Europe was still almost an ecclesiastical monopoly. Du Guesclin, the Frenchman who was later to bring ruin to Don Pedro, could barely5 read and write. When he was besieged in Rennes by the English, he had to give a message sent him by the Duke of Lancaster to another to read for him.
In 1333, the popes were dwelling at Avignon. At the time the subject of this memoir began to reign, Clement VI. was occupying the throne of St. Peter.
Europe was still in a very rude and barbarous condition. An immense and Cimmerian ignorance was the lot of the common people in every country; and in Spain, perhaps, more especially than in some other lands — Italy, for instance, where even then the first little sparks of that great blaze of spiritual activity — the Renaissance — were beginning to glow.10
Giotto was born about this time, and Spinello; Cimabue had lived and died, and as no art comes parentless into the world, there must have been some earlier Giottos and Spinellos, working obscurely, perhaps, in some goldsmith’s shop in some far and dusty garret of Florence or Sienna, producing the first tentative paintings on gold backgrounds.
Chaucer was born about this date, and fruitful Italy had already mothered her Dante, her Boccaccio, and her Petrarch.
The lover of Laura was a young man, studying life and letters at Avignon in the year that Don Pedro of Castile was born.
As to any trace of art in Spain itself at this time, the names only of a few primitives have come down to us.6 Nor were these Castilians, for that land was mute and sterile until the fifteenth century. Spain differed from the other feudal lands at this period in that its feudalism was of a less harsh and rigid type. There was something in its social aspect more democratic, more generous, and more sympathetic. This was due to that alien race which had served to knit Lord and Servant, Ricos Hombres and their vassals into a common humanity united against a common foe. The subconscious, inherited memories of their struggles against the Moors had left for man and master the feudalism of Spain, chastened, broadened, and different from that of any other in Europe. Corresponding in some measure with our Knights and 11 Squires, were the Ricos Hombres and the Hidalgos of Spain; the former being much in the position of Lords or Counts. They had the privilege of a banner with their arms, and a caldron depicted thereon. The banner signified their right to raise arms, and the caldron was a homely, heraldic emblem to suggest the wearer’s capability of sustaining his warriors. The Ricos Hombres were allowed the title of Don. Both of these orders were privileged in many ways. The Hidalgos, for instance, were immune from arrest for debt, were allowed to remain seated in courts of judicature, and were exempt from all the viler forms of punishment, such as torture.
A notable feature of Spanish military and political life at this time is her Great Military Orders. There seems little doubt that their origin is to be found in the establishment of such semi-religious, semi-military organisations during the time of the Crusades.
“The Hospitallers and especially the Templars,” says Burke, in his “History of Spain,” “had obtained greater possessions in Spain than in any other part of Europe, and it was partly upon the ruins of their rich commanderies that arose the three-fold glory of the great Spanish Orders.” These orders were those of Calatrava, Santiago and Alcantara, and, next to the King himself, were probably the most important estates in the land. For they claimed both ecclesiastical and temporal recognition, and consequently were doubly fortified and formidable in this security. Ultimately, the choice of their Grand Masters rested with the Pope, to whom they paid a spiritual homage, 12 not untinged with that temporal devotion which Rome and Avignon were always ready to accept.
According to Burke, the following are the military orders of ancient chivalry now existing, namely: —
Those of Calatrava, Santiago, Alcantara, Christ, (Portugal), Seraphim (Sweden), Garter, and Golden Fleece.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Spanish Peninsula was divided into five kingdoms, namely, those of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, Portugal and Granada, four Christian lands and one Moorish: five lands that were never at complete peace with each other for any great length of time. Treaties followed treaties, and alliance succeeded alliance quite regularly, but the shadow of war was never very far away.
War in Spain, as in nearly every country of Europe, was the principal business of the nation. Trade existed, even international trade, but it was conducted with risk, almost in a kind of secrecy, and must have been extremely precarious. We read numerous petitions from different monarchs to King Edward III., complaining of piratical treatment at the hands of his subjects.
Sir John Dillon says: “The English at this time wanted to trade to foreign parts, but would not suffer foreigners to come peaceably to theirs.
Barcelona was doing some considerable trade in spices at this period with other countries. Indeed, the entire trade of Spain was in advance of that of England at this date, and it was to a kingdom well situated for commerce, and blessed with safe and valuable ports, that Peter the Cruel succeeded. 13 Castile, no less than Aragon and other parts of Spain, was rich in iron, copper, and even silver mines, which were very productive.
In another direction, Spain showed at this period a more tolerant and civilized attitude than many other countries.
While the Jews were subject to a rabid persecution under the rule of King Edward III, the payment of a tribute — fixed with a sense of poetic justice at thirty pieces of silver — ensured them in Spain peace and security.
And what kind of court do we find at Seville at this time?
A court full of treachery and dissoluteness.
“The licentiousness of manners was extreme,” says Mérimée. Even the clergy showed no better example.
The barraganas de clerigos or priests’ ladies were a recognized body, occupying a special position in the social life of the land, and made the object of peculiar and class laws.
Nor did Castile lack in the person of Don Pedro a royal exemplar of dissolute living.
A cruel man and a lustful: that is what he seems to have been. The apologies for him can, at the best, only modify and in some degree explain his evil habits. Mérimée, who did his best for him, can make no hero of him, and behind the lace and lawn of delicate excuse, and out of the atmosphere of palliation, he frowns at us, a grim, ferocious, interesting, vital figure, so much like the traditional Peter the Cruel as to be almost identical.14
His apologists range from the amiable but fatuous Berni y Catala, who is reduced to vindicating Peter by means of a vision of a certain friend of his in which Peter triumphantly ascended into Heaven, to the modern, enthusiastic, and scholarly Don Joachim Guichot. Catalina Garcia, the author of the latest Spanish history of these times, professes to admire Guichot’s work, but this may be the politeness of one Academician to another, for he disagrees almost everywhere, and gives Guichot many sly thrusts in his footnotes.
Ayala, Peter’s chronicler, has often been accused of prejudice, because he wrote his life under the protection of his successor and overthrower, but, allowing even for this negative evidence of Don Pedro’s claim to a better memory in men’s minds, it is inconceivable that Ayala’s record is fundamentally untrue, supported as it is by all the other contemporary writers of France and England.
All the apologists of Peter, Sotomayor, the Conde de la Roca, Ledo del Pozo, Zavier de Salas, Aureliano Guerra, and the rest do little more than suggest better motives and circumstances more mitigating for Peter than are obvious: they cannot touch Ayala’s facts.
So, not as the discoverer of a new Pedro do I write, nor as any Cortez of his nobility and virtue, but as one, who, with the hand of charity, draws back the curtain of old days, and bids, within his measure, upon the boards of history the pomp and bravery of an ancient time sweetly to come and go.
1 “El médico de su honra.”
2 “Le bâtard de Mauléon.”
3 The Empress Eugénie.
4 “Rimado de Palacio.”
5 He could sign his name. See Lettenhove, “Etude sur le XIV. siècle,” tome ii. p. 25.
6 Marzal in Valentia; Zuera in Aragon. — Diccionario historico de las bellas artes in España.
WHILE Alfonso XI. of Castile was with his army besieging the Moors in Gibraltar, his son Pedro was living in retirement with his mother in Andalusia.
Maria and her son were no longer in favour with the King, and, though she was his lawful wife, and Pedro his only legitimate son, Alfonso gave all his affection and favours elsewhere.
The name of this beautiful woman who had estranged the royal heart form its legitimate devotion was Leonor.
Historians have drawn pictures for us of her beauty, and in the tapestries of old legends and poems she is traced out as a clever and elegant woman of remarkable loveliness.
For her and her children all honour: castles, titles, the rarest apparel, and the most noble robes that the times could devise; but for the discarded wife and her little son neglect, snubs from King and courtiers, and an existence clouded by the feeling of being unpopular and unnecessary.
Maria had early lost the affections of Alfonso, who had found in the charming Leonor a resting-place for 16 the frequently fickle and errant passions of a King. And so in a household, perhaps often alarmed with the tears and protestations of an unhappy Queen, Peter the Cruel spent his boyhood. There, he received to a large degree an education at the hands of a woman who was neglected and unhappy, so that his very earliest years must have been spent in an atmosphere of grievances, deceits, and the small mean stratagems which must almost inevitably make up a large part of the life of any court party which happens to be unpopular.
Thus, while his half-brothers, Enrique and Fadrique, lived in freedom and accompanied their royal father to war or to the chase, Don Pedro stayed at home in a household whose circumstances and conditions were distinctly unsuitable to the upbringing of a fourteenth century Prince.
Freedom, companionship and sympathy were what such a nature as his needed, a chance to expand, an opportunity to mould a passionate nature into strength, not the occasion to repress it and throw it inwards.
Here, on the very threshold, is, I think, the only apology for Peter’s later habit of life which is worth troubling about, if apologies are worth anything at all, which is at least debatable. It is small wonder that such a boyhood helped to produce such a manhood. It would have been strange if it had produced anything else in those times and circumstances.
But in the year 1350, when Peter was fifteen ears and seven months old, and therefore, according to 17 Spanish law, by the odd months the master of his majority, Fate intimated a rearrangement.
Alfonso XI. was before Gibraltar with an army, demanding the surrender of the fortress from the Moors. Long and obstinately did the Christians fight for the lowering of the Crescent and the surrender of the garrison, but the Mussulmans displayed an extraordinary courage and energy in defence.
King Alfonso was urged by his generals to raise the siege, because of the consternation caused in camp by an attack of the Plague then sporadic throughout Spain, but he persistently refused. The danger to his own royal person was explained to him, but “he begged them not to press such counsel on him, for he believed that he had brought that noble town and fortress to the point of surrender and hoped to recover it in a short space; for it had been won by the Moors and lost by the Christians in his reign, and it would be a great shame to him thus to abandon it for fear of death.”1
With him at this time were his natural sons, Enrique and Fadrique, tasting for the first time the excitement of war.
Suddenly the Black Plague which was raging all over the Peninsula at the time, picked out the leader of the Christian host for a victim, and Alfonso XI. died.
Immediately confusion followed. The props and stays of a score of cabals fell to earth; generals and ministers looked at their commissions and portfolios to 18 find them little better than waste paper. Rich lords gazed longingly at coveted lands, castles and dignities; the secured became restless, the indigent hopeful. In other countries, old treaties were perhaps turned up to see whether it would pay better to keep or to break them. The military looked to the edges of their swords. The Ricos Hombres and Hidalgos, the courtiers and statesmen knew that a period of unrest must now follow a period teeming with the strangest possibilities.
The first result of the king’s death was the raising of the siege of Gibraltar, the cessation of hostilities, and the signing of a treaty of peace on advantageous terms with the Musselmans.
So greatly had the deceased sovereign impressed his African foes with his military prowess and knightly character, that his death became the occasion of a great tribute of respect and homage to his honour on their part.
Among the first to realise the consequences of Alfonso’s death, was Leonor de Guzman, whose quick sensibilities made her aware of the dangerous possibilities latent in the new order of things. To be the acknowledged mistress of a powerful and popular prince is, when he dies, to be perhaps rather less than nobody. Legitimacy and rights were with Don Pedro, with Pedro and his unhappy mother Maria, but it would have to be seen what the great nobles of the land thought before Leonor accepted her position as a nonentity.
Among the men who stood at the head of things in 19 Castile at this time, were Don Juan Alonso de Alburquerque and Don Juan Nuñez de Lara, Lord of Biscay.
Alburquerque was by origin a Portuguese. He had offered his sword and services to the late king with, says the historian Mariana, entirely interested motives. After all, there is nothing wonderful in that; the very essence of a courtier’s life is interest.
Thus the nobles, a host of lesser lords, and the people of Spain found themselves wondering what was going to happen, when Alburquerque with the Queen-mother, Maria, declared Don Pedro king.
With whatever motives or ideas it had been, Alburquerque had definitely succeeded in making himself King Alfonso’s right-hand man. He had become Prime Minister, and Grand Chancellor, and, as such, was naturally more than the rest of the folk in Castile at the time interested in immediate developments.
With Leonor de Guzman he had played a careful part, seeking her favour so much as it might help to stand well with the king, but appearing never to forget at the same time that the real Queen of Castile was a certain unfortunate lady called Maria. Leonor, however, was not deceived by such diplomacy, and had no difficulty in placing him almost from the first among her enemies.
Don Juan Nuñez de Lara was a noble who in his youth had been a rebel against the late king, but had ended by becoming one of his most faithful counsellors.20
In De Lara’s veins flowed the royal blood of Castile, for he was a grandson of Don Alfonso X.
A third man, younger than either Alburquerque or the Lord of Biscay, was Don Fernando, Infante of Aragon, Marquis of Tortosa, a scion of the royal House of Aragon and an ineffectual pretender to its throne. He had sought in Castile an alternative happiness and peace to the troublous joys he was not quite capable of attaining in Aragon.
Of him Mérimée pointedly says: “An alien to Castile by birth, and to Aragon by the banishment to which he was condemned after his unsuccessful enterprise, he still remained a distant pretender to those two crowns, and preserved his illusory importance by serving any faction ready to make use of his name to advance its private interests.”
In these three men moved the spirit and energy which was to come and direct the destiny of Castile in the next few years. In the ultimate resolution of their respective ambitions and characters was to be found the fortune of their country in its immediate future.
Alburquerque, trained by his experience as Minister to the late king, and keener-witted and cooler, perhaps, than either of his rivals, took the chances into his own hands and shaped them forthwith for himself. With the consent and assistance of the Queen-mother, he proclaimed Don Pedro king. When the news of this act was borne to her, the beautiful Leonor de Guzman felt that her position had become perilous indeed, and shut herself up in the walled town of 21 Medina Sidonia, where she awaited with much agitation of mind the arrival of that funeral procession which was slowly creeping up the land from Gibraltar.
It came at length, a long and gloomy cavalcade of fourteenth century warriors, escorting the bier of a dead general and king, but not a heart among the whole host of them fuller of inquietude and unhappiness than hers, whereon that cold and silent head of the bier had so often rested.
She who has loved a monarch, it may be said, has indeed loved her own age. She has been mistress to an epoch as well as to a man, and when the royal lover dies she who wore his love is, in a manner, twice widowed.
The approach of the cavalcade was the signal for several things to happen. The honour of being the governor of my Lady’s castle was little honour now: almost indeed a perceptible treason against the new régime. Thus did it come to pass that Alfonso Fernando Coronel, who had held Medina Sidonia for Leonor, hastened to lay his resignation in her hands. She was sorely grieved and troubled when she perceived that all her vassals and friends were forsaking her, and she said to Coronel: “In truth, my friend and comrade, you render back my city in troublous times, for now I know not of any man who will hold it for me.”2
She turned to the Lord of Lara with, we may imagine, a request for pity in her eyes and the suggestion of 22 treason not far from her lips. Had she not a son who was also of age — Don Enrique? As well might Castile be ruled by an Enrique as by a Pedro. But the Lord of Lara, being a cautious and far-seeing man, received the lady’s advances with every degree of coldness, and, murmuring a fervent aspiration for Don Pedro’s future welfare, hurried away.
So humbled in the new order of things did Leonor become, that she was compelled to ask a safe-conduct to Seville, where, it is thought, all the rich jewellery which had come to her from King Alfonso was hidden.
And the young Princes, Enrique and Fadrique, found, that even as their mother Leonor was suddenly become a person of but little consequence, they too from popular princelings had changed in a day to pretenders of doubtful fortune. Everywhere among the high-placed of the land there was change and alteration. Though many of the old officers were confirmed in their appointments under the new government, those whom circumstances had taken away from Seville at the moment of the new King’s accession lost their positions by reason of the fact that an accidental absence was construed as a traitorous one.
To a little, weak, wayward prince, whose character was yet in the making, legally of age, though actually only fifteen, Alburquerque appeared as yet only in the rôle of tutor, and seemed, therefore, the most natural man in the world to govern his kingdom for him. A serious and over-grave old gentleman, this latter, 23 who would doubtless appear to Don Pedro to take the world somewhat too solemnly. His mother Maria he knows as a woman whose tears have turned at last into decently-veiled smiles. Leonor is but a beautiful and mysterious stranger, whom he once saw, and has often heard of since. Enrique and Fadrique are brothers he has rarely met.
1 Ayala, Ann. 1350, Cap. I.
2 Ayala, 1350, Cap. III.
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