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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. 148-165.





THE Toro executions provided Castile with something more like peace than it had known for several years. The League ceased to exist. Enrique, the arch-plotter, despaired of his fortunes at home, and set out to gain experience in arms as the captain of a Free Company in France. Don Tello sued for mercy. Don Fadrique was quiet. It really looked as though things might run smoothly and happily without the assistance of executions for a little while.

Pedro turned once again from war to love, and went back to his beloved Andalusia, his beloved Alcazar in Seville, and his still beloved Maria. Maria had now given the King two daughters, to whom, we know, he was very much attached. It is amusing to picture him enjoying a little calm family life in the scented gardens and picturesque setting of his southern capital.

It was in times like these that he gave scope to his fancies and tastes for the decoration and restoration of the palace. In times such as this that he acted as a patron of the arts. It is difficult, perhaps, to imagine him in this light. At the most, he was, perhaps, complacently contemptuous of such things, though 149 Rabbi Don Sem Tob dedicated his poems to the King. The case of this Jewish-Arabian versifier is another instance of Pedro’s affection and intimacy with the Jews. Any love, however, which Don Pedro did have for the arts was always completely subservient to his greed and ambition. In 1357 he stripped the cathedral and the tombs of his ancestors of many beautiful ornaments to provide money for his wants. Yet we must remember that the restoration and magnificent decoration of the Alcazar was his work and delight.

Another man of this age, who was a poet, was Pedro Lopez de Ayala, the chronicler. His “Rimado de Palacio,” or Palace Rhymes, is a very severe and courtly exercise in rather ponderous verse.

Thus, amid the pleasures of peace, Pedro forgot for a little while his troublesome nobles, his plotting treacherous Ricos Hombres, his anger, and his sword. He walked with Maria in the palace gardens among the orange and lemon and cypress trees, and varied, no doubt, the calm happiness of his family life with little exercises of gallantry. A disturbing and alarming circumstance occurred about this time in the nature of a violent earthquake which toppled down from the Cathedral of Seville the two large gilded balls which ornamented its dome. These “iron apples,” as Mariana calls them, fell at Pedro’s own feet. In many other parts of Spain, and in Madrid especially, this disturbance of the earth made itself most violently felt. A number of folk at the time considered it as a warning or dispensation of Providence for Pedro’s treatment of the Pope and his generally wicked life.


But neither earthquakes, nor the fact of gilded domes tumbling at his feet were likely to keep the fierce and energetic spirit of Pedro in abeyance for any length of time. Having reduced the opposition of his nobles and scattered or removed by death the most prominent of his enemies, there remained few objectives at home for his warlike attentions.

But it may be remembered how badly he had been treated by the King of Aragon, when he sent him a letter of complaint and entreaty, to seek his aid for the re-establishment of authority.

Aragon, on his side, perceived with but little pleasure how powerful and well-known his half-brothers, the Infantes, had become of late through their connection with Castile.

From insignificant princes, they had grown into factious, experienced warriors, with many a battle and joust to their account. Not only in these things had their strength grown: their assistance to Don Pedro had not been given without some recompense, and their benefit from the bargain in castles, men, and money was as unpleasant and humiliating to Pedro IV. of Aragon as it was gratifying to the Infantes themselves. And again, in part of Pedro’s plaint, it was alleged that many of his recalcitrant and offending nobles, who should have been duly executed, were now sharpening their swords and laughing at him in an Aragonese asylum.

effigy of Doña Elvira Ayala, a slender figure, in a long gown, and cloak, holding a book.


And further — and hardly to be borne, this! — his brother of Aragon had given to a rebel Castilian knight the commandery of Alcaniz.


And further, divers reports of secret intrigues between His Majesty of Aragon and the Leaguers.

And further, piracy.

And lastly (though no official mention was made of it) the wounded dignity and pride of the Castilian Majesty, and a burning energy seeking an immediate outlet.

One day Pedro, weary perhaps a little of Maria and the children, and tired of his perfumed garden, and in despair of finding someone to quarrel with, went a-fishing.

He stepped on a boat at Seville, and sailed down the Guadalquivir with the intention of taking part in the tunny fishing which was carried on off the Andalusian shore near San Lucar. When, behold, there came sailing up the bay a squadron of galleys. These vessels, commanded by Francisco Perellos, were in the pay of the King of France, who, by arrangement with the King of Aragon, had ordered them to cruise along the coast and capture any English trading vessels they might encounter. Perellos also considered it a part of his duty to capture any vessel of any nationality whatsoever, provided the affair seemed not too likely to lead him into trouble, for he was, like most others of his kind in these days, only a sort of superior pirate.1

Don Pedro and his friends perceived that the Catalan ships were giving chase to three other vessels, barks laden with oil, which were flying the Castilian flag.


Don Pedro sent a message to the Aragonese Admiral, warning him to leave the barks alone. But Perellos replied that the vessels contained merchandise from Genoa, a republic with which Aragon was at war — at any rate for the moment — that his duty was to the King of Aragon, not to the King of Castile, and that he would do as he pleased.

Don Pedro, who was for the moment without a vessel of war, had tamely to submit to this insult, and though he threatened reprisals on all his Catalan subjects in Seville, Perellos made his capture, and sailed away.

The King of Castile had now found a subject of quarrel. He was very angry, and, returning immediately to Seville, cast all his Catalan subjects into chains, sequestrated the property of all Aragonese merchants, and ransacked and sold such places and property as seemed fit to his offended humour.

Seven galleys were promptly put into commission, and Pedro, joined by all the young and ardent knights of Seville, set out in immediate pursuit of the temerarious Francisco. This was, according to Zuñiga,2 the first occasion on which a king of Castile had ever put to sea in person against his enemies.

Seville had had, since the time of Alfonso the Wise, its College of Admiralty, where there was every convenience for the fitting out of naval expeditions, and every opportunity for instructing those of the young nobles who cared for navigation and naval duties. In addition to this, certain forests were set apart for the express use of the country’s shipbuilders, and this 153 constant supply of timber enabled Castile to be something of a power in her own seas.

After a sail of some days, it became evident that it would be impossible to overtake the Catalan ships.

Pedro learnt from some fishermen, that their fleet had passed them several days before, en route for France. So, much annoyed and irritated, he had to return to his capital once more.

He left some of his vessels to go and attack the Balearic coasts, and to do any harm in their power to Aragonese shipping.

Further, he sent ambassadors to Barcelona with a litany of complaints and imperative demands.

He asked that Francisco should be delivered up to the King of Castile for chastisement. His men were also to be punished.

The commanders of Alcaniz and Montalvan were to be deposed, and all Castilian refugees extradited at once.

It was a comprehensive and vigorous note, and Pedro IV. sought time in which to answer it. He parleyed and was moderate; offering to meet Pedro’s requests in any directions, but maintaining, that as Perellos was in his own vessel the trial of him was a matter for Aragon rather than Castile. He promised to enquire into his case, and added that, if Perellos were guilty, he should be duly made to suffer the penalty of his crimes.

Don Pedro of Castile was not satisfied. Probably he wanted war at any price, and no vague promises were enough to soothe that extremely tender self- 154 love of his, so sadly wounded in the roads of San Lucar.

So he cast down the challenge to his brother of Aragon, telling him to seek another friend; for he ceased to be his. His messenger, Gil Velasquez, had formally declared war, and “defied” him in his master’s name.

Hostilities had broken out before Pedro IV. received this intimation. Bands of soldiers were quickly called together by the nobles of Castile who were anxious to help their angry king in the outcome of this sudden and desperate choler of his. Raids and skirmishes took place immediately on the frontiers. Diego de Padilla, with the knights of the Order of Calatrava, entered the kingdom of Valencia, and laid waste those towns and places on the furthest side of the border. Gutier Fernandez marched upon Daroca and Calatayud, where he experienced but little success, and in one encounter suffered defeat from the hands of the Conde de Luna.

Pedro of Aragon, somewhat taken by surprise at thus having war forced upon him by his fiery brother-monarch, could do but little at first except defend such of his towns as possessed garrisons, and fortify or strengthen those which had nothing or little in the way of mural protection around them.

A walled town well-fortified was, of course, in the Middle Ages, almost secure against attacks, for the weapons of the times were rarely of a character to be able forcibly to reduce a besieged place. So generally was this recognised, that in many sieges the invest 155 ment, apart from occasional jousts and combats outside the walls to relieve everybody’s feelings, was often a very dull and unexciting affair.

At this time, France was at war with England, and King John was gathering together that great army of his which was to fare so disastrously at Poitiers. Don Enrique de Trastamara, who had offered his services to the Fleur de Lys, was preparing to join the French Army, when proposals came to him from Pedro of Aragon, which made him change his plans. The offer of the command of all the disaffected Castilians and an alliance with the King of Aragon pleased him well enough to permit him to resign his captaincy of a Free Company, for the opportunity of fighting in his own land.

A treaty — the treaty of Pina — was drawn up between the Castilian prince and the King, and it was agreed that Henry should do homage to Pedro, and in return should be given many castles, some money, and some soldiers. Also it was provided that Pedro IV. was never to make peace with Pedro I. of Castile, without Enrique’s consent, and further — whether with or without the connivance of Fadrique it is not known — it was agreed that, should the latter enter the services of Aragon, he was to receive in return investiture of all the lands belonging to the order of Santiago, which were dependent upon the Aragonese Crown. Mérimée presumes that the inclusion of this clause implies secret correspondence between the bastard princes and fresh treason on the part of the Master of Santiago against his brother and king.


Not to be outdone in traitorous and unpatriotic sentiments by the Castilian princes, the Infante Don Fernando of Aragon had himself denaturalised, a political act quite recognised in the systems of Spain. He renounced his homage to Pedro IV., and transferred it to Pedro I. The move did not strengthen the Castilian king’s position as much as he had imagined. Don Fernando found himself with little influence among his own people, whom his constant absences and dealings with Castile had obviously displeased. His town of Alicante repudiated his authority, and returned in its allegiance to the Aragonese monarch.

The war dragged along apathetically after the first few furious assaults and raids, which Pedro organised to dull the sharpness of his anger. The year turned into the yellow, and then into the grey and white, and in the January of 1357 the King lost his mother, who died in Portugal.

It is related of her that she died despised and condemned of all, for the death of her lover, Telho, had cast her into a habit of undignified and illicit amours, in whose fervour she sought to lose the memory of her Portuguese knight.3 Her conduct was very distasteful to the male members of her house, for a woman’s chastity and honour were points of great importance among the noble mediæval houses. Of her end it is said that she was poisoned — according to some, by the order of her father, the King of Portugal; according to others, by the hands of her son.

Indeed, it occurs to one, that there were few things 157 one might not expect of one’s relatives in these times.

Of the fact that she died at Don Pedro’s hands there is no evidence and small probability. Ayala does not give it so — he says that it was rumoured, that her father, Don Alfonso, caused “hierbas” to be administered to her that she might die — and Pedro was too much occupied with other things at the time to turn his mind towards a middle-aged woman who had happened to bear him, but who was of no political power or influence.

To the seat of war there now came Cardinal Guillen, the ambassador of His Holiness, charged with the task of bringing to their senses these two young kings of Spain. A fortnight’s truce was obtained as the first outcome of his diplomacy, but, at the end of it, Pedro the Cruel, having heard of an opportunity to surprise an Aragonese town, marched on it, and with the assistance of Don Fadrique took it. The inhabitants were expelled, and the land and dwellings made over to the victorious Castilians in the traditional fashion for cultivation, occupation, and defence.

At the capture of the castle of Los Fayos by Pedro, his soldiers found Martin Abarca, the knight whose life the King had spared at the occupation of Toro. Abarca, who was unlucky to be thus twice found in arms against his sovereign, was this time executed.

The success of the Castilian arms drew many warriors, adventurers, and stay-at-homes into the King’s service. Don Tello arrived from Biscay. Many captains and soldiers of Free Companies who had experienced 158 ill-fortune in France offered themselves to the winning side in Spain. The Sire d’Albret, a vassal of Edward III. is mentioned among these. In order to have a chance of attacking his own private foe, the Comte de Foix, he enlisted under Pedro.

At Borja a pitched battle, with each army under the command of its own king, was on the point of being fought, but caution and the disposition to regard war more as an opportunity of plunder than anything else kept the rival hosts from meeting.

The papal legate then took command of the situation and renewed his services in the cause of peace.

On the 18th of March, 1357, under an elm outside the gates of Toledo in Navarre, a conference took place.

The result was embodied in a temporary truce, in which, though actual hostilities were suspended, there were too many opposing interests for it to be a basis of any secure and lasting quiet.


1  Patriotism seems to demand this tit-for-tat. Our Drake is always dubbed “pirate” by Spanish historians.

2  Quoted in Mérimée.

3  Mérimée.




IN this period of tumult and war, Don Pedro found time to fall in love again.

There are two narratives of the episode, and of these, one contains so strange and charming a fancy that it makes one wonder how such a delicate tale came to be interwoven with the brutalities of the time.

The two ways of telling the story of Aldonza Coronel are the legendary and the historic, but as the legendary is so much more beautiful than the latter, it shall have precedence of narration if not of belief.

In this story, the legend gathers into its service flowers, shrubs, trees, and earth with a pretty grace and fancy.

What do you think of a lady, of course of a beauty highly remarkable, and of a virtue only less so, who, flying from the importunities of a too ardent lover, orders a little grave to be made for her in the garden. Who lies there with perfect confidence that the roses, the lilies, and the myrtles of her garden will lend their aid to the discomforting of too-impetuous Cupid; Cupid that goes tramping over flower beds, and scatters the blossoms of the orange trees as he passes.

“Where is she?” the lover cries, in his great 160 desire; but naturally not a flower in all the moon-lit garden tells him. A very old yew tree, a great great grand-parent of perhaps one thousand years, folds its grave, dark wings closely round itself and smiles inscrutably. A funeral cypress lets its long, mournful hair wave and shiver in the breeze, but it is as silent as the tomb over which its melancholy shadow is cast.

“Where is she,” asks the lover, but in this enchanted garden nothing answers him.

And in the new-cast earth the lady lies, and the mould and the worms are surprised at seeing so warm and exquisite a corpse, and over the top of the grave rose stretches hand to rose, and slender lilies lean protectingly and a hundred little leaves immolate themselves in a suicidal shudder of autumn over the lady and — nothing is to be seen.

Need one say that the lover who follows thus sacrilegiously his beloved into the peace and sanctity of a convent garden is Don Pedro? And the lady was called Aldonza.

Frowning upon his suit and spurning his protestations, she had sought asylum and peace in the convent of Santa Clara, where, as we have seen, the roses and the lilies of the garden conspired to keep her as chaste as the purest convent blossom of them all.

But Don Pedro was as relentless in love as in war. He felt that there was some mystery about the garden. He knew Aldonza was there, though how she had disappeared he could not explain to himself. The 161 convent was placed under surveillance, and when he had learnt that the lady was indeed still there, he determined to make a second attack.

On this occasion, it seems that Aldonza was caught unawares, and had no time to run out into the convent garden and hide in the earth and call upon the flowers to cover her.

Hearing that Pedro was in the place, she seized a vessel of burning oil and threw its contents over her face and neck, and, when the King saw her, she was all covered with fearful burns and terrible scalds. And she told him that she was tainted with leprosy, and, seeing how awful she looked, he went away.

Variously it is told by other people, and related in Seville as a common legend, that the King had driven Aldonza or Maria — the names have been confused — from her convent into the suburb of Triana.

And then, flying in great haste and fear from the royal importunities, she entered a house where a Gitana was frying fritters in a pan. Driven to despair of ever being able to escape Pedro by ordinary means she flung the boiling fat in the pan over her face.

Zuñiga,1 in the “Annals of Seville,” says that on her miraculously-preserved body there may still be seen the traces of these self-inflicted burns.

The legendary and poetic narrative seems, somehow, to have lost its way a little among the intricacies and delicacies of Pedro’s amours. For, although I have called her Aldonza in telling the story of the 162 enchanted garden, the legend speaks of her as Maria, the younger daughter of the Coronel family.

Maria’s story was, however, quite different.

She was the wife of Don Juan de la Cerda, a rebel against Don Pedro. When her husband was taken for the second time in arms against the King, he was condemned to death. To supplicate Don Pedro for mercy on behalf of her husband, came Maria Coronel, a lady, says the chronicle, as celebrated for her virtue as for her rare beauty.

The King, moved by her tears and entreaties, granted her her request, but the order of execution had gone on several days in advance from the King’s camp to Seville, and Maria arrived with the royal pardon too late to save her husband’s life.

Doña Maria, who was only twenty, took the veil in the convent of Santa Clara, where she was joined later by her sister, Aldonza.

Now the legendary account of Aldonza Coronel differs widely from the historical, for, whereas in the one, Aldonza under the name of Maria is presented as shrinking all the while from the King’s passion and finally disgusting him, in actual fact she became his mistress after a somewhat persistent wooing, and had a suite of apartments and servants set apart for her. “Voluntarily she quitted the nunnery,” where she was staying with her sister Maria, and accepted apartments in the Torre del Oro, situated on the banks of the Guadalquivir. There is no doubt of this, for Ayala is quite circumstantial in the matter, which had several consequences as we shall see.


With all the secrecy and perfumed magnificence of an Eastern Sultana, Aldonza reigned over Seville during the absences of the King. Her word was, by his command, to stand for his own when he was away, and the Mayor of the city was bidden to observe her smallest behests. Maria de Padilla, although in temporary disfavour, was still living in the Alcazar, where she had to accept this latest phase of Pedro’s conduct with what good grace she could muster.

Thus, there were two Sultanas, two favourites in the Andalusian capital, each with her train of courtiers, knights, and attendants, and each no doubt plotting and desiring the destruction of the other. So engaged, at any rate, was, we know, the mistress more lately come into her position, and though Maria was a good, kind, tender-hearted woman, she can hardly have regarded with calmness the presence of Aldonza and her train of courtiers.

Don Pedro, who was quite an Oriental in these matters, made no attempt to disguise the state of affairs. The dual households pleased his sense of importance, and probably the only thing that troubled him was the expense. He was often, we know, hard put to it for money, though he ended by becoming one of the very richest monarchs of his own time.

This state of things lasted some little while, and every day it looked as though the reign of the Padillas was drawing to a close to make way for that of Doña Aldonza and her friends.

The King often left Seville for days at a time on hunting expeditions, and on one of these occasions 164 Juan de Henestrosa returned to the city from a political mission to the King of Portugal. With him, he brought a promise of aid from Alfonso IV. against Aragon.

Pedro, who was in the neighbourhood of Carmona, sent for Doña Aldonza, and this action on the return of Henestrosa was thought by the courtiers of the Coronel faction to indicate the final downfall of the rival party.

Aldonza’s friends became daring, and proceeded to act for themselves. Henestrosa was thrown into prison at the instigation of the governor of the Torre del Oro and the beautiful Aldonza herself.

On the same day, Diego de Padilla shared a similar fate. The Padillas, who had made few friends during their period of favour with the King, now discovered that there were plenty of enemies ready to assist at, and rejoice over their downfall. But the instigators of this ill-timed intrigue had counted without Maria de Padilla herself.

Her influence over Don Pedro was far from being entirely gone. Perhaps the fulness of her sensual attraction over him had rather waned, but he trusted in her still, respected her, and believed in her.

He was enormously and feverishly angry at this assumption of authority by Aldonza Coronel and her party. He secretly wrote to Maria bidding her be sure that he no longer cared for her rival.

Then he returned in haste to Seville, had the imprisoned nobles released at once, and proceeded to salve their wounded dignity by fresh honours and favours.


He went back to Maria and left Doña Aldonza at Carmona without a word of explanation, advice, direction, or reproach. Henceforth he simply ignored her existence, ignored her as a master might ignore the impertinent request of a slave on whom he had smiled for a moment.

When she got tired of waiting for messages from Pedro that never came, she began to perceive into what a plight she had adventured. The contemptuous silence oppressed her with shame. Her little flutter of glory was to be paid for at a large price.

When all hope vanished, she stole back quietly to Seville, and entered again the convent of Santa Clara, “where it is said she spent the remainder of her life in penitence.


1  Quoted in Mérimée.


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