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. 216-228.
DESPITE the anxious and disturbed condition of things in Castile, time was occasionally found for amusement in the holding of tourneys and jousts. In a certain tournament, which occurred during a respite from the almost incessant wars which troubled the Peninsula, Don Pedro played a rather singular part.
The affair took place at Seville, and the combat was between four Hidalgos. The challengers, who, it is suggested, were merely the instruments of the King, accused the brothers Arias and Vasco de Baamonte of treason. The challengers were two knights of Leon, Lope Nuñez de Carvalledo and Martin de Losada. Don Pedro was to preside over the joust, and his partiality towards the challengers and anger against the challenged is supposed to have been due to the fact that the latter were related to Gutier Fernandez whom he had had executed.
According to Sainte-Palaye, in his treatise on the laws and customs of ancient chivalry, these tournaments and combats were made exhibitions of great pomp and splendour.
They became the outward symbol to the 217 bourgeoisie — the citizens, burghers, merchants, and clerics — of the power of the system by which all society was then sustained.
For it was said that of the body politic, the church was the head; chivalry, the arms; and the merchants, citizens, and labourers, the inferior members. To such events as these tournaments the youthful page or body-squire looked forward as to a time when he might realise his own manhood and individuality.
Often enough, however, these tournaments degenerated into mere displays of snobbery and extravagance. Under Edward III. in England, an ordinance had to be passed to regulate their demoralising frequency and luxurious character. In France, Rommons de Venous, as a spectacle of what he called magnificence, had thirty-nine fine horse burnt alive before one of these combats. In another case, 30,000 pieces of silver were sown in the field where the tournament was to take place. From time to time, the Popes forbade these exhibitions, which were often fruitful of much licentiousness and debauchery. After the stirring events of the day, the good knights’ thoughts drifted naturally enough into amorous and Bacchic channels. It was then that they listened to their jongleurs and troubadours, and drank “honey piment” and burn wine and hippocras, and passed round the “sugar-plumbs” and allowed “farcical posture-dances” to be continued late into the night.
All of which things sound innocent enough, especially 218 the “sugar-plumbs,” but they were regarded by the purists of chivalry as very dangerous.
If the tournament were of great importance, it was often preceded on the afternoon before by a kind of dress-rehearsal, called the vesper tournament. On the day itself, the day of the master tournament, the ground appointed for the combat was decked out in all magnificence and colour. Pavilions with brocaded curtains screened the most noble and distinguished of the company. From tent and pole were flying banners, pennons, and streamers of silk. Minstrels were stationed in one corner of the ground to provide martial music; pages and sergeants-at-arms walked about the enclosure, keeping order and regulating the proceedings, just as constables would at an athletic meeting in our time.
The ladies were generally placed together in a special part of the ground, where there presence might animate the knights to deeds of valour. Indeed the ladies were a very important item in the constitution of tournaments, and it is very questionable if the whole affair was not really got up to please them and win favour in their eyes. They, of course, distributed favours among the combatants, who returned, each to his own lady if he were successful, such dainty trophies as his prowess might have won. When the contests were prolonged and numerous, and excitement ran high, the ladies sometimes so stripped themselves of ribbons, laces, and parts of their dress, as to be by the end of the entertainment in a most dishevelled condition. Brantôme tells 219 of a tournament at which the ladies so divested themselves of their attire, that at its conclusion they appeared bareheaded with their hair all streaming over their shoulders, and in extreme dishabille: their robes were without sleeves; their hoods, cloaks, kerchiefs, stomachers and mantuas were all gone or in ribbons, so that it became necessary to end the contest if only to prevent the ladies from catching cold.
The judges, who usually consisted of old and experienced knights, were placed on a kind of throne, and the decision of doubtful points was referred to them. If a king or a great prince were present, this office became his by virtue of his rank. On the occasion of this particular tournament between the four Spanish knights, Don Pedro appointed himself as arbiter.
The King’s Chamberlain, Martin Lopez, acted as Marshal of the Field.
Entered then the combatants in armour — most likely of mail, for plate armour did not gain a firm hold in Spain until after the incursion of Du Guesclin and the Free Companies.1 The Castilian armour was more like the Moorish at this time; that is lighter and less cumbersome than the heavy plate armour used by the English and French soldiers. Of these Granadines, Froissart says, “They were not so well nor so strongly armed as the Christians.” These four combatants would wear hauberks of mail, cuirrasses or coracinas, coudes, and genouillères, 220 that is elbow and knee pieces, and some sort of head protection, either a heulme or a bascinet, the former being heavy; the latter light but useful.
The combatants would enter mounted on their high horses which would be led by body squires. In going into battle, the charger or high horse of the knight was always led by a page or squire, until the moment of actual conflict. The knight then mounted his high or great horse, while the attendant took charge of the mule or temporary steed. This is the origin of the saying, “To get on one’s high horse.”
These combats were generally arranged to take place under certain conditions and with the use of certain weapons settled beforehand. Thus swords or lances, darts or poignards, or a combination of two or more of these was agreed upon. Any advantage of the ground, which could be made use of by either of the parties to the duel was allowed to be taken. “They might,” says Mérimée, “pick up loose stones and fling them at each other,” though I think such licence was only allowable in corrupt forms of chivalry. By a further stretching of this point, any arms which might be found lying about the sanded enclosure, could, he says, be also employed. This again could only have been permitted in the debased and estranged chivalry of the Peninsula. Of course, when the Marshal was prejudiced, and when arms were previously secreted in the arena by somebody’s orders, the thing was not so much a tournament under the Chivalric code, as a rather mean and spiritless execution.221
No sooner had the parties to this fight entered the arena and dismissed their pages, than Lope Nuñez was seen to leap from his horse and run to and fro as if searching for something in the sand. Martin Lopez who, alone of those present, with, we must suppose, the exception of the King, understood the knight’s movements, caracoled about the lists, and every time that he passed a certain spot in the sand struck it with his lance. Thither came Lope Nuñez, who, plunging his hands into the soil, drew forth with the necessary amount of pleased surprise, four darts, which we cannot suppose were growing there. He promptly hurled them, one after another at the horse of Arias Baamonte, who, it is to be noticed, had been remarkably quiet and inoffensive all the time. His wounded animal, stung by the pain, carried his master beyond the barriers. This leaving of the ring, although only accidental was always considered as a defeat, and the alguazils seized Arias and delivered him up to the executioner to be beheaded on the spot.
For the judgment of God had declared him a traitor.
His brother, Vasco, defended himself valiantly against the two other knights, one of whom attacked on foot, the other on horseback. When, in the course of the combat, he found himself opposite the royal pavilion, he called out to the King: “Sire, is this your justice?” But the King made no answer. Then Vasco raised his voice, and cried out aloud for everyone to hear: —
”Knights of Castile and Leon, lament this sight, 222 for this day it is suffered in the King’s presence that arms should be hidden in the field to slay those who enter it, under the King’s assurance to defend their truth, name, and fame.”
He then flung himself with renewed and desperate vigour upon his two assailants, with the result that the King, ashamed perhaps of his too-openly expressed partiality, and admiring the courage of the knight, commanded the champions to be separated and declared honour satisfied.
“And all held that this was not well done, for arms hidden and forbidden should not be put in the field, nor should the King, who holds it, show partiality.2
1 Calvert’s Spanish Arms and Armour.
IN her chamber, in the castle of Jerez, looking out on to the plain through the narrow slit in the masonry that served for a window, was sitting a young woman of twenty-five.
This unfortunate lady had been ten years in prison, and her crime lay in being herself — Blanche, daughter of the Duke of Bourbon and niece of the King of France.
Religion had come to heal wounded pride, and for human love extra-human had been substituted. Probably her room bore evidences of devotion. There would be those numerous epistles of Innocent VI., so full of consolatory sentiments, and yet so empty of consolation; surely a rosary in the very land of St. Dominic; perhaps a statue of the saint himself.
An illuminated book of prayers in the mother tongue brought from France, we may imagine, and, without doubt, the indefinable, vague, and elusive perfume of melancholy. The ghosts of many sighs and the wraiths of pale hours, of quiet and hopeless resignation that mediæval symbolism would picture as a crown of thorns wrestling with the frail, unused gold filagree of a crown.
In different mood, however, did a certain Iñigo 224 Ortiz de Estuñiga, the castellan of this fortress and prison of Jerez, receive some orders from his king this same day in the year 1361.
Iñigo, like the rest of the countryside, held his gentle prisoner for a saint, and the sight of her white face and golden hair up in her apartment or at the daily mass gave him confidence in the happiness to be found in the next world and a tender pity for the inspirer of this idea in this.
The Andalusian peasants loved and honoured Blanche as a saint and a queen, and the thought of her unhappy life made them, at times, very bold towards their young sovereign.
It is told of a certain shepherd, who one day saw Don Pedro while he was engaged in hawking near the castle of Jerez, that he addressed the King on the subject of his marital infidelities.
He was, as a peasant, naturally familiar and democratic, like all sons of the soil — your bourgeois is ever a town-bred fellow — and his lady of the castle was a saint, who had been hardly and wickedly treated.
“Sire,” he said boldly to the King, with an assumption of inspiration which bestowers of good counsel are always ready to adopt, “God sends me to announce to you that you will one day have to render account for your treatment of Queen Blanche; but rest assured, that if you return to her, as is your duty, she will bear you a son, who shall inherit your kingdom.”
A daring enough speech for anyone, when Pedro’s 225 manner towards prophets is remembered. This one the king thought to be merely a messenger from Blanche, acting in a rather cryptic fashion. He had him arrested, and gave orders that he should be taken to the castle and confronted with the Queen, that he might see if his suspicions were justified.
Blanche was found in her oratory, on her knees before an image, in complete ignorance of the doings of the countryside beyond her prison.
The shepherd prophet was set at liberty.
And so on this other morning, when the message of the King’s ill intention came to Jerez, may we think of poor Blanche in her oratory, burning the flame of her life in prayer, turning the warmth of love into the white, lifeless, crystals of extra-human longings, etiolate and wistful as her own name.
Now Iñigo Ortiz de Estuñiga was a good man, and poisoning his royal lady was not a task to his liking. He sent back a reply to Don Pedro, that as long as the castle was under his command, no harm should come to the fair lady who resided there.
“She was his lady,” he declared, “and it were treason in him to consent to her death.”1
Don Pedro had Iñigo removed, and gave the custody of the place to a simple ballestero, who would not be likely to be troubled with knightly scruples or a conscience of pity.
This was one Perez de Rebolledo, and his installation as castellan was immediately followed by Blanche’s death.226
Such at least is the story of her death which is the best authenticated.
There are other and more circumstantial accounts — as in Lefebvre’s Memoirs of Du Guesclin.
Though Ayala is quite explicit about Pedro having ordered Blanche to be put to death, several considerable authors have ventured to doubt it. The Castilian chronicler gives no details. He simply says, “and when she was in the custody of the ballestero, he ordered her to be put to death.” The French chroniques support this with the most elaborate details concerning the mode of execution employed.
Yet Mariana, Polydore Vergil, the monkish chronicler Roderic Sanchez de Arevalo, and Voltaire, all widen the loop-hole of doubt in the matter into a tolerably large uncertainty as to whether or not Don Pedro did actually compass the murder of Blanche. Mérimée is of the opinion, that it is unnecessary in the absence of any motive to attribute the death of the Queen to Peter.
He suggests one possible cause in the black plague which was then devastating Andalusia. Moreover, he says, “Do not ten years of captivity suffice to explain the premature end of a poor girl, banished from her native land, separated from her kindred, bowed down by humiliation and suffering?” Of course, Ayala has been often accused of prejudice against Don Pedro, but there is no logical reason to throw him over merely on this occasion. Still, if there be a doubt, let us give Don Pedro the benefit of it. He certainly needs it.227
Someone else of this Castilian company died at this time. Someone who had been more to him than Blanche.
Maria de Padilla’s life ended in 1361 at Seville.
She, to whom he had been “faithful in his fashion,” left him truly mourning and distressed.
Pedro had been really fond of Maria, though at times in a way rather unsatisfactory to her. He loved other women, but she alone claimed his confidence, and his respect.
Beyond those already enumerated, there were several other inconsiderable mistresses, who occupied the King’s attention for a time, but Maria was the real Queen, the queen de facto all her life, and by act of the Cortes de jure after it.
Her obsequies were celebrated with great magnificence and ostentation. When the coffin passed along with its guard of yellow candles through the old Cathedral of Seville, we may credit Pedro with some moments as tenderly reminiscent, as we know they were genuinely sorrowful.
To that seal which both of them had placed on “youth’s sweet-scented manuscript,” one witness was gone, and to these fragrant testaments, life, equally with law, demands, it is well-known, a double attestation.
Nobody had anything bad to say against Maria when she was dead; even Ayala, whose book — no fault of his — is so full of mean and wicked deeds and thoughts, leaves her untainted. She was kind, and she was beautiful, and really that was the whole duty of woman then, if it is not now.228
Nobody accuses her of having killed anybody. In legend and in chronicle, she is portrayed as an excellent and charming woman.
She left three daughters, and a son who did not long survive his mother. At her death, masses were said at many altars all over Spain for the repose of her soul. So did her un-Christian lord furnish her obsequies with most Christian and princely favours.
1 Ayala, 1361, Cap. III.
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