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. 24-38.
THIS was the moment for Alburquerque. He had a young king not yet awake to the life and possibilities of kingship, a Queen-mother whose ambitions were largely circumscribed by her desire for revenge, and a host of political parties and factions each seeking to advance itself without any consideration for the fortunes of any other.
Out of this pother and distress, Alburquerque, the strong man, carved his own fate.
De Lara was, if not entirely friendly, at any rate not menacing. He was cool and courteous, and had shown in his dealings with Leonor that he had no mind to spoil his chances by too precipitate a move.
Leono herself was really dangerous. Alburquerque knew her for a quick-witted woman, as her first move proved.
During the late king’s life, she had arranged the espousal of his son, Enrique, to Doña Juana de Villena, a niece of Don Juan Nuñez.
This match, although it was well enough in its way, as a kind of speculative alliance, for the Lara family during the life of the late king, became, on his 25 decease, and the accession of Pedro, a quite different matter.
Alburquerque wanted none of it; neither did the Lord of Biscay. They had other plans in view for the young lady who was only the customary chattel of such fourteenth century bargaining.
The way in which such matrimonial affairs were suggested, carried out, or set on one side as the case might be, quite eclipses the most remarkable commercial efforts of modern times in this direction.
Marriage was a great political instrument in those days as, indeed, it had been in most, and a sovereign’s death, a rebellion, or an outbreak of war were generally the signal for a regular epidemic of betrothals among the royalty and nobility of feudal Europe.
The suggested alliances resulting from King Alfonso’s death make a complicated and not unamusing study. The most unlikely people received sudden proposals, and the widowhood of Maria herself, barely a week or two old, was subjected to a direct matrimonial attack.
The Queen-mother was barely accustomed to her mourning, before she, the snubbed and ignored of the last few years, found courtiers and lovers waiting anxiously at her castle gates.
Both the Infante Don Fernando of Aragon, and Don Juan de Lara sought to strengthen their pretensions to the throne by effecting a marriage with Maria, who had herself in her own right, certain claims to advance, which were not too vague to be incapable of creating civil war.26
She was the great-grand-daughter of Alfonso the Wise.
Among other matches which were speedily suggested was the alliance of the Infante of Aragon with Doña Juana de Villena, who, we have just seen, was required by Leonor for her son Enrique — with the provision of course, in the minds of the Lara faction, that, if they could marry Juana to King Pedro himself instead of to the young Prince of Aragon, then so much the better.
Naturally enough, most of these suggested alliances did not mature.
But one of them did actually pass from contemplation into actuality. Leonor, the wise and beautiful Leonor, had young Juana de Villena in her own guard and company.
The girl had known her for years, and stood almost in the position of daughter to her.
While Alburquerque and the rest made plans, the woman acted. Enrique and Juana were married, and no amount of anger or oratory could unmarry them.
The marriage was celebrated and consummated in the palace which served Leonor as a prison, before any of the parties interested in preventing it were aware of the fact.
Of course they were very angry when they heard the news; and their displeasure was not so unimportant that Leonor could afford to incur it. Indeed, it may be that in outwitting her enemies by this move, she also wrote the first lines of her own death-sentence.
DOÑA JUANA, CONDESSA DE TRASTAMARA, AFTERWARDS QUEEN JUANA
Mother and son and the young bride separated; Leonor to be imprisoned with the utmost rigour in the castle of Carmona; Enrique to wander as a fugitive through Spain, till he reached a haven among the mountains of the Asturias. A picturesque and romantic escapade, this flight of Enrique and his wife, accompanied by their faithful knights whose names have come down to us, to wit, Pero Carillo and Juan Rodriquez de Señabria. With leathern masks on their faces, and fully armed, they must surely have presented a desperate enough sight for even a fourteenth-century countryside. It would seem that the young wife accompanied her husband on this journey. Perhaps, dressed as a boy, she made a fourth in that engaging company, with the patient Pero to help her into the saddle, and the honourable Rodriquez to select a comfortable-looking tree for her to sleep under.
The details of this journey are not to be found in Ayala, nor indeed anywhere else that I know of, which is, perhaps, a pity. It would have been good reading, for we are told that the journey was “adventurous.”
Froissart would surely have given it in full, had he been chronicling the period.
With the redoubtable Leonor safe in prison, Alburquerque felt his way clearer, and set himself to form a ministry, of which he was, of course, the leader. Don Juan de Lara was made Alferez Mayor (Grand Standard Bearer) and Grand Major Domo: offices 28 which were more solid and valuable than these titles seem to suggest.
Meanwhile, in addition to taking a wife, and of course before his flight into the Asturias, Don Enrique had found time to engage in an unsuccessful attempt to effect a small revolution.
In Algeciras, where he had originally gone after his return with his father’s body to Medina Sidonia, he had endeavoured to win the town and people to his party. But mindful of the horrors of earlier civil wars, Algeciras, in company with almost the whole country-side, showed a peaceful disposition to accept established authority that must have been very trying to a born pretender and revolutionary like Don Enrique.
An envoy of king Pedro dispatched from Seville managed to effect a secret entrance into the town, and sounded the burghers on their feelings. He returned to report, that it required but the royal flag to be shown outside Algeciras for the entire place to declare for King Peter.
In a day or two some galleys commanded by one Gutier Fernandez de Toledo came into the port.
The crews raised the cry “Castile! Don Pedro for ever!” with such success for the royal cause, that the citizens, delighted to think that, after all, their money and merchandise might not be squandered in an unnecessary quarrel, while they themselves were put to the sword, rushed down to meet the ships with every degree of enthusiasm.29
Drawbridges were lifted; up went the royal standards; Algeciras stood out for king Peter and death to all traitors! It was then that the adventurous Enrique escaped to get married.
This matter of Algeciras was another thing to strengthen the hands of Alburquerque who was gradually getting all the loose threads of power into his own hands. The prospect of internecine strife was, for the time being, at any rate, removed. The dangerous Leonor was safe in prison; his rival, Don Juan Nuñez, kept for the moment in peace and satisfaction by inclusion in the ministry; the young king at present tractable and well-disposed towards his old tutor. Everything, in fact, seemed to point out for Alburquerque a long lease of authority.
When, suddenly, Don Pedro fell ill, dangerously ill, so ill that he was held as good as dead, and the important question of the succession became the only subject of interest.
All the old wounds in the State were once more opened; the fever of ambition and greed burned again in the hearts of the courtiers and Ricos Hombres; new cabals at once arose from the stems of old and dying ones, and a dozen factions were engendered in half as many days. While Maria watched over her son in the palace at Seville, with a heart full of anguish and despair, throughout the entire land were nothing but rumours and talk of war.
Alburquerque was engaged in raising troops, “and 30 amassing money for the casualties of the struggle which might commence at any moment.”
Anarchy was on the point of breaking out in the kingdom; bands of robbers and marauders profited by the unsettledness of the times to pillage and destroy.
“All payments out of the King’s privy purse were suspended, nor was there any longer any respect shown to authority.”
The unfortunate populace felt that civil war was come after all, and the wise debated on which side it was advisable to range themselves.
From the many factions and cabals, there arose at last two clearly-defined pretenders-presumptive during this illness of Castile’s boy king. These were Don Juan Nuñez de Lara and Don Fernando, Infante of Aragon. The first offered himself as a possible king of Castile on the strength of his being a great-grandson of King Alfonso X. The Infante of Aragon based his claim to popular and knightly consideration on the fact that his mother had been Doña Leonor, eldest sister of the late King Alfonso, who had been recognized by the Cortes as heiress-presumptive before the birth of her brother.
Alburquerque gave his sympathies to the Infante of Aragon, because no good could possibly come to him from the success of the Lord of Biscay and his party. He fancied that if this young prince were put upon the throne, he would be Prime Minister as before; only to a Fernando instead of to a Pedro.
A young and inexperienced princeling suited him better than a man like Don Juan Nuñez de Lara, from 31 whom, in the event of his success, he could hope for little authority or favour. Fernando of Aragon, being a foreign prince, did not appeal to the popular imagination; the populace, inasmuch as they cared for the thing at all, were mostly in favour of Don Juan. This was especially the case with regard to the northern provinces.
Among the unfortunate Ricos Hombres in Castile who were supporting the cause of De Lara were Garci Laso de la Vega, the Adelantado of Castile, a sort of Commander-in-Chief and Lord Chief Justice combined, and, in the South, don Alonso Coronel. The position of things favored De Lara, and it looked as though the newly-lit flame of Alburquerque’s fortune was in danger of extinguishment.
War was ready to break out; a rumour of Don Pedro’s death; a reported outrage; a word from the leaders of either side would have thrown the entire land into the bitterness and horror of a civil war, when the unexpected occurred.
Don Pedro did not die. He made a sudden and rapid recovery.
And so twice in his short reign we have seen the land saved as by a miracle from a fratricidal war.
We learn, however, that even despite Don Pedro’s return to health, the two rival parties would not have been able to keep from attacking each other, if the plague had not once more interposed, and claimed Don Juan de Lara and the Lord of Villena, his nephew, as victims.
Thus, through a multitude of risks and dangers, 32 Don Pedro came to grasp now with a little more security the sceptre of Castile, and Alburquerque, rid at one stroke of his most dangerous rivals, found the tangled threads of power straight and unravelled in his hands.
The tutor of a king and his pupil now faced things with a clearer and brighter hope.
Little king and grave, astute, old courtier, Castile is in your hands. What will you do with it?
Tutor and pupil, behold here a wide and extensive exercise for both your wits!
PETER THE CRUEL, in the first years of his reign, is a person for whom one can easily entertain considerable sympathy.
He has the graces of youth, royalty, and a gorgeously Oriental manner of living, which makes him shine somehow as a be-jeweled, be-harem’d and fantastic Sultan of some old and exquisite Arabian fable.
As he goes, we catch the rosy shudder of rubies in his robes, and the pale and beautiful opals that he wears are like the frozen tears of the moon.
His loves and his cruelties are as ponderous arabesques, which, quite fittingly, it seems at times, decorate his life. And when heads fall, and the air hisses with death-dealing steel, or when Peter turns amorous in extravagant, Eastern fashion, one comes almost to think that it did not happen, or happened in a pleasant, exotic, Harun-’al-Raschid way.
Thus, at times, one can forgive him many things: they are so perfectly in the picture.
Peter, during the last years of his life, is a quite revolting and even absurd figure, for whom sympathy is hardly possible.
Towards the very end, almost the only interest one can feel in him is a pathological one.34
Till those last few chapters, however, we can find pleasure in him as a man, fighting, loving and living much as might anybody else.
Let us hear what the historians tell us of his personal appearance.
“He was fair-skinned, comely, and fair-haired; haughty in his bearing and distinguished by an air of majesty. He gave evidence of possessing great virtues, daring, and prudence. No hardship could bend his body nor difficulty daunt his spirit. His chief delight was falconry and hawking, and in matters of justice he was perfect. His vices, which were as great as his virtues, early inspired forebodings which increased with his years. He scorned and slighted others, and listened with arrogance to the speech of his inferiors. He gave audience with difficulty, not only to strangers but even to those of his own household. These were the vices of his youth, to which years added avarice, a dissolute sensuality, and an extreme harshness of temper and manners.”
That is what Mariana says of Don Pedro. From which it will be seen that it is, after all, a man with whom we have to deal in spite of all his wickedness and cruelty. Ayala, from whom the above is partly taken, adds that the king had a slight impediment in his speech. From him we also learn that Don Pedro “never suffered from any bodily aches and pains, not even toothache.”
PETER THE CRUEL
Tradition says, that as he walked, his knees sometimes cracked, a circumstance which once placed him in a remarkable predicament, as we shall see alter.35
Elsewhere it is stated that he was handsome, and again that he was not; as in one picture of him he looks pleasant enough, and in another he resembles a portrait from a collection of criminals.
But at the time of his accession he must have been more like the man, tall, well-proportioned, of fair complexion and regular features, of whom Mariana speaks, than the crafty-looking villain of the frontispiece that he no doubt afterwards became.
“Regular features and in his manner a certain nobility and majesty.” That is probably more what he was like, when the land of Castile came into his kingly hands in those early years of his reign. Then he was unused to murder. The “sweet dying of enemies” was unknown to him. No death had “been like honey in the mouth,” as Theocritus has it.
He loved sport, hawking above all, and took a great pride in his falcons and their keeping.
Dogs were his delight, and he passed whole days racing about the country on horseback with them. Doubtless it was good then to be a king, even if only to have as many dogs and as many falcons as one liked, and to hunt and play every day in the week, if it so pleased one’s Majesty, without having to ask anyone’s permission.
Better, a good deal, than listening to a mother’s sighs, and gazing out of the palace windows for the happy times that never seemed to come.
It may be that Don Pedro thought old Alburquerque an infliction with his endless talk on state matters, and the condition of things in Andalusia, and what 36 to do with this man, and what with that. As when one day, soon after the young King’s recovery, there came before him the matter of a journey to be undertaken to Estremadura. Then did Pedro begin to understand that life was not all an affair of falcons, especially for kings of Castile in the fourteenth century.
The young sovereign was in no particular hurry to make the journey, which was ostensibly for the purpose of receiving the submission and homage of his brother, Don Fadrique.
But Pedro had to learn that Alburquerque was something more than a minister: he was a minister who had to be obeyed.
It was on this expedition that Pedro gained his first insight into the conduct of political life in his own time.
In the train of the royal party there travelled the unfortunate Leonor de Guzman.
Don Fadrique, who was the Master of the military order of Santiago, gave his royal brother a welcome worthy of his rank, Everything that the luxury and taste of the times could afford was offered to Don Pedro, Alburquerque, and the Queen-mother.
There must have been a touch of bitterness in it all for the young host, who found his own mother as a prisoner in the hands of his guests and subject to the jealous vagaries of the Queen who, at heart, was still full of vengeance towards her fallen rival.
Maria had suffered an insult from Leonor, which women are proverbially accounted slow to forgive, and Maria was not likely to be more generous than 37 any other person in that age of open and unrestrained cruelty.
Leonor and her son flung themselves despairingly into each other’s arms. In Ayala’s beautiful words: “The mother took her son, the master, to her arms, and kissed him and wept with him for a full hour, and he with her; and they spoke not a word to one another. Then those who guarded Doña Leonor told the master that he must come to the King and he obeyed them, and he never saw his mother again after that day.”1
Maria was soon to enjoy her vengeance. The bitterness of all those years of her deposal from position by the royal favourite was now to be assuaged. In one death would vanish all those ghosts of jealousy and hatred which had disturbed her peace so long.
To Talavera, a stronghold in her keeping, was the unfortunate Leonor sent.
There the deed of death was done by order of the Queen-mother, and Leonor, in the manner of her passing, paid for the years of happiness stolen from another.
The execution was private, and there is no evidence that Don Pedro was aware of it. Alburquerque could afford to wink at it, for the partisans of the unfortunate De Guzman were scattered now, and without a leader. The De Laras existed no longer to trouble the consciences of those in authority. Murder, like everything else in these times, was after all a matter of convenience. One cannot lay to Don Pedro’s charge 38 any of the odium of this crime. It was the deed of his mother — conceived, perhaps, long before, in some bitter hour of her dejection, and nursed through the sorrows of many an unhappy night.
Enrique and Fadrique were compelled to stand quietly by and hear of their mother’s murder without raising a hand in her memory. Don Tello indeed, Leonor’s third son, on hearing from the King that his mother was dead, for political reasons seems to have taken the matter with a calmness, not to say callousness, that was either bitterly cynical or, if genuine, rather pitiable.
“Don Tello,” said the King, “do you know that your mother, Doña Leonor, is dead?”
“Sire,” replied Tello, “I have no other father or mother than your Grace!”
As to the reception by the people at this execution, Ayala says: “Several in the kingdom were grieved at this deed, seeing that it would give rise to war as well as to scandal, Leonor having grown-up sons and many kinsmen.
Thus happened the first political murder in the reign of Peter the Cruel, and though we may absolve him of the guilt of its design, we may think that it was here he first began to see how extremely easy and useful a weapon assassination could be in the hands of despotic authority.
1 Ayala, 1351, Cap. III.
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