Posts tagged ‘Portugal’

03/02/2013

…and then a step to the right.

QueenAfterDeath1The plan, nebulous at first, gradually assumed clearer shape. Pedro resolved that as there had been a spiritual and legal rehabilitation of Inez’s shattered reputation, he would give her poor murdered body a physical recognition of the memory in which he held her. He decided that he would give the dead Inez the honor that Fate had denied her in life. Through love for him she forfeited the respect of his country, and he had as far as he could purged the remembrance in which it held her, but that was not enough. Now he made his plans to compel to kneel at her dead feet that Portugal which had even denied her any deference while she lived. He was not satisfied that she should coldly sleep as other dead women slept. She was his heart’s princess during life, and without her even asking, he promised that she should some day be his wife. Now he would make her Portugal’s queen after death…

My visitors will have noticed that my escape from 1688, over which I gloated at the end of last year, has not been quite so clean-cut as I hoped. Apart from the fact that I still have two outstanding posts to get written (neither of them Chronobibliography, granted), I wasn’t immediately able to shake off the dust of 2012, with my talent for over-complication rearing its ugly head once again and holding me back.

In fact, the very act of gloating over escaping 1688 stopped me from actually doing it, my New Year’s viewing of Captain Blood leading me to compare and contrast the film with the novel upon which it was based. Meanwhile, I also succumbed to temptation in another direction and tracked down a copy of A Queen After Death by William Harman Black, which to the best of my knowledge is the only English-language work of fiction to deal with the story of Inés de Castro. The title of this 1933 novel gave me hopes that its author had bought into the colourfully gruesome alternative version of events. He did—but that’s about all it has going for it.

The overwhelming problem with A Queen After Death is one of style: Black doesn’t seem to be quite sure whether he wants to be writing history or whether he wants to be writing fiction, and so falls between two stools, writing fiction in a plodding, this-happened-then-that-happened sort of way that almost manages to make this outré story boring. I have no knowledge of the author beyond the existence of this novel, but on the evidence before me I feel I can safely surmise that he was unacquainted with the principle of composition generally rendered as Show, don’t tell.

In fact, A Queen After Death offers surprisingly little to the casual reader; while its main interest for me turned out to be the resources that Black drew upon in his writing, several of which, after my brief but comprehensive plunge into the Inés mythos, were a bit too obvious for comfort.

Only two aspects of this novel as a novel really struck me. The first is its emphasis upon the ages of Pedro and Inés, only twenty and seventeen respectively at the beginning of their affair—in other words, not much older than those perennial poster-children for reckless and ultimate fatal teenage passion, Romeo and Juliet. Mostly with a focus upon Constança but also with reference to Pedro, both of whom were engaged and unengaged and engaged again by their ambitious parents with no thought beyond political expediency, the novel does consider, although not in the depth we would prefer, the inevitable consequences of emotional young people being treated like trading-cards.

The other notable point is that on those rare occasions that William Black manages a genuinely striking bit of writing, it is usually a sideline to his main narrative; he seems to have been hampered by the facts even when he wasn’t strictly sticking to them. I did enjoy his portrait of Afonso IV, who is depicted as a staunch adherent of marital fidelity and whose anger with his son is as much about Pedro’s broken vows as it is about his disobedience and the potential political consequences. Intriguingly, however, Afonso’s rigidly practised fidelity to his wife is presented as a perverse way of thumbing his nose at the memory of his father, Denis, who was a a man of peace, a lover of nature and a poet at a time when such things were all but unheard of, and so managed to win a reputation for saintliness in spite of producing a swarm of illegitimate children. There is also a clear suggestion that Afonso’s long-suffering queen, Beatrice, would have preferred it if her husband had found some other way of rebelling against his father.

(And of course, he did: one of the ironies of this whole sorry story is that in his youth Afonso waged war against his father, exactly as Pedro would end up doing to him.)

This is not to say, however, that the novel’s two big set-pieces, the torture-deaths of two of Inés’ assassins and her coronation, are not “striking bits of writing”, merely that no novelist, whatever his limitations, could really fail to make an impression with the material at his disposal.

The post-mortem coronation aside, A Queen After Death sticks close enough in a general way  to the facts of the Inés story to obviate the need for a synopsis. The novel opens with the offer of a marital alliance between Pedro and Costanza (Constança) being sent from Alphonso (Afonso) IV of Portugal to Don Juan Manuel, Duke of Valeña, one of the most powerful noblemen in Castile. After some hesitation, Costanza accepts, attracted by the vision of herself as Queen of Portugal. She makes it a condition of her acceptance that she should be accompanied to Lisbon by her cousin and friend, Inez (Inés) de Castro.

In Black’s telling, Pedro and Costanza simply have no spark between them. In contrast, the attraction between Pedro and Inez is immediate and powerful – and obvious to most onlookers at court, who think the worst prematurely. The two struggle against their feelings for a year, avoiding one another as much as possible, until one day when for no specific reason they give in to their mutual passion. Subsequently, they separately and jointly defy church, crown and public opinion in pursuit of their love affair.

Around the bare bones of the story, Black weaves aspects of the various renderings of the Inés story – mostly the various fictional renderings (which strikes me as rather unethical). His choice for the villain of the piece was the first thing to properly catch my attention – in two different ways. Firstly, I realised that the character of Don Alvares de Goncales  in Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise and its English translations is supposed to be Álvaro Gonçalves, one of the three real-life executioners of Inés, and one of those later tortured and executed by Pedro. (Confusingly enough, Gonçalves is called Goncalvo here.) Secondly, Black tells the story exactly the same way as Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac but recasts the villain role, making it Diogo Lopes Pacheco whose love for Inez turns to hate when she spurns his advances and makes it clear that she prefers an illicit relationship with Pedro to honourable marriage with him. Given this, I was not exactly surprised to find Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise in Black’s bibiography – about which I shall have more to say presently – although he spells de Brilhac’s name incorrectly.

In the novel, it is her growing fear of Pacheco that prompts Inez to send for her half-brothers, Fernando and Alvarez Perez de Castro, hoping for their protection. As in reality, the friendship between the brothers and Pedro is perceived as a Castilian threat to Portugal; here, however, is is equally because the brothers encourage Pedro to neglect his duties for drinking and carousing when he must be away from Inez. Meeting anger and disapproval everywhere else he turns, Pedro finds the dissolute brothers a relief and does permit them to influence his behaviour for the worst.

Another slice of reality, and perhaps the aspect of the true history that most puzzles me, is that Black fudges the timeline of the story, compressing the events or evading the issue of how much time actually passed. Thus he never engages with the curious fact that the relationship between Pedro and Inés – and, you’d think, any concomitant political fallout – was fifteen years old when it was decided that Inés had to die. No-one to my knowledge has ever identified a specific reason why she was suddenly condemned to death. Not even Afonso’s desire for Pedro’s remarriage seems a sufficient explanation: Constança had been dead, and Pedro had been refusing another alliance, for ten years when Inés was so brutally removed from the picture. Perhaps something was going on in Castile at that time that made it seem imperative; or perhaps the precarious health of the Infante Ferdinand made Inés’ children look like more than a threat to the throne than usual. (But in that case, why kill her but not them?) The whole thing seems to me bewilderingly unmotivated.

Be that as it may, the novel’s account of the execution of Inés is one of the things that most caught my attention—inasmuch as its depiction of events is lifted wholesale from António Ferreira’s play The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro; although I imagine that the immediate source was the 1825 English translation of the play by T. M. Musgrave (condemned by John R. C. Martyn in the introduction of his translation as “an archaic and verbose rendering”). Thus we have a reluctant Alphonso being persuaded by Pacheco, Gonçalves and Pêro Coelho that Inez has to die for the good of Portugal; the only original (or rather, non-Ferreira-derived) touch is that Pacheco is clearly pursuing his own vengeance against Inez and Pedro. (Again, after fifteen years?) Alphonso and the courtiers ride to the palace at Coimbra (not mentioned in the text prior to this), but when confronted by the sight of the beautiful Inez with her children – his grandchildren, albeit illegitimate – Alphonso cannot go through with it. He and the others ride away, but they have not gotten far before Pacheco manages to change Alphonso’s mind back again. Alphonso washes his hands of the matter in the approved Pilate-esque manner, leaving the others to do as they will. They hurry back to the palace before the vacillating king can have second, or rather third, thoughts (which he does, but too late), and together stab Inez to death.

Which brings me back to a point I made in passing in my original post: if you want a post-mortem coronation, you cannot have Inés beheaded.

Pedro’s rebellion against his father follows, as well as his ascension to the throne in 1357. As you would expect, the novel picks up at this point, depicting Pedro’s obsession with the memory of Inez becoming a slow slide into madness. He broods over all the possible ways he might rehabilitate her reputation, and suddenly produces witnesses who swear to a gathering that includes the highest-ranking clerics in Portugal that they were present at the marriage of Pedro and Inez. This accomplished, and overtly accepted whatever the country’s private doubts, Pedro’s thoughts then turn to his revenge against the men who killed Inez. He enters into negotiations with Castile, and exchanges several Castilian prisoners for Goncalvo and Coelho; tipped off in time, Pacheco manages to get away, and lives in exile in France until Pedro’s death. (In-text, this is a frustrating turn of events given Pacheco’s casting as Inez’s deadly enemy.)

As far as A Queen After Death ever garnered any critical attention, it was not the coronation scene but the lengthy and gruesomely detailed account of the torture and execution of Goncalvo and Coelho that provoked a reaction:

As the effects of their free wine wore off, both Pedro and the executioner, with whom the king kept in touch by signals, saw that the crowd was sickening of this exhibition of inhumanity. Pedro resolved to end it with a combination of unparalleled hellishness… From the brazier the executioner took the red hot pincers and plucked off the ears of Coelho and the lips of Goncalvo. Goncalvo howled wild a wildcat, and again every blood vessel in his face seemed red and bursting. The muscles in his arms and across his chest twitched and swelled, but the man lived on. The blood spurted from  his mouth, and where his lips had been pulled out by the hot pincers there was a thick swollen piece of raw, bloody meat, smoking and smelling like flesh burning over hot, slow embers… As the executioner reached for one of the keen knives, Coelho regained consciousness for a moment. Lifting his head as high as the choking garotte would allow, he had just strength enough to say in a voice that was below the pitch of a whisper, but firm and masculine: “Here you will find a heart that is truer than a horse’s and stronger than a bullock’s.” As he said this he pointed to his left side and died with the fortitude of a soldier. In a moment the knife slit his skin like a thin piece of silk, and with the still smoking pincers his heart was plucked out and held aloft…

But even this doesn’t entirely sate Pedro:

His stormy heart raced and quivered at the thought of the loveliness that had been Inez, struck down by cowards’ blows with never a hand raised in her defense. When the full realization would sweep over him that he had indeed lost her forever, that never again would those lovely eyes be raised, brimming with love, to his, that he would never again hear her voice, never feel the touch of her hands, then the wild thing that leaped and coursed and yet was Pedro’s heart slowed down, almost ceased to beat, became a leaden thing, cold, like a heavy stone in his breast. Brooding and silent, he sat or walked alone, and out of the blackness of his despair, out of a loneliness and longing that carried him close to the vague line of madness, was born the idea that first struck his listeners with superstitious terror…

Pedro accordingly rounds up Portugal’s “masters of pageantry” and sets them to work planning the most elaborate and costly coronation the country has ever seen. He, meanwhile, travels to Coimbra to oversee the exhumation; although it is the unfortunate nuns of the convent next door to whom the task of dressing Inez falls. Placed back in her coffin, Inez forms the centrepiece of a procession that rolls slowly from Coimbra to Alcobaça, passing through numerous villages and attracting crowds of disbelieving peasants. The priests of the abbey at Alcobaça have followed their orders, and the coronation begins:

The loving hands of the sweet sisters again arranged the royal robe and tried to push the golden hair over the most revolting part of the features of Inez and strong soldiers bore her to a room in the monastery that was turned into a temporary reception hall. Under a canopy of flaming blue silk, two chairs of state were placed side by side, and into one of them the pitiful form of Inez was propped. After infinite trouble, the crown of Portugal, burnished for the occasion, which had not been worn since Pedro’s mother died, was placed on the toppling head of Pedro’s love. There stood at the back and at the side of the inert form two grandees who made certain that the body did not slip from the throne… Then, beginning with the Grand Seneschal, grandees, churchmen, soldiers, nobles, in a long procession passed the stiff form, and each with courtly bow made low obeisance by kissing the dead hand of Inez…

The carving of the elaborate marble tombs of Pedro and Inez follows; after which there is nothing much left for Pedro to do but lie down and die, which he does with a minimum of fuss.

All very romantic, I’m sure, provided you like your romance spiced up with torture and necrophilia (and who doesn’t?); yet for all of it, what stayed with me most about A Queen After Death was another, far more subtle tampering with the facts, a single betraying detail, which the novel tries to slide past in its early stages:

Pedro loved hawking, the chase, music, drinking, and the usual companions who attached themselves to a man who will someday be king. He could ride like a centaur; his bow was true, and his sword was strong. Indeed, his life already showed that his entire make-up was essentially Portuguese. He had boasted the Portuguese Doña Theresa Lourenco as his “official” mistress, and by him she had a son, afterwards King John I…

Except that John was born in 1357, two years after the execution of Inés.

Nothing ruins a good story like the facts, does it?

“The facts” bring me to the final telling aspect of this novel: it carries both extensive historical notes and a lengthy bibliography. It is not endnoted as such, but the notes do refer back to specific pages in the novel, reporting their various sources as they go. They begin enthusiastically, filling in historical details of Portugal and Castile and their many alliances and even more numerous conflicts. Curiously, however, as we get to the meat of A Queen After Death, they begin to trail away, with encyclopaedias and histories giving way to more populist texts—and when it comes to the all-important coronation scene, we find ourselves left with a single source:

George W. Young, Portugal Old And New. Clarendon Press, 1917.

Damn you, facts!

30/12/2012

More faces of Inés

Sorry, guys, but I put far too much time and effort into this to let you escape with a mere 3700 words on the subject!

Don’t worry, though – this is mostly images. I found a lot of cool stuff while researching Inés de Castro, which I felt like sharing.

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Fun fact: “Agora é tarde; Inês é morta” – “It’s too late, Inés is dead” – is a commonly used Portuguese saying.

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As you probably won’t be surprised to hear, the locations associated with the life and death of Inés represent a fairly significant tourist attraction in Portugal. Below is one of the more popular postcards, showing Inés and Pedro – the latter looking rather the worse for wear, so presumably this image is taken image from a portrait done after her death. This image of Inés is frequently reproduced, but I haven’t been able to find an attribution for it. A contemporary report described Inés as being “beautiful as a flower, blond as the sun, and extremely elegant.”

Ines12

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This is Inés’ tomb at Alcobaça, on which she is depicted wearing a crown and surrounded by angels. The carvings around the sides represent scenes from her life. As John Martyn points out, none of them suggest anything like a post-mortem coronation.

Ines3b

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Here we have the title pages of the three works under consideration in the previous post (or at least, the three works that were supposed to be under consideration when I was first planning it). Note the licensing dates on the translations by Peter Belon and Aphra Behn—I wonder whether this sort of coincidence was a common occurrence at the time?

Ines13b   Ines15b    Ines14b

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This is the frontispiece of another literary work about Inés, this one a play from 1723 by the French writer, Antoine Houdar de La Motte, called simply Inés de Castro; evidently it was a great success. I’m interested in this one because it suggests yet another version of events. Yes, we have Inés facing death with her children clutching her skirts—but who is that holding a sword? And who is holding the hand of the man holding the sword? – who doesn’t look very happy about the role he’s been asked to play, we notice. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), I haven’t been able to find a copy of de La Motte’s play, let alone a translation, so we may never know for sure.

Ines10

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Artists have shown an understandable tendency to romanticise the story of Pedro and Inés—one way or another. The painting which I used to head the previous post, shown here again on the left, is by the Portuguese artist, Ernesto Ferreira Condeixa, and is usually called simply Pedro e Inês.

Given their Grand Guignol tendencies, perhaps it’s not surprising to find the French buying into the nightmare tale of Inés’ resurrection and ascension as Queen of Portugal. The painting on the right is Coronation of Inés by the 19th century French artist, Pierre-Charles Comte. Note the child on the left, cringing away from the gruesome spectacle. Presumably that’s the Infante Fernando, getting an important early life-lesson about not messing with his father.

Ines2c      Ines9c

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Many of the operas about Inés also buy wholeheartedly into the more macabre version of her story. Here is a still from the Scottish Opera’s 1999 production of James MacMillan’s Inés de Castro, which in turn was based upon the 1989 play, Inés de Castro: A Portuguese Tragedy, by John Clifford:

Ines5

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While there were a number of shorts made about a hundred years ago (and how scary is it that we can say that?), as far as I can tell the only full-length film dealing with Inés was made in 1944, and is called – you guessed it – Inés de Castro. This was a Spanish-Portuguese co-production, financed through a Spanish studio but shot in Portugal in Portuguese. The film was released in both countries, a slightly shorter version in Spain, where it nevertheless won an award at the rather wonderfully named “National Syndicate of Spectacle”. Interestingly, Alicia Palacios, the actress playing Inés, was Cuban. Here is some advertising art:

Ines4b     Ines6

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And last, but certainly not least—

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to whoever was responsible for this:

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29/12/2012

Three faces of Inés

Ines2bAn attempt will be made to distinguish between the facts and myths of the Inés tradition, tracing its development over two centuries or so of Portuguese history. The tragic story has been a favourite in Portuguese as well as in later English and Continental literature, and it is not hard to see why. As will be shown, the characters of Inés and of the King, and the interplay between State demands and personal love and loyalty, with alternating bursts of joy and of foreboding, ending with a brutal murder and Pedro’s oath of revenge, provide all the requirements of a powerful drama. Ferreira was the first to put it on the stage, and more successful than any contemporary or later imitators. In fact, the intellectual courage and inventiveness of Ferreira need to be stressed, in staging a play not only based on Portuguese history, rather than on the Bible or a Classical theme, but also written in Portuguese, a language as yet untried for high drama.

I was tempted to head this blog post “Much ado about nothing”, since I’ve ended up doing an enormous amount of reading and researching to, in the end, very little purpose. However, since reading and researching are two of my favourite things, and since I always like accumulating strange factoids, I’m not sorry I undertook this particular project, even if the final pay-off was something in the nature of a damp squib.

The third piece of fiction published in 1688 by Aphra Behn was Agnes de Castro; or, The Force Of Generous Love. As it turns out, this was not an original work, but a translation of a piece of French fiction, Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise. Although this publication was presented on its title page as being by “Mlle. ******” (which Aphra evidently believed, asserting it to be “By a Lady of Quality” in her translation), it was the work of one Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac.

Curiously, Aphra’s was only one of two simultaneous translations into English: May of 1688 also saw Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise released as The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro; Taken Out Of The History Of Portugal, one of two renderings of French works into English comprising a short book titled simply Two Novels. This particular translation was by a Frenchman, Peter Belon.

It took me a while to sort all this out. After some initial confusion, I realised that there were in fact two different versions of this work in English, rather than Aphra having translated a work in French by Peter Belon, which is what I thought at first. Furthermore, it appeared that the original work was based upon a true story, which meant that it fitted thematically with Aphra Behn’s other prose works of 1688. Finally, in a completely unexpected touch, it turned out that the original text of Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise was available on Google Books. All this being the case, I decided to look first into the story on which these works were based, and then to compare the two translations, to see which if either was “better”.

The first part of this plan led me to the remarkable history of Inés de Castro, a real figure from 14th century Portuguese history. (And before you ask, no, I don’t know why Inés was called Agnes in the later works; although the two names are essentially variants of one another, both meaning “lamb of God”.) It also led me into an experience both fascinating and frustrating as hell, the pursuit of yet another work on the subject called The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro, which turned out to be something entirely different from what I anticipated. It was while I was waiting for this particular interlibrary loan that I remarked, in an earlier post, that if I didn’t achieve my year’s ambition of escaping from 1688, “It will only be because I’ve chosen to make the final step in this journey far more complicated than there is any real need for it to be.”

I was expecting The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro to be a non-fiction work, which would provide me with the background knowledge I needed. It turned out to be a 16th century Portuguese play on the subject by the poet and dramatist António Ferreira, who (I now know) was the first important literary figure both to write in Portuguese rather than Latin, and to use local stories as the basis for much of his work, rather than classical themes.

I was surprised in the first place that the Australian National University held a copy of The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro. I was even more surprised when the item arrived: apparently a published thesis by one John R. C. Martyn, issued by the University of Coimbra in Portugal (where António Ferreira studied law) in 1987; one, moreover, which was not only printed on low-quality paper, but still had its pages uncut. I was, evidently, the first person in twenty-five years to access this particular item, and in order to read it I had to use a small knife to carefully slice open the top and/or side of most of the leaves in it. You can just imagine the looks that got me on the train. And having done so, I discovered inside the Portuguese text of the play, The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro, an English translation (the first, evidently, since an extremely poor one in 1825), and a lengthy biography of António Ferreira that told me a great deal more than I wanted to know about his life, writings, and influences, as well as the the history and politics of Portugal in the 14th and 16th centuries. What it did NOT tell me was what I wanted to know about Inés, offering instead oblique allusions that nearly drove me to screaming point.

But to begin at the beginning—

In 1340, Prince Pedro, the heir to King Afonso IV of Portugal, married Constança of Castile. When Constança came to Lisbon, she was accompanied by a train of ladies-in-waiting, including the beautiful, golden-haired Inés de Castro. Much to the outrage of all concerned, Pedro and Inés quickly became lovers, defying all attempts to separate them. Constança, cunningly, had Inés named godmother to her first child, which technically made the relationship between her and Pedro incestuous.  When that didn’t work, Afonso sent Inés back to Castile. Pedro journeyed repeatedly to visit her until 1345, when Constança died shortly after the birth of her son, Fernando, after which he brought her back. Pedro and Inés continued to live together more or less openly, with Inés bearing four children, of which three survived. Meanwhile, Pedro ignored his father’s attempts to arrange another political marriage for him, raising the spectre of his marriage to Inés.

Both in religious and secular terms, Inés de Castro represented a threat to the Portuguese throne. She was illegitimate, albeit of noble origin; she was a blood relation of Pedro to an extent that would have made a papal dispensation necessary for their marriage; and, as godmother to the deceased infant prince, she was persona non grata. Furthermore, upon her return from Castile, Pedro installed her in a minor royal palace bequeathed to a convent by Queen Isabel (aka Elizabeth of Aragon), Pedro’s grandmother, who was regarded in her lifetime as a saintly peacemaker and who was in fact canonised after her death as Saint Elizabeth. (She was the one who turned bread into roses.) In many people’s eyes, the relationship between Pedro and Inés was not just immoral, but sacriligious.

More pragmatically, Inés was Castilian. Her brothers had befriended Pedro, and he responded by gifting them positions at court. Many people near the throne feared the Castilian influence, and what would happen when Pedro succeeded his father. Particularly they feared that Portugal would end up embroiled in the endless politic turmoil of Castile. What triggered the belated final crisis we do not know, but in 1355 King Afonso and his counsellors tried Inés in absentia and found her guilty of treason. She was sentenced to summary execution, and decapitated in her own home – in front of her children.

Inés was not the only one “in absentia”: Afonso and his court waited until Pedro was away on a hunting-trip to make their move against Inés. When Pedro heard of her death, he responded with nothing less than an open rebellion, raising an army (many of his troops Castilian) and waging war against his father’s forces for some eighteen months, until a peace was finally brokered. In 1357, Afonso died, and Pedro took the throne.

And then things got weird…although how weird depends on who you listen to.

When Pedro became king, the three men responsible for Inés’ execution understandably fled the country. One got away; the other two were captured in Castile (which seems a stupid place for them to go). Pedro staged a hostage exchange with his counterpart, Peter of Castile, and then, in a tableau worthy of Vlad Tepes, had his prisoners executed by having their hearts cut out of their bodies while they were still alive, as he ate breakfast and enjoyed the show. These men, Pedro explained, had torn out his heart by killing Inés, so their fate was only fair.

Then, in 1361, Pedro announced that he and Inés had in fact been secretly married in 1354, and she was therefore his queen. (No solid evidence one way or the other has ever been uncovered.) He followed this declaration by having her body exhumed from its grave near her home and placed in an elaborately sculpted tomb, on which she was depicted wearing a crown. Pedro had a matching tomb carved for himself, and placed it nearby; both now lie within the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça. On the evidence of at least one more illegitimate child, Pedro did have other relationships after Inés’ death, but he never remarried. He died and was succeeded in 1367 by Fernando, his son by Constança.

So that’s Version #1, and as much as we know for certain – which naturally doesn’t stop people telling Version #2, an even better story. The outline is the same, but instead of merely declaring Inés his queen, after exhuming her body Pedro holds a coronation ceremony for her – in which he crowns her, and then makes all the members of his court kiss the corpse’s hand and swear fealty to her.

There seems (she said, regretfully) no evidence that this actually happened, although many people clearly believe that it did and tell the story as fact, which of course propagates it even further. It’s also an obvious case of “print the legend”. Personally, I reject the tale on the basis of its logistics: Inés was, after all, decapitated…

The story of Inés de Castro has never lost its appeal for the artistic community, and an extraordinary number of people, Portuguese and otherwise, have told or depicted her life and death in plays, novels, films, poems, paintings and operas; particularly operas, of which there are at least twenty devoted to her story. Inevitably, the vast majority of these works include the macabre coronation; artists tend to depict a shrivelled corpse with its head mysteriously back on its shoulders. I suppose what I was hoping for in the background text provided by John Martyn as a preface to his translation of The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro was an indication of when this twist to the story first appeared, and who might have been responsible for it. Instead, most exasperatingly, Martyn contents himself with pointing out a few people who did not tell it that way. This omission was all the more annoying considering his declared intention (quoted above) of, Distinguish[ing] between the facts and myths of the Inés tradition.

Anyway, among this high-minded group who stuck to Version #1 we find António Ferreira. Granted, his dramatic approach to the story would hardly allow for Version #2. Ferreira walks a finely judged line in his play about Inés, writing in Portuguese and telling a story from Portuguese history, but otherwise following the rules of classical drama by offering a five-act tragedy in which all violence is kept strictly off-stage. A chorus offers an ongoing commentary on the actions and contradictions of the characters.

The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro opens with Inés happy to the point of being fey, since Pedro has finally promised to marry her. This joyful opening is balanced by Inés suffering a foreboding dream in which she finds herself threatened by lions, but is then torn apart by wolves. This dream comes true when King Afonso is persuaded by his counsellors that Inés must die. The men confront her together, but the king, already reluctant, is swayed by Inés’ beauty and innocence and commutes her sentence. However, as soon as they have him away from Inés’ influence, the counsellors resume their arguments and succeed in bringing the weak Afonso back to his original judgement. He refuses to have anything to do with it, however, effectively washing his hands of the business. The counsellors return to Inés (off-stage) and run her through with their swords. No sooner has he given his tacit permission for Inés’ death than Afonso regrets it, but by then it is too late. Meanwhile, word of the execution is carried to Pedro, who swears bloody vengeance against his father.

Two things about The Tragedy Of Inés de Castro struck me as particularly interesting. The first point, internally, is the text’s insistence upon Inés’ innocence: the love between herself and Pedro is presented as being blessed by God if not by man. It is her innocence that prompts Afonso to spare her life, while the counsellors agree that she must die in spite of it, presenting her as a martyr to Portugal’s good. The second point, externally, is that the play was written under royal patronage and first staged in the mid-1550s before the then-heir to the throne, Prince John. Evidently the Portuguese monarchy insisted on a lot less sucking up from its artists than most, since this story hardly shows royalty in a flattering light.

So! – after all that, I returned to the original point of the exercise (you remember that, right?), and read the two translations of Jean-Baptiste de Brilhac’s Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise. You can imagine my surprise, and indeed my dismay, when it turned out that de Brilhac had offered the world a version of Inés’ story that was whitewashed to the point of unrecognisability.

Not that my French is brilliant, but as far as I could tell from a comparison of the texts of Agnes de Castro: Nouvelle Portugaise and The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro; Taken Out Of The History Of Portugal Peter Belon’s translation is basically literal: I identified a number of paragraphs that were translated word for word, so I’m prepared to assume that the majority of it was so. In this version, which bears so little resemblance to reality as to be inadvertently amusing, Pedro marries Constantia (Constança), but falls in love with Agnes (Inés). Instead of immediately pursuing and seducing her, he struggles against his feelings and manfully keeps his secret for a number of years. Constantia is in love with Pedro, but she is painfully aware that he does not love her. Her one consolation in her unhappiness is the friendship of Agnes.

The villains of the piece are two invented characters, Don Alvares de Goncales and his sister, Elvira. The latter had hopes of Pedro before his marriage to Constantia, the former is in love with Agnes. Elvira, a born schemer and plotter, discovers Pedro’s secret and tries to get rid of Agnes by revealing it to Constantia. Constantia is as shattered as Elvira could wish, but believes both Agnes’ protestations of complete innocence, and Pedro’s assertion that, although he does love Agnes, he has never breathed a word of it to her. Meanwhile, Don Alvares, a professional sycophant, lets King Alfonse (Afonso) know of Pedro’s secret passion. The outraged king, who blames Agnes, wants to banish the girl, but Constantia refuses to part with her, defending both her and Pedro to Alfonse. The king is exasperated, and only too glad to offer his assistance when Don Alvares asks permission to court Agnes – to court her in the first instance, anyway: should the girl persist in her scornful refusals, Don Alvares has Alfonse’s permission to see what force will achieve.

So things stay for some time, until Elvira provokes a crisis: she forges a letter, supposedly from Agnes, that convinces Constantia that she and Pedro are lovers, and that it is Agnes who has overcome Pedro’s scruples, rather than the other way around. This ploy is rather more successful than Elvira intended or desired: Constantia collapses and becomes dangerously ill. Initially shunning Agnes, as she feels death approaching she admits the girl to her bedchamber and is convinced by her that the letter is a forgery. At the last, Constantia blesses both Pedro and Agnes and tells them that she hopes they will marry. The widowed Pedro soon declares himself, but Agnes rejects him. Nevertheless, she begins to realise that she does care for him. A maddened Don Alvares finally has Agnes abducted, but his men encounter Pedro on the road and flee. This rescue breaks down Agnes’ defences and she admits she loves Pedro; he persuades her into a secret marriage.

From here The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro bears at least a passing likeness to the truth. Suspicions arise of the relationship between Pedro and Agnes, and finally Don Alvares discovers the truth. He runs with it to Alfonse, and not only persuades him to have Agnes assassinated, but volunteers for the job. They wait for a day when Pedro is away hunting, and then Don Alvares invades the couple’s home and murders Agnes in her bed. The shock of Agnes’ death nearly deprives Pedro of both his life and his reason, but he slowly recovers. His first act then is to to swear vengeance against her murderers, and to cut a bloody swathe across Portugal.

Thus was the end of the unfortunate Amours of Don Pedro of Portugal, and of the beautiful Agnes de Castro, concludes The Fatal Beauty, whose memory the Prince did faithfully preserve on his Throne, on which he set by Birth-right after the Death of Don Alfonse. And we realise that we have been offered a version of the story lacking ALL of reality’s highlights.

What, then, of Aphra Behn’s Agnes de Castro; or, The Force Of Generous Love? Sadly, not much. I was hoping Aphra might have done a number on the original text and turned it into something more her own, but in fact the two translations are very close. To my taste, Aphra’s is the better one: it’s slightly shorter, having had some bits of repetition and unnecessary verbiage pruned away, while there are spots where Aphra’s choice of an English word or phrase is more apt. Beyond that, however, there is little to distinguish the two.

One thing that Aphra’s Agnes de Castro does offer us, however, is another of her intriguing dedications. Its official target is Sir Roger Puleston, a late-converted Royalist, but its main interest lies in the tone of its text. This is one of Aphra’s defences of her art, but a far cry in attitude from most of her earlier ones, many of which declared in essence that she’d write like a man if she damn well felt like it. Here, she not only objects to the crudeness of much of the prevailing literature, but offers hints that she may finally have given up on trying to win the patronage of the Stuarts. It is the cry of a woman very near the end of her tether:

Virgil and Horace had a better Age; Augustus favoured the Muses, and the whole Court was Complaisant to the Humor of their Caesar. He was a great Judge, and a great Patron: But our Age, degenerated into dull Lewdness, can relish nothing but abusive Satyr, and obscene Lampoons; and he is the most admir’d Poet who can most vilely traduce Innocent Beauty, Women of Quality, and Great Men. Our deprav’d Nature can relish nothing but Scandal in Verse, and from Noble and Heroick Songs, we are debauch’d into Scurrilous and Sawcy Libels; and every Man’s a Wit, who can but Rail. In our Age the Noble Roman Poets wou’d have Starv’d…

And to conclude this exceedingly rambling post, we should take note of one subtle point of difference that does exist between Agnes de Castro; or, The Force Of Generous Love and The Fatal Beauty Of Agnes de Castro. By the end of 1688, the word “novel” was being used more widely and more frequently to describe prose writing. We find it here in both the original work – which translates directly as Agnes de Castro: A Portuguese Novel – and as a reference to Peter Belon’s translation, released as one of Two Novels. Aphra, however, avoids the word: both Oroonoko and The Fair Jilt use instead the word “history” in their subtitles, and when Aphra’s prose work of 1688 was collected together and reissued, it was under the title Three Histories. It seems to me that the distinction was quite intentional. We have spent much time and energy debating the truth quotient of both Oroonoko and The Fair Jilt, while we know that Agnes de Castro was based upon a true story – even if, ironically, there’s less actual truth in it than in either of the two. In calling her prose “history”, at a time when the word was becoming unfashionable, Aphra Behn was telling her readers something about the nature of her work, and the artistic choices that lay behind it.