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Peter of Castile: Wikis


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Alabaster sculpture of Peter the Cruel, from 1504
King of Castile and León
Reign 1350–1366
Predecessor Alfonso XI
Successor Henry II
King of Castile and León
Reign 1367–1369
Predecessor Henry II
Successor Henry II
Spouse Blanche of Bourbon
Juana de Castro
Constance, Duchess of Lancaster
Isabella, Duchess of York
House House of Burgundy
Father Alfonso XI of Castile
Mother Maria of Portugal
Born 30 August 1334
Burgos, Castile
Died 23 March 1369 (aged 34)
Montiel, Toledo

Peter (Spanish: Pedro; 30 August 1334 – 23 March 1369), sometimes called the Cruel (el Cruel or O Cruel) or the Lawful (Spanish: 'el Justiciero', Galician: 'O Justiçeyro'), was the king of Castile from 1350 to 1369. He was the son of Alfonso XI of Castile and Maria of Portugal,[1] daughter of Afonso IV of Portugal. He was the last ruler of the main branch of the House of Burgundy.


Legacy and reputation

Popular memory generally views Peter as a vicious monster. Much of Peter's reputation comes from the works of the chronicler López de Ayala who served Peter's usurper. After time passed, there was a reaction in Peter's favour, and an alternative name was found for him. It became a fashion to speak of him as El Justiciero, the executor of justice (the Lawful).[2] Apologists were found to say that he had only killed men who themselves would not submit to the law or respect the rights of others. Peter did have his supporters. Even Ayala confessed that the king's fall was regretted by the merchants, who enjoyed security under his rule. The English, who backed Peter, also remembered the king positively. Geoffrey Chaucer visited Castile during Peter's reign and lamented the monarch's death in The Monk's Tale, part of The Canterbury Tales. (Chaucer's patron, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, fought on Peter's side in his struggle to reclaim the throne.)

From The Monk's Tale

O noble, O worthy PETRO, glorie OF SPAYNE, Whom Fortune heeld so hye in magestee,
Wel oughten men thy pitous death complayne!
Out of thy land thy brother made thee flee,
And after, at a seege, by subtiltee,
Thou were bitraysed and lad unto his tente,
Where as he with his owene hand slow thee,

Succedynge in thy regne and in thy rente.

Early life

Peter began to reign at the age of sixteen, and found himself subjected to the control of his mother and her favourites. Peter was to be married to Joan, the daughter of Edward III of England, but on the way to Castile, she travelled through cities infested with plague, ignoring townspeople who had warned her not to enter the town. Joan soon contracted the disease and died.[3]

He was unfaithful to his wife, as his father had been. But Alfonso XI did not imprison his wife, or cause her to be murdered, which Peter did.[4] He had not even the excuse that he was passionately in love with his mistress, María de Padilla; for, at a time when he asserted that he was married to her, and when he was undoubtedly married to Blanche of Bourbon, he went through the form of marriage with a lady of the family of Castro, who bore him a son, and then deserted her. María de Padilla was the only lady of his harem of whom he never became quite tired.

At first he was controlled by his mother, but emancipated himself with the encouragement of the minister Albuquerque and became attached to María de Padilla, marrying her in secret in 1353. María turned him against Albuquerque. In the summer of 1353 the king was practically coerced by his mother and the nobles into marrying Blanche of Bourbon, but deserted her at once. This marriage necessitated Peter's denying that he had married María, but his relationship with her continued and she bore him four children. A period of turmoil followed in which the king was for a time overpowered and in effect imprisoned. The dissension within the party striving to coerce him enabled him to escape from Toro, where he was under observation, to Segovia.


Peter being crowned, by Simon Bening, now in the British Museum, London

Peter's daughters by María de Padilla;

Wars with Aragon

From 1356 to 1366 he engaged in constant wars with Aragon in the "War of the Two Peters", in which he showed neither ability nor courage. It was during this period that he perpetrated the series of murders which made him notorious. In 1366 began the calamitous Castilian Civil War which would see him dethroned. He was assailed by his bastard brother Henry of Trastamara at the head of a host of soldiers of fortune,[7] including Bertrand du Guesclin and Hugh Calveley, and abandoned the kingdom without daring to give battle, after retreating several times (first from Burgos, then from Toledo, and lastly from Seville) in the face of the oncoming armies. Peter fled, with his treasury, to Portugal, where he was coldly received by his uncle, King Peter I of Portugal, and thence to Galicia, in the northern Iberian Peninsula, where he ordered the murder of Suero, the archbishop of Santiago, and the dean, Peralvarez.

The battle of Nájera in a 15th century manuscript (Peter and the English are on the left)

Peter fights anti-Semitism

Peter's rival Henry of Trastamara continuously depicted Peter as "King of the Jews," and had some success in taking advantage of Castilian anti-Semitism. Henry of Trastamara instigated pogroms, beginning a period of anti-Jewish riots and forced conversions in Castile that lasted approximately from 1370 to 1390. Peter took forceful measures against this, including the execution of at least five anti-Jewish leaders of a riot.


In the summer of 1366, Peter took refuge with Edward the Black Prince, who restored him to his throne in the following year after the Battle of Nájera. But he disgusted his ally with his faithlessness and ferocity, as well as his failure to repay the costs of the campaign, as he had promised to do. The health of the Black Prince broke down, and he left the Iberian Peninsula. Left to his own resources, Peter was soon overthrown by his brother Henry,[8] with the aid of Bertrand du Guesclin and a body of French and English free companions. After Peter's decisive loss at the Battle of Montiel, he was murdered by Henry in du Guesclin's tent on March 23, 1369.[9]


The great original but hostile authority for the life of Pedro the Cruel is the Chronicle of the Chancellor Pedro López de Ayala (Vitoria, Spain 1332 – 1407). To put it in perspective there is a biography by Prosper Mérimée, Histoire de Don Pedro I, roi de Castille (Paris, 1848), and a modern history setting Peter in the social and economic context of his time by Clara Estow (Pedro the Cruel of Castile (1350-1369), 1995).

Peter's beheading, from a 14th century French manuscript

Strictly speaking, Pedro was not defeated by Henry but by the opposing aristocracy; the nobles accomplished their objective of enthroning a weaker dynasty (the House of Trastámara), much more amenable to their interests. Most of the bad stories about Peter are likely to be colored by Black Legend, coined by his enemies, who finally succeeded in their rebellion. The Chancellor López de Ayala, the main source for Pedro's reign, was the official chronicler of the Trastámara, a servant of the new rulers and of Pedro's aristocratic adversaries.

The change of dynasty can be considered as the epilogue of the first act of a long struggle between the Castilian monarchy and the aristocracy; this struggle was to continue for more than three centuries and come to an end only under Charles I of Spain, the grandson of Ferdinand II of Aragon (Ferdinand V of Castile) and Isabella I of Castile (The Catholic Kings), in the first quarter of the 16th century.


  1. ^ Estow, Clara, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, 1350-1369, (BRILL, 1995), 30.
  2. ^ Estow, xxvi.
  3. ^ Estow, 11.
  4. ^ Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim, A distant mirror: the calamitous 14th century, (Random House Publishing Group, 1978), 228.
  5. ^ Medieval Iberia: an encyclopedia, Ed. E. Michael Gerli and Samuel G. Armistead, (Routledge, 2003), 215.
  6. ^ Leese, Thelma Anna, Blood royal: issue of the kings and queens of medieval England, 1066-1399, (Heritage Books Inc., 2007), 149.
  7. ^ Tuchman, 228.
  8. ^ Tuchman, 228.
  9. ^ Estow, xiv.


  • Estow, Clara, Pedro the Cruel of Castile, 1350-1369, BRILL, 1995.
  • Leese, Thelma Anna, Blood royal: issue of the kings and queens of medieval England, 1066-1399, Heritage Books Inc., 2007.
  • Medieval Iberia: an encyclopedia, Ed. E. Michael Gerli and Samuel G. Armistead, Routledge, 2003.
  • Mérimée, Prosper. The History of Peter the Cruel, King of Castile and Leon. London: R. Bentley, 1849.googlebooks Accessed November 17, 2007
  • Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim, A distant mirror: the calamitous 14th century, Random House Publishing Group, 1978.

Further reading

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alfonso XI
King of Castile and León
Succeeded by
Henry II
Preceded by
Henry II
King of Castile and León


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