King Pedro I of Portugal died in 1367, to be succeeded by his legitimate son, Fernando, son of Queen Constança.
A few years into the reign of King Fernando I there was a revolt of the populace against him, during which 3,000 men took to arms in Lisbon. The protest was not about the King's attempt to gain the throne of Castile but about his proposed marriage with Leonor Teles, the niece of his late father's favourite, João Afonso Teles, Count of Barcelos.
In 1372, King Fernando I took the plunge and married Leonor Teles de Meneses, a lady of renowned beauty (and doubtful morals), in secret at the monastery of Leça do Balio. She was a descendant of the Mendes (de Meneses), whose breeding was more noble than that of the king. The escutcheon of the Mendes was a field d'or1. There was no emblazon or device2 on this field, declaring that they were before all other families that required an emblem. She was also a descendant of the Afonsine kings3 ; Leonor's mother could trace her ancestry back to Teresa Sanchez, the illegitimate daughter of King Sancho I and his mistress, Maria Pais da Ribeira.
This was Leonor's second marriage. Her first marriage, with João Lourenço da Cunha, was arranged while she was still very young. It is thought that she had been divorced for adultery, but the king insisted that her marriage had been annulled by reason of consanguity. Like his father, Fernando had decided that there was only one woman for him4. The King quickly disposed of the leaders of the protest of the year before.
In December, King Henry of Castile invaded through Almeida, supposedly in protest of King Fernando and Leonor's marriage. His reasoning was that one of his daughters would have proved a much more suitable bride. He was probably right, as it is apparent that Leonor was as haughty, ruthless and scheming as she was beautiful.
At the official wedding in 1373, the members of the court were required to kiss the Queen's hand. Dom5 Dinis, son of Inêz de Castro who was half-brother to the King, refused to do this. As the new queen would brook no opposition, Dom Dinis found himself exiled.
Leonor had a full brother, Gonçales, a full sister, Maria, and a half-sister, Joanna. Maria was married to the prince, Dom João, the eldest son of Inêz and half-brother of the king. Their father, Martin Afonso Teles was brother to João Afonso Teles, the Count of Barcelos and erstwhile Count of Ourém.
King Fernando and Leonor had but one child, Princess Beatriz.
Queen Leonor, now a double adulteress (as she was openly enamoured of João Fernandes de Andeiro, the current Count of Ourém) arranged for her sister Maria to be murdered in the Palace of Sub-Ripas6, Coimbra.
The story of the murder is this. Maria Teles had secretly married Dom João, the son of King Pedro and Inêz and (some would say) the true heir to the throne. For this reason, she had incurred the anger of her sister the queen, who meant to keep all the power and influence to herself. Leonor worked on this prince's fiery temperament, and persuaded him that if he were free he could marry his niece, Beatriz, and thereby make doubly sure of gaining the crown.
The ambitious prince was determined to remove his wife himself. After a banquet, at which most of the nobility were present, Dom João collected some of his friends and proposed that they ride to Coimbra to visit his wife.
Dawn the next day found them at the convent of Santa Anna, at the crossing of the Mondego river. There, the prince informed his followers that he suspected his wife of infidelity, which was the rumour that Leonor had spread, and that he intended to surprise her in her adultery and punish her by death7.
Continuing their journey, they came to Coimbra and the palace in the Rua de Sub-Ripas. There, finding that the door had been left open by the early rising servants, João rushed in and leapt up the stairs to his wife's chambers.
Hearing the noise, Maria rose from her bed, gathering the coverlet around her in modesty. Dashing the blanket from her, leaving her naked, Dom João drew his dagger, which had been given to him as a present by his own brother-in-law Gonçales, and stabbed her in full view of his companions. Confronted by this shocking scene, the nobles were aghast and found themselves unable to stop the frenzied prince, who continued to hack at his wife until she was dead.
Having completed his crime the Infante8 fled the city and wandered all over Beira9, a prey to his remorse. Eventually Queen Leonor intervened and his pardon was issued. However, he now had not the slightest chance of marrying his niece. Although departing from the court to spend a self-appointed exile in one of his castles in the north, he was then hunted down by his son and his brother-in-law, who hounded him even further north out of Portugal into Galicia, where he remained exiled until his death.
Leonor also arranged the deaths of the other two children of Pedro and Inêz, thus clearing all the offspring of that liaison out of the way except for her nephew, Maria's son.
When King Fernando died there was a crisis in the kingdom, for who was the heir?
Juan of Castile claimed the kingdom by the right of his wife, Beatriz (then aged ten) which upset the general population as they were rather keen on remaining Portuguese. On her marriage to a foreigner, Beatriz had forfeited her right to the throne of Portugal; this could only be inherited by a royal daughter who had married a Portuguese nobleman. The inheritance law had been set up like this to avoid such a claim from the ruler of another country.
Many thought that Prince João, the son of Pedro I and Inêz, should be the king as they considered him legitimate. He was excluded from the succession because of the murder of his wife, Maria Teles.
The third contender was Dom João, Master of Aviz10, the son of King Pedro and his later mistress Teresa.
In December João Fernandes de Andeiro, Count of Ourém, was for the Master of Aviz, and led a popular revolt. However, his support for what Leonor considered the wrong side cost him dearly. His mistress, now Queen Regent, soon cunningly arranged his death. She appointed the Master of Aviz to the post of Alcaide11 of Ourém, both as a means of getting him out of the way and to promote rivalry between him and De Andeiro, but João marched in the other direction, to Lisbon. Here Alvaro Pais, a leading citizen of Lisbon, raised the people and they surrounded the Royal Palace so that De Andeiro could not escape. However, they let João through without pursuit. Things did not work out quite as planned as the people enthusiastically set fire to the palace. In the ensuing chaos the abandoned favourite of the Queen was stabbed by Dom João. On his exit from the palace the crowd of Lisbon acclaimed the Master of Aviz and declared him to be 'the Ruler and Defender of the Kingdom'.
The Count was buried in the Convent da Graça, Santárem. The Queen Dowager Leonor fled and Dom João, the Master of Aviz, assumed the regency.
The Alcaide of Bragança, João Afonso Pimentel, supported Beatriz as she was family. He was married to Queen Leonor de Teles's half-sister, Joana. Nuno Alvares Pereira helped him to change his mind and support the Master of Aviz.
The Alcaide of Penela, João Afonso Teles (previously Count of Barcelos and now Count of Viana de a par de Alvito) pledged to support Beatriz. He was Leonor Teles's uncle and therefore Beatriz's great-uncle. There was a passive resistance from the population of the town but when he went out with an armed escort of forty horsemen to collect the taxes in the form of food, his horse was attacked. In the melée he fell off and the taxpayers decapitated him. The escort fled. The townsfolk of Penela declared for Dom João.
The End of Power
The next year the struggle was continued. Leonor Teles was unsuccessfully besieged by Dom João when she occupied Torres Vedras. Leonor sent for aid from her son-in-law, Juan of Castile. The Master of Avis, however, left off the siege of his own accord to go to the Cortes12 which were called at Coimbra, and half the population of Torres Vedras followed him.
Unable to summon her son-in-law to her aid, Leonor travelled to Castile to see if she could persuade Juan to take up arms on Beatriz's behalf, believing that she would then have power as the Queen mother.
The year 1405 saw the demise of Leonor Teles. Despite all her scheming she had ended her life obscurely, imprisoned in Tordesillas, for her son-in-law had found her very troublesome as well. She was buried in Valledolid.