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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 811

On a lovely spring day in the middle of the fourteenth century, Ignez de Castro feels especially happy as she walks in her garden in Portugal. Although she is an illegitimate daughter of a famous Galician noble, she wins the love of Prince Pedro, son of Alfonso IV of Portugal; at last she feels sure the world is about to learn that he loves her, too. Theirs is a star-crossed love. Pedro’s father, trying his best to destroy his son’s love for a woman unsuitable to rule Portugal, compelled his heir to marry the Princess Constanza of Castile. Ignez confides to her nurse, however, that fate was on the side of true love. The birth of Constanza’s son, heir to the crown of Portugal, cost his mother her life. At last Pedro is free. He carried out his father’s command by ensuring a continuation of the dynasty. Now he is coming back to the woman he really loves. Surely King Alfonso will now relent. The beauty of the day seems an omen, and Ignez is weeping with joy as she waits for her lover to appear.

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The old nurse is less sure, however, that her mistress’s tears are an omen of joy; they might be a foreboding of tragedy. She begs Ignez not to count on happiness until everything is settled. Ignez, hearing Pedro approaching, will listen to no warnings.

The prince greets her with an assurance that all will go well. To himself, however, he wonders why he is not loved by the common people of Portugal and why his father is so incensed by his sincere love for Ignez. Nevertheless, he is confident, like Ignez, that their four children will move the stern old king to pity. Pedro hopes for the royal acceptance of the love between them and a state wedding to show King Alfonso’s recognition of his grandchildren.

Pedro’s secretary tries to disillusion him. In spite of the nobility of her famous father, the irregularity of Ignez’s birth is cause enough for King Alfonso’s repeated orders that Pedro must put her out of his mind. The secretary begs Pedro, for the good of the state, to let reason conquer desire and to give up the passion that enslaves him and makes him disobedient to the royal will. The prince refuses. He obeyed his father in marrying Constanza. Events prove that Ignez is fated to be his real wife.

King Alfonso, meanwhile, is pacing his throne room. His three advisers, Diogo Lopes Pacheco, Pedro Coelho, and Gonzalves, are deaf to his complaints that a king has more woes than pleasures. They preach the obligation of power, pointing out that an officially sanctioned marriage between Pedro and Ignez, whose children are older than the recently born son of Constanza, might jeopardize the succession of the young child. One of the advisers, the dominating Pacheco, argues that the removal of Ignez will solve all difficulties. In spite of King Alfonso’s basic agreement with the suggestion, much argument is needed before the king finally gives the trio orders to kill his son’s mistress.

That night Ignez has a dream in which she is about to die. She interprets it as proof that Pedro is dead; otherwise he would have been quick to defend her. Before she can discover what truth there is in her dream, the king arrives with a sentence of death. He is accompanied by Pacheco, who intends to block any appeals for royal mercy. Ignez pleads so touchingly, however, insisting on her innocence and the helplessness of her four children related through Pedro to King Alfonso, that the king, reminded of his love for his own child, finally agrees to spare her.

The reprieve does not last long. Once more the king’s advisers work on the king, determined that Constanza’s child should inherit the throne without difficulty. They cannot get his consent to the death of Ignez, but King Alfonso does not actually forbid it. Twisting his less-than-unmistakable statements into permission, the evil trio hurries away to murder the innocent Ignez.

In the meantime Pedro, hurrying eagerly to join her and confident that the king will consider his son’s happiness and permit their official marriage, is met by a messenger who tells the prince that the three advisers sought out Ignez and killed her. Out of his mind with grief, Pedro swears to have revenge on all concerned, including his father. He will cast him from the throne and then hunt down and torture the three evil murderers, and he will not only see to it that a child of Ignez is named his successor but also when he is crowned he will also have Ignez’s corpse exhumed and seated on the throne beside him to receive the honors of a royal coronation.

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