Book review: “D. Pedro I”, by Cristina Pimenta

1028421_1242060507.jpgThis book was quite disappoiting, especially if compared to other books I’ve read of the Reis de Portugal (translation: “Kings of Portugal”) series. I felt the book was more of a panegyric on Peter I of Portugal (r. 1357-1367) and his relationship with Inês de Castro (c. 1320-1355) than properly a History book intended to make a neutral (as far as possible, of course) appreciation of the king’s life and reign.

The author just tried to stick her modern prejudices into the 14th century and defend as mush as she could the old mythology around Pedro and Inês’ love or about the former’s ten year reign to the point she even dared to use 20th century poetry to represent feelings of 14th century characters!

In Pimenta’s vigorous defence of Peter, she also defended the biographed didn’t have any sexual relationship with men because Fernão Lopes shouldn’t be trusted and he loved Inês! This is very serious: she made several comments like this without taking into account any research on History of sexuality (there isn’t a single book on the topic in her bibliography) while her argument about his desire for women is binary: if a man has known relationships with women, he can’t be “homosexual”! That brings the problem someone could be capable of loving women and men, so that argument is not valid, while her mentions to “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” also fall flat because such terms are inadequate as sexual identities for the 14th century. Finally, as a final blow, she couldn’t have dismissed the sayings of Fernão Lopes on this matter: he wrote in the early 15th century and was patronized by the Portuguese kings of the Avis dynasty, a bastard cadet branch of the Portuguese House of Burgundy through Peter I himself. Since Fernão Lopes and his patrons had every interest in preserving a good memory of the father of the founder of the new royal dynasty, a remark that he had some form of sexual relationship with his squire Afonso Madeira (“E como quer que o el-rei muito amasse, mais que se deve aqui de dizer” – Chapter VIII of “Chronica de El-Rei D. Pedro”) shouldn’t be discarded with a sheer dismissal of gossip since political interests regarding the royal family’s legitimacy were necessarily at stake. This is just one example of Pimenta’s distortions regarding the king’s personal life that I condemn.

Pimenta also presented a view of Peter I’s reign that is often a bit too rosy, namely regarding his diplomacy or justice. These kinds of anachronisms and acriticisms should be off the marks of any scholarly work and don’t bring much prestige to either the author or the series, being also very ironical considering the book’s very academic and dry tone. As such, this book is a travesty to History (even more considering her extensive, yet not exhaustive historiographical considerations), but I must say the chapters on legal History and the holy orders (the author’s area of expertise) were good and the contextualization of Portuguese reality in the 14th century at the start is not bad at all. This is what gives the book two and not one star.

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