D Dinis is also called the Farmer King (Rei Lavrador) or Poet King (Rei Poeta). The sixth king of Portugal, he was the elder son of D Afonso III of Portugal and of Beatriz of Castile, and the first king of Portugal who was also king of the Algarve from the beginning of his reign. He was a descendant through both his father and mother of the Angevin Henry II of England (1133-1154-1189). It is refreshing to find a king called neither Afonso or Sancho, but Dinis; and his queen called not Beatriz but Isabel.
When he ascended the throne at the age of 17, his mother Beatriz of Castile attempted to become Regent. He quickly disabused her and she left Portugal for Castile, the land of her birth. As he became king, the country was under a papal interdict, but he reached an agreement with the Pope to protect the interests of the church.
Dinis was the first king of a Portugal at peace after the Reconquista, and he worked to reorganise the country’s economy and strengthen its agriculture. The national economy became so strong that Portugal became an exporting country, not only of wine and olive oil, but of wheat, salt and dried fruits.
Many municipal councils and fairs were initiated during this reign. The king encouraged metal mining and signed the first trading agreement with England. During this reign, it became accepted that Lisbon had become the administrative centre of the country.
One of the king’s most famous acts was to found the pine forest near Leiria to serve as a source of timber for the construction of ships for the navy. He nominated as the first Admiral of the navy a Genoese, Manuel Pessanha, and began shipbuilding projects and docks.
The pine forest he founded, Pinhal de Leiria or Pinhal d’El-Rei, suffered enormous destruction in the wildfires of October 2017 and work has begun to restore it. A similar destructive wildfire took place in September 1916, a century ago.
The reign of D Dinis saw the creation of a national identity, which included making Portuguese the official language. In 1290, he founded the University of Lisbon which was later moved to Coimbra. He is also known for his poetry, which led to the development of Portuguese as a literary language. As a troubadour, he wrote many songs, 137 of which have come down to us today.
The younger son of D Afonso III, Infante D Afonso, claimed the throne on the basis that his parents’ marriage was not legitimised by the Pope until after D Dinis had been born, and that therefore Dinis was illegitimate. Strictly speaking, he was right, but D Dinis enjoyed too much support for the Infante to prevail.
Throughout the life of Infante D Afonso (1263-1312), there was therefore distrust and friction between him and his elder brother the king.
During the 46 years of his reign, D Dinis systematically began to centralise power under his own hand. One of the difficulties faced by medieval monarchs was to keep track of the royal possessions. D Dinis instigated enquiries into landholdings (Inquirições Gerais) in 1288, which established that much royal patrimony had been illegally alienated from the royal estates.
Both his father Afonso III and his uncle Sancho II had also conducted similar inquiries into the ownership of landed property. As more and more enquiries took place, those nobles who had to give up illegally acquired estates began to urge his son Infante D Afonso against his father, and they supported him in his opposition to the king. D Dinis also prohibited the church from buying more land because of its already immense and entailed landholding.
D Dinis had two legitimate children by his queen, Isabel of Aragon, whom he married by proxy in 1281 when she was eleven; Constança (b 1290) who married Fernando IV of Castile and Afonso, later D Afonso IV of Portugal (b 1291). His natural children include Pedro Afonso, Conde de Barcelos (b 1287), Afonso Sanches (b 1289) rival to Infante D Afonso, Maria Afonso (b 1290), João Afonso (b 1280), Fernão Sanches (b 1289) and Maria Afonso (b 1302). In a letter to the mother of Maria Afonso, he made a gift of the town of Mirandela: “E esto vos faço por compra de vosso corpo” (And I make this [gift] to you for the purchase of your body).
During this reign, there were the usual differences with Castile, but agreement was reached in 1297 over the border between the two countries. At the Treaty of Alcanizes, Portugal asserted its suzerainty over the Ribacôa, Monforte, Campo Maior, Ouguela and S Felix dos Galegos, and had both Serpa and Moura restored.
Portugal gave up claims to Aroche, Aracena, Valencia de Alcântara, Ferreira and Esparregal. The peace between the two countries was sealed by a double marriage; the Portuguese Infanta Constança married Fernando IV of Castile, while Infante Afonso married Infanta Beatriz of Castile.
When the Order of the Temple (The Templars) was attacked by King Philip IV of France in 1307, all Templar knights in France were arrested. The French Pope Clement V, one of the Popes who held their court at Avignon in France, was constrained to agree with the king, and ordered that all Templar wealth should be confiscated.
D Dinis in Portugal obeyed this papal order, and his agents occupied all Templar castles, but the Portuguese Templar knights were given time to disperse. Having confiscated all their wealth, Dinis was concerned that this money should not leave Portugal.
In 1319, he persuaded Pope John XXII to authorise the creation of the Order of Christ, and that the new Order accept all of the Portuguese patrimony of the Templars. The new Order also received some of the ex-Templars themselves as members, and its first headquarters was established in the castle at Castro Marim.
A particular difficulty which affects many hereditary sovereigns is the inability to peacefully arrange the succession. In England, the Crown Princes, particularly in the Hanoverian dynasty, almost always fell out with their parent. Even today, Prince Charles seems uncomfortable with his mother’s arrangements.
So it was with D Dinis. His legitimate successor, Infante D Afonso, became jealous of his illegitimate half-brother, Afonso Sanches, whom his father favoured with the office of mordomo da coroa (the king’s steward).
In 1319, Infante D Afonso began to fear that D Dinis planned to disinherit him in favour of Afonso Sanches. The Infante declared his intention of attacking his father in a quarrel which lasted for the remainder of the reign. There was an armed squabble at Coimbra, before, in 1324, the two forces faced each other at Alvalade, now a suburb of Lisbon. The battle had already begun with arrows and darts, and the cavalry squadrons, lances levelled, were ready to attack, when a mule wandered in between the two lines, carrying the venerable and majestic figure of Queen Isabel, urging the two sides to reconciliation. The embittered king and the ambitious crown prince caused their forces to put down their arms, and the battle never took place.
Rainha D Isabel
Isabel of Aragon was the daughter of king Pedro III of Aragon, and she spent her childhood at the Aragonese court in Barcelona. When the 17-year-old D Dinis ascended the throne of Portugal, by the Treaty of Badajoz, he was already king of the Algarve.
Convinced that he needed to marry dynastically, he lighted on Isabel, even though she must have been at the time only nine years old. Her parents received offers of marriage on her behalf from princes of England and France but preferred Dinis because he was already a king. On February 11, 1281, when she was 11, Isabel married D Dinis by proxy in Barcelona. She had to wait for a time before she could set out to Portugal since for her, as a Princess of Aragon, it was dangerous to cross Castilian territory.
In late spring 1282, she set out and crossed to Bragança. She met her husband for the first time in Trancoso, where another wedding ceremony took place, and their great wedding party lasted until the end of July. Dinis made her a wedding gift of 16 Portuguese towns. The royal couple moved slowly southwards and by October were living in Coimbra. They had two children, Constança (1290-1313) who was married at age 12, and Afonso (1291-1357) who became D Afonso IV on his father’s death in 1325.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that after Isabel had fulfilled her marital duties and had produced an heir to the throne, she devoted her time to religion.
Dinis, on the other hand, was still interested in women. He had at least five illegitimate children before he met Isabel and at least one afterwards. These are, of course, only the ones we know of.
There are two stories attached to this Queen, probably apocryphal. The popular history of Isabel includes the miracle of the roses. Leaving the castle at Leiria one winter’s morning, she carried in her cloak bread to distribute to the poor.
D Dinis surprised her and asked her what she carried in the folds of her cloak. “Roses, Your Majesty,” she replied. “Roses in January?” he said, disbelieving. She let down her cloak, showing the roses and not the bread she had put there. The first written version of this story dates from 1562, and Isabel and her roses feature in many religious paintings.
Other saintly queens star in similar stories, and Isabel was canonised in 1625. What does this story tell of the relations between king and queen? It seems that there was little trust between them and that the king did not approve of charitable donations to the poor.
Second, the virile D Dinis used to visit the nuns at the Mosteiro de São Dinis at Odivelas, and the Queen with her ladies used to go with him to light his way with torches, saying “Ide vê-las, ide vê-las que estamos a alumiar o caminho” (Go and see them, go and see them, we are lighting your way).
As a widow, Isabel made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and then retired to the Mosteiro de Santa Clara-a-Velha in Coimbra. She died in 1336, and was interred there, where she rests today. D Dinis died on January 7, 1325, and was laid to rest in the Mosteiro de São Dinis in Odivelas, where he had so often lain when he was alive.
This was a determined king, one who was adamant in his policy systematically to centralise the kingdom. He instituted the local councils and local fairs; he fortified the frontiers and he set about subordinating the military orders to royal power. He is viewed as a wise and capable governor of the kingdom. By the Inquirições, he ensured the efficient administration of his own property, and thereby became rich.
D Dinis has also been referred to as ‘Pai da Pátria’ and his reputation as a just king is a lasting monument to his memory. His new legislation concentrated on the avoidance of delay and costs in the administration of justice, and he sought to curtail the abuses of lawyers.
His determination could be interpreted as stubbornness or even oppression. Often described as cruel, mainly in his family relationships, his son D Afonso was never his favourite, and his wife D Isabel also fell from favour. She was incensed no doubt at his frequent infidelities. Is it a coincidence that both his queen and his son quarrelled with him?
By Lynne and Peter Booker
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