What’s in a Name?: Reflections on, and Echoes of, the Reign of Pedro I of Castile

What’s in a Name?: Reflections on, and Echoes of, the Reign of Pedro I of Castile

By Clara Estow

La coronica: A Journal of Medieval Hispanic Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Volume 45, Number 2, 2017

Pedro the Cruel murders a prisoner after the Battle of Najera – illustration in a 15th century manuscript of Froissart’s Chronicle

Introduction: In choosing a name for an heir to the Castilian throne, a well-established medieval tradition would select the name of an honored and admired predecessor –which explains the number of Sanchos, a few Enriques and Fernandos and the multiple Alfonsos.

Yet there has been only one Pedro, Pedro I of Castile, the focus of this critical cluster in La corónica. This was no accidental oversight. The circumstances of his reign, and the passions and animosities he unleashed, assured that his name and memory would not be honored by this convention, sparing future monarchs of the taint of Pedro’s tumultuous reign.

Not coincidentally, Pedro I of Castile has also enjoyed the dubious historical distinction of having earned two separate and seemingly contradictory sobriquets, the Cruel and the Just (el Cruel and el Justiciero). Most sobriquets, both in Iberia and elsewhere –Pepin the Short, Alfonso the Wise, Philippe the Bel, Ivan the Terrible, and Peter the Great come readily to mind– originated for legitimate if reductive reasons.

The assigned name, whether contemporaneous or posthumous, was intended to capture a salient quality of the person’s character and/or reign and help encapsulate and preserve, somehow, a ruler’s legacy. Political considerations and partisanships no doubt played a role in this name-calling and colluded, likely inadvertently and in unforeseen ways, with how future generations would come to know an individual’s reign.

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