It’s been a while since I’ve done a Character Spotlight, and not without good cause – most of the characters I’d love to feature all have rather large roles in their books. Recently, though, I was asked about what happened to Constanza post-BASTARDA, and while I’ve tried to at least mention her in every book (including my current WIP, Book 3), it doesn’t really give insight into her life. You have to understand, though, that I have seen and plotted her life out to fit my books, so it honestly seemed obvious to me, but I realize now that it wasn’t.
Of course, this will involve spoilers from LA BASTARDA, LA REYNA, and Books 3 and 4 of The Trastámara Series, so if you’re interested in reading the book and don’t want to know how things end up for my very first MC, turn back now. If you’re like me and insist on looking up spoilers to see how a book or movie ends, then continue along, but bear in mind that this does assume that you have at least read LA BASTARDA. If you have not, I did give a sort-of beginner’s guide to her life in previous posts, The Younger Years and The Limbo Years, as well as in the life of her father, The King. Read those, get my POV for The Trastámara Series, and we’ll meet back here when you’re done.
I’m assuming that, if you’ve gotten this far, it’s on purpose. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.
So, historically, what do we know about Constanza, post-wedding? Well, she had children – all of her surviving children were girls, in fact – and she was probably dead by the late 1390s or 1400, based on a few property entitlements to her husband and heirs. She may have been married in 1378, 1379, or 1380, and I’ve seen a single source which claims that João married a third wife in 1395, but since she appears to be Portuguese, their children together appear to have been raised in Portugal, and they were relatively well-liked by King João of Portugal (who would not have taken well to rivals living so close to home)… I’m going to guess they were his bastards from before 1378, if not his grandchildren by a bastard son.
So we know Constanza was born, but we don’t know exactly when. We know she married, but we don’t know exactly when. We know she died, but we don’t know exactly when. Her life is composed of the dashes between dates, if you will; I tried my best to fill them in LA BASTARDA, but one can only go so far.
I suppose that I can’t have a post about Constanza without discussing the elephant in the room. Since releasing LA BASTARDA, I’ve spent a lot of time defending my choices with regards to her personality, her choices, and especially the ease with which she just accepts her fate. She easily falls in love with both men to whom she is betrothed, she’s almost sexually assaulted by her own half-brother (for those of you who are new to the series: NOT THE CROWN PRINCE)… And she just takes it. She gives up her own fiancé because she believes that he is in love with her half-sister. She just rolls over.
You have to understand that this was a different time. “Free will” as a concept wasn’t what we know today, it wasn’t a “God-given right” as we are lead to believe. Medieval people had more of a mise en place concept of humanity – a place for everything, and everything in its place. I go more in-depth in a previous post about people hating your main character, but the fact of the matter is that Constanza is obedient and scared. If I were to diagnose her with something, it would be Stockholm Syndrome with a heaping pile of daddy issues at the core. She loves her father and would do anything for him, even though we can see that he’s almost kept her captive. When she doesn’t get the love she craves from him, she tries her hardest to find that love somewhere else.
And when she doesn’t get it, she becomes bitter.
That’s where we see her in LA REYNA. She’s bitter, and she’s scared. Her husband is locked up. She’s become a bitch, lashing out at everyone. Juana de Cifuentes is in her thrall, and I like to think that it’s because of Constanza guilt-tripping Juana about “stealing” her betrothed. A lot of people told me that they were surprised by the sheer amount of back-tracking that I did for Constanza’s character, but I don’t see it that way at all. I tried to make her seem like an unreliable main character, kind of like a third-person unreliable narrator. She’s sympathetic because she’s realistic, but she’s also flawed – as you read the story, you get a sense that she’s this pitiful, helpless creature, but every so often, the focus switches to someone else, and you can start to see the flaws in her argument. The eavesdropping, for one, and her reaction to Juana de Sousa being pregnant, really show that she’s not some Buddha-esque character. When Alionor reminds Juan of his suggestion to befriend Constanza, he says what is probably my favorite line out of either book:
“…Constanza sees herself as the infallible heroine of her own story, and we are either idiots or villains for disagreeing with her.”
Off-screen, Constanza goes through quite a few changes, though, and she loses her innocence, so to speak – she finally gets to see her husband’s temper directed at her, and she’s actually afraid of him. He’s not someone she can change, nor is he some perfect prince.
Of course, for any of my eagle-eyed readers, I did include the loss of Constanza’s first child, a boy. I don’t think for a minute that she only had three children, all of them girls. The loss of a child, especially her first, devastates her more than anything. On top of everything she’s experienced, her husband is upset and angered by what he sees as her failure (since he has already sired at least one son, possibly two or more by this times), and he’s determined to get an heir off of her. Losing a child is horrible – it leaves you feeling helpless. On top of it, to have someone mad at you for something you can’t control isn’t exactly the greatest thing.
Afterward, Constanza and João are kept locked away due to Juan’s fear of them attempting to usurp him. João isn’t exactly a perfectly loyal person, he knows, and due to his previous problems with Alfonso and his rebellions, Juan isn’t taking any chances. João, Constanza, Diniz, and Juana are off-screen for most of LA REYNA due to what Alionor sees as Juan’s paranoia, but we know (from history) is actually a pretty shrewd move. He was already having issues with one half-sibling, so why not nip any others in the bud, so to speak?
Trapped in a house with a man she realizes she doesn’t know very well, but to whom she is married, Constanza quickly becomes pregnant again. Hopeful that this will be the son that her husband so desperately wants, she is determined to make sure that everything goes according to plan, and she gives birth in late 1380. She hears her child cry, but the relief that washes over her is short-lived.
It’s a girl. João is furious, and after railing at her, he proceeds to ignore her for the rest of their incarceration, even though she almost dies from childbed fever. Her near-death experience changes her, and when Constanza comes back to court, she’s a lot like a wounded animal. She’s been cornered and bloodied, and she’s subdued or even broken, if you will. Her romantic story is over.
But her general story is not.
We will next see her in the third book, where she does help the protagonist adjust to life in Castilla. The Main Character of Book 3 is a Portuguese native, while Constanza speaks fluent Portuguese and has a unique perspective on being an outsider at court. She’s also a sort of hostage at court for her husband’s good behavior – she, Juana de Cifuentes, and Isabel de Viseu are all in a strange kind of limbo. So she will be present, and at the center of things, except when she goes off to have her other two daughters. After the third one is born, a sickly girl he names Joana despite Constanza’s request to name her Leonor, João figuratively throws in the towel in regards to having a son with Constanza, turning away from his legitimate family for good and openly preferring his mistress. Constanza’s pride wounded, she busies herself into court and her children, arranging the best care possible for them: while the older two will be raised with another family and eventually married into it, little Joana is sent to a nunnery for her schooling, with the understanding that she will become a Bride of Christ at the age of twelve. While they don’t see each other often, the four of them spend the holidays together in Alba de Tormes every year; João prefers to dine with his mistress and her family at Valencia de Campos at that time. It is an agreeable situation for all five of them, and as time rolls on, there is a sort-of truce forged between the married couple, and they are able to get through the required state functions without putting a blade to each other’s throats.
In the fourth book, Constanza will fade out. She’s getting older, while the court is only getting younger. The world belongs to her half-nephew and his generation, and Portugal (specifically her husband and in-laws) are no longer the alliances that are craved. They represent the past, and players such as Catherine of Lancaster are the future. As such, Constanza retires to her lands in Alba de Tormes. While María Brites (1380) and Isabel Beatriz (1384), are still living with other families and can only visit, Joana (1385) was sent home from the nunnery due to fears for her health. They live there in peace, with occasional, quick visits from Juana de Cifuentes, busy with her own brood of children to care for, until plague strikes Europe again in the early 1390s (as evidenced by the outbreaks in England and Siena, Italy). While they all fall ill, since they were all visiting when it struck, Constanza and Joana both die during an outbreak in 1392.
After that, the two surviving sisters are sent off to different destinies: María Brites, as the eldest, is sent to court, and in 1397, she becomes the second wife of Martim Vasques da Cunha, an important Portuguese nobleman. Isabel Beatriz, or just Beatriz, as she is known, is sent to the household of Infante Don Fernando, brother to the king and future King of Aragón himself. Fernando, seeing opportunity once he comes of age, takes Beatriz’s guardianship for himself (as an unmarried woman without a father, she “needs” a guardian), and attempts to arrange her marriage to suit himself due to her rather attractive dowry, but by 1409, she is still unmarried. That year, she learns of Pero Niño, whose jousting she compliments, and this begins an interesting and torrid love affair resulting in banishment, imprisonment, and finally marriage in 1412 (I’ve considered writing a short novel or novella about their story once I “get there” in the timeline, honestly).
As for João, he appears to be dead by 1404, as that is the year María gains the title of Señora de Valencia de Campos (renamed Valencia de Don Juan in honor of João), while Beatriz receives Alba de Tormes.