MENESES, Dom Pedro de (? ? Ceuta 1437)
Dom Pedro de Meneses, the 1st captain of Ceuta, was the son of Dom João Afonso Telo, Earl of Viana, and of Dona Maior de Portocarreiro. He was born in an unknown date, into one of the most influent and prestigious noble families of the 15th century, Teles de Meneses. Since childhood, he lived and was educated in the house of the master of the Order of Christ, Dom Lopo Dias de Sousa.
Through the succession crisis that affected the Kingdom after the death of D. Fernando, in the end of the 15th century, there was no male heir and the only daughter of the king was married to Dom João I of Castile. Being close relatives of the widowed queen and regent, most Teles de Meneses took her side against the other two candidates for the throne, Infante Dom João (son of Dom Pedro I and Dona Inês de Castro) and Dom João, master of the Order of Aviz (and also a son of Dom Pedro I and Dona Teresa Lourenço).
In 1384, in exchange for his loyalty to the queen during the siege to Lisbon, Dom João de Castela I appointed Dom João Afonso Telo, commander of Penela and Miranda. In that same year, after leaving Penela with his men to plunder the neighbouring villages, he was killed by the villagers.
By that time, Dom Pedro was still a child (less than 10 years old) and he took shelter, along with his mother and many other wives of noblemen who supported the queen, at his grandmother?s, countess Dona Guiomar, in Santarém. After the Battle of Aljubarrota, in 1385, the victorious master of Aviz, now Dom João I, allowed many of his former opponents to leave for Castile. As her husband?s assets had been seized, Dona Maior de Portocarreiro was one of the several who opted to leave for the Castilian court. In Castile, Dom Pedro was granted the title of Earl of Ilhó by the queen Dona Beatriz, also a Teles de Meneses, despite his young age. This title was never recognised in Portugal.
It is not known exactly when he returned to Portugal, or what led him to come back. However, in 1403, there is a record of his presence in Santarém. After his return, Dom Pedro, whose family had lost all its prestige and power, tried to reinstate his position in the kingdom?s aristocracy. Some time after his arrival to the kingdom, he became part of the king?s House and, in 1415, when he participated in the conquest of Ceuta, he did it as Dom Duarte?s ensign.
He was the one to place the heir to the throne?s flag up in the tower of Fez. After the conquest, the Portuguese king had a problem: who to leave in charge of the newly conquered stronghold? Dom João I made the proposal to several noblemen, but they declined. In the first place, there was Constable Dom Nuno Álvares Pereira, who refused alleging his old age; then, another military man, Marshal Gonçalo Vasquez Coutinho, who refused on the same basis; the third choice was Martim Afonso de Melo, a man of the king?s closer circle, who declined the position claiming his men did not want to stay in Ceuta. The Moroccan stronghold brought several dangers which the Portuguese noblemen did not want to face.
However, Dom Pedro de Meneses considered this to be an alluring task, and a chance to fully recover his honour and status. Therefore, he asked Dom Lopo Dias de Sousa to talk to the king on his behalf, so as to obtain the position. The intervention of Dom Lopo and the support shown by Infante Dom Duarte were decisive. In August 1415, Dom Pedro de Meneses was appointed captain of Ceuta.
When the king left, he promised to return in March of the following year, what ended up never happening. In the stronghold, were left the necessary supplies for the maintenance of the men for the first days, and the promise of a regular supply of provisions was also made.
Ceuta was a defensive garrison; Dom Pedro?s main job was to maintain it. For its defence, 2500 men were deployed, along with several direct commanders who answered directly to the captain.
As captain, Dom Pedro held the administration as if he were the king himself, as the latter bestowed on him all his power, his civil and criminal jurisdiction, high and low, mero et mixto imperio, with the capability of applying all punishments (including death), without limitations of any kind. He also had the means to donate houses and lands in the city of Ceuta and outskirts, which hadn?t been given by the king yet. He also had the right to a fifth of the pillages made inland and of spoils from the sea.
In 1418 ? 19, Dom Pedro won his main military challenge, by defending the Portuguese stronghold during a difficult siege.
The captaincy of Ceuta, which became profitable through war and mostly through piracy, allowed for the social and financial recovery of Dom Pedro, and led him to titled nobility.
While he was captain of Ceuta, Dom Pedro only visited Portugal twice: once in 1424, when he was greeted with festivities and awarded the title of Earl of Vila Real; the other in 1433-34, when Dom Duarte arrived to the throne and Dom Pedro was granted the title of Earl of Viana do Alentejo. The earldom of Vila Real was passed on to his son ? in ? law, Dom Fernando de Noronha.
Dom Pedro de Noronha married four times. His first marriage was to Dona Margarida de Miranda, daughter of the Archbishop of Braga, Dom Martinho (Martim Pires da Charneca), and member of the Queen?s House. They must have gotten married in the first decade of the 15th century. Due to her fragile health, Dona Margarida never joined her husband in Ceuta, and died in 1419. In 1420, Dom Pedro brought his daughters to Ceuta to join him: Dona Beatriz and Dona Leonor, from his marriage to Dona Margarida, and Dona Aldonça and Dona Isabel, illegitimate daughters of unknown mother. Dom Pedro also had an illegitimate son, Dom Duarte de Meneses. On the same boat as his daughters, travelled Dona Filipa Coutinho, to whom Dom Pedro had married by procuration earlier that year. However, Dona Filipa never arrived to Ceuta, as she died during the journey. Six years later, Dom Pedro married Dona Beatriz Coutinho, cousin of his former wife. The marriage lasted four years, as Dona Beatriz died in 1430. They only had one daughter, Dona Isabel de Meneses.
In 1431, having only daughters as legitimate descendants, Dom Pedro created a wealthy majorat which was part of the dowry of his eldest daughter, Dona Beatriz, who married Dom Fernando de Noronha. This majorat established as mandatory the use of the surname Meneses and of the family?s coat of arms by the heir, which was the only way of transmitting the symbolic heritage of his lineage. Dom Fernando de Noronha would inherit the properties and titles of the majorat, as well as the captaincy of Ceuta.
During his last visit to the kingdom, Dom Duarte arranged Dom Pedro?s last marriage. The captain married with Dona Genebra Pessanha, daughter of Admiral Carlos Pessanha. As dowry, Dom Pedro got the Admiralty.
In his absence, the captaincy?s defence was in the hands of his son, Dom Duarte de Meneses (future captain of Alcácer Ceguer). The management of his estate and of some administrative matters of the captaincy were delivered to Dona Leonor (executrix of his will). By working together, the children of Dom Pedro were the ones who most decisively contributed for the recovery of their family?s prestige.
Dom Pedro de Meneses died in Ceuta, in 1437, when the Portuguese were trying to conquer Tangiers. He is buried in Santarém, at Igreja da Graça, next to his first wife.
CAMPOS, Nuno Silva, D. Pedro de Meneses ? o primeiro capitão de Ceuta, Sete Caminhos, 2008. CAMPOS, Nuno Silva, D. Pedro de Meneses e a construção da Casa de Vila Real (1415-1437), Lisboa, Colibri, Évora, CIDEHUS, 2005. ZURARA, Gomes Eanes de, Chronica dos feitos do conde Dom Pedro de Meneses, primeiro capitão que foi da cidade de Cepta, Colecção de Livros Inéditos de História Portuguesa: II / Academia Real das Ciências, Lisboa, A.R.C., 1792.
Author: Maria Dávila
Translated by: Marília Pavão