It is not known how much there is of legend and history about what for more than five centuries has been told and written in Mondoñedo. While Marshal Pedro Pardo de Cela was on the scaffold listening to his death sentence for treason, soldiers of the Bishop of Mondoñedo were wasting his wife Isabel de Castro’s time – which brought with her the pardon that she had succeeded in uprooting the Catholic Monarchs- to prevent her from saving her husband’s life. So beautiful is the story that it deserves to be true.
The delay prevented Isabel de Castro from arriving on time to save her husband’s life, which is why she is known in Mondoñedo as the Puente del Pasatiempo (Bridge of the Pastime). It is also possible that the witnesses of the execution were mistaken in believing that the head of the marshal, as he fell down the steps of the gallows staircase, repeatedly pronounced “I believe, I believe, I believe”, or “clergy, clergy, clergy” according to others (to indicate those responsible for his death). It could also be “clock, clock, clock” or another similar sound produced by the beating of an object with the wooden floor… Up to this point a legend or Galician history has a documented history, although the sources do not always fit at all.
In 1441 the gentleman Pedro Pardo de Cela was the merino (judge and administrator of the King) in the city of Mondoñedo. As usual, he negotiated the dowry that his wife was going to give him. In this case she was the niece of the powerful bishop of the diocese of Mondoñedo: Pedro Enríquez de Castro.
In the negotiation of the dowry of Isabel de Castro, his uncle the bishop was extremely generous because he gave them most of its heritage, including the impregnable castle of A Frouxeira. But it was not clear how much of that heritage had been inherited from the bishop’s family and how much was because he already belonged to the diocese. The certain thing is that, when four years later the uncle died and a new bishop took charge of the diocese, this one began the claims against Pardo de Cela to return the dowry. Given the confrontation with the bishopric, Pedro and his wife moved their residence to Viveiro, where Pedro was appointed mayor.
Between 1467 and 1469 the irmandiños rebels attacked to great part of the nobility of Galicia, achiving to destroy up to 130 noble fortresses. They also attacked Frouxeira without success. Possibly, the performance of Pedro Pardo de Cela in the defeat of the irmandiños motivated that in 1474 he received the title of marshal.
When King Henry IV of Castile died in December 1474, the fatherhood of his thirteen-year-old daughter was disputed by a large part of the nobility, who called her Juana “la Beltraneja” for ascribing her to Beltrán de la Cueva, Minister of the King’s confidence. Despite the fact that Enrique IV had agreed with his sister Isabel to be the next queen of Castile, the widowed queen Juana de Portugal defended her daughter’s legal rights over the murmurings. In order to obtain it, she marries six months later her daughter with her carnal uncle, king Alfonso V of Portugal (Alfonso was brother of Juana de Portugal). The matter was made without even waiting for the necessary papal dispensation. Quickly, the king of Portugal passed to proclaim himself king of Castile and Leon and he began the war with the pretender Isabel de Castilla and her husband Fernando de Aragón.
Isabel de Castro, Pardo de Cela’s wife, was the cousin of both claimants to the throne. The historiography has been maintaining that her husband, the marshal -like most of the Galician nobles linked to Portugal- pronounced in favor of Juana la Beltraneja; although the recent appearance of Pardo de Cela’s testament suggests that it was not that way, but that he was a supporter of Isabel. A subject that is not yet definitively clarified.
The truth is that for some reasons that have not yet been clarified – Queen Isabel adopted a succession of harsh measures against Pardo de Cela. In 1476 the supporters of the queen decided that the marshal should be expelled from the mayor’s office of Viveiro. Four years later the Catholic Kings wrote to the magistrates of Mondoñedo and Ortigueira so that they would not allow Pardo de Cela to enter in those towns. Although there are no documents, such drastic measures of the kings indicate that they thought that the Marshal was intriguing even after 1479 when peace was signed between Castile and Portugal.
In September 1480 the knight Mudarra arrived from Castile with three hundred horsemen with orders to pacify the kingdom and subdue Pardo de Cela and his supporters. After trying unsuccessfully to conquer the castle of A Frouxeira, the troops of the kings withdrew from the area to rest and to decide an alternative.
That decision of the representative of the kings was used by the marshal to go to visit his ally Pedro de Cela in the castle of Castrodouro.
Knowing that the Marshal was in Castrodouro, Mudarra considered that he had the opportunity to deprive the rebel of his lair. The head of the King’s troops went to the fortress of Pardo de Cela and bribed the knight Roi Cofano do Valadouro and the 22 warriors who guarded the fortress of A Frouxeira for the Marshal.
When he lost his impregnable refuge the Marshal had to go from one place to another, until on September 23, 1483 Pardo de Cela was captured in Fonsa Yañez’s house in Castrodouro.
After holding the trial he was executed on October 3, 1483 in the Plaza de Mondoñedo, in front of the cathedral.
In 1965 a tomb was found in the cathedral of Mondoñedo with the shield of Marshal Pardo de Cela, but in the tomb is carved a position of “archdeacon” that does not fit into his biography. His testament has also been found more recently, in which he refers to his two legitimate daughters and an illegitimate son. But these discoveries do not invalidate what has been established so far by historiography, since it could be a bastard son to whom the Marshal refers in his testament. Pardo de Cela was a rebel who, for unknown reasons, intrigued against the kings and he was executed on a certain date in the Plaza de Mondoñedo; there is no historiographical evidence that disqualifies the tradition of the bridge of the pastime and the sound of the marshal’s head falling to the ground.
Because of these contradictions that the political manipulation of the history of Pardo de Cela entails, the ruthless feudal lord who was the marshal -implacable enemy of the irmandiños rebels- is claimed by many Galician nationalist politicians as a precursor of Galicianism and a symbol of the Galician nation against the power of the Catholic Kings (and Spain).
Text by Ignacio Suárez-Zuloaga and illustrations by Ximena Maier.
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