Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1271-1336), her great-aunt, Elizabeth of Portugal, married young. At age 12 she became the bride of Portugal’s 20-year-old king, Dinis. It’s to be expected that Dinis would have no interest in a 12-year-old girl, and probably several years passed before the marriage was consummated (Elizabeth was 19 when she gave birth to her first child). In the meantime, Dinis was not lonely. He had a string of mistresses by whom he fathered at least seven, perhaps as many as nine, children.
Dinis was very fond of his illegitimate children; he brought them all to live in the palace and insisted that Elizabeth raise them along with their legitimate children. It is the kind of demand that could wreck a marriage, yet whatever Elizabeth may have felt — jealousy, resentment, rage — she kept to herself and proved to be a loving foster mother.
As callous as Dinis was to his wife, he compounded the problem by favoring one of his illegitimate sons over his eldest son and heir, Alfonso. Unlike his saintly mother, Prince Alfonso did not suppress his feelings of jealousy and resentment. Four times Alfonso schemed to overthrow his father and seize the crown; once he even contrived to murder his half-brother, the son Dinis loved best; each time it was Elizabeth who made peace in the family, although with each of Alfonso’s plots, it become increasingly difficult. Once, when Alfonso’s army was arrayed at one end of the field and King Dinis’ on the other, Elizabeth had to ride between them and refuse to leave the battlefield until father and son reconciled.
We do not know if Dinis ever asked Elizabeth to forgive him for all the pain he had caused her. After Dinis died, however, in his will he made Elizabeth executor of all he possessed. If he couldn’t respect Elizabeth while he lived, at least he showed her some token of it after his death.
St. Elizabeth is the patron of the University of Coimbra in Portugal, which she and her husband, King Dinis, founded when she was just 19 years old. Ratified in 1290, the university is one of the oldest continuously operating universities in the world. Papal confirmation was granted to the university by Pope Nicholas IV on Aug. 9, 1290.
St. Elizabeth is also the patron saint of brides and is invoked against jealousy. Her feast day is July 4.
Craughwell is the author of more than 30 books, including “Saints Behaving Badly” and “This Saint Will Change Your Life.”