Detractors accused King Henry IV of Castile of homosexuality, impotency and of arranging his own cuckolding. When the king proved indisposed to being deposed, they arranged an elaborate public ceremony without him. They stripped an effigy of royal accoutrements and shouted “Eat dirt, f_cker’ at the wooden statue.
It achieved nothing. Henry IV remained king. But it’s always good to let off a bit of steam.
The actual Spanish phrase was “A tierra, puto!”. Every source I checked seemed to offer a different translation. Of course, the words were spoken on this day, June 5, in 1465, and language morphs over time.
A tierra means literally get on the ground but eat dirt perhaps better captures its pejorative use at the time. Puto is the masculine form of the feminine puta meaning whore. While many modern sources translate it as f_cker, the men screaming it at the effigy of Henry IV probably meant it as something like bitch or f_ggot. Feel free to choose your own slur.
Henry IV ascended to the throne of Castile during a particularly turbulent time in the Spanish kingdom. Everyone wanted the crown, including Henry’s half-sister, Isabella. The Castilian aristocracy intrigued, bickered, backstabbed, and fought for the jewelled hat like Windsors scrabbling for a place on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
As a fifteen-year-old prince, Henry had married Blanche of Navarre. However, thirteen childless years later, a bishop annulled the marriage on the grounds of Henry’s impotence. A person or persons unknown allegedly placed a curse on the royal todger. Bloody curses, hey.
This particular curse related specifically to Blanche. Local putas testified the royal sceptre performed majestically during visits to whorehouses. But one look at Blanche and the princely penis shrivelled and blanched.
The year following the annulment, Henry was crowned king and a year later, he took Joan of Portugal as his second bride.
Then he met a guy.
In 1456, Henry IV visited his banker in Andalusia and took a fancy to the man’s eldest son. He asked if he could take the lad back to his court, a great honour.
‘No, no’, said the banker who favoured his elder boy. ‘Take the younger brother’.
Beltrán de la Cueva y Alfonso de Mercado
So thirteen or fourteen-year-old Beltrán de la Cueva y Alfonso de Mercado went to live with Henry IV in his palace and allegedly became his lover. Henry showered young Beltrán with money, gifts and land. He eventually made the lad a Duke and a Grandee of Spain.
Meanwhile, Henry IV and Joan of Portugal failed to produce an heir. But in 1462, after seven years of marriage, Joan finally gave birth to a daughter. By then, however, people whispered that curse or no curse, Henry was impotent. They declared the king a cuckold and accused Beltrán, his alleged lover, of fathering the child.
With Henry IV’s half-sister Isabella intent on seizing the crown for either herself or as regent for her ten-year-old brother, her allies arranged an elaborate ceremony to depose Henry IV.
‘Eat dirt, f_cker’
The event, known since as the Farce of Ávila, was one hell of a party. The nobles strapped an effigy of Henry IV to a chair on a stage in the town of Ávila. The Archbishop of Toledo performed a mass before other local nobles joined him on the stage. Someone read a solemn proclamation declaring Henry IV too peaceful, too friendly to Muslims, too gay and, worst of all, a cuckold.
Then the archbishop and a couple of nobles snatched the crown, sword and sceptre from the effigy while another bloke smashed it to smithereens while yelling ‘Eat dirt, f_cker’.
What a smashing show! The Sex Pistols of 1465.
Despite all the theatrics, Henry IV managed to cling to this throne until his death in 1474. The dour Isabella ended up queen and set about ensuring history remembered her half brother as an ineffectual, impotent, gay cuckold. Because if Henry IV was the actual father, then his daughter was the rightful heir and Isabella a usurper. So, she lent support to the rumour that her half-brother arranged for his gay lover to impregnate his wife.
The propagandists did their job well. A German doctor who visited Castile decades later recorded what was supposedly a medical note following an examination of Henry IV’s much-debated dick.
“He had a virile member that was thin and small at the beginning, but then towards the end, it elongated and was large so that he could not straighten it.”
Thin and small extending to large and elongated… an eggplant?
Henry IV probably was bisexual. But historians continue to argue about whether he was impotent and whether he or Beltrán fathered his only child.
But whether or not Henry IV’s child was illegitimate, it seems there were plenty of bastards to go around in 1400s Castile.
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