Philippa of Lancaster (c. 1359–1415)

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Philippa of Lancaster (c. 1359–1415)

Queen of Portugal. Name variations: Filipa de Lencastre; Philippa Plantagenet. Born on March 31, 1359 or 1360, in Leicester, Leicestershire, England; died of the plague on July 19, 1415, in Odivelas, Lisbon, Portugal; interred in Batalla Abbey, Portugal; reigned from 1387 to 1415; first child of John of Gaunt (son of Edward III of England) and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster (1341–1369); sister of Henry Bolingbroke (1366–1413, later Henry IV, king of England, r. 1399–1413) and Elizabeth of Lancaster (1364–1425, who married John Holland, duke ofExeter); married João I also known as John I (1385–1433), king of Portugal (r. 1385–1433), on February 2, 1387, at Oporto Cathedral, Portugal; children: Branca (1388–1388); Affonso (1390–1400); Duarte I (1391–1438), king of Portugal (r. 1433–1438); Pedro or Peter, regent of Portugal (b. 1392); Henry the Navigator (Henrique, the Navigator, 1394–1460); Isabella of Portugal (1397–1471, who married Philip the Good of Burgundy); João or John (1400–1442), grand master of Santiago; Fernando or Ferdinand the Constant (1402–1443), grand master of Aviz. (John I also had two children withInez Perez .)

Birth of John I of Portugal (1352); death of Blanche of Lancaster (1369); death of Ferdinand I of Portugal; battle of Aljubarrota (1385); opening of Council of Constance (1414); Portuguese expedition against Ceuta (1415); death of John I (1433).

Philippa of Lancaster was born in 1359 or 1360, the first child of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, king of England, and his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster . Blanche died from the Black Death in 1369, while John of Gaunt was away in Spain, fighting against Henry II Trastamara of Castile and his French allies. Thereafter, Philippa was raised by Catherine Swynford , her father's mistress from 1371 even after he married Constance of Castile (1354–1394), heir of Peter the Cruel, king of Castile. For the time and her gender, Philippa received an exceptional education, with Geoffrey Chaucer among her tutors. Because of it, she valued noblesse oblige, courtly love, and Christian charity.

In 1383, events began to unfold in Portugal that determined the direction of Philippa's life. King Ferdinand I died, leaving only his unpopular queen Leonora Telles to govern; their daughter Beatrice of Portugal had married John I, king of Castile and Léon. Leonora Telles threw her support to John of Castile, while Ferdinand's illegitimate half-brother John (later John I, king of Portugal), grand master of Aviz, turned to the English for help. As the daughter of Peter the Cruel, Philippa's stepmother Constance of Castile claimed the Castilian crown because John of Castile's father, Henry II Trastamara, had murdered Peter in 1369 and seized the throne. The English offered help to John of Aviz, in part because the French were allies of the Castilians. To strengthen the alliance further, John of Gaunt offered one his daughters in marriage to a willing John of Aviz. Some anticipated that he would choose Constance, thereby sharing her claim to Castile. But John of Aviz wisely recognized that marriage to Constance would perpetually enmesh him in Castilian politics, whereas he was more concerned about protecting Portuguese independence. Thus, he selected Philippa.

They delayed their marriage until early 1387. As Grand Master of the Order of Aviz, a crusading order, John of Aviz had taken an oath of celibacy. He consequently sought papal permission to marry. Once it had been secured, he and Philippa wed in Oporto on February 2. Chronicler Fernão Lopes described the procession to the cathedral: "The King rode out of the palace, mounted on a white horse, royally dressed in gold cloth. The Queen rode on another, dressed in an equally royal fashion. They wore on their heads gold crowns richly studded with costly gems and mother-of-pearl. Neither of them took precedence but rather they rode in complete equality." Fifteen days of feasts and tournaments celebrated the wedding.

Philippa's predecessor Leonora Telles was lascivious and vengeful, better known for killing her enemies than for behaving with royal dignity. As queen, Philippa conducted herself with the utmost decorum throughout her marriage and helped restore respect for the monarchy. Portugal entered perhaps its most glorious age. The people admired her piety and charitable works. Under her direction the royal palace was remodeled and expanded. She took special care for the education of her children and raised the general cultural level of the Portuguese court. With stability restored to Portugal, she and John returned to visit England on two occasions, and she strengthened the long-lasting alliance between her native and adopted lands. Although publicly deferring to her husband, she wielded great influence through her piety, generosity, and refinement.

Philippa's eight children were an illustrious progeny, the most famous to subsequent generations being Henry the Navigator. Duarte I, who succeeded to the throne, described his mother's influence in his Leal Conselheiro (Loyal Counsellor). She encouraged her sons to be crusaders and supported John of Aviz's expedition to Ceuta on 1415. In fact, she ordered the manufacture of three swords, adorned with gold, gems and pearls, with which John was to knight his three eldest sons as they departed for North Africa. To their sorrow, however, Philippa fell ill with the plague just before the army sailed. Summoning the princes to her deathbed, she presented the swords to them. Death claimed her shortly afterward, on July 19, 1415, in Odivelas. Her body was eventually entombed in the great monastery of Batalha, built to commemorate John of Aviz's victory in 1385 over the Castilians and the securing of Portuguese independence.


Eduarte, King of Portugal. Leal Conselheiro. Lisbon: Libraria Bertrand, 1942.

Livermore, H.V. A New History of Portugal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Lopes, Fernão. The English in Portugal, 1367–1387. Trans. by Derek W. Lomax and R.J. Oakley. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1988.

Roche, T.W.E. Philippa: Dona Filipa of Portugal. London: Phillimore, 1971.

Russell, P.E. The English Intervention in Spain and Portugal during the Reigns of Edward III and Richard II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Kendall W. W. , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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Philippa of Lancaster (c. 1359–1415)

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