Letter from Queen Philippa of Portugal to her brother King Henry IV of England – 1405

Beatrix of Portugal, Countess of Arundel and Huntingdon by a 19th C. artist

The marriage of Philippa of Lancaster with John I, King of Portugal, took place in February of 1387.  Philippa was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster.  John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of King Edward III of England, was seeking the throne of Castile through the claim of his second wife Constanza, daughter of Pedro the Cruel.  In an effort to obtain allies for this purpose, he married Philippa to King John, the first of the royal House of Aviz.  Philippa and John had a large family of children together.  King John had several natural born children by his mistress Inês Peres before his marriage, one of whom, Afonso, became the first Duke of Braganza.  Another natural born daughter was named Beatrix.

Queen Philippa graciously treated her husband’s illegitimate children with great kindness, and the marriage of Thomas Fitzalan, 5th Earl of Arundel referred to in this letter, which she expressly says was entered into in part at her instance, was with John’s daughter Beatrix. Most likely, when Philippa visited her brother King Henry IV in England, she brought Beatrix with her, with the intention of obtaining a husband for her and persuading the young Thomas Fitzalan to marry her. Now the Earl of Arundel harbored a strong desire to be allowed the then unusual privilege of choosing his own wife.  His feelings were so strong, that in his minority he had promised a large sum of gold to the king for this permission.

When the Portuguese lady was proposed to him, one inducement offered to win his consent was that, because the marriage was requested by the English king, Arundel would be relieved of the payment of the debt. The projected marriage was meant to strengthen the close alliance between the England and Portugal, and Henry IV actively interested himself in its success. As Arundel’s means were much straitened at the time by the devastation of his Welsh estates, King Henry offered to defray the costs of bringing the bride with magnificence and glory to England and for the wedding ceremony.  Arundel therefore gave his reluctant assent, and on the morrow of St. Catherine’s day, November 26th, 1404, they were married in London, in the presence of the king and queen.

Not long afterwards, however, the unfortunate earl was surprised by a demand on the part of the king for the promised bribe which was to have secured for him the pleasure of a love-marriage.  Perhaps the king wanted to recoup the costs of the wedding.  Arundel was in the unpleasant position of either paying the money or acknowledging that his now wedded wife was not the choice of his heart. He sent an ambassador, John Wiltshire, to the promoter of the marriage, Queen Philippa, to explain his situation.  Philippa then wrote this letter to her brother:

“Most high and most puissant prince, my most supremely beloved brother, I recommend myself to your high nobleness as humbly and entirely as I can or know how with all my entire heart, supremely desiring to hear and know often of your estate and health ; and in special of the prosperity of your most genteel person, as good, pleasant, and joyous news as you yourself, most noble prince, could best devise, or in any manner desire, for your sovereign ease and comfort.

And because I am certain that you would most willingly hear similar things from here, I signify to you that the king my sovereign lord, all my children, your own nephews, who wish always to be most humbly recommended to you, and I their mother, your own sister, at the making of these presents were all well and hearty of body, thanks to our Creator, who ever maintain you in honour and prosperity according to your desire.

Most high and puissant prince, my best beloved brother, please it you to know that by Mr. John Wiltshire, knight and ambassador of our cousin the Earl of Arundel, I am here informed how a sum of gold is yet owing to you by the said earl, which he pledged himself to pay you for the license which it pleased your gracious lordship to grant and give him in his nonage [the period of legal minority], that he might marry according to his wish, and in whatever place he saw fitting to his estate.

And since you know well, my supremely best-loved brother, that he is now married not after his own seeking but as by your commandment, in part at my instance, I therefore supplicate you, since you are so great and noble a prince, as entirely as I know how, that it will please you to quit claim to the said sum at this my request, in order that I, who am in part the cause of his marriage, may be the cause of the acquittal of the said sum. And if there be anything in these parts which might give you pleasure, may it please you to command and certify it to me, and I will do it to my utmost power without hypocrisy. So I pray our sovereign Lord Jesu ever to give you prosperity, plesaunce, and joy, and very long to endure. Written at the palace of Lisbon, the 4th day of November.

Your entire and loyal sister, P. DE P. [Philippa of Portugal]

To the most high and puissant [prince my best] beloved brother the King of England.”

Perhaps King Henry relented on collecting the debt after this most flattering letter from his sister.  We will never really know.  Beatrix and Arundel were married until his death in 1415.  They had no children.  Beatrix married twice more, having one daughter with her second husband and died in France in 1439.


Further reading: “Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, From the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary” by Mary Anne Everett Green from the Cotton. MS. Vespasian, r. in. art. 93, fol. 86. Original French, entry on Thomas Fitzalan from the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 19 written by Thomas Frederick Tout, entry on Thomas Fitzalan, 5th Earl of Arundel and 10th Earl of Surrey in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by G.L. Harriss



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