A Queen in very truth, who knew how to impose on her Court these virtues which only a woman’s heart can really sense and thereby cause them to be respected.
Philippa of Lancaster was born on 31 March 1360 as the daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and Blanche of Lancaster. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Philippa of Hainault. She spent part of her youth at the Palace of the Savoy, between London and Westminster with her own nurse named Maud. She was 3,5 years old when her younger sister Elizabeth arrived. On 3 April 1367, they were joined by a brother named Henry, who would go on to become Henry IV of England.
Philippa, her siblings and their mother moved around between Kenilworth, Hertford and Bolingbroke as their father headed the English army across the channel. Soon the family was being chased by the plague. Blanche moved her family to the safety of the country, but it caught up with them and took her life at the age of just 22. Philippa was nine years old, and it would be several months before their father returned. In the meantime, the children were looked after by Katherine Swynford. Katherine would become their father’s mistress and eventually, his wife. By 1371, Katherine was appointed governess to Philippa and Elizabeth.
For now, John of Gaunt sought a much greater prize. Constance of Castile, the rightful heiress of the throne of Castile, was in need of a husband. She and John married in September 1371, and they returned to England in November. Meanwhile, Katherine was already pregnant with their first child, and Constance gave birth to a daughter in 1373. Philippa was quickly gaining (half-)siblings. It is recorded that in April 1373 Philippa received golden buttons and a filet of gold and precious stones for in her hair from her father.
The castle of Tutbury became her home now, but her father was often absent.
On 8 June 1376, Edward, the Black Prince died and left his young son Richard as the heir to the throne. John of Gaunt was named as one of his executors. Just one year later, King Edward III also died, and ten-year-old Richard succeeded as King. The Lancasters were all present for his coronation on 16 July. Not much later, Philippa and Elizabeth and their stepmother Constance were to become Ladies of the Garter.
Philippa was growing into a young woman, and there was already some talk of marriage, although none seemed to stick. In 1386, Philippa boarded a ship with her father and sister Catherine as he attempted to claim the Kingdom of Castile for his own. Once landed, they were brought to the Benedictine monastery of Celanova as John headed out to meet the King of Portugal. King John I of Portugal agreed to support John in his conquest of Castile and with it came a proposal of marriage, although this was initially aimed at Catherine. King John did not wish to embroil himself even more with Castile, and he reportedly said, “My cousin Catherine of Castile I will leave with you; but Philippa, your daughter by your first marriage, her do I ask and will marry and Queen of Portugal I will make her.” At the time Philippa was already 26 years, which was considered quite old for a first marriage.
On 11 November 1386, Philippa “took her leave of Monseigneur the Duke of Lancaster her father, the Duchess her mother, her sisters and all those who belonged with her with much weeping and sorrow. Then she mounted on a palfrey, which was richly caparisoned and jogged along right merrily; several damsels were with her, including her bastard sister (Blanche of Morieux), wife of the Marshal.”
As she reached Oporto, she was greeted by the King, who “took her by the hand and kissed her. And he did the same to all the ladies and damsels who had come in her company, and so he led her into the entrance to her chamber; here the gentlemen took their leave, and each returned to his own lodging. The English nobles were comfortably bestowed, as were their men in the city of Oporto.” They finally married on 14 February 1387. That night, “after all the excitements of the day, the King lay with his wife, and those of his country who knew him acclaimed the fact that he was chaste and had never had carnal knowledge of a woman.” Festivities lasted ten or twelve days, and at the end, the English lords took their leave.
She made a good impression on the Portuguese. “Queen Philippa was gifted with great discretion, much piety and singular modesty, of such a sort that her ordinary manner of walking was with eyes lowered and her neck covered by reason of her natural modesty.”
King John indeed joined forces with his father-in-law to help him conquer Castile, but in the end, the marriage between Catherine and the future King Henry III of Castile settled the dispute and “thus the Duke of Lancaster saw his two daughters one Queen of Spain and the other Queen of Portugal.”
On 13 July 1388, Philippa gave birth to her first child. It was a girl named Blanche. They had agreed to give their firstborn a Portuguese name if it was a boy and an English name if it was a girl. They would then alternate irrespective of sex. Blanche only lived for eight months and was buried in Lisbon Cathedral. On 30 July 1390, they had a son named Affonso, but he too died young. On 31 October 1391, Philippa gave birth to a healthy son, and they named the future King of Portugal Edward. On 9 December 1392, another Prince was born, and he was named Pedro. On 3 March 1394, she gave birth to Henry, now known as Henry the Navigator. On 21 February 1397, she gave birth to a girl named Isabel.
She returned to England briefly, just as her father died on 13 February 1399. She was invited by King Richard II to stay for the Garter ceremony and robes were provided for her. She joined her former governess, and now stepmother as John of Gaunt had married Katherine Swynford in 1396, in the procession through the ward of Windsor Castle.
On 13 January 1400, she gave birth to another son, named John after his father. Her eight pregnancy in 1402 nearly cost Philippa her life. “When the Queen Dona Filipa became pregnant with this prince, she succumbed to a dangerous illness. The doctors and physicians were called and advised that the only remedy was an abortion.” Philippa declared that she would rather die. Despite this dangerous illness, Philippa was safely delivered of a son on 29 September 1402. Philippa was now 42 years, and she had presented Portugal with five living Princes and a Princess. The “illustrious generation” was born, and Philippa took a personal interest in the education of her children.
As her husband prepared to drive the Moors from Europe, Philippa fell ill with the plague. She had called her three eldest sons and her daughter to her bedside to give them her blessing. She was sad to realise that she would not see them accomplish the thing she desired so much, the expulsion of the Moors. The King refused to be sent away and was by her side. On 18 July 1415, she received communion and later that night, she had “a vision of Our Lady to give her strength to accomplish the journey.” She died the next day at the age of 55.1