Illustrious Queen

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Philippa of Lancaster, Queen of Portugal

Philippa of Lancaster was born at Leicester on 31st March 1360. She was the eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and 4th son of Edward III, and his first wife Blanche of Lancaster, great-great-granddaughter of Henry III. her father was one of the richest men in the country – and one of the most powerful.

Her life as a child would have been one of luxury and privilege, with a glorious dynastic marriage awaiting her in the future. Philippa was raised alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth, who was born in 1363, and her baby brother, Henry of Bolingbroke, born in 1367.

The children shared a household for some of their childhood and were given the best education available. The reformer John Wycliffe, 1st translator of the Bible into English, was among their tutors.

The children lost their mother when Blanche died at Tutbury on 12th September, 1368, more likely from the complications of childbirth than from the plague, as a daughter, Isabella, who did not survive, was born around the same time.

The children’s father was with Blanche when she died but departed on campaign to France soon after; it is doubtful the children’s care was interrupted. The Lancaster household was well-organised and by 1376 the girls had been appointed a new governess; Katherine Swynford, who was by this time also mistress to their father, John of Gaunt.

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Wedding of Philippa and King John

As with most high-born women of the time, Philippa’s marriage was in the hands of her father. John of Gaunt planned for her to contract a dynastic match which would benefit and complement his own dynastic ambitions. In 1374, Philippa was betrothed to Gaston, Count of Foix, but nothing came of it. In 1381/2 she was offered in marriage to Jean de Blois, claimant to the duchy of Brittany; and in 1383 her prospective husband was Count William of Ostrevant, the heir to Hainault, Holland and Zeeland.

In 1385 and 25 years old Philippa was still unmarried. However, in the following year her father took her on his military expedition to Spain, hoping to claim the kingdom of Castile in right of his 2nd wife, Constance. Philippa’s marriage to John – or Joao – I of Portugal was agreed as part of an alliance made between the 2 Johns at Ponte do Mouro in November 1386.

Philippa was married to King John at Oporto on 2nd February 1387, before they had even received the required papal dispensation. The British Museum has a beautifully illuminated manuscript (above) which depicts the wedding, with John of Gaunt and his wife, Constance, looking on. Philippa was 26 – about 10 years older than the average age for a princess to marry. John was 3 years her senior and had been king for just short of 2 years.

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John I, King of Portugal

Philippa became known as ‘Dona Fillipa’ in Portugal and would be one of the country’s best-loved queens. Her natural disposition to austerity and piety was endearing to the Portuguese people. Philippa reformed the court and encouraged courtly games among her ladies. French poet Eustace Deschamps characterised her as the chief patron of the order of The Flower of England, casting her at the centre of the court and the May Day celebrations.

A patron of literature, Philippa was sent a copy of John Gower’s poem “Confessio amantis“, which was translated into Portuguese by Robert Payn, an English canon of Lisbon Cathedral.

Philippa had been made a Lady of the Garter in 1378 and was instrumental in fostering  links between England and Portugal, a practice helped by the mixture of English and Portuguese servants in her household. She was on good terms with both Richard II and his successor – her brother, Henry IV.

In 1399 she wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, asking him to intervene with Henry on behalf of her friend, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich, who had angered the new king by defending Richard II at the time of Henry’s invasion of England and seizure of the throne.

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John and Philippa’s daughter Isabella, Duchess of Burgundy

Philippa also had a hand in persuading Henry to arrange the marriage of her stepdaughter, Beatriz (John’s illegitimate daughter) to the earl of Arundel in 1405.

Almost immediately after the wedding John returned to the war. In July 1387 Philippa miscarried their first child while visiting John at Curval, where he lay seriously ill. However, after what appears to have been a bumpy start, the couple seem well-matched. John had had 2 illegitimate children before his marriage, but was demonstrably faithful to Philippa after the wedding.

In fact when court gossip reached the queen that he had been unfaithful, John went to great lengths to convince Philippa of his innocence. He even went so far as to commemorate the event by having a room in the royal apartments at Sintra decorated with chattering magpies – he must have had a great sense of humour, and confidence in his relationship to be so bold.

Philippa and John were to have a large family, which they brought up with great care. Of their 9 children,  5 sons and 1 daughter survived infancy and would later be known in Portugal as ‘the Illustrious Generation’. Their eldest surviving son, Edward, was born in 1391 and would succeed his father as King of Portugal in 1433. Peter, Duke of Coimbra, was born in 1392 and would act as regent for his nephew, Afonso V, following Edward’s death in 1438.

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Prince Henry the Navigator

Their most famous son was Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’, Duke of Viseu, who was renowned for financing and researching great explorations – though he never undertook expeditions himself.

Their next youngest son was John, Duke of Beja and Constable of Portugal, who married Isabella, the daughter of Alfonso I, Duke of Braganza.

The baby of the family was Ferdinand, Grand Master of Aviz. He was born in 1402 and was later known as ‘the Saint Prince’ following his death as a prisoner of the Moors. Ferdinand had been held as a hostage for the return of Ceuta following the Disaster of Tangier, a siege led by his brother Henry. Ferdinand was held in increasingly severe confinement when it became apparent no ransom would be forthcoming, until he finally died in 1443.

John and Philippa’s one daughter, Isabella, was born in 1397 and would go on to marry Philip III the Good, Duke of Burgundy; and become the mother of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

By 1415 Philippa’s oldest sons were itching to prove their martial prowess. Scorning their father’s offer to hold a magnificent tournament for them, they persuaded him to mount an attack on the port of Ceuta in North Africa. As they were about to set sail Philippa fell ill.

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Tomb of John and Philippa

She had contracted plague and died at Odivelas, near Lisbon, on 18/19th July 1415. She was 55. On her deathbed she gave her 3 eldest sons, each, a jewel encrusted sword, in anticipation of their impending knighthoods, and a piece of the true cross. Giving them her blessing for the forthcoming military expedition she exhorted “them to preserve their faith and to fulfil the duties of their rank”¹.

The expedition sailed just 5 days after her death and Ceuta fell after only 1 day of siege, becoming Portugal’s 1st African possession.

Described as pious, charitable, affable and obedient to her husband, Portuguese historian Fernao Lopes, secretary to Philippa’s son, Fernando, held Philippa up as a model queen. Her piety was renowned; in later life she was said to regularly read the Book of Psalms.

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Tombs of the Infantes, the 4 younger sons of John and Philippa

Queen Philippa was buried in the Dominican Priory at Batalha Abbey, which had been founded by her husband. King John arranged for a magnificent tomb to be built in the Capela do Fundador. Constructed between 1426 and 1434, it is topped by their effigies, clasping each others’ hands. King John himself was laid beside her after his death in August 1433.

Their sons, Ferdinand, John, Henry and Peter, were laid to rest along the south side of the same chapel.

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Footnote: ¹ Edgar Prestage, The Portuguese pioneers.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson;  englishmonarchs.co.uk; oxforddnb.com; annvictoriaroberts.co.uk.

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©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

For King, Country and Glory – Wellington’s Officers in the Peninsular War

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Wellington at the Battle of Salamanca

Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of  Wellington is attributed with saying that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (although he didn’t actually say it); however, the training ground for many of the officers who commanded at Waterloo was a much more hazardous school – and certainly had nothing to do with cricket.

2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final battle in the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo was the culmination of over 20 years of fighting. Wellington’s officers had earned their experience and reputation in Portugal and Spain, in the Peninsular War of 1807-1814, Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Spanish ulcer’.

Having risen through the ranks via the army system of purchase – where rank went to those who could buy it, rather than on merit – he was a colonel by the age of 27 and a major-general at 34. Many officers in the British army advanced this way and, although the system was flawed, it did give us the greatest British general of all time.

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Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Practical and meticulous to detail in the day-to-day army administration, Wellington was determined his officers would train their men so they could beat any force they opposed.

He was a master of the battlefield.

Generally, the officers of the Peninsular War were the ‘stiff upper lip’ types. Their letters home spoke of action and adventure, but few officers spoke of their feelings in battle.  These officers were gentlemen who desired glory and lived within a code of honour. Life in war, to them, was a grand experience and the battlefield was where glory could be achieved, if you survived it.

An officer’s life was generally better than that of the men. The officer’s had packs – or haversacks – containing rations (including a charge of rum) and spare equipment, but these were conveniently transported on carts, rather than their backs, like the common soldier.

Retreat, however, showed a less than honourable attitude of some of the officers. Some rode in carts while their men struggled to march – often barefoot. During the retreat to Corunna, in January 1809, there was an incidence of one officer climbing on the back of one of his men, so as not to get his feet wet while crossing a river. This proved a great morale booster for the men, when an even more senior officer ordered the soldier to drop his charge into the river.

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Death of Sir John Moore, Corunna 1809

It was during retreat discipline was most likely to break down. The retreat to Corunna was harrowing for the men and officers; the Spanish winter was harsh and the French were constantly nipping at the army’s heels. Officers used a mixture of encouragement and punishment to cajole the men along. Punishment was harsh; floggings and hangings were inflicted for various crimes.

The army’s discipline depended on the diligence of the regimental officers; men convicted of robber with violence or desertion were hanged, while looters and stragglers risked the lash. The chance of reprieve from punishment was dangled over regiments as a way of getting the men to fight harder when the enemy was close by.

Generals were loved, feared and admired in equal measure. ‘Black Bob’ Craufurd of the Light Brigade was seen as a harsh disciplinarian, but he looked after his men; he led them and suffered with them, marching in their midst and sharing in their miseries. General Roland Hill earned the nickname of ‘Daddy’ due to his care for his troops; his men adored him. And Sir John Moore, killed at the Battle of Corunna having brought the army safely through a harrowing retreat, was mourned deeply, his memory often invoked to encourage the men in the thick of battle.

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Battle of Talavera, 1809

Officers were expected to be brave, to lead their men from the front, wherever possible. An officer was proud to fall injured in front of the regimental colours – leading their men, rather than following. They often waxed philosophical about the “beautifully romantic and heroically sublime”¹ battlefield, while describing the piteous moans of the wounded – men and horses – and the fury of the combatants. The chivalrous sense of honour was a code; one rode straight, spoke the truth and never showed fear.

Many officers considered themselves content and happy in the military life, thinking little about the enemy, except on the few occasions when they were brought to battle. Campaign life for an officer was a combination of adventure, enjoyment and discomfort; although they were expected to lead their men, they rarely kept company with them when not on the march. Officer and soldier were billeted separately wherever possible; the coarse behaviour of the men grated on the refined officer.

If they looked after their men, however, their men would look after them. There are numerous anecdotes of soldiers trying to protect their officers from the enemy, providing their officers with food and souvenirs taken from the enemy. According to Rifleman Harris, an act of kindness from an officer had often been the cause of his life being saved in the midst of battle.

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The Siege of Badajoz, 1812

There were exceptions, of course. An area of Lisbon, known as Belem, was full of officers avoiding the fighting, who fell ill even when only within earshot of a battle. Wellington was happy for unsuitable officers to return home, or at least stay away from the army.

Of those who remained, every officer was a volunteer; they saw the military life as a way of advancement in later civilian life – or as a way to be useful to their king and country. The majority were gentlemen; although their were rare instances of officers having risen from the ranks, these failed to gain the full respect of the common soldier and were not, as a rule, successful.

To many the army was a home.  The military life was a profession, officers lived and died to “promote its honour and glory”².

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Wellington at Waterloo, 1815

And Wellington was the heart of the army, his presence inspired confidence. Even with all his ambivalence of character, he exerted an extraordinary sense of loyalty among both officers and men. Sir John Kincaid said there was “not a bosom in the army that didn’t beat more lightly, when it heard the joyful news of his arrival.”³

And it was with the confidence and experience gained from 7 years of war in the Iberian Peninsular that Wellington led his army against the French for one last time. It would be the 1st time that Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, would face Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French; at Waterloo on 18th June 1815, 200 years ago.

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Footnotes: ¹& ² A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney ; ³ Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, Sir John Kincaid, quoted by John Strawson.

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Article adapted from my own dissertation of 1992, entitled For King, Country and Glory? The British Soldier in the Peninsular War, 1808-1814.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney; Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, John Strawson; The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, edited by Christopher Hibbert; On the Road with Wellington: The Diary of a War Commissary in the Peninsular Campaigns, August Schaumann; A British Rifleman: Journals & Correspondence during the Peninsular War and Campaign of Wellington, Major George Simmons; Memoirs of Sir Harry Smith, Sir Harry Smith; The Letters of Private Wheeler, William Wheeler; The Sword and the Pen, edited by Michael Brander; The British Soldier, JM Brereton; The Face of Battle and The Mask of Command, John Keegan; Wellington: the years of the Sword, Lady Elizabeth Longford; Soldiers. A History of Men in Battle, John Keegan and Richard Holmes.

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Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly