Beatrix of Portugal, Countess of Arundel

Beatrix of Portugal is one Medieval woman for whom we have a strikingly complete and detailed effigy, in the FitzAlan Chapel at Arundel Castle, West Sussex. She wears a large, ornamental headdress that supports a veil which hangs over and behind her head. A nineteenth-century portrait of Beatrix is based on her effigy but depicts her in bright colour, as she would have appeared to us in life. 

Beatrix, Countess of Arundel, a nineteenth-century portrait. Wikimedia Commons

Beatrix was the illegitimate daughter of John I, King of Portugal, who cooked a deal with Henry IV to have her married to the Earl of Arundel, Thomas FitzAlan. Beatrix would have taken the long journey by sea from Portugal to England to meet her husband, the wedding designed to provide a deeper alliance between the two nations. Cokayne also notes that the wedding was celebrated at court, showing that this was a formal and very public match. The groom, Thomas, was a heroic, active soldier in the service of the Lancastrian kings. He had been earl since 1400 and was one of those, according to Cokayne, who landed with Henry Bolingbroke in 1399 to seize the crown from Richard II. Thomas, at this time, would have been 18 years old. In reward, Henry IV had him play a prominent role at his coronation in October of that year and made him a Knight Banneret, able to fight under his own banner. 

He married Beatrix on 26 November 1405 at Lambeth. More responsibilities for the earl came, as Henry V made him Warden of the Cinque Ports and High Treasurer. Beatrix herself was granted the honour of Lady of the Garter in 1413 at the Feast of St George, the king buckling the garter ribbon gently around her left arm as she bowed before him. Beatrix would have waved her husband off to battle as he fought for Henry V in France in 1411, and at Harfleur in 1415. It was this last conflict that would end their marriage, as Thomas contracted dysentery at Harfleur and died shortly after arriving back at Arundel, in October of that year. His will is dated 10 October 1415, and so he would have known death was close when he wrote it. He was buried at the FitzAlan Chapel at Arundel Castle in an effigy tomb. His effigy shows him in prayer, with a cloak secured around his shoulders along with the 'SS' collar of Lancaster. He also wears a coronet. 

After the earl's death Beatrix remarried, to John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon and later Duke of Exeter, their licence to marry dated January 1433. They were not married long, as she died at Bordeaux in the October of 1439. There are not many other traces in the sources of Beatrix, although one will of a London grocer William Burton, made in 1466, reveals that she gifted a laver (ceremonial basin) to his son on his baptism. 

Beatrix lies beside her first husband at Arundel, their effigies side by side and in prayer. Beatrix had led an active life, leaving her childhood home in Portugal to begin a new life with her husband, the Earl of Arundel. She may have been John's illegitimate daughter but her role would, in the end, be political and underline an alliance between the nations of Portgual and England. She waved her husband off to battle, and was made one of the many widows of Henry V's campaigns of Harfleur and Agincourt in 1415. Rewarded for her own loyalty to the crown, she was a Lady of the Order of the Garter, although her contribution to the crown was not recorded. She had experience of the royal court, celebrating her own wedding among royalty but also endured some of the grief and uncertainty of the age. 

This is one of the posts in my series on Forgotten Women of History. You can discover more forgotten women's stories here

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Notes and Sources

Cokayne, The Complete Peerage, vol 1, p147-148

Beltz, G. F. Memorials of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (1841)

Calendar of wills proved and enrolled in the Court of Husting, London, A.D. 1258-A.D. 1688 : preserved among the archives of the Corporation of the City of London, at the Guildhall (1889) p555