Philippa of Hainault (1314-1369)

Relation to me: 18th and 19th Great Grandmother

Philippa was the Queen of England, as she was married to King Edward III of England. Edward, the Duke of Guyenne, who was supposed to be her future husband, had promised in 1326 to marry her within the next two years, but instead she was married to Edward, the King of England. They were first married by proxy, when Edward had dispatched the Bishop of Coventry “to marry her in his name” in Valenciennes in October of 1327. The marriage was celebrated formally in York Minster on the 24th of January 1328. Edward fixed his wife’s dower in August of 1328.

Queen Philippa acted as regent in 1346 when her husband was away from his kingdom. She would often accompany Edward on his expeditions to Scotland, France and Flanders as well though. Among the English people, Philippa won great popularity for her kindness and compassion, which she would demonstrate in 1347 when she was successful in persuading King Edward to spare the lives of the Burghers of Calais. This popularity would also help to maintain peace in England throughout Edward’s long reign.

The eldest of Philippa’s fourteen children was The Black Prince, Edward, who would become a renowned military leader. Unfortunately at just fifty-five years old Philippa passed away from an illness that was closely related to edema.

Philippa’s Life

Philippa was born in Valenciennes in the County of Hainaut in the Low Countries. She was the daughter of the Count of Hainaut, William I and the Countess of Hainaut, Joan of Valois, and the granddaughter of Philip III of France. As one of eight children born to the couple she was the second of five daughters born to them. Her eldest sister, Margaret, would marry the German king Louis IV in 1324. Twenty-one years later, Philippa succeeded their brother William II, Count of Hainaut when he was killed in battle. His counties of Zealand and Holland, as well as those of his seigniory of Frieze were devolved to Margaret after an agreement between Philippa and her was met.

During 1364 to 1365, Edward III, however, in the name of his wife Philippa, demanded the return of Hainaut and other inheritances that had been given over to the Dukes of Bavaria-Straubing. He was unsuccessful in doing this though, as it was a custom in these regions to favor male heirs.

King Edward II had decided that an alliance with Flanders would benefit England and so he sent Bishop Stapledon of Exeter in continental Europe as an ambassador. On this journey, Stapledon would cross into the county of Hainaut to inspect the daughters of Count William of Hainaut. This was done to determine which of his daughters would be the most suitable as an eventual bride for Prince Edward. The bishop’s report to the king describes one of William’s daughters in detail. One later annotation says that it describes Philippa as a child, but the historian Ian Mortimer argues that it’s actually an account of her older sister Margaret. The description is as follows:

“The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is clean-shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than her forehead. Her eyes are blackish-brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that it is somewhat broad at the tip and also flattened, and yet it is no snub-nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full, and especially the lower lip. Her teeth which have fallen and grown again are white enough, but the rest are not so white. The lower teeth project a little beyond the upper; yet this is but little seen. Her ears and chin are comely enough. Her neck, shoulders, and all her body are well set and unmaimed; and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father; and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us. And the damsel will be of the age of nine years on St. John’s day next to come, as her mother saith. She is neither too tall nor too short for such an age; she is of fair carriage, and well taught in all that becometh her rank, and highly esteemed and well beloved of her father and mother and of all her meinie, in so far as we could inquire and learn the truth.”

Four years after Stapledon’s journey Philippa was betrothed to Prince Edward. In the summer of 1326, Queen Isabella arrived at the Hainaut court in search of aid from Count William to depose King Edward II. Prince Edward would accompany his mother to Hainaut where she had arranged the betrothal in exchange for assistance from William. As the couple were second cousins, a Papal dispensation was required for them to marry. In September of 1327, the dispensation was sent from Pope John XXII at Avignon and Philippa and her retinue arrived in England in December of 1327, being escorted by her uncle, John of Hainaut. On the 23rd of December Philippa reached London, where a “rousing reception was accorded her”.

Philippa married Edward III at York Minster on the 24th of January of 1328, eleven months after his accession to the English throne, though his mother, Queen Dowager Isabella and her avaricious lover Roger Mortimer, the 1st Earl of March were de facto rulers of the kingdom still. Together Isabella, Roger and Edward acted as regents. Unlike many of her predecessors, Philippa wouldn’t alienate the English people by retaining her foreign retinue upon her marriage, or by bringing large numbers of foreigners to the English court. As Isabella didn’t want to give up her own status, Philippa’s coronation was postponed for two years. She would eventually be crowned as Queen of England on the 4th of March 1330 at Westminster Abbey, when she was almost six months pregnant. She would give birth to her first son, Edward in the following June, just nine days before her sixteenth birthday.

In October of 1330, King Edward commenced his personal rule when he staged a coup against his mother and Roger Mortimer. Shortly after, Mortimer was executed for treason and the Queen Dowager, Isabella, was sent to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where she spent the rest of her life.

Joshua Barnes, a medieval writer, said “Queen Philippa was a very good and charming person who exceeded most ladies for sweetness of nature and virtuous disposition”. Jean Froissart, a chronicler describes Philippa as “The most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was Queen in her days”.

She’d accompany Edward on his expeditions to Scotland and continental Europe during his early campaigns of the Hundred Years War, where she won acclaim for being gentle in nature and compassion. Philippa has best been remembered as a kind woman, who in 1347, had persuaded her husband to spare the lives of the Burghers of Calais, who Edward had planned on executing as an example to the townspeople after Edward’s successful siege of the city.

Philippa would serve as regent of England while Edward was away in 1346. Facing a Scottish invasion, she would gather the English army and met the Scots in a successful battle near Newcastle. She rallied the English soldiers on horseback before them, prior to the battle. This had resulted in an English victory with the Scottish king being taken prisoner. Philippa also influenced the king to take an interest in the nation’s commercial expansion. I mentioned Jean Froissart earlier, and Philippa had actually been a patron and owner of several illuminated manuscripts of his, one of which is currently housed in the national library in Paris.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

Throughout the marriage of Philippa and Edward, she gave birth to thirteen

Queen Philippa Tomb
Philippa and Edward’s Tomb at Westminster Abbey

children and outlived nine of them. In 1348, three of their children died of the Black Death. On the 15th of August, Philippa too would pass away of an illness similar to edema in Windsor Castle, at the age of fifty-five. The queen was given a state funeral six months after her death on the 29th of January 1370 and was interred at Westminster Abbey. Her tomb was placed on the northeast side of the Chapel of Edward the Confessor, and the opposite side of her husband’s grandparents, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile and great grandfather, Henry III. Her alabaster effigy was beautifully executed by the sculptor, Jean de Liege. Eight years after Philippa’s death, Edward III passed away and was buried next to his wife. By all accounts, the forty year marriage between Edward and Philippa was a happy one.

Prior to her passing, in 1341, The Queen’s College at Oxford was named for Philippa. It had been founded then by one of her chaplains, Robert de Eglesfield in her honor.

Queens College Oxford
Queen’s College at Oxford

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