Wife of the longest-reigning Plantagenet monarch King Edward III, Philippa of Hainault was one of medieval England’s most beloved queens. A dutiful wife, mother and occasional political adviser to her husband, Philippa defined and fulfilled all the qualities admired in medieval queens.
Her long-standing popularity with the people bolstered her husband’s leadership and helped ensure peace: the change in public opinion of Edward after he cheated on Philippa shows exactly how highly she was regarded.
Here are 10 facts about Philippa of Hainault, queen consort of England.
1. She was born in modern-day Belgium
Philippa’s father Willem was count of Hainault, in modern-day Belgium, and also count of Holland and Zeeland, now in the Netherlands. Her mother Jeanne de Valois was the granddaughter of King Philip III of France, niece of Philip IV and sister of Philip VI.
2. Her name had many iterations
In Philippa’s own lifetime, her name was spelt Philippe, Phelip or Phelipe, and it was a unisex name, serving for men called Philip and women called Philippa. In her own letters, she referred to herself as ‘Philippe, by the grace of God, queen of England, lady of Ireland and duchess of Aquitaine’, and contemporary chroniclers called her Philipp, Queen Phelip, and Phelippe de Haynau.
3. She had a big family
Philippa was the third daughter of her parents and had older sisters Margareta and Johanna. She was probably born in c. February or March 1314; chronicler Jean Froissart stated that she was ‘almost fourteen’ in January 1328.
Her younger brother Willem, born in c. 1317, succeeded their father as count of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland in 1337, and Philippa had 8 or 9 full siblings as well as at least 8 half-siblings – her father’s illegitimate children. Her eldest sister Margareta and her husband Ludwig of Bavaria, King of Germany and Italy, were jointly crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Empress in Rome in 1328.
4. Her marriage was less romantic than it’s often portrayed
The often-repeated romantic tale that Edward III chose Philippa as his bride over her sisters is untrue, and almost certainly invented by Philippa herself. Her older sisters Margareta and Johanna both married in February 1324, in a joint wedding in Cologne (Johanna married Wilhelm, duke of Jülich).
At the time of Edward and Philippa’s betrothal in August 1326, only Philippa and her sister Isabella were still alive of the count of Hainault’s daughters, and Isabella was a mere toddler while 12-year-old Philippa was close in age to 13-year-old Edward, and the eldest unmarried Hainault daughter.
Her betrothal to Edward was in fact painfully unromantic: it was arranged by her mother-in-law Isabella of France, disaffected queen of Edward II, in exchange for Philippa’s father providing ships and mercenaries for the queen to invade her husband’s kingdom.
5. She was related to her new husband, King Edward III
Philippa married Edward III in York in January 1328, a month after the funeral of his deposed and disgraced father Edward II in St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester. William Melton, archbishop of York, performed the ceremony. As a wedding gift, Philippa gave Edward two illuminated manuscripts, one about music, which the unsentimental king later broke up and distributed among his courtiers.
Philippa and Edward were second cousins: they were both great-grandchildren of Philip III of France (d. 1285) and his first queen, the half-Spanish, half-Hungarian Isabel of Aragon. Edward III’s mother Isabella was the daughter of Philip and Isabel’s elder son Philip IV (d. 1314); Philippa’s mother Jeanne was the daughter of their younger son Charles de Valois (d. 1325).
6. She proved to be a model of English queenship
Philippa proved herself to be a model of medieval queenship: tirelessly loyal to her husband, a mother 12 times over and widely liked and respected by her people, she was extremely popular.
She used her role to exert political influence from time to time. She persuaded her husband, King Edward, to take an interest in commercial expansion, served as regent in 1346 and later successfully begged for clemency for the burghers of Calais, winning widespread popularity and acclaim for her compassion.
7. She supported her husband’s attempts to claim the French throne
Philippa’s maternal uncle, Philip de Valois, succeeded his cousin Charles IV, Edward III’s maternal uncle, as King Philip VI of France in 1328. He was the first king of the house of Valois, the dynasty which ruled France until 1589. King Edward claimed the French throne in 1337, and there is much evidence to reveal that Queen Philippa staunchly supported her husband in this endeavour.
She sent a minstrel to the French court to spy on her uncle’s movements and report them back to her, and referred to Philip VI as ‘Lord Philip de Valois’ rather than acknowledging his royal title.
8. She had 12 children, but 6 outlived her
Philippa gave birth to 12 children, 5 daughters and 7 sons, of whom only 6 outlived her, and only 4 outlived her husband. 2 of her sons and one of her daughters died in infancy, and 3 of her daughters died as teenagers; only one daughter, Isabella of Woodstock, countess of Bedford and Soissons, lived into adulthood and had children.
As far as is known, Edward III was faithful to his wife until c. 1360, when Philippa broke her shoulder blade, forcing her to spend the rest of her life largely immobile. At that point, the king began a long-term relationship with a mistress named Alice Perrers which resulted in three children.
9. She spent extravagantly
Philippa loved clothes and jewels and was enormously extravagant even by the lavish standards of 14th-century royalty. Despite having one of the highest incomes in the country, she built up numerous debts and was incapable of living within her means. By 1360, her debts had spiralled to well over £5,000, something in the region of £10 million today.
10. She was buried in state at Westminster Abbey
Queen Philippa died at Windsor Castle on 15 August 1369, in her mid-50s. Of the 12 children she had borne, only the youngest, fourteen-year-old Thomas of Woodstock, was still alive and in England at the time of her death. Philippa was not buried until 9 January 1370, a long delay between a royal death and burial being usual in the 14th century.
Her tomb and effigy, which shows her with a kindly face and rather plump figure, can still be seen in Westminster Abbey. Her husband was buried next to her in July 1377.
Kathryn Warner holds two degrees in medieval history from the University of Manchester. She is considered a foremost expert on Edward II and an article from her on the subject was published in the English Historical Review. Her latest book, Philippa of Hainault, is published by Amberley.