Philippa of Guelders was born on November 9, 1467. Her father was Adolf of Egmond, Duke of Guelders and Count of Zutphen and her mother was Catharine of Bourbon. Philippa had a twin brother Charles and they were born at Graves, Netherlands and were the only children of their parents. The duchy was named after the town of Geldern which is now located in Germany. The present province of Gelderland in the Netherlands occupies most of the area of the former duchy.
Duke Adolf was in debt and to raise funds, he mortgaged his duchy to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Consequently, Philippa and her brother Charles were sent to be brought up and educated at the court of Burgundy. Philippa grew up to be a celebrated beauty adopting the emblem of a thistle leaf with the motto “Do not touch me, or I will prick”. An arranged marriage with René II, Duke of Lorraine took place on September 1, 1485 in Orléans. Phillipa and René were to have at least 13 children.
• Charles, born in 1486, died young
• Francis born 1487, died shortly after birth
• Antoine, Duke of Lorraine born 1489, died 1544
• Nicholas, born 1493, died young
• Claude, Duke of Guise, born 1496, died 1550, the first Duke of Guise
• John, Cardinal of Lorraine and Bishop of Metz, born 1498 and died 1550
• Louis, Count of Vaudémont, born 1500, died 1528
• Francis, Count of Lambesc, born 1506, died 1525
• Anne, born 1490 and died 1491
• Isabelle, born 1494, died 1508
• Claude and Catherine, twins born 1502 and died young
Philippa’s husband died in 1508, leaving her with many young children. She tried to undertake the duties of regent for Antoine, the new Duke of Lorraine but it was agreed he was old enough to rule on his own, (he was nineteen.) After her husband’s death, Philippa was the supreme head of the family.
When her son Claude had a daughter Marie on December 2, 1515, Philippa was present. Marie of Guise married King James V of Scotland, and their daughter was Mary Queen of Scots. In 1519, at the age of fifty-two, Philippa’s health was in decline. She suffered from headaches, dizziness and dropsy and told her children she was going to stay for a week or two at the convent of the Poor Clares in Pont-à-Mousson, north of Nancy.
Shortly after arriving at the convent, she decided she wanted to retire and spend the rest of her life there. Her children were stunned, knowing the Poor Clares lived in poverty and under strict guidelines. The children begged her to go to a less severe establishment and argued they needed her to guide the family. She held fast to her decision and on December 19, 1519 she was inducted into the order while all her offspring and their spouses watched. She gave her blessing to everyone and retired to the cell which would be her home for the rest of her life.
Her duties included cooking, weeding the garden and doing laundry. She slept on straw on bare boards, wore coarse and simple clothing and ate plain food. Her children would continue to visit her, asking for her input when in need. Even when King Francois I was having political troubles, he would come to Pont-à-Mousson to ask her advice. She raised and educated her granddaughter, Marie of Guise, at the convent. She died on February 28, 1547 at the age of seventy-nine and was buried at the Cordeliers Convent in Nancy, France.
Further reading: “Scottish Queens” by Rosalind K. Marshall, “In the Shadow of Burgundy: The Court of Guelders in the Late Middle Ages” by Gerard Nijsten