Phillipa of Hainault was living in a loving home in comfort with her brothers and sisters. Across the sea in England, Queen Isabella was conspiring with her lover, Roger Mortimer to depose her husband, King Edward II from the throne and replace him with her son Prince Edward. She had managed to escape from England to France and Prince Edward had joined her there. Isabella was traveling on the continent, trying to raise funds and troops for her cause and she visited Valenciennes, in Northern France with Prince Edward. Phillipa was there too. These two young people met and became friends. This was an extraordinary beginning to a royal marriage.
Philippa was most likely born in 1314-1315 in Valenciennes. Her father was William I “The Good”, Count of Hainault and her mother was Joan of Valois, the granddaughter of King Philip III of France. The County of Hainault is now a part of Belgium and was considered part of the Low Countries. Joan of Valois introduced French literary culture to Hainault. Philippa found learning very appealing and was an enthusiastic reader.
Isabella and Prince Edward came to Valenciennes in 1326. Edward was 13 and Philippa was 12. They spent a week together. There may have been preliminary talks at this time that if Isabella was successful in her mission, Prince Edward would marry one of the daughters of Hainault. When Isabella and Edward left, the chroniclers say when she said her goodbyes, Philippa cried and regretted that her cousin was leaving her.
Isabella and Mortimer were indeed successful in deposing King Edward II and placing Prince Edward on the throne. Edward II disappeared from the record and the Prince became King Edward III on February 1, 1327. By March 30th, a delegation was sent to Hainault to finalize a marriage contract and a trade agreement. Edward professed his preference for Philippa. The delegation was sent to choose which daughter but it was inevitable the decision would be Philippa. On September 3rd, her name appears in the papers as the bride and preparations were made for her to travel to England. A proxy marriage was performed in October and Philippa sailed and reached London on Dec 24.
The Londoners immediately liked the tall, noble, smiling and open faced young woman. She kept Christmas there and then traveled north. Edward and Philippa were married at York Minster on January 24, 1328. For the first three years of her marriage, she does not appear in the records much. Edward spent a lot of time fighting Scotland and Philippa traveled with him. Her dowry was fully paid by January 1, 1331, three years after her marriage. Her coronation occurred on March 4, 1330 at which time she was pregnant with her first child. Prince Edward was born at Woodstock on June 15, 1330. Also at this time, Edward overthrew his mother and Roger Mortimer from the regency and took control of the government.
By the year 1331, Edward and Philippa were in complete control of the government. She is the mother of a fine prince. Edward begins showering her with gifts of homes and incomes. She is put in charge of his younger sister Eleanor. She began working on bringing over weaving tradesmen from her home country to begin creating an industry in Norwich, England. Philippa’s mother traveled to England for a visit and Edward put on a tournament with all the splendors of chivalry. A wooden tower had been erected for the ladies to watch. As the tournament began, Philippa stood to greet Edward and his knights and the scaffolding gave way with all the ladies falling. No one was hurt but the builders of the scaffold were called forward to answer for their work. Edward was furious. Before he could proclaim the punishment for the men, Philippa came forward on her knees and begged for mercy. The King granted her wish and no punishment was given. It was to be one of the first of many times Philippa would calm the furious Plantagenet temper of her husband.
Philippa’s second child was born at Woodstock on June 16, 1332 and named Isabella after her paternal grandmother. Isabella was her father’s favorite daughter and her parents doted on her and spoiled her for the rest of her life. Their second daughter, Joan, was born either at Woodstock or in the Tower of London in late 1333 or early 1334. Joan was to be the loveliest of Philippa’s daughters and her personal favorite.
In 1338, Philippa and Edward traveled to the Continent for diplomatic missions and to arrange alliances in Edward’s pursuit of the French throne. Edward also delivered their daughter Joan to the Holy Roman Emperor. She may have been betrothed to one of the Emperor’s sons. Philippa stayed in Antwerp while Edward was gone. Her son, Lionel was born there on November 29, 1338. Lionel was to grow to be nearly seven feet tall and was the handsomest of her children. Philippa had another son John, in the town of Ghent which the English pronounced Gaunt. He was born on March 6, 1340. When the alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor was terminated, little Joan returned to her family also in 1340. On the 24th of June, 1341, Philippa, Edward and their family returned to England.
Edward relied on Philippa to take care of their children as well as his wards and any possible brides for his sons. She also personally administered her own and her children’s estates. She was constantly short of funds as Edward spent nearly every extra penny on warfare in trying to obtain the throne of France. She was a patron of the arts and sponsored Geoffrey Chaucer. Queen’s College at Oxford was founded in her name. She made sure all her children were well educated.
In June of 1341, Philippa gave birth to a son, Edmund, at Langley. In 1343, she gave birth to another daughter Blanche who died soon after she was born. On October 10, 1344 she gave birth to a daughter named Mary. Another daughter, Margaret, was born in 1346. In June of 1345, King Edward and his eldest son Edward sailed to France to fight. They ravaged the countryside and eventually won a huge victory at the Battle of Crécy. He then moved on to Calais and began a blockade to stop supplies from coming, in an effort to starve the city into submission.
Thinking he had an advantage due to Edward’s absence, the Scottish King David planned an attack on England. Philippa was running the government in the name of her son Lionel and had her generals assemble an army to answer the attack. As they gathered at Auckland, she rode out to review the troops on a white charger. She went from rank to rank and encouraged her troops, giving them and their cause to God in hopes of victory. The English longbow men did indeed win a victory over the Scots. She again rode on her white charger to meet the victorious troops.
After making sure all was well in England, Philippa left to join Edward in Calais. Edward finally got the city to surrender in August of 1347. In true chivalrous fashion, he agreed to spare all those left in the city except six burghers who were forced to bring him the keys to the city, bare-footed and bare-headed, with ropes around their necks. These men came before the fuming King Edward, many knights of his court and the Queen. They begged for mercy but the King called for all six to be beheaded on the spot. A pregnant Philippa came forward on her knees, weeping before the King. She said she had asked for nothing since joining him in Calais but she was now asking the King to take pity on these poor men and for the love of her, to spare them. Edward could not resist the pleas of his Queen and released the men into her custody. She fed and clothed them, gave them some money and returned to them to Calais.
In 1348, the Black Death was to invade Europe, killing about one third of its inhabitants. Philippa lost her favorite daughter Joan and two young boys, Thomas and William, who had been born to her in 1347 and 1348. In 1351, Philippa opened a coal mine in Tynedale and a lead works in Derby. She gave birth to her final child, Thomas of Woodstock in January of 1355. Philippa was now living primarily through the lives of her children. She hired the French chronicler Jean Froissart to be her personal secretary and supported him in the writing of his chronicle. She saw some of her many children marry, give birth and die.
During her last years at court, there is little record of her. She appeared at her husband’s side at court occasions. She became stout after giving birth to so many children. In 1367, she had an attack of dropsy, a swelling of the body due to a weakness of the heart. Her favorite son Lionel died in 1368. King Edward lapsed into dotage and was ruled entirely by his mistress Alice Perrers who had been a lady-in-waiting to Philippa. When it was apparent Philippa was dying, Edward visited her at her deathbed. He took her hand and asked her final wish. She requested that when he died, he be buried next to her in Westminster Abbey. She died on August 15, 1369 and was buried with all splendors in a fine tomb in Westminster. When Edward died eight years later, he fulfilled her dying wish and was buried next to his beloved Queen.
Further reading: “Philippa of Hainault and Her Times” by Blanche Christabel Hardy, “British Kings and Queens” by Mike Ashley