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Philippa of Hainault and Edward III brought stability to the monarchy after his father’s disastrous reign. She was interested in education, art and literature.

Philippa of Hainault's Coronation in 1330.

Philippa of Hainault’s Coronation in 1330.

She was often portrayed as “bourgeois”—solid, comfortable and domestic—as her homely features and motherly figure are captured in Master Hennequin of Liège’s fine alabaster effigy on her tomb. Her great amiability gained her popularity not enjoyed by her predecessors.

Philippa was born in Valciennes on 24 June 1311. Her parents, William V ‘the good’, Count of Hainault and Holland, and his wife, Joan, daughter of Charles of France, Count of Valois, raised their seven children in a loving secure family environment in a wealthy provincial city.

Her mother was a keen reader of romances as she raised her children in an increasingly French-directed literacy culture.

Prince of Wales

Edward III as he was portrayed in the late 16th century.

Edward III as he was portrayed in the late 16th century.

He met his future bride when his mother sought foreign aid to help depose his father Edward II. They were guests at the Court of Hainault when Philippa was fifteen and Edward fourteen. Isabella arranged the marriage of her son Edward, the Prince of Wales, to Philippa but a papal dispensation was sought, as they were second cousins, and obtained from Avignon in September 1327.

Edward was tall and handsome, with red-blond hair, as well as being the ideal knight—hearty and courageous and with sufficient bravado to cause excitement. He kept an opulent court, as he liked magnificence, so he was well aware of the importance of maintaining appearances as a wealthy and successful ruler.

Edward II was forced to abdicate in September 1326 after the queen and Mortimer landed in England. His son was crowned Edward III early the following year.

Good Queen Philippa

Philippa set out for England, arriving in London two days before Christmas in 1327. Her arrival was marred by the mood following Edward II’s funeral held four days earlier and she discovered Edward was in the north with his army fighting the Scots.

King Edward III grants Aquitaine to his son Edward, the Black Prince

King Edward III grants Aquitaine to his son Edward, the Black Prince

She travelled with a large entourage in icy weather to meet him. They were married in the unfinished, leaking cathedral church of St William, York, on 30 January 1328.

They did not celebrate nor consummate their marriage during Lent whilst in York. They stayed in York until after Easter, before moving to the royal manor of Woodstock.

However, Isabella was reluctant to relinquish her status as Queen Dowager so she postponed her daughter-in-law’s coronation for two years. Philippa was six months’ pregnant and there could be no further delay. The Coronation ceremony itself at Westminster on 4 March 1330 was shortened to prevent exhaustion.

Three months later Philippa gave birth to her first child, Edward of Woodstock. (He was not known as the Black Prince until the 16th Century.) Philippa chose to feed the baby herself, rather than entrusting him to the wet-nurses’ care.

Edward was devoted to Philippa as they enjoyed a long happy marriage. He was a loving husband and a good affectionate father to his twelve children. He also shared Philippa’s love of reading.

Philippa’s kindly nature often restrained her husband when his temper got the better of him. She interceded for the carpenters’ lives whose stand collapsed at the great tournament in Cheapside to celebrate the Black Prince’s birth.

The Hundred Years War

However, Edward believed he had a claim to the French throne through his mother so the Hundred Years War began. Their eldest son Edward won his spurs at Crècy in 1346.

Philippa, like other medieval queens, accompanied her husband on his campaigns to Scotland and Flanders despite her numerous pregnancies.

Her other children included Lionel of Antwerp, Isabella, Joan, John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock.

Queen Philippa intercending for the Burghers of Calais by J D Penrose

Queen Philippa intercending for the Burghers of Calais by J D Penrose

She also pleaded successfully for the lives of six burghers of Calais who surrendered the town to Edward III.

The first outbreak of the bubonic plague swept through Europe, wiping out one-third of the population. The royal family were not spared, as their daughter Joan died from the Black Death in 1347 whilst in France.

King Richard II of England

King Richard II of England

Philippa was not happy about her eldest son marrying Joan of Kent in 1361, as her daughter-in-law had a scandalous past. However, Joan proved to be a model Princess of Wales as she was gentle with a kindly nature, a peacemaker, a loyal and loving wife who kept well out of public affairs. They produced two sons, Edward and Richard (later Richard II).

Edward was remarkably faithful to his queen until the last years of her life. Philippa became dangerously ill and bedridden for about two years.

Her son Lionel’s unexpected death in October 1368 appeared to break her spirits.

Philippa died from dropsy on 15 August 1369, aged 58. Her state funeral was held six months later on 29 January 1370. She was interred near Edward the Confessor’s shrine in Westminster Abbey.

Queen’s College, Oxford, was founded in Philippa’s honour by her chaplain Robert d’Englesfield.


Crofton, Ian, The Kings and Queens of England, Quercus, London, 2006

Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003

Fraser, Antonia [Editor], The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, (reprinted 2005)

Hilton, Lisa, Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2008

Prestwich, Michael, The Three Edwards: War and State in England 1272-1377, Routledge, New York, 1980

Weir, Alison, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, Vintage Books, London, 2008

Weir, Alison, Katherine Swynford, Jonathan Cape (Random House), London, 2007

Williamson, David, Debrett’s Kings and Queens of Britain, Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited, London, 1986

© 2010 Carolyn Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 20 February 2010.