Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England

by Susan Flantzer

Philippa of Hainault, Photo: Wikipedia

I’ve felt a closeness to Philippa of Hainault since 2005 when I made my second visit to Westminster Abbey.  My first visit was in 1990 with my sister and two children.  In 2005, I was with my husband and kept telling him that I was sure I saw Edward the Confessor’s tomb in 1990, but couldn’t see it in 2005.  There was a verger nearby whose duty it was to answer questions, so I asked him.  He said that the route tourists go through the Abbey had changed since 1990 and he would show me how to see Edward the Confessor’s tomb.  He brought me to the tomb of Philippa of Hainault which is located on a side aisle next to the main altar.  He told me to stand on the tomb’s edge and then I would be able to see into the Chapel of Edward the Confessor.  So there I was looking into the face of Philippa on her effigy while being able to see Edward the Confessor’s tomb.

Born June 24, 1314, Philippa was the daughter of William I, Count of Hainault (also Count of Holland, Count of Avesnes and Count of Zeeland) and Joan of Valois.  Joan’s paternal grandparents were King Philip III of France and Isabella of Aragon, and her maternal grandparents were King Charles II of Naples and Maria Arpad of Hungary.  Philippa was the fourth of her parents’ nine children.

Philippa’s siblings:

When Philippa was only eight years old, she was already being considered as a bride for the future King Edward III who was only seven. Walter de Stapledon, Bishop of Exeter was sent to inspect Philippa.  The bishop gave a very detailed report to King Edward II.  Seven years later in 1326 Prince Edward and his mother Queen Isabella were able to check out Philippa themselves when they visited the court of Hainault.  The young prince liked what he saw and he and Philippa were betrothed in the summer of 1326.

In January of 1327, King Edward II abdicated after he had been politically opposed and his 14-year-old son became King Edward III.  A year later on  January 24, 1328, Edward and Philippa married at York Minister.  The couple’s main home was Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire.  It was Philippa’s favorite residence and the birthplace of four of her thirteen children including her eldest child, Edward the Black Prince, who was born days before her sixteenth birthday.  The sons of Edward and Philippa married into the English nobility and it was their descendants who later battled for the throne in the Wars of the Roses.

The children of Edward III and Philippa:

  • Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) (1330 – 1376), married  Joan, Countess of Kent, had issue (King Richard II of England)
  • Isabella (1332 – 1379) married Enguerrand VII de Coucy, 1st Earl of Bedford, had issue
  • Joan (1333/1334 – 1348), died of the plague on the way to marry Pedro of Castile
  • William of Hatfield (born and died 1337)
  • Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence (1338 – 1368), married (1) Elizabeth de Burgh, 4th Countess of Ulster, had issue (2) Violante Visconti, no issue
  • John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (1340 – 1399), married (1) Blanche of Lancaster, had issue including King Henry IV of England (2) Infanta Constance of Castile, had issue (3) Katherine Swynford (formerly his mistress), had issue (the Tudors descend from this line)
  • Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York (1341 – 1402), married (1) Infanta Isabella of Castile, had issue (2) Joan Holland, no issue
  • Blanche of the Tower (born and died March 1342)
  • Mary (1344 – 1362), married John V, Duke of Brittany, no issue
  • Margaret (1346 – 1361), married John Hastings, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, no issue
  • Thomas of Windsor (1347 – 1348), died of the plague
  • William of Windsor (born and died 1348), died of the plague
  • Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester (1355 – 1397), married Eleanor de Bohun, had issue

Like other medieval consorts, Philippa often accompanied her husband on military campaigns.  She was known for her kindly nature and successfully pleaded for the lives of six burghers who had surrendered their city of Calais to King Edward III.  Philippa acted as regent for her husband several times while he was away from England. She was a patron of the chronicler Jean Froissart who said of her “The most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was Queen in her days.”

Philippa died on August 15, 1369 of a “dropsical malady” (edema) that had bothered her for about two years.  She was 55 years old and had outlived seven of her children.  According to the chronicler Jean Froissart, Philippa died holding the hands of her husband and her youngest child Thomas who was fourteen years old.  She was buried in a tomb with an alabaster effigy in Westminster Abbey. Her husband King Edward III survived her by eight years.  He died in 1377 and was succeeded by his ten-year-old grandson Richard, the only child of his eldest son Edward the Black Prince who had died in 1376.

Effigy of Philippa of Hainault, Photo source: www.westminster-abbey.org

Wikipedia: Philippa of Hainault