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date: 30 November 2020

Philippa [Philippa of Hainault]free

  • Juliet Vale

Philippa (1310x15?15–1369)

by Jean de Liège, commissioned 1367 [tomb effigy]

Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369), queen of England, consort of Edward III, was born in Hainault, probably at Valenciennes, the daughter of Count William the Good of Hainault and Holland (d. 1337) and Countess Jeanne (d. 1342), granddaughter of Philippe III of France. Her date of birth is not entirely certain, owing to the imprecision of the records as to the order in which she and her sisters were born. Philippa may have been born on 24 June 1310, but it is also possible that she was not born until 1315. Of her sisters, Margaret was the wife of the Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, and Joanna married William, marquess of Juliers; her brother succeeded his father as Count William (IV) (1337–45).

Marriage to Edward III

A diplomatic report (probably dating from 1319) inserted in the register of Bishop Stapledon of Exeter describes a young daughter of the count of Hainault in candid detail. This may refer to Philippa, and several points tally with visual representations of the queen: her face was well proportioned, with a broad and prominent forehead, the head narrowing at eyes and chin, with a straight, broad-based nose, wide mouth, and an upper lip fuller than the lower. The realistic effigy on her tomb, commissioned in 1367, two years before her death, shows a general thickening of face and figure in later life.

A marriage alliance with Hainault was an essential part of Queen Isabella's strategy to oust her husband, Edward II, and place their son (the future Edward III (1312–1377)) upon the throne. This entailed military aid from Philippa's uncle, John of Hainault, lord of Beaumont, and the active collaboration of the count. Philippa's mother, Jeanne de Valois, countess of Hainault, was first cousin to Queen Isabella. Negotiations for a marriage between Edward and Philippa's eldest sister in 1320–21 came to nothing. Edward and Philippa met in Paris in December 1325, when a visit of Jeanne de Valois and her daughter coincided with that of Edward and Isabella. A marriage contract, with strict terms for non-compliance and conditional upon papal dispensation, was drawn up on 27 August 1326 at Mons in Hainault, despite opposition from Edward II and his council; the Hainault court, with Isabella and Edward, celebrated the alliance in various towns in Holland. Isabella swore (on behalf of her son) to provide Philippa with an appropriate dowry, and that the marriage would take place within two years. Negotiations for papal dispensation for the marriage (Philippa and Edward were related within the third degree of consanguinity) were in train from March 1327, and this was granted on 30 August 1327.

Provided for by her father in a manner befitting her position as future queen of England, Philippa participated in a proxy marriage ceremony performed by Roger Northburgh, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, who had been sent by Edward (who was now king, following his father's deposition at the beginning of the year) on 8 October 1327 for this purpose and to confirm the terms of her dowry. The arrival of the English contingent on 2 November marked the beginning of lavish espousal ceremonies. Bartholomew Burghersh, constable of Dover Castle, and William Clinton were then commissioned (28 November) to accompany Philippa to England. Leaving Valenciennes on 2 December with an escort of Hainault notables, who included the young Walter Mauny and Jean Bernier, provost of Valenciennes, Philippa embarked at Wissant on 16 December for Dover, reaching London by 22 December, where she was enthusiastically received by clergy and people. After Christmas Philippa left for York, where she married Edward III on 24 January 1328. On 15 May Edward confirmed his promise relating to her dowry and settled 15,000 livres tournois on her, together with lands and annuities given to some members of her entourage.

Apart from the all-important need to secure the succession through the provision of an heir, Edward III's marriage to Philippa served three main functions. Most immediately, this manifestation of continental support—from a principality playing an increasingly important role in Europe independently of France—consolidated his vulnerable position upon the throne; then it provided military support against the Scots—a substantial contingent of Hainaulters, under Philippa's uncle, John of Hainault, served in the Stanhope Park campaign of 1327; and finally, in the longer term, it furnished an important point of access, through the connections made by the marriage, to a number of princes and lords of imperial allegiance in the Low Countries. However, it was only on 25 February 1330 that Philippa was crowned in Westminster Abbey. It has been suggested that the coronation was intentionally delayed by Isabella and Roger Mortimer: whatever the case, the issue is likely to have been forced by Philippa's pregnancy. She gave birth to their first child, Edward (later called the Black Prince), on 15 June 1330.

Problems and functions of queenship

Until the downfall of Isabella and Mortimer in October 1330, Philippa was clearly underendowed with lands and revenues, but the problem seems to have continued into the 1360s. In January 1331 dower lands to the value of £4000 were assigned to her, some of which had formerly been held by Queen Isabella. They included Pontefract, Knaresborough, Tickhill, and High Peak. A continuous series of further grants was made over the next three decades, including the town of Bristol and lands in Essex (among them the royal manor of Havering atte Bower, one of her favourite residences, conveniently close to London and well placed for hunting in royal forests). Despite these increases (ultimately amounting to an annual income in excess of £7000), Philippa's finances seem always to have shown a deficit. Considerable sums were lost through the negligence of her officials, an unexceptional state of affairs for the period. The situation was eventually stabilized and then gradually improved by the queen's appointment (confirmed by the king) of the energetic Richard Ravenser as her receiver in June 1359. In May 1360 it was decided to merge her household with the king's. Her debts by this time were so great, however, that for six years after 1362 all her annual income from her dower lands (other than 4000 marks reserved for personal chamber expenses) had to be devoted to the settlement of household debts incurred before 1360.

From the very beginning of her life in England Philippa was concerned with the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy, in 1328 securing a pardon for an eleven-year-old girl who had been convicted of a robbery at Bishopthorpe, York. In 1333 a pregnant woman who had stolen a surcoat and 3s. at York was pardoned at the queen's request. This pattern continued throughout her life: in March 1365 at Nottingham, for example, a pregnant woman condemned to be hanged for stealing was shown clemency at her entreaty. She displayed a similarly constant solicitude for those in her family and household circles, for instance with a stream of petitions to the pope requesting indulgences or promotion for members of her chapel and household, and for one of her godsons (her godchildren appear to have been numerous). Immediately after her death a series of detailed instructions, designed to ensure the continuing welfare of her servants, was carried out by the king, suggesting the same concern for individuals.

In 1331 Philippa had narrowly escaped when the stand from which she and her ladies were viewing a tournament at Cheapside in London collapsed. Her intervention on this occasion with the king on behalf of the negligent carpenters once more shows her acting as intercessor, a role that features prominently in chroniclers' accounts of her personality and made a marked contribution to her popularity—most notably in the famous episode of the burghers of Calais, after the siege of the town in 1347, when though far advanced in pregnancy she is said to have persuaded the reluctant Edward to spare the lives of six principal bourgeois.

Political involvement

In the 1330s and 1340s Philippa's itinerary is characterized by her accompanying Edward III on his expeditions to Scotland, and also to the Low Countries during the early campaigns of the Hundred Years' War. Thus she is reported to have been at Bamburgh in Northumberland in the winter of 1335, while in 1338 the king gave her £564 3s. 4d. from the customs in the port of London for horses, dress, plate, and jewels for her imminent passage with him to Brabant. After their arrival in the Low Countries, Philippa remained at Antwerp while Edward continued on to Koblenz, and she gave birth to their third son, Lionel, at the abbey of St Michael on 29 November. Similarly, in March 1340, she remained at Ghent for the birth of John of Gaunt, returning to England in November 1340. Ten years later, on 29 August 1350, according to Froissart, she was at Winchelsea while the king and her two eldest sons went to sea from that port for the battle of 'les Espagnols sur mer'.

Just as Philippa's connections gave Edward an entry point to northern France and the Low Countries, so she provided supporters of the French cause with a channel through which they could hope to exert influence upon the English king. In the early 1340s, for instance, there was an exchange of envoys bearing verbal messages as well as letters between Philippa and the pro-French Pope Clement VI, with whom she may have become acquainted at the French court. She sent Clement a gift of a 'ring set with precious diamonds' (CEPR letters, 1342–62, 3), no doubt in an attempt to make the pope more favourably disposed to Edward's activities.

It was uncommon for an English king and queen to spend as much time together as Edward and Philippa did, and their forty-year-long marriage may have been more than usually companionate. They enjoyed hunting together, and at home she is normally recorded as present with the king and court at the principal feasts of the liturgical year, and at the tournaments and celebrations that accompanied them, as well as those which formed part of the festivities surrounding her own churchings after childbirth.

Philippa's brother William was injured in such a tournament at Eltham during a visit in 1342. After his death without issue in 1345, Edward pursued claims in Hainault, Holland, and Zeeland on Philippa's behalf. Although the estates of Hainault and Holland were to rule against Philippa's claims (maintaining the indivisible sovereignty of the territories), Edward III continued to uphold her interest. A further crisis was provoked by the insanity in 1358 of Philippa's nephew, the Wittelsbach William (V), count of Hainault, whose wife, Maud, was the eldest daughter of the duke of Lancaster. Edward III's formal renewal of his claims on Philippa's behalf threatened to destabilize the whole balance of power in the Low Countries; Hainault itself was split on the issue at almost every social level. In June 1361 Maud visited England: although her exact intentions are unknown, she probably sought English support to counterbalance the power of the regent of Hainault, William (V)'s brother Albrecht of Bavaria. It is clear that Maud remained in close personal contact with Philippa at this period of crisis.

Maud's death in April 1362 threw Philippa's claims into sharper focus. Already in February 1362 Edward had given his envoys full power to treat with the count of Flanders over a projected marriage between his fifth son, Edmund of Langley, and the count's daughter, Margaret: Edmund would bring to the marriage the considerable lure of Philippa's rights to Hainault, Holland, and Zeeland. Critical diplomatic negotiations were in progress between April and August 1364, and a contract dated early October set out the terms of this projected marriage. Philippa's continuing network of contacts in Hainault facilitated Edward's attempt to construct a web of dynastic alliances (not unlike the network of loyalties he had attempted to forge in the Low Countries earlier in the reign in support of his claims to France) and also enabled him to identify the rival, pro-French, faction (led by Albrecht's right-hand man, Jean de Werchin, hereditary seneschal of Hainault) which was to undermine and ultimately defeat his plans. It was perhaps typical of Philippa that she appears to have been entirely ready to renounce her personal claims in favour of one of her sons. She would appear to have supported Edward III in ensuring, as far as possible, an equitable balance of power (and lands) among their numerous sons.

Royal family matters

Grants made by the queen from 1365 onwards refer to the possibility of her dying before the grantee, suggesting that the condition from which Philippa was eventually to die may first have been evident at this date. In 1367 the king named his new castle and town in the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, Queenborough in her honour. Her failing health must have given greater urgency to Edward's prosecution of the claims to her continental inheritance. The outcome was by no means certain: both Edward of Gueldres and Philippa's nephew the marquess of Juliers supported English rights, and in October 1367 Albrecht of Bavaria made an impressive two-week-long visit to England (described in detail by Froissart), where he was showered with presents and lavish hospitality by Edward and Philippa and their children at Windsor, in an apparent attempt to outbid the influence of the king of France. In June 1371, two years after Philippa's death, Edward relinquished her claims, in terms that may echo Philippa's own benign attitude: 'so that love and affection may be fostered in time to come between us and our cousins, their heirs, and their lands' (Quicke, 172, n. 129).

Philippa probably gave birth to twelve children (seven sons and five daughters), of whom five died in childhood and five outlived her, among them Isabella, countess of Bedford, and Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester. The few glimpses there are suggest a happy relationship with her children that continued when they were adult—gambling with Edward the Black Prince, for instance, and giving a handsome present in March 1362 to his wife, Joan of Kent, with no suggestion of disapproval for their somewhat unorthodox marriage. She seems to have been altogether a woman of warm and stable character to whom credit should be given for the remarkable absence of squabbles among her grown-up sons, and for the easy integration of her Hainault followers, men such as Sir Walter Mauny and the d'Aubrechicourts, into English knightly and aristocratic circles. Her household did not attract the criticism of foreigners that attended other queens before and after her who came from overseas.

Cultural interests and patronage

Like other women in the Hainault courtly milieu from which she came, Philippa evidently possessed literary interests: the poet–minstrel Jehan de le Mote dedicated to Philippa his verse lament of 1339 on the death of her father (Li regret Guillaume), and he also performed before the English court. On his arrival in England in 1362 the young Jean Froissart presented a rhymed chronicle to the queen; she also patronized his lyric poetry, and under her auspices he made the journeys around the British Isles which provided him with the raw material for both the lengthy verse romance Meliador and his Chroniques. His devotion to the queen's memory (he wrote a lament on her death) has substantially influenced much subsequent writing. Something of Philippa's diverse literary background is reflected in the ewer she gave Edward III as a new year gift in 1333, described as enamelled with a range of figures from epic and romance. The richly illuminated manuscript compilation (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS fr. 571) commissioned as a wedding gift and containing Brunetto Latini's Trésor and a French translation of De secretis secretorum, as well as Raoul le Petit's romance, Fauveyn, is an indication of Philippa's high artistic expectations. The same cultural links led her to commission an innovatorily realistic tomb sculpture at the end of her life from the Brabançon Jean de Liège, who was also active at the French royal court. Two illuminated psalters (DWL, MS Anc. 6; BL, MS Harley 2899), bearing the arms of England and Hainault, apparently indicating her ownership, have also survived. A more modest example of cultural dissemination through Philippa's agency is to be found in a short treatise on the medicinal virtues of rosemary, supposedly sent to her by her mother in 1338.

Philippa seems also to have had a reputation for fostering learning, which would be entirely in keeping with the long tradition of literary interests at the Hainault court. In 1334, for instance, the chancellor and masters of Oxford University petitioned her for support against the would-be secessionist establishment at Stamford, and alluded to previous instances of her favour. In 1341 her clerk Robert Eglesfield founded Aulam Regine de Oxoni (now the Queen's College, Oxford), but granted its advocacio (patronage) to Philippa, in the hope—as he says in the college statutes—of a better and more secure foundation. She used her influence actively on the college's behalf, especially after Eglesfield's death in May 1349, referring to it as 'our foundation'. Other benefactions advanced the expansion of the hospital of St Katharine, near the Tower of London, and the collegiate chapel of St Stephen, Westminster. Her alms-giving reflected the court devotion of the period. A vow to go on pilgrimage overseas was fulfilled by proxy in 1344.

Appearance, death, and reputation

Edward III's redecoration of St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, included wall-paintings (preserved only in later drawings) which incorporated members of his own family as donor figures. Philippa and her daughters appeared on the south side of the altar wall. There is a full-length wooden effigy of Philippa in Queen's College, Oxford. First documented in 1658–9, this has yet to be scientifically dated; however, it is not a copy of her tomb effigy, and depicts a younger woman whose features may correspond with the Stapledon description. The original college seal also has a full-length figure of the younger queen.

Philippa died at Windsor Castle shortly before 14 August 1369. Her funeral took place at Westminster Abbey in the following January, with the exequies commencing at Windsor on 3 January and ending at Westminster six days later, a period that spanned the anniversary of her marriage; her anniversarium (year's mind) was formally observed by the court at Westminster. She was buried on the south side of the Confessor's chapel, Westminster Abbey, in a tomb chest decorated with thirty-two small figures and her own recumbent effigy. Queen Philippa appears to have been widely admired in her adopted country. To the censorious Walsingham, for instance, she was 'a most noble woman and most constant lover of the English' (Historia Anglicana, 1.309). Her long and fertile marriage to Edward III was an important factor in the preservation of stability and continuity in England for much of the fourteenth century.


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  • Archives de l'État, Mons, trésorerie des comtes de Hainaut
  • Archives du Nord, Lille, sér. B


  • J. de Liège, tomb effigy, commissioned 1367, Westminster Abbey [see illus.]
  • manuscript, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, MS Français 2675, fol. 27
  • seal, Queen's College, Oxford
  • tomb effigy, electrotype, NPG
  • wall paintings, St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, London
  • wooden statue, Queen's College, Oxford

Wealth at Death

see CIPM

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Society of Antiquaries of London
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