Philippa of Hainault (1314–1369)

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Philippa of Hainault (1314–1369)

Queen of England and founder of the English textile and coal industries. Name variations: Phillipa. Pronunciation: HAN-olt. Born in 1314 in Valenciennes, Hainault; died of dropsy on August 14, 1369, at Windsor, England; daughter of William III the Good, count of Hainault and Holland, and Countess Jeanne of Valois (c. 1294–1342); married Edward III (1312–1377), king of England (r. 1327–1377), on January 28, 1328; children: Edward "the Black Prince" (1330–1376), prince of Wales; Isabella (1332–1382); Joanna (1333–1348); William (b. 1336 and died in infancy); Lionel of Antwerp (1338–1368), duke of Clarence; John of Gaunt (1340–1399), duke of Lancaster; Edmund of Langley (1341–1402), duke of York; Blanche (b. 1343 and died in infancy); Mary (1344–1362); William (b. 1345); Margaret (1346–1361); Thomas of Woodstock (1355–1397), duke of Gloucester.

Married King Edward III (1328); crowned queen (1330); gave birth to Edward the Black Prince (1330); on military campaigns with Edward (1333–45); established textile industry at Norwich (1335); appointed regent (1346); repelled invasion of Scottish army and captured King David of Scotland (1346); established coal industry at Tynedale (1348); became ill with dropsy (1367).

Born into the ruling family of Hainault, Philippa of Hainault became one of England's most popular queens. She was in many ways responsible for the establishment of both the coal industry and the textile industry of England, the two primary sources of England's national wealth for many centuries. She also raised twelve children, including five sons who were renowned warriors and three who were also intellectuals, and daughters who were reputedly well educated and beautiful. Philippa provided a necessary contrast to her husband, Edward III, a great king but one whose impulsiveness and tendency toward violence and vengefulness needed her calm, rational influence.

She was the daughter of Jeanne of Valois and Count William III the Good of Hainault and Holland. A small but highly prosperous county located in what is now the upper north of France, Hainault derived its wealth from its flourishing textile industry, which obtained much of its raw wool from England. This important economic tie between England and Hainault was the primary motivation for the betrothal of England's heir, Prince Edward, and the count's daughter Philippa.

Jean Froissart">

The most courteous, liberal, and noble lady that ever reigned in her time.

Jean Froissart

In 1326, young Prince Edward and his mother, Queen Isabella of France (1296–1358), took refuge at the court of Philippa's father. Called the "she-wolf of France" by her numerous detractors, Isabella was the estranged wife and unpopular queen of Edward II. She had left England with her son in an effort to rally support for her planned revolt against her husband. There was considerable backing from the English nobility for Edward II's deposition, for he was widely perceived as an incompetent, weak ruler. Isabella wanted to depose her husband and place her young son on the throne, with herself and her lover Roger Mortimer as his regents. The count of Hainault supported Isabella's plans, probably because he recognized Edward II's vulnerable position and wished to aid his own county's economic situation by keeping ties with the ruling power of England strong. To this end, he promised his own aid, and helped her gain support from other barons. To show her gratitude and seal their alliance, Isabella apparently promised to marry her son to one of the count's four daughters if she were successful.

Isabella's invasion of England was indeed successful; her husband was captured and imprisoned in November 1326. The next January, he was forced to agree to his dethronement, and Prince Edward, about 16 years old, was crowned as Edward III (Edward II was murdered a few months later on Isabella's orders). Unfortunately for Isabella, Parliament, though grateful for her successful removal of the king, did not appoint her regent of England. However, she exerted considerable power over her son, if only in an unofficial capacity. Isabella and her lover did not forget the help Count William had given them, and late in 1327 an agreement, approved by Parliament, was contracted between the two houses for the marriage of the king and the count's second daughter, Philippa. It was unusual for a younger daughter to be married before her older sister (Joan of Hainault ), but it seems Edward had, during his stay at the Hainault court, favored Philippa over her sisters (Joan and Margaret of Holland ) and had insisted that she become his queen. The couple were married by proxy in October 1327. Philippa, about 13 years old, was reported to be slightly plump but quite beautiful; on her arrival in England in December, she was hailed by the Londoners who seem to have immediately conceived a love for the young queen they came to call Good Queen Philippa. Philippa and Edward, whom all chroniclers describe as very tall, strong, with the blue eyes and blond hair which ran in his family, were married again in a ceremony held at York Minster on January 24, 1328.

Philippa spent the first few years of her queenship under the thumb of her mother-in-law. Isabella and Roger Mortimer were constantly struggling for power against the council of regents appointed by Parliament; one of Isabella's strategies was to keep a tight rein on the activities and expenditures of her son and his wife. Isabella apparently spent Philippa's rich dowry very quickly and kept the total amount of the dowry a secret. She also was the force behind the delay of Philippa's coronation; although Edward was already king when he married, Philippa was not crowned queen until two years later, in March 1330. Probably Isabella's reluctance to allow the ceremony stemmed both from her unwillingness to expend the funds necessary for such an important event, and from her unwillingness to put another woman in what had been her place.

The June following the coronation, Philippa gave birth to her first child, a son named Edward after his father. The birth of this heir, a strong, healthy infant who would later be a military hero called the Black Prince, was greeted with grand tournaments and other festivities in London and throughout the realm. This event was a catalyst to the king's virtual coup d'etat against his mother and Mortimer. Edward was now about 18 years old, eager to take over the reins of government for himself. In a sudden move at the end of 1330, he had Mortimer killed and his grieving mother banished from court. He became at once an active, energetic, reformminded ruler, clearly one of England's greatest monarchs. Queen Philippa was not made a coruler with her husband, but she was given responsibilities other than those usual for a queen-consort. In 1332, she gave birth to a daughter, Isabella , who would always remain her father's favorite child.

One of Philippa's most lasting contributions to England was the founding of the textile industry. As one chronicler wrote after her death, "Blessed be the memory of … Philippa of Hainault, who first invented English clothes." Until her reign, the English made very little cloth, generally only by families for their own use. Philippa, recognizing that cloth production had created wealth for her homeland, wanted to bring the industry to England as well. In 1331, on Philippa's urging, Edward wrote to a Flemish weaver asking him to come to England with his apprentices to "exercise their mysteries." In 1335, Philippa established a full-blown manufacturing colony at Norwich, to which the Flemish weaver had relocated. She visited the fledgling colony frequently, and took personal responsibility for the welfare of her workers, English and Flemish. Under her guidance, Norwich grew into an important manufacturing center, from which the technology of cloth production spread to other English cities. Textile production would soon become one of England's most important sources of revenue, and lead them early into the proto-industrial age.

Between 1333 and 1345, Philippa spent much of her time following the English army on Edward's military campaigns, first against Scotland and then France. During these years, and often while on campaign, she also gave birth to eight more children, five sons and three daughters. Philippa set up another court at Ghent after Edward turned his attention away from the Scots to the French, with whom the English had long-standing territorial conflicts, and resided at Ghent off and on for several years. Edward's wars cost England enormous sums of money, but he did not spare his own household in raising the necessary funds. Thus it happened that Edward and Philippa were reduced to near poverty, and the crown jewels were pawned for cash on numerous occasions.

After so many years of near-constant travel, it is not surprising that in 1346, when Edward planned a major invasion of France, Philippa did not protest when Edward appointed her regent in his absence. It was unusual for a queen-consort to be given this much authority in England; Edward's decision reveals the faith and trust he placed in Philippa's judgment. With Edward away on campaign, his old enemy King David II of Scotland (now in league with France) invaded England. He apparently assumed that without its warrior king, his success was assured; however, Philippa rose to the occasion and quickly assembled an army which rode north to repel the Scots. The queen did not participate in the battle, but lent her support and encouragement to the fighting men. The defense was successful, and the king of Scotland was taken prisoner.

Despite Philippa's experience with military matters, she was celebrated by chroniclers for her generosity of spirit and her calm, thoughtful character. On more than one occasion, she intervened on behalf of Edward's victims, guilty or not, pleading forgiveness to her aggressive warrior husband, who usually acted impulsively when his enemies fell into his hands. One such occasion, told by Philippa's secretary Jean Froissart, followed the victory of Calais in 1346, in which the English army captured Calais after a long siege. Edward ordered the six leading men of the town to give themselves up to him, or he would have all Calais' residents killed. When the six burghers surrendered themselves, Edward ordered them to be beheaded. At this point Philippa, witness to the scene, fell on her knees before Edward and begged him to spare the lives of these men, if not for their sakes then out of love for her. Edward reluctantly relented, and gave the prisoners over to Philippa for her to treat as she wished. Although Philippa did free them, she retained custody of their Calais properties for herself.

Isabella (1332–1382)

English princess and countess of Bedford. Name variations: Isabel Plantagenet; Isabella de Coucy. Born in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England, on June 16, 1332; died before October 7, 1382; daughter of Philippa of Hainault (1314–1369) and Edward III (1312–1377), king of England (r. 1327–1377); married Enguerrand VII (1340–1397), lord of Coucy and earl of Bedford, on July 27, 1365; children:Mary de Coucy ; Philippa de Coucy .

After the capture of Calais, Philippa and Edward returned to England in 1347 with their fortunes at a peak and a new daughter; Princess Margaret had been born soon after the victory. The king and queen had in their possession both the king of Scotland, from Philippa's battle against the Scots, and the king of France, from Edward's invasion. Settling down to domestic affairs, Philippa turned her attention to expanding the English economy. Toward this end, she founded a new industry, coal mining, at her estates in Tynedale. The coal trade expanded greatly under her care, and enriched the country as a whole, especially London. But the economy was soon shaken by the appearance of the bubonic plague, which first reached England in 1348. Philippa's second daughter, Joanna , was among the first victims. Within a year, as much as a third or more of the English population had succumbed to the disease; many of the dead were city dwellers. Although wages rose drastically at first, due to the sudden decline in workers, soon the king issued a statute that laborers had to accept wages no higher than they had been in 1347; this impoverished thousands, since prices had risen dramatically since the Black Death struck, but their wages remained the same.

Despite the ravages of plague, the royal household was not seriously affected and continued about its usual business. During the late 1340s and into the 1350s, the queen became known as a beneficent patron of the arts. Among the beneficiaries was Geoffrey Chaucer, regarded as the "father of English verse"; Chaucer held a variety of minor posts in the royal administration, and his poetry found an eager and generous supporter in Philippa. Her secretary, Jean Froissart, is one of the most important historians of his time and is a major source of information on the life and times of Edward III and Queen Philippa. Besides these two men, Philippa also provided financial support to many other poets, writers, and artists.

She also could be generous to men whom she felt were truly chivalrous knights, who protected women and treated them well. One celebrated example of her charity involves the renowned French knight Bertrand du Guesclin. He had been captured by her son, Edward, the Black Prince, at the battle of Poitiers in 1357. While he and other prisoners were residing at Philippa's court, du Guesclin's ransom was set at 100,000 crowns, an enormous sum. Hearing of this, the queen told her son that she herself would contribute 50,000 crowns of her own money to the grateful knight's ransom; the chronicler records her as explaining that "though an enemy to my husband, a knight who is famed for the courteous protection he has afforded to my sex, deserves the assistance of every woman."

Philippa gave birth to Thomas of Woodstock, her last child, in 1355. In all, the queen had twelve children, five of whom outlived her. Two of her sons died in infancy, and one at age twelve. In 1361 and 1362, the king and queen lost two of their daughters, Margaret and Mary . Philippa's large brood may be held responsible for considerable warfare and chaos in later years; it was with Edward's and Philippa's five surviving sons that the Wars of the Roses had their roots. All her children were reputedly handsome, and all of her sons found fame on the battlefield, especially the eldest, Prince Edward. Although by accidents of fate her daughters did not make politically beneficial marriages, most ended up contented with their matches. The king and queen were known to be proud, doting parents, who spoiled all of their children and seemed unable to discipline them.

Around 1367, Queen Philippa began to suffer from dropsy, a fairly common ailment of her times. She became very weak, and her body was so swollen she could not stand up. She endured this condition for almost two years. In August 1369, she sent a message to her husband that she needed to see him, for she felt herself to be dying. Though Edward hurried to her at Windsor Castle, reaching her on August 14, she was saddened by the fact that only one of her many children, the youngest, Thomas, could be with her on her deathbed; her daughters had left England upon marriage and her four sons (Lionel had died in 1368) were all engaged in various military or political activities overseas. To Edward she made three requests: that he pay her legal debts, make sure the items in her will were carried out, and that he be buried beside her at Westminster. Edward promised all these things would be done, and within a few hours the queen died at age 55. In his history, Froissart wrote of her death and referred to her as "the most courteous, liberal, and noble lady that ever reigned in her time."

Joanna (1333–1348)

English princess. Name variations: Joan Plantagenet. Born in 1333 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England; died of the plague on her journey to wed Alphonso XI (1311–1350), king of Castile (r. 1312–1350), on September 2, 1348, in Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France; buried in Bayonne Cathedral, Gascony, France; daughter of Philippa of Hainault (1314–1369) and Edward III (1312–1377), king of England (r. 1327–1377).

Mary (1344–1362)

English princess. Name variations: Mary Plantagenet. Born on October 10, 1344, in Waltham, Hampshire, England; died of a form of sleeping sickness at age 17 in 1362; buried at Abingdon Abbey, Oxfordshire, England; daughter of Philippa of Hainault (1314–1369) and Edward III (1312–1377), king of England (r. 1327–1377); married John IV, duke of Brittany (r. 1364–1399), in summer 1361, in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England.

Edward mourned his wife greatly, as did the rest of England. She was buried with due ceremony at Westminster Cathedral. Philippa's death marked the beginning of a decline for England; Edward, having lost his rational, clement,

pious companion, seems to have undergone a significant change for the worse. Certainly there were no English military or political victories after her death. The king began to drink heavily, and took a mistress, Alice Perrers , who was ambitious and greedy, and cared very little for the elderly king. Edward eventually became senile, and could not handle the responsibilities of government. As it was said at the time, he was a glorious king who had outlived his glory. England's state was further reduced on the death in 1376 of the Black Prince, the once-powerful warrior, after a long bout of cancer. Edward III died in neglect in 1377, his rings, so it was reported, stolen by his mistress before she abandoned him on his deathbed. He was 65 years old and had reigned for 50 of those years. The Black Prince's young son succeeded as Richard II to a bankrupt throne and a relationship with France worse than at any previous time.


Costain, Thomas. The Three Edwards. NY: Popular Library, 1958.

Strickland, Agnes. Lives of the Queens of England. Vol. 11. Philadelphia, PA: Lea and Blanchard, 1850.

suggested reading:

Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. VII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

Froissart, Jean. Chronicles of England, France, Spain, and Adjoining Countries. Vol I. Edited and translated by Thomas Johnes. NY: Collier, 1901.

Tuchman, Barbara . A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century. NY: Ballantine, 1978.

Laura York , freelance writer in medieval history and women's history, Riverside, California

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Philippa of Hainault (1314–1369)

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