10 Things You Should Know About Queen Philippa of Hainault

This queen’s power as Regent of England and her influence on the court and country are often overshadowed by the military happenings and disease sweeping through Europe during her lifetime. Queen Philippa of England has been “lost” in many history books, and even her image may have been significantly altered through the centuries.

Today, we’ll uncover ten things you should know about this remarkable queen:

  1. Philippa’s coat of arms after she married, showing the Royal English and House of Hainault emblems. (By Sodacan – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27269484)

    Born between 1310 and 1315

The daughter of William III the Good and Joan of Valois, Philippa of Hainault was born between 1310 and 1315. She was the granddaughter of a King of France, through her mother’s lineage. Philippa was one of eight siblings and the second of five daughters.

2. From Hainault

Hainault, a province in the region of modern-day Holland, was Philippa’s homeland and were she grew up. Celebrated for culture, the court of Hainault offered Philippa opportunity to explore literature and love learning.  Philippa spent her early years at the court of Hainault, renowned for its culture. She developed literary tastes and an interest in learning.

3. There’s a description of her appearance?

Edward II of England wanted his son to form an alliance with Hainault and sent a bishop to report on the young girl’s appearance. Though some researchers think the description might have applied to one of Philippa’s sisters, with others insist it describes her; either way here it is:

” The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is clean-shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than the forehead. Her eyes are blackish-brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that it is somewhat broad at the tip and somewhat flattened, yet it is no snub-nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full, and especially the lower lip. Her teeth which are fallen and grown again are white enough, but the rest are not so white. The lower teeth project a little beyond the upper; yet this is but little seen. Her ears and chin are comely enough. Her neck, shoulders, and all her body and lower limbs are reasonably well shapen; all her limbs are well set and unmaimed; and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father; and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us. And the damsel will be of the age of nine years on St John’s day next to come, as her mother saith. She is neither too tall nor too short for such an age; she is of fair carriage.”

Philippa got betrothed to Prince Edward of England at this very young age.

Philippa of Hainault at her coronation as England’s Queen (Public Domain: published in the U.S. before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.)

4. Married Edward III of England

Philippa arrived in England in 1327 and married young King Edward III the following year. The teenage queen seemed popular with the English people and supported her husband’s efforts to eliminate threats to the throne, though she tended to beg for leniency.

5. She had fourteen children

Queen Philippa had fourteen children, but only five of these children outlived their mother. Her first son was born when she was about sixteen, and this son – later known as Edward the Black Prince – would gain battlefield fame, but die before he had the chance to rule England.

6. Lived during the Hundred Years War

Queen Philippa lived and ruled in England during a tumultuous time. The Hundred Years War between France and England began in 1337 – a bitter conflict over lineage and land claims. Her son, Prince Edward, led English knights and armies to victory at the famous battles of Crecy and Pontiers.

7. Survived the Black Death

In 1346, the plague – known as Black Death – struck Europe, and swept quickly across the continent. England and France did not escape the disease, and everywhere people suddenly became religious or tried all sorts of strange rituals and potions, hoping to ward off the illness. (They didn’t realize at this point that fleas carried the disease and piggybacked across Asia and Europe on rats!)

Though she happened to be in Bordeaux when the plague struck the city, Queen Philippa did not fall ill or die of the disease, but it’s another example of tumultuous time, considering this added health risk. Sadly, three of her children and members of her court succumbed to the Black Death.

The queen on a journey, seated under the canopy.

8. Encouraged industry

One of the outstanding innovations Queen Philippa encouraged for her kingdom was industry. Hailing from the Low Country, she knew about weaving and the flourishing industries of her original homeland. She had Flemish weavers immigrate to England and practice their specialized trade in Norwich, personally visiting and taking an interest in their work.

She also ordered workers to start coal mining on her personal royal estate.

9. Insisted on compassion in warfare

When Edward III left England for military expeditions during the Hundred Years’ War, he left Queen Philippa as regent and historians have noted their seemingly close relationship. She had enough influence that she personally persuaded the king to spare the lives of the Calais townsfolk after the Siege of Calais in 1347.

An imaginative illustration of Queen Philippa begging for mercy for the townsfolk

Still, according to medieval chroniclers, this queen had a warrior-like spirit. In 1346 – as the story goes – this regent queen rallied English knights and soldiers to stop a Scottish invasion of English territory. Some say she even rode the battle line and made a speech before the conflict began! One has to wonder what this compassionate but bold queen said to those knighted men…

10. A respected queen who’s been hidden in history?

Her contemporaries praised her and one writer described her as “tall and upright, wise, gay [cheerful], humble, pious, liberal and courteous.” Often overshadowed by the events during her life, Queen Philippa was a successful and respected queen in her era.

Some controversy surrounds her appearance. The description of her in girlhood notes her dark complexion, and some researchers think this may have been from her past lineage which may not have been all European. This also raises questions about her son – Edward the Black Prince. Traditionally, historians have claimed the name came from his dark colored armor, but perhaps he had darker skin tones too. It’s hard to know for sure since Queen Philippa is shown in the Medieval art and imaginative sketches from later decades solely with the “blonde beauty” look that was fashionable during that time.

However she appeared in real life, there’s no question that her beauty, kindness, and capable advice strengthened the English throne in this period, introduced some new industries, and gave chroniclers an example of queen whose actions may have morphed into legend.

Queen Philippa died in August 1369, and with her last words entreated her king to be buried beside her when he died. He honored her request.

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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