Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Philippa of Hainault: A Productive and Compassionate Queen

Philippa of Hainault, queen of England (1314-69)


I will be the first to admit that posting about Philippa of Hainault today is a bit of a stretch--but I have used every date possible in order to include my favorite historical figures. And so, here's why I'm writing about Philippa today--on 17 March 1337, Philippa of Hainault's eldest son, Edward, was created duke of Cornwall, the first creation of a duke in England. So, while admitting that this is an odd reason to write Philippa of Hainault today, I've done it anyway.

Philippa of Hainault,
detail from a fifteenth-century
manuscript
The daughter of William, count of Hainault, and his wife, Joan of Valois, who was the sister of King Philip VI of France, Philippa of Hainault was married to Edward III of England in 1328. As a queen consort, she fulfilled her expected duties more than well--she gave birth to fourteen children, eight sons and six daughters. Nine of these children survived infancy, including five sons who grew into adulthood. (Three of the children died of the plague in just one year, 1348.)

Today we know the story of Henry VIII only too well--all the turmoil and anguish that can result if a king does not have a single male heir. The story of Edward III's sons illustrates the opposite--all the turmoil and anguish that can result when a king has too many sons. But that is another story.

As queen consort, then, Philippa is a paragon, a reliable producer of heirs. But she is also more.

She served as regent of England on several occasions during Edward's absences. During Edward's Crécy campaign in 1346, for example, while her six-year-old son Lionel was technically "guardian of the realm," Philippa was acting as regent--when the Scottish king took advantage of the English king's absence to raid in England, Philippa headed north, rallying her English soldiers by riding among them.

She was also noted by her contemporaries for her gentle disposition--she was at times a calming influence on the king, interceding for the people of Calais in 1347 when, after a siege of more than a year was finally broken, her husband offered to execute six of the city's leading citizens instead of exacting vengeance on the entire population. In order to save the city's inhabitants, six men volunteered--but Queen Philippa intervened, persuading her husband to be merciful and spare their lives.  

Used copies Blanche C. Hardy's 1910 biography Philippa of Hainault: Her Life and Times are available, but the best modern account of the fourteenth-century queen is in Lisa Hilton's Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens

Philippa of Hainault's tomb,
Westminster Abbey