Philippa was born around 1073 to William IV, Count of Toulouse and Emma of Mortrain. Her mother was from the House of Normandy and a niece of William the Conqueror.
As her father had no sons, Philippa was his heir, but there was no tradition in Toulouse for female governance. In 1088 her father left to go on Crusade and asked his brother Raymond of St. Gilles to govern Toulouse for him. When her father died, Raymond kept on governing and then passed it on to his son Bertrand. Philippa looked around for a powerful noble who could help her regain her inheritance. She chose a neighbouring Duke, William IX of Aquitaine, as her husband. William and Philippa married in 1094, and in 1098 rode into Toulouse and retook it with no bloodshed.
They had a son, also called William. Another son and five daughters followed. But they were probably an ill-matched pair. William has gone down in history as the Troubadour Duke who created lusty poetry. William of Malmesbury calls him “ a giddy, unstable man.”
Philippa, on the other hand, became fascinated by Robert of Arbrissel who was an ascetic preacher. She persuaded William to grant him some land in order for him to build an Abbey. Thus was born the Abbey of Fontevraud. Robert’s abbey housed both men and women, but Robert decreed that a woman should rule over it all. Robert was known to solicit followers from all walks of life, and the witty William would tease her that her Abbey was a home for prostitutes.
Then William left to go on crusade and Philippa discovered that William had mortgaged Toulouse back to Raymond’s son Bertrand in order to finance his trip. She was furious. William’s crusade was a disaster. He lost more than 60 thousand men and all his property. Impoverished on his return, he was unable to buy back Toulouse.
It was not until 1113 upon the death of Bertrand that William was able to again reclaim Toulouse for Philippa. Philippa then went to Toulouse to govern her territories. When she returned to Poitou, she was shocked to discover that William had installed his mistress at the castle in a new tower he had built especially for her.
William had met the Viscountess Chatterault and become enamoured. The Viscountess was nicknamed Dangerosa (dangerous) due to her charms. Dangerosa left her husband and went to live with William. Philippa appealed to the church who excommunicated him. William is said to have said to the balding Bishop of Angouleme who remonstrated with him: “You shall curl with a comb the hair that has forsaken your forehead, ere I repudiate the Viscountess.”
Philippa was probably also annoyed when William married their son William to Dangerosa’s daughter, Aenor Chatterault. Young William and Aenor had a daughter who they named Alia Aenor (the other Aenor). In English, the name translates to Eleanor and she became the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Unable to dislodge Dangerosa, Philippa had no choice but to retire to the Abbey of Fontevraud. There she met Ermengarde of Anjou who some scholars believe may have once been married to William of Aquitaine herself. When Philippa died in 1118, Ermengarde made a nuisance of herself for years by haranguing William about Dangerosa on behalf of Philippa.
Following Philippa’s death, the Abbey of Fontevraud became an important sanctuary for noble ladies who sought solace or protection. One of the most famous of these is Philippa’s granddaughter Eleanor. Philippa would probably have been pleased. Eleanor, her husband and sons, are all buried at Fontevraud. Dangerosa’s daughter from her first marriage retired there. Matilda of Anjou, whose hopes of being Queen of England died along with her husband William on the White Ship, was one of the many royal women to serve as Abbess. Isabella of Angouleme, the widow of King John of England, fled there when she was accused of trying to poison the French King. The abbey was ransacked during the French revolution and then became a prison. Today it is a World Heritage site and open to visitors. 1