Philippa was born in June 1314 in Valenciennes in Hainaut which today lies across an area of Belgium and into the French department of Nord. Her parents were Joan of Valois and William III Count of Holland and Hainaut.
When looking for a bride for his son Prince Edward, King Edward II of England sent an ambassador over to the court of Hainaut. He was seeking an alliance with Flanders, and a marriage between the two houses would have been an ideal way to bring this about. Bishop Stapledon of Exeter was sent over as ambassador and gave a lengthy description of Philippa’s appearance, also stating that she was ‘of fair carriage’. The nine-year-old was an ideal match for Prince Edward, but it was not until four years later that the pair were formally betrothed.
Philippa was destined to marry into a troubled family. Her proposed in-laws King Edward II and his Queen Isabella were at war with each other during the mid-1320s, and by the time of Philippa’s betrothal to Prince Edward, Isabella was pushing to have her husband deposed. Philippa’s father backed Isabella and her lover Lord Roger Mortimer, and after a series of battles, King Edward II was forced to abdicate due to the poor governorship of his realm. Edward II abdicated in floods of tears and only did so to make sure that his son would not be barred from the succession.
Philippa of Hainault married the new King Edward III on 24 January 1328, just months after her arrival on English soil. At this stage, the pair were still in their mid-teens, and Edward’s kingdom was truly under the rule of Mortimer. It was not until 1330 that Edward had Mortimer executed and began to rule over his own kingdom.
Philippa was not crowned Queen of England until March 1330 because Isabella, the Dowager Queen did not want to give up her own rank at court. By the time of the coronation, the fifteen-year-old Philippa was six months pregnant with her first son. Edward and Philippa had thirteen children together in total.
As a queen, Philippa was well-loved by the people. She was seen as kind-hearted and charismatic, with one chronicler commenting that she was “the most gentle Queen, most liberal, and most courteous that ever was”. Philippa was also an active queen, often accompany her husband on trips; during the start of the Hundred years war and on Scottish campaigns. On one such campaign, after a year-long siege in Calais, Philippa persuaded Edward to spare the lives of a group of Calais Burghers. The six men were supposed to be executed as an example to the rest of the townsfolk, but Philippa dropped to her knees and pleaded with her husband to show mercy. Edward eventually released the men and Philippa made sure they were well-fed, provided with clean clothing and some money before being set free.
Of the thirteen children born to Philippa and Edward, only four outlived their mother, with three of the couple’s children dying of plague in 1348. Despite experiencing such terrible losses and living through a period of war, Philippa and Edward were reportedly a happily married couple.
Queen Philippa died in August 1369 at fifty-five years of age and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Her husband outlived her by eight years. Philippa’s biggest legacy comes from the five sons who lived to be adults. The descendants of Edward and Philippa were all involved in long drawn out dynastic wars, each of the branches of the family tree battled for the crown of England, tracing their lineage back to Edward III. Edward and Philippa’s descendants broke off into the Yorkist and Lancastrian lines which tore the country apart during the Wars of the Roses.