“The most courteous, liberal, and noble lady that ever reigned in her time.”
That is how French poet and historian Jean Froissart describes Philippa who is believed to be the first black queen of England. Well-loved and respected by all for her gentleness and compassion, Philippa spent much of her time following the English army on her husband King Edward III’s military campaigns.
Her tenure as the queen of England helped maintain peace and led to the establishment of both the coal and textile industries of England, which sources say became the two primary sources of England’s national wealth for many years.
Philippa was the daughter of William of Hainault, a lord in part of what is now Belgium, which was then known for its successful textile industry. Born in 1314 with black Moorish ancestry, her would-be husband and his mother Isabella visited the count of Hainault while she was still young.
Isabella wanted support for her planned revolt against her husband, King Edward II. Gaining support from the count of Hainault, Isabella, as a form of gratitude, promised to marry her son to one of the count’s four daughters if she succeeded.
And she did succeed, getting her husband captured and imprisoned in 1326. He would later be murdered on orders from Isabella. At the time of his death, his son Prince Edward, who was then 16, had been crowned as King Edward III. Isabella ruled as regent together with her lover, Roger Mortimer, and this enabled her to exercise extensive power over her son.
As gratitude for Count William’s help in removing the king, William’s daughter Philippa was betrothed to Edward III and in 1327, when she was only 14, she arrived in England.
The following year, at the age of 15, they married and Philippa was crowned queen in 1330 while heavily pregnant with her first child.
By June of 1330, Philippa gave birth to her first child, a son named Edward after his father. The birth of the heir, who would later become a renowned military leader, was met with so much excitement in London.
It was during this same period that an 18-year-old Edward III felt that it was high time he took over the reins of power for himself without his mother’s interference. Thus, at the end of that year, he banished his mother from the court and had her lover Mortimer killed.
By the following year, Philippa had begun making plans to bring the clothing industry to England, having seen how the industry contributed wealth to her homeland.
She had her husband invite over a Flemish weaver and his apprentices. With their help, Philippa, in four years, established a manufacturing colony at Norwich, monitoring the workers as much as she could.
Eventually, Norwich spread its technology of cloth production to other cities, making textile production one of the significant sources of revenue for England.
During these years, specifically between 1333 and 1345, she followed the English army on her husband’s military campaigns in Scotland and France, giving birth to eight more children.
In 1346, when her husband Edward III planned a major invasion of France, he made her regent in his absence, an unusual position for a queen-consort.
But she did not disappoint, especially when her husband’s old enemy King David II of Scotland invaded England. Philippa, in the absence of her husband, assembled an army and defeated the king of Scotland in battle, taking him prisoner.
Philippa may have had all the experience needed in military issues, but that didn’t take away her compassion and calmness, attributes that contrasted those of her husband.
Records show that on several occasions, she pleaded forgiveness for Edward III’s victims, whether guilty or not. After her husband’s victory of Calais in 1346, he planned to execute the six leading men of the town but she intervened and asked him to spare their lives.
When Philippa and Edward III returned to England in 1347, she found new ways to expand England’s economy and founded the coal mining industry which flourished in London. But things soon turned sour when the bubonic plague reached England the following year, killing two of her 14 children.
In the 1350s, Philippa brought many artists and scholars from Hainault who contributed to English culture. The motherly woman, whom England greatly loved unfortunately suffered from dropsy around 1367 and in two years, she passed away at the age of 55 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Known as the foremother of all future English monarchs, Philippa’s death took a toll on not only her husband Edward III but the whole country.
It is said that he never really recovered, and before his death in 1377, he even had a beautiful sculpture made for her tomb which is seen today at Westminster Abbey.
The Queen’s College, Oxford is also named after Philippa. It was founded by one of her chaplains, Robert de Eglesfield in her honor.