Philippa of Hainaut (1314-1369)
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Philippa of Hainaut (1314-1369)

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Gentle sir, since I have crossed the sea with great danger to see you I have never asked you one favour. Now I most humbly ask as a gift to the Son of the Blessed Mary and for your love of me that you will be merciful to these six men.
Philippa's plea to her husband to spare the lives of the six chief Burghers of Calais he was about to execute.

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Philippa of Hainaut (1314-1369)

Prince Edward (later Edward III), aged 14, was required by his mother Isabella to marry one of the daughters of a powerful Flemish count in order to get his support in her struggle against her husband Edward II. He chose Philippa, then aged 12, and they married two years later in 1328 after Edward had been crowned king. Philippa was pretty with fair hair and blue eyes and immediately made a good impression on her new subjects. She was also courageous and had the good sense to ameliorate her husband's wilful behaviour. Philippa had eleven children (of whom all but two survived to adulthood) but it was the birth of her first son, Edward, which spurred Edward III to throw off the shackles of his mother and remove her lover, Mortimer.

Philippa generally accompanied Edward on his campaigns but was pregnant in England when, with her husband besieging Calais, King David of Scotland invaded England. Edward entrusted her to lead an army of 30,000 men to Newcastle to defeat David who was captured but treated leniently on her instructions. The incident for which she is best remembered happened soon afterwards in Calais which had been captured by Edward after a long siege. Philippa arrived heavily pregnant to find him in a rage and on the point of having the six chief burghers executed. She fell on her knees weeping and begged him to spare them. After a pause, Edward sighed and said "Ah lady, I wish you had been anywhere else than here. You have entreated me in such a manner that I cannot refuse you, I therefore give them to you to do as you please". Naturally she spared them and five of the six swore allegiance to England and had their possessions returned to them.

In spite of his great affection for her, Edward was unfaithful to Philippa and squandered the booty won in France on extravagant living and spoiling their children. Some of the money was spent by her on modernising the royal residences such as Windsor. However she went into a decline after the successive deaths of all her five daughters, of whom she was very fond, and after lingering for two years, died of dropsy in 1369 with her husband at her bedside. He had promised her that she would be buried beside him in Westminster Abbey.

Two important legacies of her life were her encouragement of Geoffrey Chaucer to write in English and the inclusion of the writer Froissart in her retinue enabling him to chronicle all events of the daily life of the court. Advanced Category Search

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