28 February, 2016

Philippa of Hainault's Romanticising

On 27 August 1326, Edward II's queen Isabella of France arranged the future marriage of her then thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor, who became King Edward III of England five months later, and Philippa, daughter of Willem, count of Hainault and Holland and Jeanne de Valois. Philippa was then about twelve, and was her future husband's second cousin: they were both great-grandchildren of Philip III of France and his first queen Isabel of Aragon. They married on or about 25 January 1328, the twentieth wedding anniversary of Edward's parents Edward II and Isabella, and were to be married for forty-one and a half years and to have a dozen children together.

Many years after 1326, Queen Philippa supposedly told the chronicler Jean Froissart that in August 1326, Edward of Windsor preferred her to her sisters and favoured her company over theirs, that she knew him better than her sisters, and that he chose her over them. Froissart says that he heard this romantic tale from directly from Philippa herself, "the good lady who was queen of England" (la bonne damme qui fu royne d'Engleterre), and it has often been repeated in fiction about Edward III and even in some non-fiction as though it is certainly true. What a lovely story, the future king of England, not even fourteen yet (Edward was born on 13 November 1312), spending time with a group of girls, and falling in love with one and choosing her over her sisters as his wife. Awwww. But does it have any basis in reality? Well, not really.

As I pointed out in a recent post, Froissart thought that Philippa was the second of Willem and Jeanne's four daughters, when in fact she was the third of four or the fourth of five. Philippa's older sisters Margareta and Johanna had been married for two and a half years by August 1326: their double wedding to Ludwig of Bavaria and Wilhelm of Jülich took place in Cologne in February 1324. The shadowy other older sister, Sibilla, assuming she had existed at all and was not merely a clerical error in an English document, is highly likely to have been long dead by this point, being only mentioned in 1319. In August 1326, there were two unmarried daughters of the count of Hainault and Holland who could be proposed as future brides for Edward of Windsor: Philippa and her younger sister Isabella, who, given that she later married a man born in the mid-1320s, is unlikely to have been more than a toddler in August 1326. For Edward to prefer the company of a girl close to his own age to that of a toddler or baby is hardly surprising. 

Assuming Froissart recorded Philippa's words correctly, the queen was romanticising later in life when she told him this tale. Either she had genuinely convinced herself that Edward had to choose between herself and her sisters and preferred her, or perhaps she felt she had to make up a pleasant story because the true circumstances surrounding her betrothal could hardly have been less romantic. Given the enormous affection that later grew between the couple and their highly successful marriage of four decades, it is of course not at all unlikely that they did indeed like each other very much and enjoy each other's company in 1326, but Edward of Windsor had no say whatsoever in whom he married, and their betrothal was a hard-headed political decision and had nothing at all to do with the whims and personal wishes of two adolescents. Philippa's betrothal was to do with the provision of ships and mercenaries to carry out an illegal invasion of a sovereign nation, and with the overthrow of her father-in-law by her mother-in-law, and with her fiancé being used as a weapon against his own father. Edward of Windsor and Philippa of Hainault's betrothal was unlawful to boot: Edward at the time was officially engaged to King Alfonso XI of Castile's sister Leonor, and his legal guardian, his father Edward II, stood in firm opposition to the Hainault betrothal and did not consent to it. Philippa's wish to draw a veil over all of this some decades later, and to turn the circumstances around her betrothal into a sweet and pretty romantic fantasy, reveals something of her character. (Again, assuming that Jean Froissart didn't just make it up.) Philippa must have known that her eldest sister Margareta had been proposed as Edward's bride between 1318 and 1321, and that in 1326 she was 'next in line' among the Hainault daughters to marry and of far more suitable age for Edward than her much younger sister Isabella. Queen Philippa rewriting her own past wearing rose-coloured spectacles is all very nice and lovely, but it should be seen for what it is, not repeated as though it's definitely true.


sami parkkonen said...

Excellent stuff once again.

While I have doubt that Edward III had a long and somewhat happy marriage (despite his womanizing and lovers trough it all), I have absolutely no doubt that it was arrainged political manouver in which his mother had a very heavy hand indeed. Isabella needed something to bolster her own situation at this time and what more political she could do than arrainge the marriage of her son to a spouse of her choosing.

Anerje said...

I'm sure Philippa embroidered the truth, little realising over 700 years later it would be taken as literal truth.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Just out of curiosity -- would there have been any alternative to the marriage? What I mean is whether there might be any other reason such as a favorable trade treaty that resulted in Philippa's father helping with the invasion, even if Edward would not marry one of his daughters.


Ulrik said...

Very poignant points, especially about the young couple being political instruments to further an illegal invasion! One could write a story about that which is much more in-the-gut, about them being forced together - as so often happened - and then having to make the best of it. Would give the cliché 'in love and war' a whole new meaning!

And hey, maybe Phillipa was really thinking something along the lines of:

'You know, who is this Froissart-guy who keeps snooping about my past? I'll give him what he wants - some romantic bull - and then make him go away and not bother me anymore ... !' :-) :-)

Judy said...

Lovely post! I do wish Froissart hasn't been dealt with a more critical eye than perhaps other chroniclers. But I digress. What are your opinions on a short Latin will made by one Elizabeth of Hainaut, named something like 'the sister of the queen of England' ? I have a photocopy of the printed will somewhere if it would help (or is even a butterfly-chasing journey). Cheers!