England’s first Moorish queen, mother of the black prince
Philippa was the daughter of William of Hainault, a lord in part of what is now Belgium. When she was nine the King of England, Edward II, decided that he would marry his son, the future Edward III, to her, and sent one of his bishops, a Bishop Stapeldon, to look at her. He described her thus:
“The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is cleaned shaped; her forehead high and broad, and standing somewhat forward. Her face narrows between the eyes, and the lower part of her face is still more narrow and slender than the forehead. Her eyes are blackish brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that is somewhat broad at the tip and flattened, yet it is no snub nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full and especially the lower lip…all her limbs are well set and unmaimed, and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, and much like her father, and in all things she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us.”
Four years later Prince Edward went to visit his bride-to-be and her family, and fell in live with her. She was betrothed to him and in 1327, when she was only 14, she arrived in England. The next year, when she was 15, they married and were crowned King and Queen in 1330 when she was heavily pregnant with her first child and only 17.
This first child was called Edward, like his father, but is better known as the Black Prince. Many say that he was called this because of the colour of his armour, but there are records that show that he was called ‘black’ when he was very small. The French called him ‘Le Noir’.
Philippa was a remarkable woman. She was very wise and was known and loved by the English for her kindliness and restraint. She would travel with her husband on his campaigns and take her children as well. When the King was abroad she ruled in his absence. Queen’s College in Oxford University was founded under her direction by her chaplain, Robert de Eglesfield in 1341 when she was 28. She brought many artists and scholars from Hainault who contributed to English culture.
When she died, Edward never really recovered, and she was much mourned by him and the country. King Edward had a beautiful sculpture made for her tomb which you can see today at Westminster Abbey.
Sourced from the Black Cultural Archives