By Katia Wright
Kathryn Warner’s 2019 Philippa of Hainault: Mother of the English Nation is the first study in over a century to analyse the life of this long-serving fourteenth century queen. Following in the footsteps of her previous biographical works (namely Edward II and Isabella of France), Warner weaves a fascinating story of Philippa’s life, placing her firmly in the centre of European politics.
Targeting a popular audience, Warner takes a chronological approach to this biography following Philippa’s life from the moment she enters the records as a young child until her death in 1369. Across the text, Warner accounts Philippa’s numerous relationships with her family and acquaintances to expose the nature of the woman beneath the crown. In this, she analyses the lives of Philippa’s sizeable extended family and other political players from across Europe, providing a well-rounded understanding of the events and members of medieval Europe’s political stage. To support this, Warner also includes helpful genealogical tables and a dramatis personae to aid the reader at the front of the book.
Philippa’s life, and tenure as queen, occurred at a tumultuous time in which the Hundred Years’ War between England and France was initiated and the Black Death ravaged European populations. Warner’s biography includes particulars of these events to place Philippa’s story within the context of the time. For example, she discusses the famous retelling of the ‘Burghers of Calais’, in which Philippa supposedly publicly begged Edward III to be merciful. Though Warner explains that this event was unlikely to have taken place, due to the logistics and dates in which Philippa travelled, the story is an important one to remember in understanding Philippa’s position as queen. The public act of intercession described in this story is a key aspect of medieval queenship and is directly linked to the imagery of Philippa’s queenship; though this story is untrue it highlights the role Philippa embodied as a successful consort to Edward.
Beyond this, Warner’s biography further highlights the successful nature of Philippa’s marriage to Edward III. The couple appeared inseparable, with Philippa often attempting to travel with her husband as often as possible, including whilst pregnant. They had twelve children, who each had interesting and dramatic lives of their own, siring families that would lead to future political turmoil in England. Warner hints at this in her title of the book ‘Mother of the English Nation’, referring to the deeds of Philippa’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren that would result in the infamous Wars of the Roses.
Utilizing the primary sources, Warner reveals key elements of Philippa’s position as queen: noting her continuous movements, her acts as both a queenly patron and administrator, and her doting role as a mother. She cites from Philippa’s household accounts and surviving correspondence to show both Philippa’s generous nature and the ways in which she both spent and earnt her income. Though there is no deeper analysis of these sources or Philippa’s queenship, the inclusion of this detail enables Warner to create a rich image of Philippa’s life – she was an active woman who took both her role and responsibilities as Edward’s wife and queen seriously.
This popular biography of Philippa of Hainault brings an often-overlooked queen into the forefront of medieval European politics, drawing attention to a fascinating woman who did her utmost to fulfil her role as queen consort.