A Letter From Philippa of Hainault to Her Sister

Once again, a search of long-neglected archives has turned up a fascinating document: a letter from Philippa of Hainault to her sister Margaret, Duchess of Bavaria. Philippa seems to have written a number of such letters, which are in such a poor handwriting and in such an informal style that it seems almost certain that they were written by the queen herself instead of dictated to a clerk. Philippa seldom dated her letters, but the contents of this one suggest that it was written in January 1328, shortly after her marriage to fifteen-year-old Edward III. Philippa’s age is uncertain, but she was probably a little younger than her new husband.

My dearest Margaret,

At last I can write and tell you that I am a wife! Ned and I were married in York on the 24th, or thereabouts—I always did have a poor head for dates, as you well know. Anyway, it was a very nice wedding, presided over by Archbishop William Melton. It was snowing and cold in York, but the new robes Papa bought me before I came here kept me very warm. Queen Isabella said that it helped too that I had some meat on my bones. (She’s such a witch, Meg.) I just pretended I didn’t hear her. Stupid cow.

I was hoping that I would be able to tell you that I had been crowned, but Queen Isabella told me that I had to wait! When I asked why, she would only say, “We need to find a more suitable time.” Ned was furious when she said that—he’s so handsome when he’s angry, though, I really didn’t mind. But I am rather upset that I can’t get crowned until God knows when, especially since Uncle Edmund—that’s the old king’s brother, the Earl of Kent—said that the queen was crowned when she was twelve years old, so why should I have to wait when I’m older than that now? The queen was not happy when he said that, and neither was Uncle Roger. But they didn’t say anything, just gave him a look. (The Queen and Uncle Roger are really good at giving people looks.)

Oh, I should mention that Uncle Roger is Roger Mortimer, whom they call the queen’s “close advisor.” They must think we’re really stupid in Hainault, not to know what they really are to each other. Once I get to know Ned a little better, I’m sure he’ll tell me all I want to know about that story. In the meantime, I just put on my I’m-just-a-naive-little-girl-from-Hainault face whenever they ogle each other in public. (It’s so disgusting.)

Speaking of my new in-laws, had you heard that my father-in-law, the late Edward the Second, was buried just last month? I got to England just after the funeral. I’ve learned that talking about the late king is a definite no-no around the Queen and Uncle Roger, though. When I asked what he had died of in Berkeley Castle they started to give me looks, but then they told me to run along and play with Ned. (I think that’s their code for begetting an heir. So I didn’t mind doing that at all.)

I don’t have a household of my own yet, like a king’s wife should. When I asked the queen about that very nicely (I’m always very polite to her, Meg, don’t worry), she got the usual expression on her face and snapped, “Well, at least your husband didn’t give all of your wedding jewels to his lover,” and Uncle Roger laughed. I really didn’t understand the humor in that, but I suppose when you’re the queen’s “close advisor” (wink), you can laugh at just about anything.

Ned is very sweet, though, and even more handsome than he was when he came to Hainault. Uncle Edmund told me that he looks a lot like his father, and that certainly got the looks from Queen Isabella and Uncle Roger! (Poor man, he’s always getting looks from them. I think if I were him I’d go on pilgrimage for a while.) But unlike his father, Ned really enjoys tournaments, and we’ve been having a lot of them to celebrate. Ned and Uncle Roger both joust, and you know whose favor Uncle Roger gets to wear! (So very subtle.)

Well, I must go now; the queen has sent one of her ladies to tell me we’ll be late for the tournament if I don’t quit fussing with my hair (that’s what I tell her I’m doing when I’m writing to you). Sigh. But I suppose mothers-in-law are what we married women have to put up with, aren’t they?

Your loving sister,


4 thoughts on “A Letter From Philippa of Hainault to Her Sister”

  1. Wow, that’s a really valuable historical discovery! I’ve often wondered what Philippa thought of her dear mama-in-law Queen Izzy and Uncle Roger, and now we know…;) I wonder if Isabella started to run out of excuses for why Philippa wasn’t crowned for over two years?!

  2. I’ll have to dig in the archives if not Thurisnelda, Arminius’ wife, has written or dictated something. 🙂

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, ladies! Gabriele, looking forward to it (amazing what’s lurking in these dusty archives).

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