Saturday, December 23, 2017

Royal Wedding of the Weekend

To continue the celebration of All Things Royal Wedding, we go back in time for several centuries this weekend, to take a look at Edward III and Philipa of Hainault.  Not much is known about the actual wedding, but their's was a rare happy royal medieval union!

They met when they were only teenagers, and in the middle of some of the biggest dramas of medieval England.  Edward's father, Edward II, had long been a bad ruler, controlled by a series of venal favorites, and Prince Edward's French mother Isabella, dispossessed of her dower and separated from her children, had enough.  She managed to get back to France, seek her brother the French king's help, and refused to return to England.  What was more, she got control of her eldest son, the heir to the throne, when he joined her in Paris (a major miscalculation on her husband's part).  One of her main objectives was to organize the prince's marriage to bring benefit to her own cause, and in 1326, then Edward was 14, she took him to Hainault to take a look at the count's five daughters, thinking he could marry one in exchange for his assistance in her English coup.

Philipa was a couple of years younger than Edward, the second daughter, dark-haired, a bit plump, kind-hearted and sensible.  A chronicler of the time described her thus:

The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown. Her head is clean-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 her forehead. Her eyes are blackish-brown and deep. Her nose is fairly smooth and even, save that it is somewhat broad at the tip and also flattened, and yet it is no snub-nose. Her nostrils are also broad, her mouth fairly wide. Her lips somewhat full, and especially the lower lip. Her teeth which have fallen and grown again are white enough, but the rest are not so white. The lower teeth project a little beyond the upper; yet this is but little seen. Her ears and chin are comely enough. Her neck, shoulders, and all her body 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. And the damsel will be of the age of nine years on St. John's day next to come, as her mother saith. She is neither too tall nor too short for such an age; she is of fair carriage, and well taught in all that becometh her rank, and highly esteemed and well beloved of her father and mother and of all her meinie, in so far as we could inquire and learn the truth

But Edward and Philipa grew very fond of each other.  He was sorry to part with her when he and his mother left, and Philipa was said to have cried.  They were a rare royal couple who got to know each other a bit before the marriage!  When the time came to arrange a betrothal, he was strongly in favor of Philipa being the chosen bride, and so she was.  When Edward II was overthrown and Edward III proclaimed in his place, a proxy marriage took place, and Philipa left for England.  In January 1328, the wedding took place at York Minster, the last royal marriage there until the Duke and Duchess of Kent in 1961.  They were married 40 years until Philipa's death in 1369.

The marriage might have started off strong, and stayed that way (they were very well-matched, both interested in hunting, festivities, travel, romantic stories, and family life), but the beginning of heir reign was rocky.  Edward was young, and for a few years real rule was carried out by his mother and her lover Roger Mortimer.  Philipa was not given her dower, and her coronation was delayed for two years (she was six month pregnant with their first son, the Black Prince, when it happened).  Edward finally managed to overthrow his mother and take the throne for himself.  The couple went on to have 13 children, and were often on the move together between Scotland, France, and Flanders.  Edward was devastated when his wife died, and quickly descended into dementia.  They are buried together at Westminster Abbey.

A good source for this exciting reign is Ian Mortimer's Edward III: The Perfect King

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