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New Creations

Queen Philippa interceding for the Burghers of Calais - J. Doyle Penrose


June!  Our winter is upon us and – for the Gold Coast – it is cool.  Temperatures dropping below 15C at night.  I know.  Stop complaining.  Of course, when we lived in Scotland that could be the maximum on a Summer’s day!


In this newsletter I’m going to cover work on my porcelain Marie Antoinette and Anne Boleyn in her coronation robes.  But first, Philippa of Hainault:

I have been working on the medieval doll that I mentioned in previous newsletters, which my husband suggested should be Philippa of Hainault.  I think this was his subconscious acknowledgment of a childhood name.

You see, David grew up in an area to the north-east of London and he remembers a local area called Hainault.  There is a station by that name on the Central line of the London Underground.  

My research tells me that the area went by the name of 'Henehout' in 1221 and 'Hyneholt' in 1239 – both old English for 'wood belonging to a religious community' (referring to the ownership of the nearby forest by Barking Abbey).  The name was altered to its modern form apparently because someone imagined that there was a connection to Philippa of Hainault.  However, this was all it was, imagination.

But it was still a good idea.  Philippa of Hainault was one of the more remarkable of medieval queens ……………..

In the Autumn of 1326, Isabella of France, the Queen of Edward II (you’ll remember him in the film, Braveheart as the son of William Wallace’s foe, Edward I) stepped ashore in southern England and surveyed the scene.  She had arrived, unwelcomed, at the head of a flotilla of ships and a mercenary force of 1,500 battle-hardened soldiers.   She was there determined to depose her husband and put her son, the future Edward III, on the throne.

Isabella proved to be irresistible. Within two months, Edward II’s hated favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger, had been gruesomely executed and in the following January, her husband was forced to abdicate.  And he was also murdered.  Legend has it that this was accomplished with a red-hot poker thrust up his rectum to avoid any sign of murder to the casual observer.

The coup had been financed by Willem, Count of Hainault (in modern-day Belgium), Holland, and Zeeland. In return, Isabella had agreed that her son would marry Willem’s daughter, 12-year-old Philippa of Hainault, who would thereby become Queen of England. As the couple were second cousins (great-grandchildren of Philip III of France), papal dispensation was required.  Philippa had, in effect, been bartered for ships and soldiers.

The Bishop of Exeter purportedly described her as a 9-year old: 

The lady whom we saw has not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown... Her face narrows between the eyes and its lower part is more narrow 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 flattened, and yet it is no snub-nose... Her lips are full, especially the lower lip... Her lower teeth project a little beyond the upper; yet this is but little seen... All her body is well set and unmaimed; and nought is amiss so far as a man may see. Moreover, she is brown of skin all over, much like her father. And she will be of the age of nine years on St. John's day next to come, as her mother said. She is neither too tall nor too short for such an age; she is of fair carriage. The damsel is well taught in all that becometh her rank and highly esteemed and well beloved by her parents and of all her meinie, in so far as we could inquire and learn the truth. In all things, she is pleasant enough, as it seems to us.


So, Philippa of Hainault appears on the medieval stage, arriving in England later that year for Christmas, in 1327 to joyous acclaim.  On 25 January 1328, at 13 years of age, she married the 15-year-old Edward III.

However, it was no fairytale.  Her mother-in-law, Isabella, and Isabella’s suspected lover, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, treated Philippa and Edward as puppets, which they must have found frustrating to say the least, especially as Isabella also controlled the Treasury.


Jean Froissart: Philippa of Hainault coronation

After a 16-year-old Philippa gave birth to their first child, the teenage king finally found the courage and support of the nobles to assert his rights.  He displaced his mother and executed Mortimer (he was hanged at Tyburn, where his body was left to swing in the wind for two days and two nights).  Edward’s mother was held under house arrest and the vast estates and income she’d granted herself were confiscated (although she lived comfortably thereafter nonetheless). Finally, in late 1330, Philippa of Hainault became Queen in more than name.

For the next forty years, she played an important part in state affairs, regularly interceding on behalf of others, opening parliament when the king was away, negotiating her children’s marriages to their benefit and to further foreign policy.  While an effective stateswoman, she was, however, a medieval shopaholic.

She spent enormous sums on extravagant clothes and jewels, so much so that one chronicler was moved to comment sardonically that it was “King Edward and Queen Philippa, who first invented clothes”. In the process she ran up crippling debts and by 1360 owed almost £6,000 to tailors, seamstresses, furriers, embroiderers and jewellers – some £10 million in today’s money.

Medieval Europe saw kings striving for more and more power.  And Edward was no different (maybe he had to find the money to pay Philippa’s creditors!). Philippa was loyal to Edward and sided with her husband against members of her mother’s family after he claimed the French throne in 1337 – which led to the 100 years’ war.  After the battle of Crécy, Edward III besieged the French-held port of Calais while Philippa stayed with their children nearby. When the town finally surrendered, Edward decided to have the mayor of Calais and five other burghers beheaded but Philippa famously implored him, “for love of Our Lady’s son”, to show them mercy. Edward relented and spared the men’s lives.

Her 41-year marriage to Edward produced a dozen children and five of their seven sons survived infancy (which brought about the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century as their descendants fought over the English throne). However, unlike many other medieval royal siblings, Edward III’s sons remained loyal and it could be argued that Philippa was to a great extent responsible, raising their children herself and teaching them to respect and admire their father.  Nevertheless, even privileged as she was, seven of her twelve children including four of her five daughters pre-deceased her.

In 1358, while hunting, she fell from her horse and broke her shoulder blade so for the remaining 11 years of her life she was in considerable pain. She died at Windsor Castle on 15 August 1369, aged 55. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, where her effigy can still be seen to this day.

Philippa was loyal, nurtured her children and was widely respected.  She was not afraid to exert political influence from time to time and encouraged Edward to expand commercial activities.  She also served as Regent in 1346.  Unlike Marie Antoinette (and her ‘cake’ comment), her profligacy has not damaged her reputation; she has gone down in history as one of the best-loved queens of the age.

My Philippa of Hainault creation was great fun to make.  I particularly enjoyed the headgear, crown and shoes, so different from today’s norms.  

There are no detailed paintings or drawings of her and her effigy in Westminster Abbey is also rather basic so I researched costumes of the period to determine what style dress and accessories would be appropriate. 

Philippa of Hainault

The likeness I have included above from Froissart’s Chronicles shows her with fair hair whereas the Bishop’s description says she had black hair as a child. However, there is some doubt as to whether the description was of Philippa or her sister. 

I have decided to use fair hair. After all, Froissart was in her service from the age of 24 so he should have known!  Just another one of the problems with trying to be faithful to history!

I plan to launch her on my web site in the next week or so.







I also completed my Anne Boleyn in coronation robes and she set sail (or took flight) for the USA a couple of days ago to join her new owner – a cherished existing customer who had asked if I could make Anne in these robes for her collection. 

Anne Boleyn coronation

Besides the extensive research, there was a lot of work involved in making the jewellery.  Anne wore two crowns at her coronation (she swapped the heavier crown placed on her head during the ceremony for a lighter one afterwards), so I made both crowns and sent them with Anne.  There was also conflicting information about the colour of her robes but after cross-referencing, I am comfortable that we have the right creation in place – a red, fringed dress with a purple cloak. 

I think she looks regally magnificent.


Which brings me to Marie Antoinette.  I made the original porcelain mould, doll and costume several years ago and a few months back a valued collector in Holland asked if she could have her.  I agreed, but before I could let her go, I wanted to make sure everything was perfect.  Stupidly, I thought a different dress would work better than the original silver. 

Marie Antoinette porcelain in process

There then followed a fruitless search for appropriate material.  I bought different fabric, looked at different colours, began making up new dresses but eventually realised that Marie didn’t want anything but a fine silver fabric.  I am now recreating the silver dress and polishing up the jewellery etc. 

I am grateful that my collector is patient but I’m sure the end product will be worth the wait.  I have attached a photo of her under way in my studio.






I must get back to work.  So here’s wishing you all well.  Until the next newsletter.



Lady Finavon


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