Princess Philippa & the Scandinavian Match


Both this post and tomorrow’s tie in Sweden, which is very apropos in light of recent news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are due to visit the country. It’s a coincidence since these posts have been on the books for a while now, but a happy coincidence. Today we’re taking a look at Philippa of England, daughter of Henry IV and sister of Henry V.

Philippa wasn’t born a princess – in fact, her eventual role as queen consort of Sweden, Denmark and Norway would have been highly unlikely if not for the unforeseen actions of her father. She was born on June 4, 1394 to Henry of Bolingbroke and his wife, Mary de Bohun. As such, she was a granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and great-granddaughter of the long-deceased Edward III. Sadly, Philippa never knew her mother, who died giving birth to her. She joined in the nursery her four brothers – Henry, Thomas, John and Humphrey – and her sister, Blanche, however her eldest brothers were educated and raised separately.

Philippa’s father, Henry IV

Her memories of her early life as the daughter of a mere nobleman were likely sparse. In 1399, when she was just five years old, her father launched an invasion into England, deposed Richard II and ascended the throne as Henry IV. From that point on, her life changed dramatically. She and her siblings were moved to London, though they primarily resided at Windsor Castle. In 1403 she was present when her father remarried to the widowed Dowager Duchess of Brittany, Jeanne of Navarre.

Philippa’s marriage was originally proposed as one half of a double union between her and King Eric of Pomerania, and her brother, Henry, with Eric’s sister, Princess Katherine. The union between Henry and Katherine fell through, but the idea of Philippa and Eric was picked back up in 1405. The proxy wedding was carried out that November at Westminster and on December 8, she was proclaimed queen of Denmark, Sweden and Norway at age 11.

Philippa’s husband, Eric of Pomerania

Her departure from England was postponed until the following August, possibly so that she could reach the age of 12. She and the 24-year-old Eric were married in-person at Lund Cathedral in Scania, Sweden. Notably, the bride wore white – the first bride on royal record to do so. Immediately after the ceremony, Philippa was crowned queen and weeks of festivities followed as she was introduced to her husband’s court.

The couple lived in Sweden for the first three years of their marriage before moving to Denmark once Eric transitioned into the full extent of his rule. Even after the move, however, Philippa retained a particular fondness for Sweden and returned frequently. She often stayed at Vadstena Abbey and made frequent donations to the holy orders and facilities there.

Notably, Philippa’s marriage was childless and her husband rarely interacted with England, even as his brother-in-law, Henry V, found himself victorious in his conquest of France from 1415 until his death in 1422. Nevertheless, the marriage was a success and Philippa was highly valued by her husband as a councilor and capable consort. She was regularly charged with matters of state, including serving as regent, campaigning for military support and brokering treaties.

Vadstena Abbey

Remarkably for a monarchy based in Denmark, Philippa was popular outside of the country, particularly in Sweden. During a 1429 visit there in which she was deputized with meeting with Swedish envoys on Eric’s behalf, she fell ill, sought refuge at Vadstena Abbey and gave birth to a stillborn son. She died there on January 5, 1430 and was buried on the grounds, with a significant portion of her estate left to the Abbey.

Eric, considerably less popular than his wife, was deposed in 1439. At some point (an exact date is unknown) he privately married Cecilia, one of Philippa’s ladies-in-waiting.

Philippa’s legacy is perhaps best captured by Hans Christian Anderson’s 1868 story of her defense of Copenhagen depicted in Grandfather’s Picture Book.

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