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Adela of Normandy
Personal details
Born c. 1067
Normandy, France
Died 8 March 1137 (aged 69–70)
Marcigny-sur-Loire, France
Spouse(s) Stephen II, Count of Blois
St. Adela

Adela of Normandy, of Blois, or of England (c. 1067[1] – 8 March 1137), also known as Saint Adela in Roman Catholicism,[2] was Countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux by marriage to Stephen II, Count of Blois. She was regent of Blois during the absence of her spouse in 1096-1100 and 1101–02, and during the minority of her son from 1102 until 1120. She was a daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. She was also the mother of Stephen, King of England and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester.

Early life[edit | edit source]

Her birthdate is generally believed to be between 1066 and 1070, after her father's accession to the English throne in 1066.[1] She was the favourite sister of King Henry I of England; they were probably the youngest of the Conqueror's children.[3] Adela was a high-spirited and educated woman, with a knowledge of Latin.[4]

She married Stephen Henry, son and heir to the count of Blois, between 1080 and 1083, around her fifteenth birthday.[5] Stephen was nearly twenty years her senior.[1] Stephen inherited Blois, Chartres and Meaux upon his father's death in 1089, as well as lands and right in parts of Berry and Burgundy.[5]

First regency[edit | edit source]

Stephen-Henry joined the First Crusade in 1096, along with his brother-in-law Robert Curthose. Stephen's letters to Adela form a uniquely intimate insight into the experiences of the Crusade's leaders[6] and show that he trusted Adela to rule as regent while he was on crusade.[5] Adela filled in as regent for her husband's duties during his extended absence as a leader of the First Crusade (1095–1098)[5] as well as during his second expedition in 1101. This included granting monks the right to build new churches, as well as other charters. Adela also worked with Ivo of Chartres at various points, exchanging letters throughout her regency,[7] to discuss matters such as the control of misbehaving nuns and larger issues such as disputes about sworn oaths.[5] While her husband was away, Adela would continue to tour their lands, settling disputes, promoting economic growth, and even commanding knights to go to battle with the king.[5] The Count of Blois returned to France in 1100 bringing with him several cartloads of maps, jewels and other treasures, which he deposited at Chartres. He was, however, under an obligation to the pope for agreements made years earlier and returned to Antioch to participate in the crusade of 1101. He was ultimately killed in an ill-advised charge at the Battle of Ramla in 1102.[8]

Second regency[edit | edit source]

Adela continued to act as regent after her husband's death and through her son Thibaud's early rule until her retirement in 1120.[5] Even after Thibaud came of age and no longer needed a regent, Adela continued to issue charters and act as co-ruler of many parts of their land. Adela did not secure a marriage alliance for Thibaud, who did not get married until after Adela's retirement, which helped to maintain her power and influence over both her son and her lands.[9]

Adela, a devout Benedictine sympathizer, employed several high-ranking tutors to educate her children.[10] Her youngest son, Henry, was conceived during the single year Stephen was in France between crusading duties. At two years of age Henry was pledged to the Church at Cluny Abbey, Saône-et-Loire, France, as an oblate child, that is, he was dedicated to the service of God, according to medieval practice. Henry went on to be appointed Abbot of Glastonbury and Bishop of Winchester. In that capacity he sponsored hundreds of constructions including bridges, canals, palaces, forts, castles and whole villages. In addition, Bishop Henry built dozens of abbeys and chapels and sponsored books including the treasured Winchester Bible.

In 1105, after St Anselm visited her during a sickness, she was responsible for communicating the archbishop's earnestness in threatening excommunication to her brother Henry I. Orderic Vitalis praises her as a "wise and spirited woman" who ably governed her husband's estates and her own.[5]

Adela quarrelled with her eldest son William and despite his previously being named heir-designate,[11] she appointed his younger brother Theobald to replace him as heir in 1107. Her son Stephen moved to London in 1111 to join his uncle's court and became the favorite of his uncle King Henry I (Beauclerc). Upon Beauclerc's death in Normandy (1135), Stephen of Blois seized the English throne.

Retirement[edit | edit source]

Adela retired to Marcigny Convent in 1120. Though she may have considered retiring to an abbey in Normandy, where members of her family, including sisters and nieces may have already been living; Adela was drawn to and chose the larger, more prestigious convent at Marcigny near her son Henry at Cluny Abbey.[12] Adela may have acted as prioress within the community at Marcigny, though this is not certain.[13] She continued to interact with her children and the ecclesiastical leaders of lands that she had once ruled, communicating with them and maintaining her influence over the area.[14] In one instance, Adela sent letters to both her son Thibaud [15] and Geoffrey, bishop of Chartres reminding them of her settlement of a monastic case.[16]

Later that same year, her daughter Lucia-Mahaut, was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship alongside her husband. Adela lived long enough to see her son Stephen on the English throne, though any response she had to this development has been lost.[17] She likely took pride in the ascension of her youngest child, Henry of Blois, to the bishopric of Winchester in 1129.[3] She died in 1137 at Marcigny.[18] After her death, prayers were offered at a number of churches that she had endowed personally or had recognized at some point during her life.[19]

Issue[edit | edit source]

Adela and Stephen's children are listed here in probable birth order. Their birth order is uncertain.

  1. William, Count of Sully married Agnes of Sully (d. aft 1104) and had issue
  2. Theobald II, aka Thibaud IV Count of Champagne
  3. Odo of Blois, aka Humbert. died young
  4. Adela, married Milo II of Montlhéry (divorced 1115)
  5. King Stephen of England, married Matilda of Boulogne
  6. Lucia-Mahaut, married Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester. Both drowned on 25 November 1120 in the White Ship disaster.
  7. Agnes, married Hugh de Puiset and were parents to Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham
  8. Alix, (d. 1145) married Renaud II of Joigny (d.1134) and had issue
  9. Henry, Bishop of Winchester (1101-1171), an oblate child raised at Cluny Abbey in Saône-et-Loire, France[20]
  10. Eleanor, (d. 1147) married Raoul I of Vermandois (d.1152) and had issue, they were divorced in 1142

Some of the daughters may have been step-daughters of Adela, rather than biological children. It is known that Adela had five biological sons and may have had three or more daughters,[1] though not all of the daughters were necessarily Adela's biological children.[21] The daughters are not mentioned by name during their youth, only appearing when they reach marriageable age and play an important part in building alliances.[5]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Adela is a saint in the Roman Catholic church. Her feast day is 24 February.[2]

In fiction[edit | edit source]

Adela was portrayed by Nike Arrighi in the two-part BBC TV play Conquest (1966), about her father's conquest of England, part of the series Theatre 625.

In art[edit | edit source]

Adela is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.[22][23]

Ancestry[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 LoPrete, Kimberly. "Adela of Blois." Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Margaret Schaus. New York: Routledge, 2006. 6-7.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Catholic Online. "St. Adela". http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1126. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 LoPrete, Kimberly A. (1990). "The Anglo-Norman Card of Adela of Blois". pp. 569–589. Digital object identifier:10.2307/4051390. JSTOR 4051390. 
  4. LoPrete, Kimberly A. "Adela of Blois as Mother and Countess." Medieval Mothering. Ed. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler. New York: Garland Pub., 1999. 315-316.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 LoPrete, Kimberly A. "Adela of Blois: Familial Alliances and Female Lordship." Aristocratic Women in Medieval France. Ed. Theodore Evergates. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1999. 15.
  6. "A letter from Count Stephen of Blois (03/1098)". http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/79.html. 
  7. "Adela, countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux". http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/woman/21.html#letterslist. 
  8. LoPrete, Kimberly A. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts, 2007. 115.
  9. LoPrete, Kimberly A. "Adela of Blois as Mother and Countess." Medieval Mothering. Ed. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler. New York: Garland Pub., 1999. 322.
  10. LoPrete, Kimberly A. "Adela of Blois as Mother and Countess." Medieval Mothering. Ed. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler. New York: Garland Pub., 1999. 318-19.
  11. LoPrete, Kimberly A. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts, 2007. 111.
  12. LoPrete, Kimberly A. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts, 2007. 408-411
  13. LoPrete, Kimberly A. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts, 2007. 412.
  14. LoPrete, Kimberly A. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts, 2007. 412-418.
  15. Women's Biography: Adela, countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux[dead link]
  16. "A letter from Adela, countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux (1133-37)". http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/letter/76.html. 
  17. LoPrete, Kimberly A. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts, 2007. 416.
  18. "Adela, Countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux". Columbia University. https://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/woman/21.html. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  19. LoPrete, Kimberly, Adela of Blois. Four Courts Press, Dublin. 417-418.
  20. Senette, Douglas John. "A Cluniac Prelate: Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester (1129-1171)". https://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/islandora/object/tulane%3A27491. Retrieved 27 September 2016. 
  21. LoPrete, Kimberly A. "Adela of Blois as Mother and Countess." Medieval Mothering. Ed. John Carmi Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler. New York: Garland Pub., 1999. 323-24
  22. "Adela of Blois". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Adela of Blois. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/adela_of_blois.php. Retrieved 15 December 2011. 
  23. Chicago, 121.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation. London: Merrell (2007). ISBN 1-85894-370-1
  • Evergates, Theodore, ed. Aristocratic Women in Medieval FrancePhiladelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1999). ISBN 0-8122-3503-7
  • LoPrete, Kimberly. Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137). Dublin: Four Courts Press (2007). ISBN 1-85182-563-0
  • LoPrete, Kimberly. "Adela of Blois and Ivo of Chartres: Piety, Politics and Peace in the Diocese of Chartres'." Anglo-Norman Studies xiv (1992): 131-152
  • Parsons, John and Bonnie Wheeler. Medieval Mothering (New Middle Ages). New York: Routledge (1999). ISBN 0-8153-3665-9
  • Schaus, Margaret, ed. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge (2006). ISBN 0-415-96944-1

External links[edit | edit source]

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