• A London Student

Adela of Normandy, Countess of Blois

One of the nine or ten children of William, Duke of Normandy and Matilda of Flanders, Adela was initially believed to have been born in 1061 or 1062, but more recent research has led historians to believe that she was born after the Conquest. Given that she was married in 1081 or 1082, both of these dates would appear to work, although it was more common for daughters to be married at a younger age. This marriage was, as usual, not the first one to be proposed- as child, Adela was arranged to marry the Count of Armiens, however, he decided to take Holy Vows. The final suitor was Stephen of Blois, son of Theobald III, Count of Blois and Champagne, who was about twenty years older than she, and in a position to help William I against the ever more aggressive Counts of Anjou.

In about twenty years of marriage, Adela and Stephen had eleven children, at least two of whom were born before Stephen succeeded his father as Count of Blois in 1090 (therefore it is possible that Adela was slightly younger at the time of her marriage but I am clutching at straws a little here!). These children were:

  • Humbert, Count of Virtus who died young

  • William, Count of Sully who married Agnes of Sully, but was removed from being Count of Blois and Champagne by Adela as a result of erratic behaviour and retired to his wife's estates on Sully

  • Theobald IV, Count of Champagne and Blois, who married Matilda, daughter of the Duke of Carinthia. Their sons, Henry and Theobald went on to be powerful French Nobles and marry the daughters of Louis VII of France and Alienor of Aquitiane (Marie and Alix), and daughter, Adela would go on to be Queen of France as Louis VII's third wife

  • Adela, who married Milo II of Montlhéry

  • Stephen of Blois, who married Matilda of Bolougne, and would usurp the crown of England, causing the Anarchy in England when his cousin, Empress Matilda fought for the throne

  • Lucia-Mahaut who married Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester, and they both drowned without issue in the White Ship in 1120

  • Agnes, who married Hugh de Puiset

  • Alix, who married Renaud II of Joigny

  • Henry, Bishop of Winchester, who was dedicated to a church career from an early age (and would go on to have a prominent role in the Anarchy)

  • Eleanor, who married Raoul I of Vermandois, but was divorced in 1142, when Raoul had an affair with Petronella, sister to Alienor of Aquitaine, Queen of France who persuaded Louis to get Eleanor and Raoul divorced for her sisters sake

Adela was well-educated and made sure that her children were as well. It was this education that she received that meant that she could rule in her husband's place when he left as one of the leaders of the First Crusade in 1095. Up to 1095, Adela seems to have had a good relationship with her husband, with there being affection and respect between them, but after Stephen returned prematurely from the First Crusade, during the Siege of Antioch. When the situation in this siege seemed hopeless, Stephen and some other Crusaders left the Holy Land in a decision that scarred his honour, and infuriated Adela. She was disappointed that he had not for-filled his Crusader's vow, and was one of the people who encouraged him to return to the Holy Land in 1101, where she acted as regent again, governing the estates of Blois well, and showing herself to be an astute politician.

In 1102, Stephen died at the Siege of Ramallah, and was succeeded by his second son, Theobald as Count of Blois. Adela continued to help Theobald in the governing of Blois and Champagne even after the end of his minority, up to 1120 when she formally retired from public life to the Cluniac Priory of Marcigny.

Throughout her life, Adela was known to have been very pious, and had a good relationship with Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury. She also maintained good links with both the English and French courts, as well as being an able negotiator and active ruler. She died in 1187, living to see her son Stephen as King of England, although not the bloody civil war that was to follow. She had led a remarkable life, despite being a widow for almost half of it, and would be remembered as a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church whose day is on 24th February.