Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adeliza of Louvain. Lady of The English. The Forgotten Queen.

I won't be writing a Medieval Monday this week as I've written this main blogpost about one of my female leads from the work in progress. The Empress Matilda shares the credits with her stepmother, Adeliza of Louvain in the new novel. While many readers probably know at least something about the Empress, Adeliza has been less in the public eye and is not well documented by history.

So what was she like, this second queen to Henry I? What's her story?

Adeliza was the daughter of Godrey of Louvain, duke of Lower Lotharingia - an area that is part of Belgium today - see the yellow area on the left of this map.
She was born around 1103, and married Henry I in January 1121 when she was about 18 years old.
Henry I's first wife, Matilda of Scotland, had died in 1118. Henry's reputation for begetting children was fearsome and he had more than a score of bastards to his name, but only two legitimate children of his first queen. William Adelin, his son, was heir to the throne, and there was Matilda, his firstborn, who had gone in marriage to Germany as an eight year old child. William Adelin drowned in November 1120 when the White ship sank while leaving Barfleur harbour on a return journey from Normandy to England and Henry found himself without an heir other than Matilda, far away in Germany and now an Empress. Past historians have believed that Henry immediately set about finding a new queen on which to beget more heirs, but it has been proven that even before his son's death, he was in negotiations with Godfrey of Louvain for his daughter's hand.
The chroniclers say that Adeliza was beautiful. She was known as 'The Fair Maid of Brabant' She was descended from Charlemagne, and an alliance with her father's house also helped to strengthen Henry I's ties and policies with Germany. By early January 1121, Adeliza was on her way to England and a new life as its queen.
As Adeliza settled into life with Henry, he took her everywhere with him, probably in the hope that she would become pregnant. Henry had used his first queen to act as regent when he was absent from England, but Adeliza never took up any kind of political role. This is logical and understandable since by the time Henry married her, he had a very effective administrative system in operation and a strong justiciar in the form of Roger, Bishop of Salisbury. Also, since Adeliza was only 18, unaccustomed to England and Normandy, and inexperienced, there was no point in putting her to rule. Her duty was to Henry and to future heirs.
In the event, Adeliza did not become pregnant during the almost 15 years of their marriage. It appears to have been a source of great distress to her. She wrote to Hildebert of Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours for advice on this. We do not know what she said to him, but we do have his reply to her, where he says: 'If it has not been granted to you from Heaven that you should bear a child to the King of the English, in these (the poor) you will bring forth for the King of the Angels, with no damage to your modesty. Perhaps the lord has closed up your womb, so that you might adopt immortal is more blessed to be fertile in the spirit than the flesh.'
Although Adeliza took no major part in governing the country, she was, nevertheless present at several councils and played a symbolic role in the royal administration. Shortly before her marriage to King Henry, she was elected 'Lady of the English'. She also appeared with Henry at crown wearing ceremonies, including one on the day after her wedding and another the following Pentecost. She was perhaps the first queen entitled to a payment of 'Queen's Gold.' This was later to be an important part of the income of queens. It was a tax of an extra ten per cent on any fine to the crown over the value of ten marks. It was also owed on tax paid by the Jews.
The fine was standardised when Eleanor of Aquitaine became queen, but Adeliza is 'the first example of a queen receiving a proportion of a licence fine.'
Adeliza also had lands and revenues of her dowry and position as queen of England. She had revenues from Waltham and Queenhithe. (from which she donated 100 shillings to be given each year to Reading Abbey on the anniversary of Henry's death). She had estates in Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Middlesex, Gloucestershire and Devon. She had part of the royal estate at Berkeley and Henry gave her the entire county of Shropshire. She also held the rape of Arundel, including the castle. This and various other lands had not been held as dower by other queens, nor did they revert to the crown on her death, but were hereditary. She appears to have taken an active interest in the management of her lands, issuing orders for example, to the monks of Reading not to alienate any of her gifts to them. 'Aelidis dei gratia regina Edwardo abbati et toto conventui de Radingia, salutem. Audivi a quibusdam quod vultis ecclesiam de Stantona extra dominium vestrum et manum ponere. Quare mando vobis quod nolo ut illam vel aliquod de elemosina mea extra manum vestram ponatis. Teste Reinaldo de Windresores Apud Arondell.' Adeliza was also a concerned sponsor and benefactor of friends and relations. Her brother Joscelin was her constable at Arundel and she gave him the barony of Petworth which was within the honour of Arundel and helped arange him a lucrative marriage. She also helped out her cousin Melisende with a marriage portion of land in Stanton Harcourt. We know that her domestic household seems to have been stable and long serving. Her chaplain was called Herman, her clerk Serlo, and her constable Godeschal.
Adeliza was concerned with religeous foundations and seems to have been devout. She founded a leper hospital at Wilton, and in her second marriage, there were also leper houses established at Arundel and Castle Rising. As well as corresponding with Hildebert of Lavardin, she was a close friend of Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, addressing him as 'amico Karissimo' in a charter. She gave donations to Waverley Abbey, Tintern, St. Mary's of Oseney, St. Mary of Eynsham, Waltham Abbey, the Templars, and Affligem Abbey in Brabant, where she was eventually to retire.
Adeliza appears to have been well educated and to have enjoyed literature and patronage of the written word. She comissioned an account of Henry's reign from a Scottish poet called David, to be set to music. Sadly this work no longer exists, which is a pity. If it was anything like William Marshal's Histoire, it would ahve been a fantastic insight into the period. Philippe de Thaon's Bestiary is dedicated to Adeliza
In her widowhood, she patronised the poet Serlo of Wilton.
When Henry died in 1135, Adeliza entered the nunnery at Wilton and dwelt there for a couple of years, more or less retiring from the world. She was still a young woman though, and when William D'Albini, lord of Buckenham in Norfolk came courting, she agreed to marry him. The D'Albini's were royal stewards and held a solid, important place at court, although they were not of the top rank. William D'Albini had supported Stephen for the throne when Henry died, rather than Henry's daughter Matilda. All the barons had sworn for Matilda during Henry's lifetime, but most were not disposed to welcome her as queen when it came to crunch time. Where Adeliza's sympathies lay is difficult to say, but she had spent a lot of time in Empress Matilda's company between 1125 and 1135, and had known her before that while Matilda was Empress of Germany. However, Adeliza's new husband was staunchly for Stephen.
In September 1139, about a year after Adeliza had married William D'Albini, the Empress prepared to come to England to further her claim to the throne. Stephen ordered a watch put on all the ports, but Matilda made instead for Arundel. Although not a port, it had a river connection with the sea and was close to the coast. Several chroniclers seem to think that Adeliza actually invited Matilda to come there. I think she probably did and used the tradition and sacred bond of kinship tie both as a pretext and a genuine reason. Adeliza was of a similar age to Matilda, but she was also her stepmother, and that gave her certain duties and obligations. One of the roles of a queen was that of peace-maker, so perhaps Adeliza thought she could lay the ground for some kind of peace deal between Stephen and Matilda. What her husband thought of all this is not reported, but he certainly went along with it, which suggests, given his otherwise loyalty to Stephen, that he was prepared to indulge his wife.
Stephen came to Arundel and the Empress was escorted from the castle to Bristol, and from there the war began in earnest, so as a cordial visit from kin and as a diplomatic exercise, Adeliza's ploy was something of a disaster.
Adeliza had been barren in her 15 year marriage to Henry I, but her union with William D'Albini proved the opposite and Adeliza suddenly discovered that she was very fecund indeed. Between 1139 and 1148, she bore seven children. Why she was so fertile with her second husband and not her first is a mystery and open to conjecture. Henry I was certainly not incapable even in his later years, and would have been keen to beget an heir if possible. It's one of history's and biology's puzzles. Adeliza and William's descendants include Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The line still exists, although through various side-moves on the family tree. The descendants of Adeliza of Louvain and William D'Albini still own Castle Rising and Arundel Castle today.
William D'Albini was a great builder and once his funds and standing increased following his marriage to Adeliza, he embarked on a programme of construction and improvement. His most famous monument is that of Castle Rising in Norfolk where he built an entire castle and graced it with a magnificent entrance hall, rich external decoration based on Norwich Castle, and mod cons in the private chamber. Castle Rising is thought to be the first in the country with separate Ladies and Gents toilets! Having met Adeliza via my alternative research, I must say that when I read this in the conventional record, I burst out laughing because such a refinement was so typical of the Adeliza I am coming to know elsewhere!
Adeliza had always been devout, and when her child-bearing years were over, she retired, with her husband's consent, to the Benedictine convent at Afflighem and died there in 1151. Her body was borne to Reading Abbey, where she was buried as a queen beside Henry I. Her husband survived her by another twenty five years and did not remarry.
It has been fascinating piecing together the few known details about Adeliza and extrapolating awarenesses of her character from the information available.
Adeliza of Louvain: An overlooked Queen and 'Lady of the English.'

'O queen of the English, Adela, the very muse who prepares to call to mind your graces is frozen in wonder.' Henry of Huntingdon: The History of the English People

Castle Rising Castle, Norfolk

Close up of exterior detail

Entrance stairs.

Url to Wikipedia overview article on Arundel Castle

*Queens Consort by Lisa Hilton published by Weidenfelf & Nicolson

Other works consulted:

Adeliza of Louvain and Anglo Norman Queenship by Laura Wertheimer - Haskins Society Journal 7

The History of the English People 1000-1154 by Henry of Huntingdon - Oxford World Classics.

Picture at the top of the blog is an image from a 12thC bestiary.


Christy K Robinson said...

Thanks again! Your research and your artistry combine for such fascinating pictures.

I'm descended from Adeliza and William d'Albini, and from her brother Joscelin with Agnes de Percy. Also, of course, Empress Matilda. And Robert of Gloucester, and oodles of others. Ha! Most of your primary characters.

I wonder if Adeliza's initial infertility was because of a chemical incompatibility with Henry.

Anne Gilbert said...

Adeliza of Louvain does sound as if there was "more to her" than most conventional historians give her credit for. She certainly seems to have been powerful in her own right, if the amount of lands she owned is any indication. But I think one of the reasosn she may "fade into the background" in such histories is (a) she didn't have any "position" with Henry I except as a consort apparently for the purpose of bearing children and (b) she accepted this, if I'm reading your post correctly, in part because of her piety. I'm very glad, though, that you're making the effort to bring her to life for a modern audience, as well as "Empress" Matilda, whose reputation today is, I think, partly undeserved.
Anne G

Jules Frusher said...

She comes across as a very well-rounded woman (and I don't mean that in the physical sense lol). I think, if she had been allowed a share of power in Henry's later years, that she would have been quite useful to him - and then we may also have known more about her.

It is interesting about the difference in her fertility between the two husbands though. I must admit I was thinking along the same lines as Christy about the reason - although I don't know if there is any scientific evidence that this can happen.

Miss Moppet said...

I'd hardly heard of Adeliza until recently. Now I've just met her in the pages of When Christ And His Saints Slept because I've just got to the Arundel bit. Interesting that her lack of fertility with Henry didn't put William d'Albini off marrying her. Or did he have an heir from a previous relationship?

Anne Gilbert said...

Jules, EC and all:

That happens from time to time. It's very odd, really, and it's only in more modern times, that it has been discovered that some couples' sperm and eggs just aren't compatible for some reason(nobody seems to know why that is). If, through death or divorce, the couples go on to another partner, and the female of the partners gets pregnant, well, I guess a lot of heads are scratched, but nowadays, that's about it. In medieval times, people had no way of knowing these problems.
Anne G

4everQueen said...

Wow!! Fantastic information about Adeliza, Queen of the English, eh?! This past month I've been wanting to know more about her and had not been that succesful. Thanks for this wonderful research EC, most of it was new to me, and I am amazed to know how wealthy and learned she was.

Carla said...

Interesting post about a lady I only knew of as a name - thank you.

The difference in Adeliza's fertility with her two husbands is striking. Is it known that Henry was still fathering children with other women at the time? Male fertility does decline with age, especially after about age 50 or so, so it's possible that Henry was still perfectly capable in bed but that his sperm were no longer viable. This is less likely if he is known to have fathered children with other women at the time of his marriage to Adeliza.

A related possibility is that there was a combination of factors that made Adeliza and Henry infertile as a couple. Something like 15% of infertile couples have more than one cause for infertility. For example, if the woman happens to have acidic cervical mucus and the man's sperm happen to be more than usually sensitive to acid, they may be unable to have children together, but the woman would be able to have children with a different man whose sperm happened not to mind acid so much, and the man would be able to have children with a different woman who happened not to have acidic cervical mucus.

Another possibility is some sort of chromosomal or genetic incompatibility that results in a lethal genetic mutation in the embryo. Chromosomal deletions or additions can interrupt development so early that the embryo dies and is lost before the woman even knew she was pregnant, so it looks like a failure to conceive. However, even if Adeliza and Henry each carried a genetic defect, in 15 years one might expect at least one embryo to strike lucky in the genetic lottery and happen to be dealt a copy of healthy genetic material from both parents.

Something like a Rhesus incompatibility may be another potential possibility. It's easily prevented now but nobody would have had the slightest idea what it was then. However, with Rhesus incompatibility the first pregnancy can typically be successfully carried to term, and later pregnancies tend to end in stillbirth, late miscarriage or a baby that dies shortly after birth, which is quite different to apparently not conceiving at all.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Thanks for all the posts everyone.
Very interesting re the biological background to fertility problems in a couple who were both fertile with other people - Henry especially. I shouldn't think given the number of partners he had, that his sperm were particularly choosy :-)
Carla, as far as I know he did have at least one child with another woman while married to Adeliza - Isabelle de Beaumont, sister of the Beaumont twins was his mistress for a time and bore him a child - professor Crouch sets the dateline for that as circa late 1120's, so about 8 or 9 years into the marriage.

Anne Gilbert said...

Carla and all:

I'd forgotten about Rh incompatibilities. It doesn't sound, though, as if this was the problem with Henry I and Adeliza. If it was, she would have gotten pregnant, had one child, but would have had difficulties or stillbirths with the others. Which wasn't the case, considering she remarried and was subsequently very fertile. There obviously wasn't any fertility problem with Henry, if he was still having children with other women. My guess is had children with her second husband. Maybe it was an "acidic" problem which, as you point out, medieval people would have had no way of knowing about. Nowadays, apparently, there are "workarounds" for this, if a couple wants children, but this was the 12th century. . . .In any case, such things have been known to happen in history, and they're sort of "eternal mysteries" about which it is often interesting to speculate.

Anonymous said...

A picture of Adeliza of Louvain can be seen at

Likewise, Henry's 1st wife, Matilda, can be seen at

Enjoy. :]
Seattle, WA

Megan Smith said...

Christy...Adeliza and William D'Albini are my distant great grandparents......I have recently added a great deal to the family tree.

Anyhow being a history teacher I am amazed by the medieval eras. I have not yet read Elizabeth Chadwick's work, but am very much looking forward to it. I stumbled upon this site when doing family research. Can't wait to start reading!

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Adelizalouvain said...

I became inextricably drawn to Adeliza when I read Barbara
Tuchman's book " A Distant Mirror". I can't explain why. Maybe it is her romantic name or that I saw something in her character I liked. Although she is mentioned in the book, it is not very informative about her.

I never have been able to find out too much about her other than odds and ends here and there.

I enjoyed this post and I am now looking forward to reading the book you penned.

I will admit that I have adopted her name in the form of Adelizalouvain as my alter ego!!! It is my on line moniker for many web pages I belong to and on my own blog page. Once again, I enjoyed this post and the replies to it.

Anonymous said...

She died in the abbey and was buried in the abbey church next to her father, Godfrey I, Count of Louvain, (d.1139). The abbey necrology situates her tombstone next to the clockwork. An 18th century floor plan of the church shows her tombstone located halfway up the left nave. Her grave was demolished however during the French Revolution (abt. 1798). Her bones had been found and she was reburied in the cloister of the re-erected Affligem abbey.