Friday, August 12, 2016

Adeliza of Louvain, Lady of the English: A Forgotten Queen.

by Elizabeth Chadwick

My novel Lady of the English tells the story of Empress Matilda daughter of King Henry I and her fight for the English throne. It is also the story of her young stepmother, Adeliza of Louvain, a personality much less well documented by history and seldom in the public eye.

So who was this second queen to Henry I? What was she like and what is her story?

Adeliza was the daughter of Godrey of Louvain, duke of Lower Lotharingia - an area that is part of Belgium today. 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 the first queen entitled to a payment of 'Queen's Gold.' This was to become 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. (You will find poor Joscelin erroneously listed as the brother of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Alison Weir's biography of Eleanor, but it's not the case. Joscelin was most firmly Adeliza's brother).

Adeliza 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 religious 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 have 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 not stated, 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 agree with them, I think she used the traditional 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 and that his wife was a quietly clever diplomat.

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, although it paved the way for the future rule of Henry II.

Adeliza had been barren in her 15 year marriage to Henry I, but her union with William D'Albini proved the opposite and Adeliza proved to be very fecund indeed. Between 1139 and 1148, she bore either six or 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.

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!

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.

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, built by William D'Albini to honour his wife Adeliza.
This Editor's Choice post was originally published on Sunday, February 19, 2012.

Born in Bury, Lancashire, award winning writer Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the UK’s best selling historical novelists. She has written 23 novels including The Greatest Knight which was a New York Times best seller, and The Scarlet Lion which was named one of his top ten novels of the decade by Historical Novel Society founder Richard Lee. Elizabeth is renowned for the depth of her historical research and when she isn’t writing her novels can be found with her nose in one of the thousands of books from her reference library. She is particularly known for her research into the life and times of the great medieval knight, courtier and magnate, William Marshal on whom she lectures, and she is also a member of the Royal Historical Society. Having recently completed an acclaimed trilogy about the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, she is now working on Templar Silks, a novel about William Marshal’s experiences in the Holy Land.


  1. What an interesting story! Thank you for sharing.

  2. This is a new person to me. I am aware of the civil war, Matilda and Stephen etc - particularly via the Cadfael novels but was not familiar with Adeliza.
    Thanks for that.

  3. I got lost in her world as I read your article. Although my ancestry in the U.S. goes back quite a way, most of my ancestry is English. I had to wonder about my ancestors who were there and witnessed these events and who lived in this world. Thanks for a great article.

  4. A very informative article. Thank you for sharing. I was glad to learn more about Henry I's 2nd queen, who I didn't know much about.

  5. A very intriguing article. Thank you for the striking details. Like Wanda Luce who posted here, I too am of English descent and track my ancestry where I can.
    Always interesting to read of lines surviving to this day!

  6. Thank for that article I
    I have found that Adeliza is the wife of my 1st Cousin 30x removed


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