Adeliza of Louvain, Queen of England

A noblewoman kneeling in front of Christ - most likely Adeliza of Louvain, from "The Shaftesbury Psalter"
A noblewoman kneeling in front of Christ – most likely Adeliza of Louvain, from “The Shaftesbury Psalter”

Matilda of Scotland, the first wife of King Henry I of England died in May of 1118 and in November of 1120, Henry’s only son and heir William Adelin died in a tragic ship wreck. Henry was left with only his daughter Matilda as his heir and she was married to the German emperor Henry V. While it wasn’t impossible for a women to rule his kingdom, the White Ship disaster forced Henry to consider remarrying and working on getting a new heir.

Henry didn’t want his nephew, William Clito, son of his elder brother Robert Curthose, to inherit the throne and negotiations for a marriage to Adeliza of Louvain may have begun even before the loss of William Adelin. On January 6, 1121, after taking counsel, Henry announced to a large assembly of his ministers and prelates he intended to marry Adeliza.

Adeliza is known by several names: Adela, Adelaide, Adeline or Alice. She was born c. 1103, the daughter of Godfrey VII, Count of Louvain, Duke of Lower Brabant and Lower Lorraine and Ida of Chiny. Ida was the daughter of Albert III, Count of Namur and Countess of Namur in her own right. Louvain is situated beside the Dijle River in what is now Flemish Belgium. The city was near the stronghold of the Dukes of Brabant and between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries it became an important trade center, chiefly in the manufacture of linen cloth. A marriage with Adeliza would reinforce England’s already existing diplomatic alliances within the German empire. She was a descendant of Charlemagne so she had the appropriate pedigree to marry a king. She brought no land or holdings to the marriage but neither did Henry’s first wife and he wasn’t looking to increase his property.

Little is known of Adeliza’s childhood in Louvain. The fact that she read and spoke French leads us to believe she had a certain level of education as it wasn’t the language of her place of birth. Adeliza attended the Imperial Court before her marriage and may have met Henry’s daughter Empress Matilda while there. Emperor Henry V had come to the aid of Adeliza’s father in the recovery of his duchy of Lorraine.

Historical sources concur that Adeliza was beautiful and this may be one of the main reasons Henry was drawn to consider marrying her. She was probably about eighteen to Henry’s fifty-three. Henry sent a delegation to Dover to meet Adeliza and bring her to Windsor. They were married in the Royal Chapel sometime between January 24 and 29. Adeliza was crowned Queen Consort on January 30 at Westminster Abbey. In May of that same year, Adeliza was present at another crown-wearing ceremony with Henry at Westminster.

Henry’s first wife Matilda had been an active participant in his government and had served as his regent in England when he traveled to his holdings on the Continent. In sharp contrast, Adeliza had very little role in governing, never serving as regent or appearing as a part of the curia. She toured around the country with Henry and witnessed some charters as a co-signatory of the King early in their marriage. In 1126, she dispensed her first independent charter with a grant to the canons of the Holy Trinity at Christchurch London. She did travel with Henry to Normandy in 1125, 1129 and most likely in 1135.

Henry was very generous to Adeliza in enhancing her dower lands. She held lands in Waltham and had revenues from Queenhithe in London. She also held estates in Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Middlesex, Gloucestershire and Devon and had custody of Waltham and Barking abbeys. Henry gave her a portion of the royal estate at Berkeley and the entire county of Shropshire. Henry also made sure she was exempt from taxes on much of her holdings. She maintained her own household and continued to have ties to her family in Louvain.

She carried out the usual role of the pious medieval queen. While she had no significant religious foundation of her own, she did witness the charter with her husband for the foundation of the abbey at Reading and was a patron of Waltham, Winchester Cathedral, Eynsham, St Sauveur in the Totentin, Osney and the orders of the Cistercians and the Templars.

Adeliza was an enthusiastic patron of French literature. We know she commissioned a writer named David to write a biography of Henry in the form of a poem which is now lost. She was of an amiable nature, intelligent and fond of her husband. The reason she remained by Henry’s side in all his travels was to try to have a child. Unfortunately she was acutely aware of the disappointment of not bearing any children with Henry. They were both fertile so it remains a mystery.

Henry’s daughter Empress Matilda’s husband, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V died in May of 1125. Henry compelled Matilda to join him in Normandy in 1126. When Henry and Adeliza returned to England, Matilda came to live in Adeliza’s household. It was doubtful Matilda could rule England or Normandy on her own without a husband but Henry insisted the nobles swear allegiance to her as his heir. At Windsor, Christmas 1126, the oath was sworn and Adeliza may have been there. Matilda lived in Adeliza’s household until she married Geoffrey of Anjou in 1128. In the summer of 1131, Matilda and Geoffrey quarreled. Matilda came to England and stayed with Adeliza until her relationship with her husband was repaired in September.

King Henry died in France in December of 1135. Adeliza does not appear to have been by his side on his deathbed. Early on in her widowhood she lived at Wilton Abbey. It was about this time she founded the St Giles hospital for lepers and the poor at Wilton. On the first anniversary of Henry’s death, Adeliza brought together bishops and abbots at Reading where he was buried and pledged one hundred shillings worth of land to provide for the convent and religious persons at the gathering. During the ceremony, she granted the abbey a manor and one hundred and ten shillings annually. She later arranged for lights to remain burning continually before Henry’s tomb.

Arundel Castle, Adeliza's home with her second husband (Photo by Janna 7777 from Wikimedia Commons)
Arundel Castle, Adeliza’s home with her second husband (Photo by Janna 7777 from Wikimedia Commons)

Adeliza moved on to live in Arundel Castle which was part of her dower lands. Sometime between 1136 and 1139, she married William d’Aubigny. He was a descendant of the influential Bigod family and the son of King Henry’s steward. He took the title of Earl of Arundel based on Adeliza’s property. Together Adeliza and William had seven children: William, Reyner, Henry, Geoffrey, Alice, Olivia and Agatha. The last two daughters died young. Among their descendants are Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of King Henry VIII.

After Henry’s death, his daughter Matilda made no immediate effort to claim the throne of England. However, Henry’s nephew and cousin of Matilda, Stephen of Blois, did seize the throne. In 1139, Matilda landed in Sussex to stake her claim beginning a civil war in England called “The Anarchy”. Neither side could gain a decisive advantage. Adeliza’s husband was a staunch supporter of King Stephen. The chronicler William of Malmesbury states that Adeliza had sent word to Matilda guaranteeing her safe passage into England. She did welcome Matilda to her castle at Arundel. But when King Stephen threatened the castle with an army, Adeliza surrendered custody of Matilda. She did, however, arrange safe conduct allowing Matilda to join her half-brother, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in Bristol. For the rest of the Anarchy, Adeliza and William remained loyal to King Stephen.

Adeliza and William faithfully supported King Henry’s foundation at Reading. William confirmed Adeliza’s gifts and gave his own while her nephew and son also continued support for the abbey. A few years before her death, Adeliza gained the consent of her husband to spend time in prayer and contemplation, something that wasn’t unusual for the time. She moved to Affligem Abbey c. 1149/50. Affligem is a Benedictine monastery in the town of Affligem, Belgium, twelve miles north-west of Brussels. It was dedicated in 1086 and considered the most important monastery in the Duchy of Brabant. It had associations with Adeliza’s family, having been founded by her father and uncle.

The last known charter of record in Adeliza’s name dates from 1150. Annals from the continent affirm Adeliza’s date of death was March 24, 1151 and also claim that she was buried at Affligem. However, there is a charter that was issued by Adeliza’s half-brother Jocelyn in favor of Reading Abbey stating she was buried there, presumably next to her first husband the King. Due to the conflicting reports, the truth is we don’t know exactly where she is buried.

Further reading: “Queen’s of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens” by Alison Weir, “Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy” by Alison Weir, “Henry I” by C. Warren Hollister, “Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Elizabeth of York” by Lisa Hilton, “The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English” by Marjorie Chibnall, biography of Adeliza of Louvain from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Lois L. Huneycutt