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Who was Adela of Normandy?

Though many of the details of life are unknown or disputed by historians, Adela of Normandy is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church and was the daughter of William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England and his wife, Matilda of Flanders.

Adela was born in the years following her father’s accession to the English throne in 1066 and was one of up to five daughters. (The birth order and details of the couple’s sons are well documented but the daughters were not as closely monitored and exact information has been lost to history.) Adela had a good relationship with her siblings and is known to have been especially close to Henry, who became Henry I when he claimed the crown over their older brother, Robert, in 1100.

Around her fifteenth birthday, Adela married Stephen Henry in Chartres Cathedral and became Countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux when Stephen inherited the titles upon his father’s death in 1089.

The couple had ten children though not all of them are known to have been Adela’s biological children – it’s only known for certain that she had five sons and might have had three or more daughters. Their birth order is believed to have been William, Theobald II, Odo, Adela, Stephen, Lucia-Mahaut, Agnes, Alix, Henry and Eleanor.

A strong woman and natural leader, Adela served as her husband’s regent while he went on crusade in the Holy Land in 1096. While Stephen was absent Adela granted charters, settled land disputes and commanded knights to go to battle with the king. She was also an ardent supporter of papal reform and was known for endowing churches and monastic institutions.

Stephen returned from his first crusade in 1100, a move which Adela is believed to have condemned as she didn’t feel he had completed his religious duty. He eventually returned to the Holy Land by order of the pope (and, no doubt, at the urging of his wife) and was killed at the Battle of Ramla in May 1102. Following Stephen’s death, Adela continued to act as regent through the early part of her son Theobald’s rule.

Adela’s son Stephen became King of England in 1135 when he seized the English crown from the Empress Matilda (the deceased King Henry I’s daughter, whom the monarch had named as his successor). This started a protracted civil war in England that lasted nearly twenty years. Another of her sons, William, went on to become the Bishop of Winchester and achieved great wealth and power during his brother Stephen’s reign.

In 1120 Adela retired, giving up the title of Countess and moving into Marcigny Convent, which was near her son Henry at Cluny Abbey. She died at Marcigny in 1137, possibly on 8 March.