Dictionary of Saintly Women – Saint Adela (3)

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Saint Adela (3), January 8 (Adelais, Adelaide). + 1071. Princess of France. Countess of Flanders. Abbess of Mecsene. The countess-queen. Daughter of Robert the Pious, king of France, 996-1031. Sister of Henry I, 1031-1000. Wife of Baldwin V. (of Lille), count of Flanders, 1084-1067. Mother of Baldwin VI. Mother-in-law of William the Conqueror. This appears to be the same princess who was married in her infancy to Richard, duke of Normandy. Whether Baldwin of Lille was her first or second husband, she was married to him in her childhood, and was taken by his father, Baldwin IV, to Flanders, to be brought up in his own family. The town of Corbio was her dowry. Baldwin rebelled against his father, stirred up, says Sismondi, by the pride of his wife, who, being a king’s daughter, thought she ought to have the first place in the house of a count. Finding the fortune of war against him, and no help coming from the king of France, he craved mercy and pardon. A reconciliation was made, on Baldwin swearing, in presence of the Flemish bishops and barons and of the bodies of Saints Pharaildis, Walburga, and other famous patron saints of Flanders, to submit to the count’s authority and keep the peace. In the same year, 1031, Robert, king of France, Adela’s father, died, and was succeeded by his son Henry I. In 1036 died count Baldwin IV after a long and prosperous reign. He left his country at peace, both with the Emperor and the king of France a circumstance which had seldom, if ever, occurred before. Adela’s husband succeeded as Baldwin V. He was constantly at war, either refusing to do homage to the Emperor or to the king of France for his possessions, or punishing others for refusing to acknowledge his suzerainty. Nevertheless, he was considered the best prince of his time, and was loved by his subjects and respected by his neighbours. On the death of his brother-in-law Henry I of France (1060), he was chosen regent of France and guardian of the young king Philip I, the Fair, Adela’s nephew, then only eight years old. His letter of foundation to the church of Saint Peter at Lille says -

“I Baldwin, marquis of the Flemings, Count, regent of France, guardian of King Philip . . . considering that by building a house of God on earth, I prepare for myself a dwelling in heaven, . . . and acquiescing in the good advice of my wife Adela, and my son Baldwin . . . have founded a college of canons to implore day and night the clemency of God for . . . my soul, the souls of my predecessors, my wife and children, and all faithful souls. . . .

“Done at Lille, in the Basilica of Saint Peter, in the presence of Philip king of France, in the seventh year of his reign.”

King Philip also signed the deed.

Baldwin and Adela built the Benedictine monastery of Meescne. Several grants by them, to Mecseno and other churches, are to be found in Le Mire’s Notitia Ecclesiarum Belgii. They rebuilt the monastery of Einham, or Iham, on the Scald, and gave it to the Benedictines in 1063. Baldwin made the Fosse neuf, a great canal between Flanders and Artois. In 1069 he gave his whole attention to his approaching death and the completion of his pious works. His last public act was the dedication of his new church of Saint Bavo, on the site of the former one, at Ghent. He died 1 September 1069 and was buried in the church of Saint Peter at Lille, where his tomb and epitaph were to be seen in the 18th century. After his death, Adelaide chose the monastery of Meesene as her residence, that she might spend the remainder of her life in silent prayer. She wished to receive the religious veil from the hands of the Pope, and for that purpose went to Rome. She travelled in a car, covered with a curtain, to protect her from wind and rain, that her prayers might not be interrupted on the journey. She obtained from the Pope some of the relics of Saint Sidronius, as well as the veil and the papal blessing. She then returned to Meesene, and remained there until her death in 1071.

Her children were Baldwin VI of Mons (the Good), Robert the Frisian, Henry, Matilda (married William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy, and king of England), Judith (married, 1st, Tosti, brother of Harold, king of England; 2nd, Guelph, duke of Bavaria, founder of the younger line of the house of Guelph, from whom the present royal family of England are descended). Baldwin VI was a good prince; in his time, doors were left open, and people could go about without sticks or daggers. His secretary, Thomellus, a monk, has left an account of the youth of his master, valuable as illustrating the manners of the time.

A story of the wooing of Matilda by William of Normandy has often been rejected by modern writers as incredible; but Lo Glay thinks it not at all inconsistent with what is known of the times and the people, and says it is related in some very old chronicles. The account is as follows -

William, duke of Normandy, sent a message to Baldwin, count of Flanders, to ask the hand of his daughter Matilda. Baldwin was pleased with the offer, but when ho told Matilda of it, she answered that she would never marry a bastard. Baldwin made the most polite excuses he could for his refusal. A considerable time passed before William heard what the young lady had said. He was extremely sensitive on the subject of his birth, and bitterly resented any slight or insult grounded on that misfortune. When Matilda’s answer was told to him, he went to Lille; rushed, unannounced, into Adela’s apartment, where her daughters were sitting with her; seized Matilda by her long plaits, dragged her through the room, threw her down, and kicked her; then, disappearing as suddenly as he had entered, mounted his horse and rode away to his own dominions. Very soon alter this strange incident, the young people were reconciled and betrothed. As Pope Leo IX raised objections to the marriage, on tho ground of consanguinity, there was some delay; they were married, nevertheless, at Eu, in 1050, and afterwards obtained a dispensation, on condition that each should build a church. William built the abbey of Saint Etienne, at Caen, and Matilda that of the Holy Trinity, in tho same town. Matilda had a great deal of influence over her husband, which she always used for good.

MLA Citation

  • Agnes B C Dunbar. “Saint Adela”. A Dictionary of Saintly Women, 1904. Saints.SQPN.com. 25 September 2012. Web. 17 September 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/dictionary-of-saintly-women-saint-adela-3/>