13 February 2015

Today's Princess: Richilde of Hainaut

Baldwin VI and Richilde
By Edmond de Busscher
via Wikimedia Commons
History has often shown that uncles are dangerous people; it is a lesson that Richilde of Hainaut (c. 1018-1086) learned all too well when her sons' uncle Robert the Frisian made war against them. As the widow of Baldwin VI Count of Flanders, Richilde was the guardian of their two sons and of their heritage. Baldwin had divided their patrimony: the elder, Arnulf, would inherit his County of Flanders while the younger, Baldwin, would receive Richilde' County of Hainaut. If either boy died without heirs of his own body, his brother would get the other's county, too.

Unfortunately, Baldwin VI's brother Robert thought he should be the Count of Flanders, despite the King of France's support for Arnulf. Many of the Flemish nobles sided with Robert because they did not like the taxes that Richilde had imposed in the name of her son. A bloody war ensued. Richilde did everything she could to strengthen her position, even offering herself in marriage to William FitzOsbern, a cousin and counselor to William the Conqueror, and one of the most successful soldiers of the day. When Richilde's forces faced Robert's at the Battle of Cassel, all of her ambitions fell to pieces. Her new husband was killed. More horribly, her 15-year-old son was killed. She herself was captured.

Once she was released, she retreated with her younger son to Hainaut from whence she tried and failed several more times to regain Flanders for him. Interestingly, Richilde always upheld young Baldwin's claim to her territory even though she had a surviving son from an earlier marriage. That son, Roger, became a Bishop. He was apparently lame, which may have made him unsuited for battle in an age where lands were claimed and held more by force than by inheritance.

Richilde lived into her late sixties, dying at the Abbey of Messines.

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