20 April 2015

Today's Princess: Adela of Flanders

Statue of Adela's oldest son,
Blessed Charles the Good

via Wikimedia Commons
Nine hundred years ago this month, Adela of Flanders (c. 1064-1115) died in her early forties. Despite what seems a tragically early death to us today, she had led an eventful life. The Europe of a millennium ago was a seething cauldron of small kingdoms, duchies and counties continually jockeying for power and influence; and that is how this Flemish lady became a Danish queen and an Italian duchess.

Born just before the Norman conquest of England, the Norman hold on the island nation was by no means certain during Adela's time. Many foreign princes and English lords were eager to assert their claims. Not the least of these was the Danish prince Canute, whose life goals included becoming King of Denmark, becoming King of England and supporting the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the fact that Adela's aunt, Matilda of Flanders, was married to the Norman William the Conqueror, Flanders was opposed to the growing English-Norman empire. So, when Canute stopped off in Flanders after a less-than-successful raid in England, he likely took notice of the marriageable Adela, daughter of Count Robert II of Flanders.

A rival against his brothers for the Danish throne, Canute eventually succeeded the eldest one and almost immediately cemented his position against England by marrying the teenaged Adela of Flanders. While he continued alternately fighting battles and funding churches, Adela bore him a son named Charles and then twin daughters. The girls were newborns when her husbands twin ambitions merged in an unholy way. In the midst of a rebellion, he and his entourage were slaughtered inside of a church. The movement to canonize began almost immediately.

An agreement was reached to allow Canute's younger brother Olaf, who had been banished to Flanders to stop him meddling in Denmark, to take the Danish throne and Adela returned with young Charles back to Flanders, leaving behind the baby princesses.

A few years later, with the continuing shift in political alliances, Adela married Roger Borsa, the Norman Duke of Apulia in southern Italy. She left her Danish son behind in Flanders, where we eventually became the Count of Flanders, but, much like his father was hacked to pieces in a church and then beatified.

In Italy, Roger was a far less respected and less successful ruler than Adela's first husband, but having a Queen for a wife was no doubt a boon to him. Adela once again produced three children, this time all boys. When Roger died, Adela briefly took over as regent for their teenaged son William, who was an inadequate but popular leader. She saw to his marriage with an Italian countess and then passed away shortly after.

Books featuring Adela:

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