Adela of Normandy, of Blois, or of England (c. 1067 – 8 March 1137), also known as Saint Adela in Roman Catholicism, was, by marriage, Countess of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux. She was a daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. She was also the mother of Stephen, King of England and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester.
Her birthdate is generally believed to be between 1066 and 1070, after her father's accession to the English throne in 1066. She was the favourite sister of King Henry I of England; they were probably the youngest of the Conqueror's children. Adela was a high-spirited and educated woman, with a knowledge of Latin.
She married Stephen Henry, son and heir to the count of Blois, between 1080. and 1083, around her fifteenth birthday. Stephen was nearly twenty years her senior. Stephen inherited Blois, Chartres and Meaux upon his father's death in 1089, as well as lands and right in parts of Berry and Burgundy. Stephen-Henry joined the First Crusade in 1096, along with his brother-in-law Robert Curthose. Stephen's letters to Adela form a uniquely intimate insight into the experiences of the Crusade's leaders and show that he trusted Adela to rule as regent while he was on crusade. The Count of Blois returned to France in 1100 bringing with him several cartloads of maps, jewels and other treasures, which he deposited at Chartres. He was, however, under an obligation to the pope for agreements made years earlier and returned to Antioch to participate in the crusade of 1101. He was ultimately killed in an ill-advised charge at the Battle of Ramla in 1102.
Adela and Stephen's children are listed here in probable birth order. Their birth order is uncertain.
- William, Count of Sully married Agnes of Sully (d. aft 1104) and had issue
- Theobald II, aka Thibaud IV Count of Champagne
- Odo of Blois, aka Humbert. died young
- Adela, married Milo II of Montlhery (divorced 1115)
- King Stephen of England, married Matilda of Boulogne
- Lucia-Mahaut, married Richard d'Avranches, 2nd Earl of Chester. Both drowned on 25 November 1120
- Philip (d. 1100) Bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne
- Agnes, married Hugh de Puiset and were parents to Hugh de Puiset
- Alix, (d. 1145) married Renaud III of Joigni (d.1134) and had issue
- Henry, Bishop of Winchester (1101-1171) oblate child raised at Cherite sur Loire (Cluny Abbey) 1103
- Eleanor, (d. 1147) married Raoul I of Vermandois (d.1152) and had issue, they were divorced in 1142
Some of the daughters may have been step-daughters of Adela, rather than biological children. It is known that Adela had five biological sons and may have had three or more daughters, though not all of the daughters were necessarily Adela's biological children. The daughters are not mentioned by name during their youth, only appearing when they reach marriageable age and play an important part in building alliances.
Adela, a devout Benedictine sympathizer, employed several high-ranking tutors to educate her children. Her youngest son, Henry, was conceived during the single year Stephen was in France between crusading duties. At two years of age Henry was pledged to the Church at Cluny, Chreit sur Loire as an Oblate child. Henry went on to be appointed Abbot of Glastonbury and Bishop of Winchester. In that capacity he sponsored hundreds of constructions including bridges, canals, palaces, forts, castles and whole villages. In addition, Bishop Henry built dozens of abbeys and chapels and sponsored books including the treasured Winchester Bible.
Adela quarrelled with her eldest son William and despite his previously being named heir-designate, she appointed his younger brother Theobald to replace him as heir in 1107. Her son Stephen moved to London in 1111 to join his uncle's court and became the favorite of his uncle King Henry I (Beauclerc). Upon Beauclerc's death in Normandy (1135), Stephen of Blois seized the English throne.
Adela filled in as regent for her husband's duties during his extended absence as a leader of the First Crusade (1095–1098) as well as during his second expedition in 1101. This included granting monks the right to build new churches, as well as other charters. Adela also worked with Ivo of Chartres at various points, exchanging letters throughout her regency, to discuss matters such as the control of misbehaving nuns and larger issues such as disputes about sworn oaths. While her husband was away, Adela would continue to tour their lands, settling disputes, promoting economic growth, and even commanding knights to go to battle with the king. In 1105, after St Anselm visited her during a sickness, she was responsible for communicating the archbishop's earnestness in threatening excommunication to her brother Henry I. Orderic Vitalis praises her as a "wise and spirited woman" who ably governed her husband's estates and her own.
Adela continued to act as regent after her husband's death and through her son Thibaud's early rule until her retirement in 1120. Even after Thibaud came of age and no longer needed a regent, Adela continued to issue charters and act as co-ruler of many parts their land. Adela did not secure a marriage alliance for Thibaud, who did not get married until after Adela's retirement, which helped to maintain her power and influence over both her son and her lands.
Adela retired to Marcigny Convent in 1120. Though she may have considered retiring to an abbey in Normandy, where members of her family, including sisters and nieces may have already been living; Adela was drawn to and chose the larger, more prestigious convent at Marcigny near her son Henry at Cluny Abbey. Adela may have acted as prioress within the community at Marcigny, though this is not certain. She continued to interact with her children and the ecclesiastical leaders of lands that she had once ruled, communicating with them and maintaining her influence over the area. In one instance, Adela sent letters to both her son Thibaud and Geoffrey, bishop of Chartres reminding them of her settlement of a monastic case.
Later that same year, her daughter Lucia-Mahaut, was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship alongside her husband. Adela lived long enough to see her son Stephen on the English throne, though any response she had to this development has been lost. She likely took pride in the ascension of her youngest child Henry Blois to the bishopric of Winchester in 1129. She died on 8 March 1137 in Marsilly, Poitou-Charentes, France. After her death, prayers were offered at a number of churches that she had endowed personally or had recognized at some point during her life.
Adela is a saint in the Roman Catholic church. Her feast day is February 24.
Adela was portrayed by Nike Arrighi in the two-part BBC TV play Conquest (1966), about her father's conquest of England, part of the series Theatre 625.
Adela is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.