The Marriage That Could Have Stopped “The Anarchy”


On January 24, 1121, Henry I, King of England and Adeliza of Louvain were married at Windsor Castle. At the time of the wedding, Adeliza was roughly 18 years old, while Henry I was around 53 and had been king for 21 years. The marriage was of dynastic necessity since two months before, Henry’s only son, William Adelin, had died on the sinking of the White Ship (the 12th century version of the Titanic).

Henry had one other living child at the time, a daughter named Matilda, who had been married, at the age of eight, to the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1121, roughly 19 years of age, Matilda was, for all practical purposes, a foreigner, having been raised in a Germanic court. She was also not seriously considered as an heir because she was a woman and, as such, it would be expected that her husband would effectively rule for her, England potentially being merged with the Holy Roman Empire through their hypothetical children.

Thus, it was imperative that Henry take another wife. His first wife, Matilda of Scotland, died in 1118 and had been beloved by her husband and deeply popular with the English people. Now buried at Westminster Abbey, she was often referred to as “Matilda the Good Queen” and there was discussion of having her canonized by the Catholic Church (her mother was Saint Margaret of Scotland, consort to Malcolm III).

Matilda of Scotland, Henry’s first wife

Adeliza, daughter of Godrey I, Count of Louvain, was a prize on Christendom’s marital market. She was young, beautiful, and rumored to be descended from Charlemagne. She would serve as Henry’s consort for 14 years and traveled with him extensively through England, which was unusual – queens often moved separately and at a slower pace, joining their husbands periodically. Likely, their proximity was meant to increase the chances of Adeliza conceiving, however she never did, a fact which sparked speculative gossip as to where the fault lay.

Four years after their wedding, Henry’s daughter, Matilda, was widowed and, in 1126, he called her back to England and ordered the magnates of his realm to swear an oath of loyalty to her and promise to support her as their queen when Henry died. Adeliza is known to have been present at the ceremony, though it’s unclear what her opinion on the matter was, as it obviously called even more attention to her childlessness.

Matilda of England, Holy Roman Empress, Henry’s daughter

Another contender for heir was Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, son of his sister, Adela. The same year that Matilda was widowed, Henry arranged the marriage of Stephen to a wealthy heiress, Matilda of Boulogne.

In 1127 Henry also arranged a second marriage for his daughter and, in 1128, Matilda was married to Geoffrey of Anjou, a man that she would grow to loathe. Their union, however, did result in three healthy sons in short order, allowing the couple to begin to live separately as swiftly as possible.

As for Adeliza, she devoted herself to patronizing artistic endeavors at the English court and continued to move with her husband until his death on December 1, 1135. England quickly devolved into civil war – despite having sworn an oath to Matilda, Stephen of Blois, with the backing of several magnates, claimed the throne. The fighting between Matilda and Stephen went on for nearly 20 years and is now known as “The Anarchy.”

Henry I

Adeliza herself wouldn’t live to see peace, which took the form of Stephen eventually recognizing Matilda’s eldest son, Henry, as his heir. Immediately after her husband’s death, Adeliza entered Wilton Abbey, a convent, to grieve. Three years later, in 1138, she remarried to William d’Aubigny, Earl of Arundel, and would go on to have seven children. Interestingly, Adeliza and William would have known each other for years, William holding a prominent position in Henry’s household.

The arms of the d’Aubigny family

Adeliza crops up notably once during The Anarchy, when she received her step-daughter, Matilda, and King Henry’s bastard son, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, at her home at Arundel Castle. The move, which was in defiance of her second husband, a staunch supporter of King Stephen, indicates that she and Matilda had a solid personal relationship. However, she would eventually betray her by handing over custody of Matilda and Robert to Stephen when he laid siege to the castle. In fairness to Adeliza, she had the fortunes of her husband, as well as the safety of her children, to consider – there’s no sign it was a premeditated trap.

In 1150, in her late 40s and after 12 years of marriage to William d’Aubigny, Adeliza left her husband to enter Affligem, a convent in Flanders – not an unusual practice at the time. She died there on April 23. William never remarried, but would go on to play a crucial role in bringing peace between Stephen and Matilda and lived until 1176. After Matilda’s son, Henry, inherited the throne in 1154 he would grant William the rights to Arundel Castle, which he had hitherto only held in Adeliza’s name.

Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England

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