What did wives do when their husbands went on Crusade? Born about 1067, Adela of Normandy was highly educated, well-versed in Latin, and educated in the nunnery in Caen, northern France, founded by her parents. Her father was William of Normandy who conquered Anglo-Saxon England in 1066. Betrothed at age thirteen, she married Stephen of Blois, an important count from northern France, two years later. He went on Crusade, laying siege to Antioch in October 1097. While today we may see this as dreadful interference in an autonomous land, the Christian Crusaders’ perspective was that it was righteous battle.
Adela ruled Blois while her husband was off at war and took care of their eight children, making education a key element of their lives. In a letter home Stephen bid Adela to continue her good job: “I instruct you to do well and govern your lands excellently and deal with your children and your people honorably, as befits you, because you will certainly see me as soon as I can.”[i] After his death in 1102, she continued to be a powerful negotiator, ruling as countess. She actively supported the church, religious communities, and charitable organizations, including a leper hospital. In her early fifties, Adela retired to a nunnery in 1120, which she ultimately ruled as prioress until her death in 1137 at the age of seventy. Her son, Stephen of Blois, became King of England from 1135-1154.
[i] Helen Nicholson, The Crusades (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004), 133.