ADELA (1062?–1137), mother of Stephen, king of England, and the fourth, and probably the youngest, daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, was born about 1062. Her beauty and valour in her early years are described by many contemporary Norman chroniclers. While she was still a child she was affianced to Simon Crispin, earl of Amiens, the son and heir of Ralph, earl of Valois and Mantes, who received his military training at the court of William the Conqueror. But soon after his father's death in 1074 Simon fell into a settled melancholy; and on being summoned in 1077 to marry Adela, he refused, and withdrew to a monastery. But already in 1075 Adela had been demanded in marriage by Stephen, earl of Meaux and Brie, son and heir of Theobald, earl of Blois and Chartres, a powerful neighbour of William the Conqueror in Normandy; and although Stephen's suit had at first been unfavourably received, it was repeated in 1080, and readily accepted by William and his nobles. Adela was married in the same year at Breteuil, and the ceremony was repeated with much splendour at Chartres, the chief town in her father-in-law's dominion. Baldric of Anjou, abbot of Bourgeuil, and other courtly poets, speak of her at the time as being her father's equal in bravery, a Latin and Greek scholar, and a generous patron of poetry, at which she was herself an adept (Histoire Littéraire de la France, vii. 152, ix. 131).
In 1090, on the death of Theobald, her husband's father, Stephen succeeded to his rule, and Adela played an active part in public life. In most of the charters issued by Stephen her name was mentioned, and an inscription, until recently legible, on a gate at Blois testifies to a grant of privileges to the town from ‘Stephen the Earl and Adela the Countess’ conjointly. Disputes between monasteries, and ecclesiastical affairs generally, she seems to have controlled by her own authority, with the aid of her intimate friend Ivo, bishop of Chartres. It was through her energy and beneficence that the cathedral of Chartres was rebuilt in stone, and freed from all taxation on condition that anniversary services should be performed for ever in honour of her husband and herself. With Hildebert, bishop of Mans, she maintained throughout her married life very friendly relations, and many of his letters to her on ecclesiastical subjects are still extant. In 1095 her husband, at her desire, left Blois to join the first crusade, and she was nominated regent in his absence. At the moment she was much occupied with domestic duties. A large family was growing up about her, and although she sent her two eldest sons, William and Theobald, to a monastic school at Orleans, the rest she zealously educated herself. But she contrived to perform her public business with due thoroughness. ‘In you,’ wrote Bishop Hildebert to her, ‘is all that is needed to guide the helm of the state.’ She aided Louis VI of France with a hundred soldiers, equipped under her supervision, to repress a rebellion about 1096. In 1097 she entertained Anselm, while passing from England to Rome during his quarrel with her brother William II, and became his pupil in order to benefit her children by the instruction she obtained of him. In 1098 Adela was taken seriously ill, and she piously attributed her recovery to the intercession of St. Agiles, before whose shrine, in a chapel of Resbac in La Brie, she had her couch placed at a very critical moment of her sickness. About 1099 her husband returned home; he had behaved with doubtful courage in an attempt to raise the siege of Antioch, and Adela resented his disgrace. In 1101 she induced him to join William, earl of Poitou, in a second expedition to the Holy Land, where he was slain fighting at the siege of Ramula.
After her husband's death, Adela continued in the regency in behalf of her sons, all of whom were still in their minority; she frequently, however, associated their names, and especially that of Theobald, the second son and deemed by her the most able of her children, with her own in official documents. Between 1103 and 1105 Anselm was often her guest. He stayed with her from the spring to the autumn of 1103, and when he, with Eadmer, came from Rome to Blois some months later, he stated to Adela his grounds of dispute about investitures with her brother, Henry I. She attempted to arbitrate between them; she summoned Henry and Anselm to meet her at the castle of L'Aigle in Normandy, and there a temporary reconciliation was arranged. On 24 May 1105, Anselm, in a letter to the pope, praises highly Adela's skill in the mediation. About the same time the countess granted an asylum at her court to Agnes of Poitou, the ill-used wife of the Norman baron, Robert of Belesme. In 1107 Adela was engaged in a quarrel with Ivo of Chartres, as to the qualifications for admission to the chief monastery of his diocese, and Pope Pascal, who had been visiting the king of France, came to Adela at Chartres to settle the dispute. Anselm had already addressed him in the countess's behalf, but Pascal decided the question in favour of Ivo. Nevertheless Adela gave him a sumptuous reception, and he celebrated Easter in her dominions. In 1108 Adela received Boemund of Antioch, an enthusiastic crusader, and at her earnest request he celebrated his marriage with Constance, daughter of Philip I of France, at Chartres. Later in 1108 Hugh of Puiset, a powerful neighbour, attacked Adela, and she, with her son Theobald, went to Paris to demand aid of Philip I. The request was granted, and Hugh was defeated by the joint forces of France and Blois. In 1109 Adela resigned the government to Theobald. She passed over her eldest son William as mentally and physically Theobald's inferior. In accordance with a previous suggestion of Anselm, she spent the last years of her life in a convent. She took the veil at the Cluniac priory of Marcigny on the Loire, in the diocese of Autun. But the countess for some years afterwards still exerted herself in public affairs. She induced Count Theobald to ally himself with his uncle Henry I against France in 1117–8. She continued to bestow munificent gifts on monasteries and churches, especially on that of Ste. Foy at Colomiers, her favourite retreat; and she settled many clerical disputes. She urged Hugh of Fleury to write his valuable chronicle of French history, which was dedicated to her niece, the Empress Matilda, after her death. She corresponded with Hildebert of Mans, and visited Thurstan, archbishop of York, when he passed through France to appeal to Rome in his quarrel with the archbishop of Canterbury; in 1135 she received from Peter, abbot of Clugny, a full account of the death of her brother, Henry I. She died in 1187 at the age of about seventy-five, and was buried at Caen beside her mother and her sister Cecilia in the abbey of the Holy Trinity. Her grave bore the inscription ‘Adela, filia regis.’
Of Adela's children, William, the eldest son, played a very unimportant part in history. Theobald, her successor, proved a capable ruler; he named his only daughter Adela, and she became the wife of Louis VII of France, and mother of Philip Augustus. The countess in 1114 sent Stephen, her third son, to the court of Henry I, and she lived long enough to see him crowned king of England. Her sons, Henry and Philip, she devoted to the church, and the former became an eminent bishop of Winchester, while the latter held the see of Chalons. Another son, Humbert, died young, and of a seventh, Eudo, mentioned in one of Adela's charters, nothing is known beyond the name. Of Adela's daughters, Matilda married Ralph, earl of Chester, and, with her husband and her cousin Prince William, was drowned in the White Ship in 1120. Adela married Milo de Brai, lord of Montlheri and viscount of Troyes, a marriage that Ivo of Chartres subsequently annulled on the ground of consanguinity. Some authorities mention two other daughters, Alice, who became the wife of Reynald III, earl of Joigni, and Eleanora, the wife of Raoul, earl of Vermandois (L'Art de vérifier, xi. 362–3).[Ordericus Vitalis, Historia Ecclesiastica, is the chief contemporary authority. The best account of Adela's life will be found in Mrs. Green's Lives of the Princesses of England, i. 34–72, where very full references to all the original authorities are given; see also Freeman's Norman Conquest, iii. and iv., and his William Rufus.]