After the White Ship sank taking with it Henry I’s only legitimate son he remarried in order to beget another male heir pronto. At the time he was fifty-three. His new bride Adela of Louvain was eighteen and known as the Fair Maid of Brabant. It also ought to be added that he may not just have married out of the duty of providing his realm with a male heir as there is evidence that negotiations were underway before the tragedy of the White Ship.
The young bride arrived in England in 1121 and there was immediately a rumpus about who was going to crown her. The royal pair married in Windsor and the Bishop of Salisbury claimed the right as Windsor was within his diocese. The Archbishop of Canterbury was having none of it. A council was summoned to debate the matter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Ralph d’Escures, got the job of marrying them. Unfortunately he was somewhat frail so Henry asked the Archbishop of Salisbury if he’d officiate the following day at Adela’s coronation. It is recorded that the following day the royal couple were half way through the ceremony when the Archbishop of Canterbury rocked up, stopped the service, removed Henry’s crown from his head and put it back on again – presumably with as much force as he could manage. Unfortunately for Ralph all that stomping around had proved too much for him and he could not complete the service so he asked the Bishop of Winchester to continue – no doubt any bishop was better than Salisbury in his mind.
After that introduction to royal life the couple settled down to doing what Norman monarchs did – ruling. Unlike Matilda, Henry’s first wife, Adela took no part in the running of the country even though Henry appears to have travelled everywhere with her. She is recorded as being pious and founding religious houses. She is also said to have encouraged learning. Her principle role was to provide an heir. They were married fifteen years but no children were born of the marriage.
Henry died in 1135 and Adela took herself off to the nunnery at Wilton where she remained for at least a year until William D’Albini proposed, and she accepted. As a queen she might have perhaps expected a better match even though it appeared that she was barren but times were difficult and who knows – perhaps she actually liked him. There was also the small matter of Arundel Castle to take into consideration. It had been confiscated by the Crown in 1102. On Henry’s death it lay in the hands of Adela. William D’Albini was a royal steward, an important member of the king’s household, and loyal to the new king Stephen who’d taken the crown despite the fact that Henry I had forced all his nobles to agreeing to accept his other legitimate heir the Empress Matilda.
The newly weds must have come under something of a strain what with William trying to further his position in the court of Stephen and his new wife being friends with her step-daughter. When Matilda came to England in 1139 she made for Arundel – where Adela was. It didn’t do William any harm as ultimately Stephen created him the Earl of Arundel for his loyalty. Adela’s still hold the earldom.
Adela and William D’Albini had seven children between 1139 and 1148 – which must have come as something of a surprise given her first marriage. Her descendants include Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – they should perhaps have taken a lesson from their ancestress’s strategies for being a successful queen. Eventually Adela took herself off to Afflingham Nunnery in Brabant where she died in 1151.
Adela’s grandson, another William D’Albini, was one of the twenty-five signatories to the Magna Carta guaranteeing that the charter would be kept. It must have been a sad moment for King John as D’Albini had been one of the royal favourites but by 1215 was the commander for the defence of Rochester Castle against the king. It was on his order the sick and the weak were sent from the castle during the siege. Rather than sending them on their way John ordered that their hands and feet be cut off. When the castle finally fell, John was so angry that he wanted all the nobility involved to be hanged. Fortunately for William he was talked out of this rather unchivalrous action but was to spend rather a lot of time admiring the decor of Corfe Castle as a consequence.