Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (C.1067-1137)

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (C.1067-1137)

Article excerpt

Kimberly A. LoPrete, Adela of Blois: Countess and Lord (c.1067-1137) (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007). xxv + 663 pp. ISBN 1-85182-563-0. £65.00.

This is a long and densely written book, with a text of 438 pages, appendices amounting to 136 pages, and closely printed footnotes sometimes covering most of the page. When the author refers to it as a 'dense and seemingly sprawling monograph' the adverb strikes an apologetic, but unconvincing note. The subject of this monograph is Adela of Blois, the daughter of William the Conqueror and wife of Stephen-Henry, Count of Blois, Chartres, and Meaux, a theme treated by the author in previous articles and in her two-volume Ph.D. dissertation (which may explain the length of this book). What we are given is narrative history, rather than analytic, so detailed that the danger of losing sight of the wood for the trees is tacitly admitted, but only in part avoided by including a summary at the close of each chapter.

The author starts by observing that the written records on Adela are so rich that she has long fascinated historians and literary scholars. This abundance of sources concerning one woman, unusual in the Middle Ages, means that there is much information to be teased out of them, including charters, letters, histories, hagiography, and literature. In addition, Adela's activity is recounted by many of the most important authors of the early twelfth century, including figures such as Guibert de Nogent, Eadmer, William of Malmesbury, and Ordericus Vitalis. In tracing Adela's activity Kimberly A. LoPrete follows a largely biographical pattern, first up to Adela's marriage, then to what is termed her joint lordship with her husband, to her regency during his absence on two crusades, to her widowhood and final monastic retreat. What this 'revisionist' argument brings out is the fact that, contrary to the dominant marginalization of women in a patriarchal society, the practical needs of feudal society could at times lead to their being given a more active role and even degree of authority. This more differentiated view of the position of aristocratic women in the Middle Ages is much to be welcomed. …

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