Adair, Countess Clemence and Her Role in the Comital Family and in Flanders (PhD, 1993)

“Ego et uxor mea… :” Countess Clemence and Her Role in the Comital Family and in Flanders (1092–1133)

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by Penelope Ann Adair

Ph.D., History, University of California – Santa Barbara, 1993


In an evaluation of Flemish countesses the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Clemence (1090/92–1133) stands out as an example of a woman who helped guide comital policy throughout her lifetime. To gain insight into how she developed such an important role for herself, I examine all the wives of the counts of Flanders from 1071 to 1168. Several countesses within this period became as influential as Clemence, but others remained in the background. While much must have depended upon the personalities of the women and their husbands, the most active wives shared certain characteristics including having a large dower.

The dower, the wealth assigned to the wife for her use if her husband predeceased her, is not fully understood today, but recent research by Stephen White and others on the Laudatio pa rentum, the practice of getting family members’ consent to the transfer of wealth, offers a methodology for the study of dowers. A frequent explanation for the inclusion of the wife in a donation is that the gift contained dower holdings. Hence, an analysis of where such gifts were located should indicate where the  wife held dower lands . The comital charters from 1071 to 1168 formed the basis of this study. The results were then compared to known dower holdings.

While there is a correlation, Stephen White is probably correct when he concludes that dowers may not fully explain a wife’s participation; one must look for other economic, social and political reasons as well. Some countesses, like Clemence, participated in the donations of holdings in so many places that it is difficult to surmise that only dower lands were involved . The counts probably regarded these wives as assets to the governance of the county and facilitated their participation. Wives founded and patronized monasteries, developed bonds of friendship with important families, and helped spread comital influence throughout the area. By doing so, wives like Clemence developed the power to participate in the rule of Flanders.

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