Norman History: Mary of Blois

Mary of Blois
Mary of Blois

Mary was born in Blois, France in 1136.  Her parents were Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne, the grand-daughter of St.Margaret, Queen of Scotland.  From an early age Mary’s future had been mapped out for her, she would become a child of God, and would enter the church.

From an early age she entered Stratford Convent in London, with nuns from St.Sulpice in Rennes.  Her life in the church would take a dramatic change of direction, not of her choice.  Her brother would die, and events that followed led to her abduction, and marriage.

With the death of King Henry I, Stephen quickly snatched the English crown from Empress Matilda, she being Henry’s legitimate child and designated heir.  England’s nobles backed Stephen’s actions, not wanting to be ruled by a Queen.

Some twenty years of bloodshed followed, as Stephen and Matilda took the country into a state of Civil War, each believing they be the rightful King or Queen of England.

Henry, the Count of Anjou and Matilda’s son made several unsuccessful incursions against Stephen. Finally Stephen and Henry made an agreement, upon Stephen’s death; the English crown would pass to Henry, and not Stephen’s children.  It was an admittance by Stephen that the true heir upon the death of Henry I was Matilda.

Stephen of Blois and Matilda of Boulogne were blessed with three children:

  • Eustace IV being the eldest became the Count of Boulogne, and held the title until his death in 1153.
  • William was born around 1134 and went on to marry Isabel de Warenne in 1149, heiress to William de Warenne (3rdEarl of Surrey). In 1153 became Count of Boulogne.  With clergy assistance made a deal with Henry of Anjou, by waving his rights to the English crown in return be rfecognised as the Count of Boulogne and Earl of Surrey and all lands that go with said title.
  • Mary whose holy life had started out at the convent in Stratford was moved to a new convent, founded by her parents for her at Lillechurch, Higham in Kent, a sister convent of St.Sulpice. The 1155-1158 Charter of Henry II, granted Lillechurch to Mary and her nuns, which suggested Mary held a position of authority.  Prior to 1160 Mary became the Abbess of Romsey Abbey.

Mary’s brother, William the Count of Boulogne, died in 1159 during the Siege of Toulouse, and was succeeded by his sister Mary.  Mary’s life was turned upside down, for she was a child of God, and now she was a great heiress, the Countess of Boulogne, and through her father she had a rival claim to the English throne.

Mary became a rich prize, and Mathew of Alsace, second son to the Count of Flanders, abducted her from Romsey, and forced her into marriage with him.  There was much outrage amongst the clergy, for marriage with a nun was a breach against Cannon Law.  The Pope showed his displeasure by imposing an interdict on Mathew of Alsace. In time the marriage was allowed to stand by order of the Pope following years of disapproval.

Mathew of Alsace, he who forced Mary into marriage with him, proved to be an unscrupulous husband in the eyes of Henry II.  Mathew made claim to Mortain land held by Henry II, which should have been Mary’s by right of inheritance.  An agreement was forged; Mathew would renounce any claims of his wife’s estate, that were in royal hands in return for £1000.

Mary had little love for Henry II, believing he be involved in her abduction and marriage against her will.

Mary and Mathew had two daughters: Ida and Matilda.  Mathew divorced Mary in 1170 at the request of his dying father and Emperor; Frederick Barbarossa. The aim of the divorce was to get the interdict placed on him at the time of his marriage lifted.

The interdict placed on Mathew was finally lifted by the Pope when Mary returned to convent life. Mary became a Benedictine nun at St.Austrebert, Montreuil.  She lived out the remainder of her years at the convent and died in July 1182.

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