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Adelidis of Barking

Title social-status: 
Abbess
Biography: 

Adelidis was a member of the FitzJohn family; her brothers, Eustace and Payn, served in the administration of Henry I. Shewas appointed abbess of Barking by King Stephen between 1136 and 1138, perhaps to enlist the loyalty of her family.1 She may have founded St. Mary’s hospital at Ilford. Otherwise, we know only that she was involved in a lengthy dispute with a priest, Roger of Ingatestone, over some tithes, and that she had an administrative official, Hugh, whose presence or actions (perhaps in support of her dispute) brought down the wrath of archbishop Theobald of Canterbury on the abbess in the mid 1150’s. At the same time, she received Osbert of Clare as a guest at the abbey, and he wrote an elaborate work in praise of chastity for her. Osbert’s two neices, Margaret and Cecilia, were at Barking.
Barking abbey was home to women of the high aristocracy. The abbess was an eminent figure, ranking as a baron ex officio. its abbesses appointed by the king. Widowed queens, like the Matilda who had been queen of Henry I and another Matilda, queen of Stephen, served as abbess, as well as a third Matilda, daughter of Henry II. Henry also appointed the sister of Thomas a Becket after the murder of her brother.
There was at least one literary nun at the abbey during Adelaide’s time or shortly thereafter, who wrote saints’ lives in French verse: Clemence of Barking wrote a life of St. Catherine and either she or another nun of Barking wrote a life of Edward the Confessor.

Biographical notes: 

1 See Paul Dalton, “Eustace Fitz John and the Politics of Anglo-Norman England: The Rise and Survival of a Twelfth-Century Royal Servant,” Speculum 71.2 (1996), 366. See also Sharon Elkins, Holy Women of the Twelfth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1988) and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Saints’ Lives and Women’s Literary Culture c.1150-1300 (Oxford: Oxford University, 2001).