Adelaide of Cleves was born on an unknown date as the daughter of Dietrich II, Count of Cleves and Adelaide of Sulzbach.
We know nothing about her youth and upbringing. She had two brothers and a sister. We know that she married the future Dirk VII, Count of Holland in 1186 and he succeeded his father as Count of Holland in 1190. The couple would go on to have three daughters: Adelaide and Petronilla (both deceased before 1203) and Ada.
Adelaide was the first of the Countesses to be referred to as Comitissa, instead of the usual “wife of.” She played a prominent part in the running of the county and was often a co-signer with her husband. It is thought that perhaps Dirk wanted to prepare her for a possible regency over their daughter Ada who was his heiress. Adelaide took charge in 1195 when the county was attacked from the north by Dirk’s younger brother, and Adelaide led the (successful) counter-attack from Egmond.
Dirk became ill in 1203 and Adelaide tried to quickly arrange for the marriage between Ada and Louis II of Loon. Dirk died before the wedding could take place, but the two were married before Dirk was even buried – Ada was then 15 years old. As expected, Dirk’s brother William refused to accept Ada as Countess and Adelaide could not prevent Ada being taken prisoner after being cornered near Leiden. Dirk’s brother styled himself as Count of Holland, but Adelaide also continued to use the title – despite not being able to do anything about Dirk’s brother.
Ada was initially imprisoned on the Island of Texel, but she was later shipped off to England, where King John ruled. William began ruling the county, though his reign was quickly overshadowed by a war with Ada’s husband Louis, which would last until 1206. The Treaty of Brugge ended the war and divided the county, though William effectively ruled all of it.
Louis finally managed to free Ada in 1207, under the condition that she give up her claim to Holland. He probably went to collect her himself. They didn’t keep to this condition, however, and the battle continued until 1213 when they were finally forced to give up their claim. Adelaide was surprisingly quiet during these years, though a letter exists from 1207 in which she begs King John to release Ada. We don’t even know where she was during these years.
She probably died around 1238 – even outliving Ada who had probably died around 1234. She was buried at Rijnsburg Abbey with other members of her family.1