In the mid-eleventh century, many Norman mercenaries arrived in southern Italy and began to take it from Byzantine control. Among them were the Hauteville family. Although minor nobles back in Normandy, they would soon rule over all of southern Italy. The Hautevilles continued to intermarry with other Normans who accompanied them. One of these first Norman noblewomen in southern Italy was Judith of Evreux – a relative of the Dukes of Normandy.
Early life in Normandy
Judith of Evreux was born around 1042 to William of Evreux and Hawisa of Echauffour. William was a grandson of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. Before marrying William, Hawisa was married to the Norman baron, Robert of Grandmesnil. Hawisa bore Robert six children, three sons and three daughters, before Robert’s death. Judith was the only known child Hawisa had with William.
Around 1055, Roger, the youngest of the large brood of Hauteville brothers, was traveling around Normandy on his way to Italy. The small Hauteville lands could not be divided between the various brothers, so the younger ones were looking for greater fortunes in southern Italy. Around this time, Roger and Judith met for the first time at her father’s lands in Evreux. Roger was immediately taken with Judith, but as the youngest son of a minor baron, he was far outranked by her. Roger continued on to southern Italy and continued to conquer lands with his brothers.
From Normandy to Italy
Judith’s half-brother, Robert of Grandmesnil, was elected Abbot of Saint Evroul in 1159. However, Robert eventually found himself opposed to Duke William of Normandy – the future William the Conqueror. In 1061, he traveled to Rome to seek the aid of the Pope. When Robert returned, he discovered that William had chosen a new Abbot of Saint Evroul during his absence. He had some relatives who were among the Normans who settled in southern Italy and they invited him to settle with them there.
Meanwhile, Judith and one of her half-sisters, Anna, were living at the convent of Ouche, which was attached to Saint Evroul. According to one chronicle, they had taken the veil, but it seems more likely that Judith was living there for the time being. When Robert left for Italy, Judith and Anna decided to join him. They departed for Rome in the spring of 1061. Meanwhile, Roger de Hauteville and his brothers were invading Sicily. The invasion was successful, and the Normans began to build fortresses in Sicily. Judith’s brother, Robert was given a monastery on the Calabrian coast dedicated to Saint Euphemia.
When Roger learned of Judith’s arrival, he immediately went to see her. Robert also invited Roger. Now that Roger had lands of his own, he was of fitting rank to marry Judith. Roger and Judith married in Mileto, in southern Italy in early January 1062. However, Roger was still busy with his campaigns and soon left for Sicily, while Judith remained in Mileto. That summer, Roger returned to Judith and brought her with him to Sicily.
Winning over Sicily
Roger left Judith in the Sicilian town of Troina with a small garrison. He then headed out into Arab-controlled Sicily. Soon, the people of Troina began to rebel against the Normans and held Judith hostage. A message was sent to Roger, who arrived the next morning. Roger was able to rescue Judith, but Troina remained under siege. Roger and Judith remained together during the four-month siege. It happened during a cold winter, and the food supply was tight. Roger and Judith shared a cloak for warmth. Eventually, there was so little food, that some of the knights even ate their own warhorses. After four long months, Roger was able to regain control of Troina, and put down the rebellion. He then returned to Calabria to get horses and supplies for his men. He left Judith in charge of Troina.
Judith continued to inspect the work on the town’s fortifications. She also reassured the men that her husband would reward their efforts upon his return. After Roger’s return, Judith moved to San Marco d’Alunzio in Sicily, possibly in order to start a family. Judith eventually gave birth to at least four daughters; Matilda, Emma, Adelaide, and one who was possibly named Flandina. She was not known to have any sons. However, Roger’s son, Godfrey, Count of Ragusa, is thought to have belonged to her. Godfrey might have been born to Roger’s second wife, Eremburga of Mortain, or most likely, was illegitimate.
In late 1071, Roger started to besiege Palermo, Sicily’s largest city. That year he was recognized as the first Count of Sicily, and Judith became the first Countess of Sicily. However, it would not be for nearly another sixty years before Sicily became a Kingdom. Judith only enjoyed her status as Countess of Sicily for five years. She died in 1076, and was buried at her brother’s monastery of Saint Euphemia. Roger married twice more, firstly to Erembuga of Mortain, and then to Adelaide del Vastro, who gave him the sons who succeeded him.
All four of Judith’s daughters made beneficial marriages. Flandina first married Hugh of Jersey, and secondly Henry del Vastro. Matilda first married Robert, Count of Eu, and then Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse. Adelaide married Henry, Count of Mount Saint Angelo. Emma was originally set to marry Philip I, King of France, but he chose Bertrade de Montfort instead. Emma then went on to marry firstly, William, Count of Clermont, and secondly, Rudolf, Count of Montescaglioso.
Alio, Jacqueline; Queens of Sicily, 1061-1266