Judith of Flanders – Countess and Duchess

judith flanders
(public domain)

This article was written by Carol.

Judith of Flanders was the daughter of Baldwin IV, Count of Flanders and his second wife, a daughter of the Duke of Normandy. Baldwin was thirty years older than his wife.  Judith was born around 1031. Judith’s father died just a few years later in 1035, and she was raised at the Flanders court of her much older half-brother, Baldwin V, with her niece Matilda, who was close in age. Matilda would go on to marry the Duke of Normandy and become Queen of England in 1066. Judith is sometimes mistakenly mentioned as Matilda’s sister.

Baldwin V arranged Judith’s first marriage to Tostig Godwinson, a younger son of the powerful Earl Godwin of England. At the time of her marriage, Edward the Confessor was on the throne of England, and he was married to Tostig’s sister Edith. No doubt this was considered a respectable but not a spectacular marriage. Judith and Tostig sailed off to England and immediately ran into trouble. In Dover, during their wedding celebrations, a brawl sprang up between the Count of Boulogne and the men of Dover. In a test of wills and power, King Edward ordered Earl Godwin to punish the people of Dover; he refused.  Edward won the day, and Godwin and his family were exiled from England.

Tostig and Judith and the rest of the Godwins were back in Bruges with her brother. Luckily their exile did not last long. The following year they returned to England, and Tostiq was soon made Earl of Northumbria. Now Judith had a more powerful position with wealth and status.

Two similar stories come down to us from Judith’s time in England. A monk of Durham Priory stated that she was aggressive about wanting to enter the Shrine of St. Cuthbert at Durham, even though women were prohibited. She sent her maid to go in first to “test the waters” and the maid was struck down by a gust of wind. Another apocryphal tale is told around St. Oswin. In this case, Judith supposedly asked for a relic from St. Oswin. She was given some hairs from his head. She then proceeded to test their veracity by trying to burn them. When the hairs failed to burn, proving a miracle, she was struck down by a force of wind. In both cases, Judith comes across as pious but pushy.

Tostig’s reputation in Northumbria was much worse.  In 1065, the local lords rebelled against him. King Edward sent Tostig’s brother Harold to negotiate with the rebels. Harold ended up agreeing with the Northumbrians, and Tostig and Judith were exiled.  Whatever brotherly relationship they had ended at that point.

Judith and Tostig once again had to pack up and go back to Judith’s brother in Flanders, but soon after King Edward died and Tostig’s brother Harold claimed the English throne. Tostig, still nursing his grudge, began stirring up trouble. Perhaps he thought he too could be King of England? He harried along the south coast and then went up to Scotland looking for support. Eventually, he teamed up with Harald of Norway who had an actual claim to the throne. Brother Harold went racing north and met up with Tostig and Harald of Norway at Stamford Bridge. Both Tostig and Harald were killed. Some sources say it was Harold himself who killed his brother.

That left Judith a widow in Bruges. (If she had any children with Tostig they have disappeared from the historical record). Baldwin V died in1067, and without her brother’s support, Judith could see she needed a new husband. She was soon negotiating with Welf of Ravensburg.

Welf’s father was the founder of the Este family in Italy. His mother was the sister of Welf III of Bavaria and he inherited his uncle’s property in 1055. At the time of their marriage in late 1070, the situation in Flanders was unstable. The new Count of Flanders was a boy of 15, in danger of losing his inheritance to his uncle. (He did in February 1071). Welf, for his part, had just sided with the Emperor against the Duke of Bavaria, repudiated his wife who was that Duke’s sister, and about to be named the new Duke of Bavaria, which he was at Christmas 1070. To Judith, it must have seemed like a smart choice to leave Flanders for Bavaria.

Unfortunately, Welf was unable to hold on to this title. He backed the wrong side during a fight between the Pope and the Emperor and lost his title in 1077. Welf’s new allies, however, were the other southern Dukes and for a while it appeared that he might be the next King of Germany. These hopes, too, were dashed.  Judith’s title was Lady of Ravensburg for the rest of her life, although Welf did become Duke of Bavaria again after her death.  More than once however Judith shows up in local Bavarian records as “Queen of England”. Perhaps there was some misunderstanding about her former husband that she did not clarify.

Judith and Welf had three children. Her son Welf was married to Matilda of Tuscany for a short period of time.

Judith’s legacy lives on, however, through gifts she provided to her local cathedral Weingarten Abbey. Four gospel books commissioned by Judith, richly illuminated and once covered in jewels, survive. Two are now housed at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. One she gave as a gift to the Empress Agnes when they were trying to find favour with the Emperor and is now located at Monte Cassino.  And the fourth is in Fulda, Germany.  She is also credited with having given a relic of the holy blood to Weingarten Abbey. Weingarten celebrates the gift of the Holy Blood each year and the summer festival, the Welfenfest, features a local girl dressed as Judith.

She died in 1094 and was buried at Weingarten Abbey.1

  1. Source: Mary Dockray-Miller, The Books and the Life of Judith of Flanders

About Moniek Bloks 2397 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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