This article was written by Carol.
Richildis is believed to be the daughter of Rainier of Hanson and Adelaide von Egisheim, an Alsacian family related to the Holy Roman Emperor. It is believed Richildis inherited the county of Valenciennes from her father which was merged with the county of Hainaut when she married Herman of Mons.
With Herman, she had two children, Roger and Gertrude. When her husband died around 1050, Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, who very much wanted to annex Hainaut, wasted no time in forcing her to marry his son Baldwin. However, this marriage caused trouble for both Baldwins with Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. Henry had been engaged in a war with Baldwin V and his ally the Duke of Lorraine for almost a decade. He claimed that he had the right to determine who would be Count of Hainaut. Pope Leo IX chimed in as well. He claimed the marriage was forbidden because the two were related within the prohibited degree. This Pope happened to be the Emperor’s cousin. He also was uncle to Richildis.
The younger Baldwin was even excommunicated for a period of time. Herman of Tournai claimed that Pope Leo predicted that as a result, the children of this marriage would never rule both Flanders and Hainaut. It is possible that Richildis encouraged this argument in order to annul her forced marriage. Baldwin V also arranged to disinherit her children
by Herman of Mons by having them enter the church. Her son was made a cleric and he became a Bishop. Her daughter became a nun. This enabled Richildis’ children by Baldwin to be set up to inherit both Flanders and Hainaut.
Baldwin V had one last trick up his sleeve. He must have known that his younger son Robert could not be trusted. He made Robert swear on holy relics and in front of many nobles, that he would support his brother and his brother’s children in their inheritance. Baldwin V died in 1067 and Richildis’ husband became Baldwin VI of Flanders and Baldwin I of Hainaut. They had two sons, Arnulf and Baldwin. They planned to give the eldest son the county of Flanders and the younger one the county of Hainaut. Prior to his death Baldwin VI once again had his brother Robert swear loyalty to Arnulf who was still a minor. However, as soon as Baldwin was dead, Robert raised an army in an attempt to wrest Flanders from Richildis and Arnulf.
Richildis and Arnulf, however, had connections. Through Baldwin V, Arnulf was related to both the French King Philip and the English Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror. Both groups sent troops. Matilda, at this point, was in Normandy administering William’s duchy. Around Christmas 1070, William sent one of his most trusted lieutenants, William Fitzosbern, back to Normandy to assist her. Fitzosbern was thus close by to offer assistance. Richildis offered to
marry him if he would take on Robert. The two were married shortly before the battle. It is unclear if perhaps they had met previously. The Battle of Cassel took place in February 1071. Initially, the battle went well. But then Fitzosbern and Arnulf were killed. Both the principals, Robert and Richildis, were captured by the opposing side. In order to obtain her freedom, Richildis had to agree to release Robert.
Richildis did not yet give up. She borrowed money from the Bishop of Liege and raised some more troops with the local lords. She tried and failed again. Robert the Frisian became Robert, Count of Flanders and Richildis retreated to Hainaut, three times a widow, with her younger son Baldwin. Pope Leo’s prediction had come true.
Richildis served as regent of Hainaut until her son Baldwin reached his majority. She is credited with having built the Fortress of Beaumont, where Napolean rested on his way to Waterloo. She died in 1085 or 1086 and was buried at the Abbey of Hanson with her family. Her son Baldwin disappeared during the first crusade leaving nine children, among them a daughter Richildis.1