Online Dictionary of Dutch Women

ADA, Countess of HOLLAND (born c. 1188 – buried Herkenrode Abbey, Kuringen, Belgium, c. 1223), disputed heiress to the County of Holland. Daughter of Dirk VII, Count of Holland (reigned 1190-1203), and Aleid of Cleves (died c. 1238). Ada of Holland married Lodewijk II, Count of Loon (reigned 1194/1197-1218), in 1203 in Dordrecht. The couple had no children.

Ada of Holland was the sole heir to the County of Holland. Her two sisters, Aleydis and Petronilla, both died before 1203. In that year, when Dirk VII became seriously ill, a dangerous situation arose, because the County of Holland had no precedent of hereditary succession in the female line. Making young Ada the regent seemed a possible solution, and on his death-bed Dirk supposedly expressed a wish to entrust the guardianship of Ada to his brother Willem. Ada’s mother, Aleid of Cleves, is thought to have thwarted this plan. She probably had little faith in her brother-in-law, who in 1195 had attacked the County of Holland. Aleid hastily sought a match for her daughter: when Dirk VII died, Ada was given in marriage to Count Lodewijk II of Loon. They were married on 4 November 1203, even before Dirk had been buried – a fact that is deplored in the Annals of Egmond. Some of Holland’s nobles, however, were unwilling to accept the new ruler, and they put up a fight under Willem’s leadership. The result was a struggle for control of the county. This fight, known as the Loon War of Succession, divided the county into two camps that continued the struggle with varying success.

Imprisonment

Ada sought refuge in Leiden Castle, but in December 1203 she was captured by her uncle and taken to the island of Texel. She found her stay there ‘unbearable’ (Van den Bergh OHZ I, no. 214). Perhaps for this reason, but more likely as a security measure, Ada was soon conveyed to John Lackland of England. This was an obvious choice, since the conflict between Willem and Lodewijk had international ramifications, both parties being involved in the struggle for the German crown. Willem supported the party that sided with the English king, John Lackland, who for some time had been on a war footing with the French king, Philip II Augustus, and was seeking allies on the Continent. He therefore had every reason to oblige Willem.

Ada spent nearly four years in England. On 14 October 1206, Lodewijk and Willem reached an agreement: the County of Holland was awarded to Lodewijk, and Willem received Zeeland, the area around Geertruidenberg, and a share in the revenues from the toll station at Geervliet. The agreement stipulated expressly and in great detail that Willem was to make every effort to let Ada return to her husband, but it is not clear whether Willem did everything in his power to secure her release, which in 1207 was drawing nearer in any case. On 16 April 1207, King John ordered the Lords of the Exchequer to pay 11 marks, 10 shillings and 3 farthings for clothing for Countess Ada of Holland and her servants. There is also a letter from Ada’s mother, dated before 31 May 1207, in which she begs the English king for the safe return of her daughter – ‘that innocent soul’ – who had been held captive for so long (Van den Bergh OHZ, nr. 214). Remarkably, Aleid emphatically confirms in this letter that Ada married Lodewijk of Loon in the presence of many nobles and ministerials, whom she mentions by name. Apparently doubt had been cast on the legality of this marriage: Aleid asked the king not to believe any false rumours he may have heard. The Abbot of Berne and the Bishop of Utrecht made separate declarations to the English king (dated before 21 October 1207), stating that Ada was legally married to Lodewijk of Loon. Perhaps Willem’s supporters had been spreading lies in an attempt to undermine Lodewijk’s claims to Holland, which were, after all, based solely on his marriage to Ada.

Presumably Lodewijk went himself to England – some time between 15 July and 10 November 1207 – to bring his wife home. We have two reasons to believe this. First of all, the Annals of the Monastery of Saint Jacques in Liège record that Lodewijk of Loon went to England in the year 1207 to petition the king for his wife’s release. Furthermore, the author (Reinerus) reports that Lodewijk’s wife was returned to him after he became a vassal of King John. It seems reasonable to conclude that John availed himself of this opportunity to acquire a new ally on the Continent, using Ada as bait. In any case, we may assume that Ada returned to the Continent with her husband in the second half of 1207. The couple settled in Loon, and the accord of 1206 soon proved to be a dead letter. From 1208 Willem was again lord and master of Holland, and in 1213 he was officially invested by Otto IV as Count of Holland.

Historiography

This is all we know of Ada’s life. As Countess of Loon, she left hardly a trace. Lodewijk died in July 1218 ‘at a young age’ (Annales sancti Iacobi, 676), and was succeeded by his brother Arnold. It is not known where Ada spent her final years. Perhaps she lived at Kolmont Castle, which Lodewijk had given her when they married, or in the prestigious Cistercian convent of Herkenrode, where she found her last resting place. She died in 1223 and was buried next to her husband.

Present-day historians do not consider Ada the Countess of Holland, nor is she recorded as a countess in thirteenth-century chronicles. The Chronicon Egmundanum, written between 1269 and 1272, names Dirk VII as the eleventh and Willem I as the twelfth Count of Holland. Starting in the fourteenth century, when the family of Willem I died out, Ada’s reputation was rehabilitated to some extent. Chroniclers began to report that she had been ousted from her rightful position, and that Willem had come to power through usurpation. Fifteenth-century historiographers therefore do call her the Countess of Holland. Evidently she appealed to the imagination of later authors, since various poems and plays were written about her in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Reference work(s)

Van der Aa; Chalmot; Cordfunke; Dek Holl.; Kobus/De Rivecourt; Kok; NNBW.

Bibliography

  • Nicolaas Beets, Ada van Holland: een gedicht (Haarlem 1840).
  • Annales sancti Iacobi Leodiensis, in: Monumenta Germaniae Historica SS, 16 (Hannover 1859) 632-683.
  • C. Busken Huet, Ada van Holland: eene historisch-litterarische studie (Leiden 1866).
  • Fontes Egmundenses, O. Oppermann ed. (Utrecht 1933).
  • J. Baerten, Het graafschap Loon (11e-14e eeuw) (Assen 1969).
  • Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299, 1, A.C.F.Koch ed., (The Hague 1970) and 2, J.G. Kruisheer ed., (Assen / Maastricht 1986).
  • F.W.N. Hugenholtz, ‘Vorstin: Ada van Holland’, in: Middeleeuwers over vrouwen, R.E.V. Stuip and C. Vellekoop ed. (Utrecht 1985) 12-26.
  • K. van Eickels, ‘Graaf tussen kust en koning. De westelijke Nederlanden en het Duitse Rijk tijdens Floris V en zijn voorgangers’, in D.E.H. de Boer, E.H.P. Cordfunke and H. Sarfatij ed., Wi Florens…: de Hollandse graaf Floris V in de samenleving van de dertiende eeuw (Utrecht 1996) 38-55.
  • R.P. de Graaf, Oorlog om Holland 1000-1375 (Hilversum 1996) 312-322.
  • W. van Anrooij ed., De Haarlemse gravenportretten. Hollandse geschiedenis in woord en beeld (Hilversum 1997) 136-137.
  • J.W. Burgers, ‘Allinus, grafelijke kapelaan en Egmonds geschiedschrijver’, in: G.N.M. Vis ed., In het spoor van Egbert. Aartsbisschop Egbert van Trier, de bibliotheek en geschiedschrijving van het klooster Egmond (Hilversum 1997) 116-149.

Illustration

Panel painting from the series of Haarlem count portraits, late 15th century. From: De Boer and Cordfunke, Graven van Holland.

Author: Marion van Bussel

last updated: 13/01/2014