Elizabeth de Vermandois, or Elisabeth or Isabel de Vermandois, is a fascinating figure about whose descendants and ancestry much is known and about whose character and life relatively little is known. She was twice married to influential Anglo-Norman magnates, and had several children (among whose descendants are numbered many kings and some queens of England and Scotland). Her Capetian and Carolingian ancestry was a source of much pride for some of these descendants (who included these arms as quarterings in their coats-of-arms. However, the lady herself led a somewhat controversial life.
She was the third daughter of Hugh Magnus (a son of Henry I of France) and Adele of Vermandois. Her paternal grandparents were Henry I of France and Anne of Kiev. Her maternal grandparents were Herbert IV of Vermandois and Adele of Vexin.
Her mother was the heiress of the county of Vermandois, and descendant of a junior patrilineal line of descent from Charlemagne. The first Count of Vermandois was Pepin of Vermandois. He was a son of Bernard of Italy, grandson of Pippin of Italy and great-grandson of Charlemagne and Hildegard.
As such, Elizabeth had distinguished ancestry and connections. Her father was a younger brother of Philip I of France and her mother was among the last Carolingians. She was also distantly related to the Kings of England, the Dukes of Normandy, the Counts of Flanders and through her Carolingian ancestors to practically every major nobleman in Western Europe.
Countess of Leicester
In 1096, while under age (and probably aged 9 or 11), Elizabeth married Robert de Meulan, 1st Earl of Leicester. Meulan was over 35 years her senior, which was an unusual age difference even for this time period. He was a nobleman of some significance in France, having inherited lands from his maternal uncle Henry, Count of Meulan, and had fought bravely and with distinction at his first battle, the Battle of Hastings in 1066 then aged only 16. His parents Roger de Beaumont, Lord of Beaumont-le-Roger and Pont-Audemar and Adeline of Meulan, heiress of Meulan had died long before; Roger had been a kinsman and close associate of William the Conqueror. Meulan had inherited lands in Normandy after his father died circa 1089, and had also been given lands in the Kingdom of England after his participation in the Norman conquest of England. However, at the time of the marriage, he held no earldom in England while his younger brother was already styled Henry de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Warwick.
Planche states that the bride (Elizabeth) agreed willingly to the marriage, although this means little in the context. Despite the immense age difference, this was a good marriage for its times. Meulan was a respected advisor to three reigning monarchs: William II of England, Robert Curthose of Normandy and Philip I of France.
According to Middle Ages custom, brides were often betrothed young - 8 being the legal age for betrothal and 12 for marriage (for women). The young betrothed wife would often go to her husband's castle to be raised by his parents or other relatives and to learn the customs and ways of her husband's family. The actual wedding would not take place until much later. Some genealogists speculate that the usual age at which a noble bride could expect the marriage to be consummated would be 14. This is consistent with the date of birth of Elizabeth's first child Emma in 1102 when she would be about 15 to 17.
The marriage produced several children, including most notably two sons who were twins (born 1104), and thus remarkable in both surviving and both becoming important noblemen. They are better known to historians of this period as the Beaumont twins, or as Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and his younger twin Robert Bossu (the Humpback) or Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester. (Readers of Ellis Peters' Cadfael historical mystery series will find both twins mentioned frequently). Another notable child of this marriage was Elisabeth or Isabel de Beaumont, one of the youngest mistresses of Henry I of England and later mother (by her first marriage) of Richard Strongbow.
Countess of Surrey
Elizabeth, Countess of Meulan apparently tired of her aging husband at some point during the marriage. The historian Planche says (1874) that the Countess was seduced by or fell in love with a younger nobleman, William de Warenne (c. 1071-11 May 1138) himself the thwarted suitor of Edith of Scotland, Queen consort of Henry I of England. Warenne was said to want a royal bride, and Elizabeth fitted his requirements, even though she was also another man's wife.
In 1115, the Countess was apparently carried off or abducted by Warenne, which abduction apparently concealed a long-standing affair. There was some kind of separation or divorce between Meulan and his wife, which however did not permit her to marry her lover. The elderly Count of Meulan died, supposedly of chagrin and mortification in being thus publicly humiliated, in the Abbey of Preaux, Normandy on 5 June 1118, leaving his properties to his two elder sons whom he had carefully educated.
Elizabeth then married (secondly) William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey. By him, it is alleged, she already had several children (all born during her marriage to Meulan). She also had at least one daughter born while she was living out of wedlock with Warenne (1115-1118). It is unclear whether this daughter was Ada de Warenne, wife of Henry of Scotland or Gundrede de Warenne, wife of Roger de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Warwick (her half-brothers' first cousin).
The later life of Elizabeth de Vermandois is not known. Her sons by her first marriage appear to have a good relationship with their half-brother William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey although on opposing sides for much of the wars between Stephen and Matilda. Her eldest son Waleran, Count of Meulan was active in supporting the disinherited heir William Clito, son of Robert Curthose until captured by King Henry. He was not released until Clito's death without issue in 1128. Her second son Robert inherited his father's English estates and the earldom of Leicester and married the heiress of the Fitzosbern counts of Breteuil. Her daughter Isabel however became a king's concubine or mistress at a young age; it is unclear whether her mother's own life or her eldest brother's political and personal travails in this period played any part in this decision. Before her mother died, Isabel had become wife of Gilbert de Clare, later (1147) Earl of Pembroke, so had adopted a more conventional life like her mother.