I love the story of Richilda and Blanca because Johann Musaeus did what I want to do: he found a fairy tale, and placed it in history.  I downplayed this aspect as I went through the tale, because, if you’re like me, you’d spend half the time trying to figure out who in the world he’s talking about and miss the lovely story.

Some Notes

Before I delve into the history of the fairy tale, I want to give two cautions and one note.

First and foremost: history is my third greatest love (after God and Andrew).  I’ve tried my best to narrow it to what is absolutely necessary for our discussion.  If you are an historian, you know how hard that is….So you will find some tidbits in the footnotes that weren’t absolutely necessary, but the historian in me couldn’t completely cut!

Second, I’m not a Belgian scholar.  Therefore, I’ve relied heavily on Wikipedia for dates and genealogies.  While it’s not my favorite source, it is fairly reliable for those two aspects.

Lastly, as a clarifying note, I will be using “Richilde” (note the “e”) for the historical personage, and “Richilda” (note the “a”) for the fairytale woman.

With that, let us begin!

Richilda of Fairyland

If you remember Richilda’s fairy tale beginnings, her parents were unable to conceive a child until Albertus Magnus stopped by their castle.  What I didn’t tell you is that he was on his way to the Second Council of Lyon.  Both Albertus Magnus[1] and the Council of Lyon[2] were historical, and it is highly possibly Albertus went to the council (300 bishops, 60 abbots, and over 1,000 prelates attended).  Thus, Johann puts Richilda’s birth squarely between 1272-1274.

He also says that her father was the Count of Brabant, a region in modern day Belgium.  There are several problems with this, however.  First and foremost, the ruler of Brabant in 1272 was John I, and he had a plethora of children.[3]  Secondly, since 1106, they had been dukes of Brabant, not counts.[4]

Where, then, does Richilda come from?

Richilde of History

As it turns out, there was a rather colorful Richilde, Countess of Hainaut, who lived c. 1018-1086.  Hainault is right next to Brabant, and it seems the ruler before Richilde (Reginar V) was given the southern part of Brabant in 1024 by his father-in-law.[5]  This, then, is probably how Brabant got involved in this tale.

Richilde’s parentage is disputed, with some claiming she was the only child of Reginar V of Hainault.[6]  More reputable sources claim Reginar’s son was Herman, whom Richilde married, herself being a “daughter of the Alsatian counts of Eguisheim and Dagsbourg.”[7]

Now, we’re not trying to decipher the truth from sources like a normal historian; we’re looking for a credible rumor that could start a fairy tale.  This shows us there were those who thought Richilde was the only daughter of the man who inherited part of Brabant…which, over time, would become muddled, giving her the title of countess of Brabant.  Just like our fairytale Richilda.

Richilde’s Attitude Toward her Children

Regardless of her origins, Richilde certainly acts as if Hainault/Brabant is hers.  Soon after her first husband’s death, Richilde marries Baldwin, the future count of Flanders.  In those days people died and remarried all the time…but generally, children from the first marriage were not disinherited.

Yet that is what we see happen with Richilde and Herman’s children, and all sources agree that this occured.  The historian Gislebert of Mons, writing about 100 years after these events says “embracing the last children whom she had from Count Baldwin with even greater affection, she caused the son of her first marriage to be ordained as a clerk, and the daughter as a nun.”[8] (italics mine).  Surprising words for someone who is writing for one of Richilde’s and Baldwin’s descendants and is sympathetic towards her on most other counts.  (see note below)[9]

For those of you familiar with medieval primogeniture, this is astounding.  Granted, Gislebert of Mons, says “Richilde detected a debility of body” in her eldest son, Roger.[10]  However, this does not mean he was incapable of ruling.  Furthermore, there appears to have been nothing wrong with the daughter.  Although they were not the first choice, daughters often did inherit large swaths of land (Eleanor of Aquitaine is a striking example).

Thus, the rule of Hainault is completely taken away from the rightful heirs.  Regardless of motives and reasons, this tells us one thing: Richilde did something unheard of.  To an enemy, or simply to an onlooker, this would be more than an unnatural motherly attitude; it would be a scandalous evil.

Richilde’s Cruelty

Richilde may have been an “unnatural mother,”[11] but was she also cruel, like our fairy tale Richilda?  Only one source showcases historical Richilde’s cruelty.  After Baldwin VI (nicknamed “the Good”) of Flanders dies, Richilde is said to have “punished those who disobeyed or disregarded her decrees with ruthless severity.”[12]  For example, when the capital of West Flanders sent a delegation to her, they told her “that she was governing in defiance of justice.  Richilde’s reply was to order the burghers to instant execution.”[13]  (see note below)[14]

If such a tale is true, it speaks very ill of Richilde.  The delegation came as ambassadors.  One does not kill ambassadors.  Granted, I’m suspicious of the source; however, absolute truth is not what we’re after.  We’re after the seeds of a fairy tale, and it would seem we’ve found them.

Regardless of motives or facts, Richilde’s enemies saw her as needlessly cruel and an unnatural mother.  If that’s not the seed of a Snow White fairy tale, I don’t know what is…



[1] Albertus Magnus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albertus_Magnus

[2] Second Council of Lyon, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Council_of_Lyon

[3] John I, Duke of Brabant, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_I,_Duke_of_Brabant

[4] Duke of Brabant, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_of_Brabant

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginar_V,_Count_of_Mons and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginar_V,_Count_of_Mons and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Reginar

[6] Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger, The History of Belgium: Caesar to Waterloo, (London: by the author, 1902) 51.  https://books.google.com/books?id=rYVDAAAAYAAJ&q=richilde#v=snippet&q=richilde&f=false

[7] “Richilde.” Connaitre la Wallonie. 2013. http://connaitrelawallonie.wallonie.be/fr/wallons-marquants/dictionnaire/richilde#.WUqLYevyuM_.

[8] Gislebertus of Mons, Chronicle of Hainaut, Translated by Laura Napran (Suffolk, UK: The Boydell Press, 2005) 4. https://books.google.com/books?id=JK1pHrxn4zQC&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22Chronicle+of+Hainaut+by+Gilbert+of+Mons%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwidgd_J96vSAhXC5yYKHa1DD3UQ6AEIJTAC#v=onepage&q=richilde&f=false

[9] A more recent source, which is very much in favor of Richilde, sees Richilda as “act[ing] decisively at a time when her rule in Hainault was threatened,” thus “turn[ing] the disaster of her widowhood into the victory of a prestigious second marriage.” (Theodore Evergates, Aristocratic Women in Medieval France, 115, https://books.google.com/books?id=d_-ytOKnWSUC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=richilde&f=false)

[10] Chronicle, 4.

[11] Anne Heiner, “Richilda,” Sleeping Beauties, 88.

[12] Boulger, 55.

[13] Ibid., 56

[14] The more modern source claims that that she was “unpopular…for trying to impose there the kind of hierarchical power that existed in Hainault” (Evergates, 116).  It does not comment on any atrocity.

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