Judith of Flanders

Judith-of-Flanders-Gospels
The Judith of Flanders Gospels (New York, Morgan Library, MS M 708)

Biography

Judith of Flanders was a prominent 11th-century noblewoman and patron of the arts. At various times, she lived in the Low Countries, northern England and what is now south-eastern Germany. 

Marriage to Tostig

Judith’s father was Baldwin IV, count of Flanders, one of the most powerful noblemen in North-West Europe. In 1051 she married Tostig, son of the Anglo-Saxon Earl Godwine. His family had fled to Flanders following a dispute between Godwine, King Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042–1066) and Edward’s brother-in-law, Eustace, count of Boulogne. Within a year, Godwine and his family had returned to England, and Tostig was made earl of Northumbria by 1055.

Judith’s gospel-books

To judge by Domesday Book, Tostig was one of the wealthiest men in 11th-century England. Judith was a patron of the arts, and four luxury gospel-books made for her survive. All four seem to have been written and decorated in England.

Tostig and Judith were also known for their piety. They travelled to Rome and to English shrines including that of St Cuthbert in Durham. Tostig’s name was added to the Durham Liber Vitae . Although the name ‘Judith’ was also entered several times in that manuscript, it cannot be proved that any of these relate to Judith of Flanders.

In 1065, Tostig and Judith were driven out by a rebellion in Northumbria. The rebels seem to have demanded the restoration of the laws of Cnut in their region. When Tostig’s brother Harold became king of England in 1066, Tostig fought against him at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but was killed. 

Bavaria

Around 1070, Judith married Welf, duke of Bavaria. She brought the gospel-books with her and in 1094 she donated them to the monastery at Weingarten, which her husband had founded. This monastery became a major centre for illumination in the 12th century, and Judith’s books influenced the style of decoration that developed there.

Judith may also have influenced the spread of saints’ cults from northern England and Flanders to Bavaria. She may have popularised the veneration of the Northumbrian martyr-kings Oswald and Oswine, and her gifts to Weingarten included a relic of the Blood of Christ that she received from her father. Judith died on 5 March 1094 or 1095. 

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