|Matilda of England|
|Tenure||7 January 1114 – 23 May 1125|
|Reign||7 April 1141 – 1 November 1141|
|Predecessor||Stephen (as King of England)|
|Successor||Stephen (as King of England)|
|Spouse||Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor
m. 1114; dec. 1125
Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou
m. 1128; dec. 1151
|Henry II of England
Geoffrey, Count of Nantes
William X, Count of Poitou
|Father||Henry I of England|
|Mother||Matilda of Scotland|
|Born||c. 7 February 1102|
|Died||10 September 1167 (age 65)
Empress Matilda (c. 7 February 1102 – 10 September 1167), also known as Matilda of England or Maude, was the daughter and heir of King Henry I of England. Matilda and her younger brother, William Adelin, were the only legitimate children of King Henry to survive to adulthood. However, her brother's death at age 17 in the White Ship disaster on 25 November 1120 resulted in Matilda becoming her father's sole heir.
As a child, Matilda was betrothed to and later married Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, thus becoming Holy Roman Empress. The couple had no known children and after eleven years of marriage Henry died, leaving Matilda widowed. However, she was then married to Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, in a union which her father hoped would produce a male heir and continue the dynasty. She had three sons by Geoffrey of Anjou, the eldest of whom eventually became King Henry II of England. Upon the death of her father in 1135, the throne was usurped by her cousin, Stephen of Blois, who moved quickly and successfully to claim the throne whilst Matilda was in Normandy, pregnant with her third child.
Their rivalry for the throne led to years of unrest and civil war in England that have been called the Anarchy. Matilda was the first female ruler of the Kingdom of England, though the length of her effective rule was brief: a few months in 1141. She was never crowned and failed to consolidate her rule (legally or politically). For this reason, she is normally excluded from lists of English monarchs, and her rival Stephen is usually listed as monarch for the period 1135–1154. She campaigned unstintingly for her oldest son's inheritance, living to see him ascend the throne of England in 1154.
Early life and first marriage
Matilda was the elder of the two children born to Henry I of England and his first wife, Matilda of Scotland, who survived infancy; her younger brother and heir apparent to the throne was William Adelin.[nb 1] Her father had at least twenty illegitimate children, half-siblings to Matilda. Most historians believe Matilda was born in Winchester, but one, John M. Fletcher, argues for the possibility of the royal palace at Sutton (now Sutton Courtenay) in Berkshire. A member of the House of Normandy in birth, through her mother's lineage, Matilda was also a descendant of the House of Wessex, the family who ruled England prior to the Norman Invasion. As a child her relationship with her father was probably not close, considering Henry I ventured to Normandy when Matilda was two years old, and the king stayed there for three years. It is likely she saw little of him upon his return either, as Matilda then commenced her education at the Abbey of Wilton, where she was educated by the nuns.
When Matilda was still in early childhood, envoys from Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, travelled to England and asked for her hand in marriage. In spring of 1110 she was sent to Germany, taking with her a large dowry, estimated at 10,000 marks in silver, to become the bride of the emperor. The couple met at Liège before travelling to Utrecht where, on 10 April, they became officially betrothed. On 25 July of the same year, she was crowned queen of the Romans in a ceremony at Mainz. As well as being a young stranger in a foreign court, she also saw most of her Anglo-Norman retinue dismissed by the emperor, who also wished that Matilda learn to speak German. She found herself continuing her education in Germany, being taught by Archbishop Bruno of Trier. Matilda and Henry were married in June 1114. The title she then assumed is somewhat dubious; she was never crowned empress by the pope, though she was crowned in Rome by the archbishop of Braga, Maurice Bourdin, at Pentecost (13 May 1117). As Matilda later claimed to have been crowned twice, a ceremony may have taken place earlier in the year at Easter. To add further ambiguity to the title, Archbishop Bourdin was excommunicated by the pope in April 1117, before Pentecost but after Easter. However, as she was the lawfully wedded wife and anointed queen at the time of her husband's coronation by Pope Paschal in 1111, her title held some legitimacy and official records addressed her as regina Romanorum. Bourdin, following the death of Paschal in January 1118, became Antipope Gregory VIII, in opposition to Pope Gelasius II. Later, she led Norman chroniclers to believe that she had been crowned by the pope himself.
Matilda acted as her husband's regent in Italy, gaining valuable political experience. Her tenure as regent of the Italian lands of the Holy Roman Empire probably lasted from 1117 to 1119, whereupon she rejoined her husband in Lotharingia. However, on 25 November 1120, Matilda's brother William Adelin drowned in the White Ship disaster. Being the only legitimate son of King Henry, his death cast uncertainty over the succession to the throne. Matilda was the king's only legitimate child, but as a female, she was at a substantial political disadvantage. The closest male agnate at the time was William Clito, but instead of naming a successor, Henry turned his attention to fathering another child. Widowed from Matilda's mother in 1118, Henry commenced negotiations for a remarriage following Adelin's death. In 1121, he married Adeliza of Louvain, but the union failed to produce any children.
Meanwhile, the marriage of the imperial couple remained childless, and the empress's father was at the time unwilling to rest his hopes on his daughter providing an heir, assuming that she may be barren. The emperor had already produced an illegitimate daughter, so it was presumed that he was not infertile. Nonetheless, though she had failed to produce an heir for her husband, she was not blamed; instead, the couple's childlessness was regarded as God's punishment to Henry V for his mistreatment of his father. The emperor died on 23 May 1125, leaving Matilda a widow at the age of 23. They had no surviving offspring, but Hermann of Tournai stated that Matilda bore a child who lived only a short while.[nb 2] On his deathbed, Henry V entrusted Matilda with the imperial insignia. Having not produced a legitimate child, the Salian dynasty ended. Though the imperial throne was elective rather than hereditary, the title often passed from father to son. Matilda handed over the insignia, which was at Trifels Castle, to Adalbert, archbishop of Mainz, and he began proceedings towards the election, which resulted in the enthronement of her husband's former rival, Lothair III.
Widowhood, heiress and second marriage
Following her husband's death, Matilda was summoned to Normandy by her father. Matilda was displeased; she was a respected figure in the Empire which was her home since childhood, and German was now her first language. Nonetheless, she had ceased to be involved in German political affairs and with an opponent on the throne, her future there did not promise anything significantly worthwhile. Accepting that likeliness of his marriage providing him a son was slim, Henry I decided that Matilda would be his heiress presumptive. After residing in Normandy for nearly a year with her father and stepmother, they set sail for England in 1126. In January 1127, Henry made his court, including Stephen of Blois, swear an oath of allegiance to Matilda. John of Worcester described a second oath, taken one year after the first, at Henry's Easter court on 29 April 1128.
The question of marriage was entirely down to Matilda's father. King Louis VI of France was discontented about Normandy and England united and as such, promoted the claim of William Clito in order to attempt to cause a rift in the court. Furthermore, Fulk, Count of Anjou, was likely to support Clito's claim due to the longstanding hostility between Normandy and Anjou. The animosity between Normandy and Anjou had temporarily been repaired with the marriage of William Adelin to Fulk's daughter Matilda. However, William's death meant the match was brief. Fulk then married his younger daughter Sibylla to William Clito, though Henry managed to sever the union by having Pope Callixtus II annul the marriage on the grounds of consanguinity. However, Louis VI then offered his wife's half-sister Joan to Clito for marriage. Her dowry was the Vexin, an area of land bordering Normandy. Furthermore, the murder of Charles I, Count of Flanders, in 1127 gave Louis the opportunity to install William as the new Count of Flanders, thus setting him up to be a strong rival of Matilda.
Henry was faced with a predicament of Clito's rising power and he recognised that his daughter must marry in a union of diplomacy to counter this. He arranged for her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou, Fulk's son. Matilda was outraged, and viewed Geoffrey as entirely beneath her, though she could not do anything to prevent the marriage. Matilda was sent to Normandy early in 1127, under the care of Robert of Gloucester, her half-brother. The wedding could not take place straight away, as Geoffrey was considered too young, having not yet turned 14. Nonetheless, he was considered handsome and intelligent, though neither of these traits served to console Matilda. The marriage took place in June 1128 at Le Mans. A month after the marriage, William Clito died suddenly from a battle wound, thus strengthening Matilda's position further.
The marriage, however, was a tempestuous relationship, and a little over a year after their wedding, Matilda left Geoffrey, travelling to Normandy and residing at Rouen. The cause behind the soured relations is not fully known, though historian Marjorie Chibnall stated that, "historians have tended to put the blame on Matilda [...] This is a hasty judgement based on two or three hostile English chroniclers; such evidence as there is suggests Geoffrey was at least as much to blame". Henry eventually summoned her from Normandy, whereupon Matilda returned to England in August 1131. At a great council meeting on 8 September, it was decided that Matilda would return to her husband. Here she received another oath of allegiance, where Stephen once more made his vow to Matilda. The marriage proved a success when, in March 1133, Matilda gave birth to their first child, Henry, in Le Mans. In 1134, the couple's second son, Geoffrey, was born in Rouen. Matilda nearly died in childbirth, and as she lay critically ill, her burial arrangements were planned. However, she recovered from her illness.
Death of Henry I, struggle for the throne
By 1135, relations between Henry I and Matilda's husband Geoffrey had decayed. Geoffrey had not been invited to attend court since his wedding, and furthermore castles promised to Geoffrey in Matilda's dowry, which lay along the border of Normandy and Anjou, had not yet been ceded by Henry. That summer, Henry undertook military patrol along his borders with Anjou, while Matilda remained with her husband. In November, Henry traveled to his lodge at Lyons-la-Forêt for hunting, and whilst there he became ill. Henry died at the lodge on the night of 1 December 1135. Despite the recent animosity between Henry and his son-in-law, on his deathbed Henry reaffirmed his wish that Matilda inherit the throne. Matilda was with Geoffrey in Anjou, and, crucially, too far away from events rapidly unfolding in England and Normandy.
In the first week of December, Matilda rode north and gained control of the disputed castles, Domfront, Exmes and Argentan. However, she could move no further; Geoffrey remained in Anjou due to a rebellion, and Matilda discovered she was in the early stages of her third pregnancy. She established her household at Argentan, where she gave birth to her third son, William, on 22 July 1136.
Stephen of Blois, who was situated in Boulogne upon hearing the news of Henry's death, left immediately for England along with a small retinue, and sailed from Wissant to Dover. He rode to London, before then traveling to Winchester, where his younger brother Henry was Bishop of Winchester. On 22 December, Stephen was crowned King of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury in [Westminster Cathedral]]. His crowning was a rushed affair; few noblemen were present and only three prelates witnessed the ceremony, but it secured his position. Once crowned, Stephen was no longer a claimant to the throne, he was King of England.
Upon hearing the news of Stephen's coup, King David I of Scotland, Matilda's maternal uncle and a member of Henry's court to have sworn allegiance to his daughter, overran the English borders from Carlisle to Newcastle, but Stephen's forces soon successfully retaliated against David and pushed back the Scots. Meanwhile, Matilda's half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, returned to the court and somewhat reluctantly acknowledged Stephen as King. However, whilst Stephen was now ruler of England and Normandy, he had yet to fully consolidate his rule in Normandy; over a year after his crowning, Stephen arrived in Normandy for the first time as King. However, upon his journey to Normandy, his army of Flemish mercenaries soon disintegrated after violence broke out between them and Norman barons. Stephen's foray into Normandy went further askew when his uneasy relationship with Robert of Gloucester deteriorated when Gloucester accused Stephen of plotting to murder him. After nine months in Normandy, the king returned to England, leaving Gloucester in a position of power around Caen and Bayeux. Then, in June 1138, Matilda's prospects altered dramatically when Gloucester declared his support for her, renouncing his allegiance to Stephen.
During the war, Matilda's most loyal and capable supporter was her illegitimate half-brother, Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester.
Matilda's greatest triumph came in February 1141, when her forces defeated and captured King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln. He was made a prisoner and effectively deposed. Her advantage lasted only a few months. When she arrived in London, the city was ready to welcome her and support her coronation. She used the title of Lady of the English and planned to assume the title of queen upon coronation (the custom which was followed by her grandsons, Richard and John). However, she refused the citizens' request to halve their taxes and, because of her own arrogance, they closed the city gates to her and reignited the civil war on 24 June 1141.
By November, Stephen was free (exchanged for the captured Robert of Gloucester) and a year later, the tables were turned when Matilda was besieged at Oxford but escaped to Wallingford, supposedly by fleeing across snow-covered land in a white cape. She escaped Devizes in a similar manner, by disguising herself as a corpse and being carried out for burial.
In Normandy, Geoffrey secured all fiefdoms west and south of the Seine by 1143; in January 1144, he crossed the Seine and took Rouen without resistance. He assumed the title Duke of Normandy, and Matilda became Duchess of Normandy. Geoffrey and Matilda held the duchy conjointly until 1149, then ceded it to their son, Henry, which event was soon ratified by King Louis VII of France. It was not until 1139, however, that Matilda commanded the military strength necessary to challenge Stephen within England.
In 1148, Matilda and Henry returned to Normandy, following the death of Robert of Gloucester, and the reconquest of Normandy by Geoffrey. Upon their arrival, Geoffrey turned Normandy over to Henry and retired to Anjou.
Matilda's first son, Henry, was showing signs of becoming a successful leader. It was 1147 when Henry, aged 14, had accompanied Matilda on an invasion of England. It soon failed due to lack of preparation but it made him determined that England was his mother's right, and so his own. He returned to England again between 1149 and 1150. On 22 May 1149 he was knighted by King David I of Scotland, his great uncle, at Carlisle. Although the civil war had been decided in Stephen's favour, his reign was troubled. In 1153, the death of Stephen's son Eustace, combined with the arrival of a military expedition led by Henry, led him to acknowledge the latter as his heir by the Treaty of Wallingford.
Matilda retired to Rouen in Normandy during her last years, where she maintained her own court and presided over the government of the duchy in the absence of Henry. She intervened in the quarrels between her eldest son Henry and her second son Geoffrey, Count of Nantes, but peace between the brothers was brief. Geoffrey rebelled against Henry twice before his sudden death in 1158. Relations between Henry and his youngest brother, William X, Count of Poitou, were more cordial, and William was given vast estates in England. Archbishop Thomas Becket refused to allow William to marry the Countess of Surrey and the young man fled to Matilda's court at Rouen. William died there in January 1164, reportedly of disappointment and sorrow. She attempted to mediate in the quarrel between her son Henry and Becket, but was unsuccessful.
Although she gave up hope of being crowned in 1141, her name always preceded that of her son Henry, even after he became king. Matilda died at Notre Dame du Pré near Rouen in 1167 and was buried in the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin, Normandy. Her body was transferred to Rouen Cathedral in 1847; her epitaph reads: "Great by Birth, Greater by Marriage, Greatest in her Offspring: Here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry."
Novels dealing with the civil war between Matilda and Stephen include:
- Graham Shelby, The Villains of the Piece (1972) (published in the US as The Oath and the Sword)
- The Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters, and the TV series made from them starring Sir Derek Jacobi
- Sharon Penman, When Christ and His Saints Slept tells the story of the events before, during and after the civil war (1995)
- Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth (1989)
- E. L. Konigsburg, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (1973)
- Cecelia Holland, The Earl (1971)
- Elizabeth Chadwick, Lady of the English (2012)
Several novels postulate a love affair between Matilda and Stephen as the major impetus for the civil war period. These include:
- Jean Plaidy, The Passionate Enemies, the third book of her Norman Trilogy (1976)
- Ellen Jones, The Fatal Crown (1991)
- Haley Elizabeth Garwood, The Forgotten Queen (1997)
|House of Normandy|
William the Conqueror invades England
|Monarchy of the United Kingdom|
|Ancestors of Empress Matilda|
- Historical debate exists as to whether William Adelin was Matilda's younger brother or her twin. Marjorie Chibnall has said that "the evidence is against" the theory of the siblings being twins, citing various reasons, such as William of Malmesbury stating they were born on different dates.
- It is argued that Hermann of Tournai was using the story of a child who died as a guise to prove his point that because Matilda's mother had once worn the veil of a nun, her marriage was cursed. Chibnall described it as an "uncorroborated" story and Hermann as an "unreliable" source.
- Chibnall 1991, p. 9
- Pain 1978, p. 5
- Castor 2010, p. 44
- Pain 1978, p. 7
- Chibnall 1991, p. 16
- Pain 1978, p. 8
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1894). "Matilda (1102-1167)". Dictionary of National Biography 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Chibnall (1991), p. 24
- Pain 1978, p. 12
- Pain 1978, p. 14
- Chibnall 1991, p. 32
- Chibnall 1991, p. 33
- Chibnall 1991, p. 34
- Chibnall 1991, p. 38
- Chibnall 1991, p. 40
- Pain 1978, p. 16
- Chibnall 1991, p. 41
- Chibnall 1991, p. 42
- Chibnall 1991, p. 43
- Pain 1978, p. 17
- Pain 1978, p. 18
- Chibnall 1991, p. 51
- Chibnall 1991, p. 52
- Pain 1978, p. 25
- Chibnall 1991, p. 54
- Pain 1978, p. 26
- Pain 1978, p. 27
- Chibnall 1991, p. 55
- Chibnall 1991, p. 57
- Chibnall 1991, p. 59
- Chibnall 1991, p. 60
- Chibnall 1991, p. 61
- Castor 2010, p. 70
- Castor 2010, p. 71
- Castor 2010, p. 72
- Castor 2010, p. 74
- Castor 2010, p. 77
- Castor 2010, p. 78
- Castor 2010, p. 79
- Castor 2010, p. 82
- Lyon, Ann (2003). Constitutional history of the UK. Routledge Cavendish. ISBN 1-85941-746-9.
- Harvey, John. The Plantagenets. p. 50.
- The Forgotten Queen
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Empress Mathilda.|
- Bradbury, J. (1996) Stephen and Matilda: the Civil War of 1139–1153, Sutton Publishing, ISBN 0-7509-0612-X
- Fletcher, John (1990) Sutton Courtenay: The History of a Thameside Village
- Gardener, J and Wenborn, W the History Today Companion to British History
- Parsons, John Carmi. Medieval Mothering (New Middle Ages), sub. Marjorie Chibnall, "Empress Matilda and Her Sons"
Empress MatildaBorn: February 1102 Died: 10 September 1167
Stephen of Blois
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Stephen of Blois
Constance of Sicily
|Queen consort of the Romans
Richenza of Northeim
Eupraxia of Kiev
|Empress consort of
the Holy Roman Empire