Matilda Queen of England

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Matilda, Princess of England, Queen of the Romans, Countess of Anjou, heiress to Normany, Queen of England in 1141. Called "Empress" but never crowned by the Pope.

This article is written and copyright by Will Johnson,, Professional Genealogist 2008.


First Marriage

Matilda (Maud) was the only surviving legitimate child of Henry I, King of England. She was born in 1101, generally it is said at Winchester, but other research indicates that she was possibly born at the Royal Palace in Sutton Courtenay (Berkshire). In something of a political coup for her father, Matilda was betrothed to the new Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, when she was only eight and went to live there at his court. They were married on 7th Jan 1114. She was twelve and he was thirty-two. There were no children by this union.

Her father Henry is known to have sired many illegitimate children by various mistresses, but Matilda had only one full-brother named William, the only other legitimate issue of King Henry. William had been betrothed to Matilda the young daughter of Fulk V, Count of Anjou (and future King of Jerusalem) when William was 15 and she was probably several years younger. Henry's first wife Maud of Scotland, daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scotland, died on 1 May 1118, and then in November 1120, his only legitimate son William was drowned in the wreck of the White Ship, without issue.

A few months after William's death, Henry married, on 29 Jan 1121, Adelicia of Brabant, the young daughter of Godfrey the Duke of Brabant. Perhaps Henry was trying to get more male heirs, but he and Adelicia were not destined to have any children together, and she would outlive him by almost sixteen years. Now Henry had to expect any legitimate heirs to come from any children of his daughter Matilda by her husband the Emperor. But the Emperor died on 22 May 1125 without children by Matilda.

Matilda stayed in Germany for a little over a year after her husband's death, but her father wanted her back in England, recalling her in 1126. She left reluctantly, she had lived in Germany since the age of eight and she loved the people. And at least some of them, wanted her to stay on and rule them in her husband's place. But her father insisted and she returned with him to England Sep 1126.

Second Marriage

The following January, Henry demanded and obtained, baronial consent to Matilda being named his heir. She was now her father's only hope for the continuation of his dynasty. Matilda did not yet have any children of her own and so in April 1127, Matilda found herself obliged to betroth Prince Geoffrey of Anjou and Maine (the future Geoffrey V, Count of those Regions). At the time, he was but thirteen, while she was twenty-three. The marriage took place two years later in Jun 1129. Her new father-in-law Fulk left soon after to become King of the Crusader nation of Jerusalem, while Matilda and Geoffrey sat as rulers in Anjou.

Henry returned to England, but almost upon arrival he heard the news that Geoffrey had repudiated his wife Matilda, and she had returned to the court in Normandy. Matilda spent two years in Normandy before coming to her father's court in England in 1131. A request was presented from Geoffrey that Matilda be sent back to him and at a baronial meeting 8 Sep 1131, it was decided that yes, she should go. Henry however took this opportunity to make the barons once again swear fealty to Matilda's right to the throne upon his death. Matilda did then go to Anjou where she was "received with great honor".

On 25 Mar 1133, Matilda had her first child, the future Henry II, and the year following on 1 Jun 1134, her second who would become Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. Matilda's husband, antsy for influence, took this opportunity to make small military harassment's on his father-in-law Henry, to try to compel some settlement out of Norman property for them and their children. Matilda backed her husband, and thus was estranged from her father Henry when he died 1 Dec 1135 in England. Nevertheless, although one source claims that on his deathbed he declared for his favorite nephew Stephen, this is not likely, and other sources state that on his deathbed he declared again that Matilda was his heir and all his interests should flow to her.

Civil War 1135-41

On Henry's death, Stephen, then Count of Mortain and married to the heiress of the County of Boulogne, landed in England to seize the throne. Stephen had been his uncle's favorite nephew, the son of Henry's closest sister Adele. The barons and bishops having sworn to uphold Matilda as heiress now had to confront their own oaths. It is likely that now was when the statement was sworn that Henry had disinherited Matilda on his deathbed and released them from their bond. It seems credible that they might believe such a statement, as Geoffrey was known to have been harassing his father-in-law and Henry and Matilda were then estranged.

While Stephen was securing himself in England with gifts of monies and priveledges, Matilda and Geoffrey entered Normandy. At first they were recognized as the rightful heirs, but for some reason Geoffrey allowed his forces to plunder. This, in conjunction with the news that England had gone to Stephen, decided the Norman barons to also accept Stephen as their overlord. Meanwhile, David King of the Scots invaded the north of England, declaring his oath to Matilda, but rapidly came to terms with Stephen and retreated.

Matilda now took her case to Pope Innocent II. After hearing arguments from both sides, he declared that he wouldn't decide and wouldn't hear any more. Meanwhile he privately wrote to Stephen recognizing him as King. With this letter, Stephen thought himself firmly on the throne and the remaining primates of England seemed to agree. Meanwhile Geoffrey and Stephen joined battle in Normandy but then in July 1137 agreed-upon a two-year truce.

Stephen proved to be a soft, ineffectual ruler. Not punishing harshly enough, and being prone to using gifts to gain adherence. Wales had essentially broken away, and Scotland kept launching border raids. The largest blow however was perhaps when Henry's eldest natural son Robert, Earl of Gloucester broke off his allegiance to Stephen, and backed Matilda and Geoffrey. Robert had great influence with the other barons and from this time we see them declaring against the king and fortifying their own castles. Now Stephen committed one of his two most decisive blunders, he arrested some bishops and seized their castles. This was perhaps part of a campaign to weaken strong leaders, but contemporary writers saw this as a great affront to the church. He needed the support of the church and he had now cut that branch.

Matilda seeing her chance, invaded England in 1139, thereby inaugurating a period of inconclusive civil war. Matilda landed at the castle of her stepmother Adelicia, now the wife of William d'Albini. Stephen captured Matilda, but then allowed her to go to Bristol under escort, to join her brother Robert of Gloucester. This was his second decisive blunder. If he had banished her back to Anjou, she wouldn't have been able to form a local center for resistence. Which she now began to do. Working from the power base of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, in the West Country, this inaugurated a period of inconclusive civil war.

After three years of armed struggle, she at last gained the upper hand at the Battle of Lincoln where an army led by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, in February 1141, captured King Stephen, and sent him to imprisonment at the castle of Bristol which Matilda controlled.

Civil War 1141-52

However, despite being declared "Lady and Queen of the English" at Winchester and winning over Stephen's brother, Henry of Blois, the powerful Bishop of Winchester, Matilda alienated the citizens of London with her arrogant manner. She failed to secure her coronation and the Londoners joined a renewed push from Stephen's Queen and laid siege to the Empress in Winchester. She managed to escape to the West, but while commanding her rearguard, her brother was captured by the enemy.

Matilda was obliged to swap Stephen for Robert on 1st November 1141, and the King soon reimposed authority over part of England. The dramatic part of the story is over and the two sides now engage, in various small maneuvers over many years, dragging out the war with no resolution in sight. One more dramatic scene however occurs in 1142. Robert has gone to Normandy to attempt to persuade Geoffrey to lend her personal presence to Matilda's cause. Matilda is in her stronghold at Oxford when Stephen makes a surprise attack. The place is laid under seige and after some time, Matilda determines to make her escape. The ground is white covered with snow, and Matilda clad all in white is lowered from a tower and steals across the lines, escaping to Abingdon six miles away where she obtained horses and rode to safety at Wallingford. Stephen takes Oxford, but the great advantage he could have had is gone. Robert now joins her at Wallingford and has brought with him, her son Henry, now ten years old, who would remain in the stronghold at Bristol under a tutor for the next four years.

Meanwhile Geoffrey has gone on the offensive in Normandy and after a rapid campaign, it fell into his hands, with Rouen surrendering Jan 1144. In 1148, after the death of her half-brother, Matilda finally returned to Normandy, leaving her son, who, in 1154, would become Henry II, to fight on in England. Henry was knighted in 1149 by King David of Scotland and they with the Earl of Chester were going to attack Stephen, but the Earl's allegiance had again been bought back by Stephen and so this came to nothing. Henry returned to Normandy. Upon his return, his father handed over to him the duchy of Normandy and retired to his own county of Anjou. Stephen now took this time to try to get the Pope to consecrate Stephen's son Eustache as King of England. Pope Eugenius however rejected this attempt on the grounds of the original violated oath (to Matilda).

Henry again invaded England, Stephen's heir Eustache went mad and died in 1153 and shortly afterward, that same year, the Treaty of Wallingford recognised Henry as Stephen's heir to the throne, even though Stephen had another living son.

Later Life

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, 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, 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, who was his mother's favourite child, 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 Queen in 1141, her name always preceded that of her son Henry, even after he became king. Matilda died at Notre Dame du Pre near Rouen on 10th September 1169 and was buried in the Abbey church of Bec-Hellouin, Normandy (or Fontevrault Abbey), though some of her entrails may possibly have been later interred in her father's foundation at Reading Abbey. Her body was transferred to the 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."

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