Queen Matilda

King Edward I

Matilda, the daughter of Henry I and Matilda of Scotland, was born at Sutton Courtenay on 7th February, 1102. Henry acknowledged being the father of more than twenty bastards but was determined to have an legitimate heir. According to William of Malmesbury, Henry was very much in love with his new wife. (1)

When she was seven-years-old, King Henry arranged for Matilda to marry the 25 year-old German king, Heinrich V. The following year she left for Germany, to be educated at the court of her betrothed in Mainz. (2)

She was crowned in St. Peter's Basilica in 1116. "The hopes that she would become the mother of an heir to the empire were disappointed; no children survived from this marriage, though one chronicler stated not implausibly that she gave birth to one child who did not live. She proved to be a loyal and able queen consort, who carried out the onerous duties of her office with dignity". (3)

Henry only legitimate son, William, was granted the title the Duke of Normandy and was groomed to become the next king of England. When he was ten years old, he began to attest royal documents and became the instrument of his father's diplomacy and was "trained for the succession with fond hope and immense care". (4)

In November 1120 Henry and William returned from Normandy by boat. "Henry sailed first, having turned down the offer of a new ship - the White Ship - from Thomas Fitzstephen... followed in the new vessel. But the inebriated crew and passengers were in no fit condition for a night voyage, and the ship was rowed onto a rock outside the harbour of Barfleur. William was put into a small boat and would have escaped had he not turned back on hearing an appeal for help from his bastard sister, whereupon the boat was overloaded by others seeking safety, and sank." (5)

Matilda marries Geoffrey Plantagent

Heinrich died on 23rd May, 1125. As a childless widow she had no further duties in Germany and went to live with her father in Normandy. Her biographer, Arnulf of Lisieux, claims that Matilda was "a woman who had nothing of the woman in her". (6) Henry of Huntingdon agrees and wrote about her "masculine firmness". (7)

After the death of Matilda's brother, William, King Henry I married Adeliza of Louvain in the hope of obtaining another male heir. Adeliza, was 18 years-old and was considered to be very beautiful, but Henry was now in his fifties and no children were born. After four years of marriage he called all his leading barons to court and forced them to swear that they would accept his daughter, Matilda, as their ruler in the event of his dying without a male heir. This included Stephen of Blois, count of Mortain. Although he had a hereditary claim to the throne through his mother, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, he appears to have taken the oath willingly. (8)

Henry now decided to find a husband for Matilda to help her to rule England. He heard good reports of Geoffrey Plantagent of Anjou. According to John of Marmoutier he was "tall in stature, handsome and red-headed... he had many outstanding, praiseworthy qualities... he strove to be loved and was honourable to his friends... his words were always good-humoured and his principles admirable." (9)

Henry began negotiations with Geoffrey's father, Foulques V d'Anjou and on 10th June 1128, the fifteen-year-old Geoffrey, who was more than eleven years her junior, was knighted in Rouen by Henry in preparation for the wedding. Geoffrey of Anjou married Matilda at Le Mans on 17th June 1128. "On his wedding day, Geoffrey of Anjou was a tall, bumptious teenager with ginger hair, a seemingly inexhaustible natural energy and a flair for showmanship." (10)

The couple did not like each other and within a year she returned to her father at Rouen. In 1131 Henry took her to England, though Geoffrey had demanded her return. At a council held at Northampton on 8th September 1131, after the magnates had renewed their homage to her and recognized her as Henry's heir, she agreed to return to her husband. (11) Matilda's first child, was born in Le Mans on 5th March, 1133. Henry was named after "the Anglo-Norman king whose Crown it was intended that he should inherit". (12)

Queen of England

Matilda give birth to a second son, Geoffrey on 1st June, 1134. The following year her father died. Under the agreement signed in 1125, Matilda should have become Queen of England. The Normans had never had a woman leader. Norman law stated that all property and rights should be handed over to men. To the Normans this meant that her husband Geoffrey of Anjou would become their next ruler. The people of Anjou (Angevins) were considered to be barbarians by the Normans. (13)

Most Normans were unwilling to accept an Angevin ruler and decided to help Matilda's cousin, Stephen, the son of one of the daughters of William the Conqueror, to become king. According to the author of The Deeds of King Stephen (c.1150), Stephen persuaded the people to support him by a mixture of bribes and threats. (14) Crowned king at Westminster Abbey he was also given the title of Duke of Normandy. "Stephen shrewdly issued a charter of liberties promising to respect all the laws and customs of the realm. (15)

Matilda reacted by establishing herself at Argentan Castle. Her third son, William, was born on 22nd July 1136. Geoffrey Plantagent led annual raids into Normandy but was unable to gain complete control of the area. The situation improved in 1138, when Matilda's half-brother, Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, renounced his allegiance to Stephen, after an attempt had been made to assassinate him. (16)

Gilbert Foliot, the abbot of Gloucester, claims that Robert changed sides because of his reading of the Book of Numbers. "It seemed to some that by the weakness of their sex they should not to be allowed to enter into the inheritance of their father. But the Lord, when asked, promulgated a law, that everything their father possessed should pass to the daughters". (17)

Earl Robert attacked Stephen's forces in the west of England. He then travelled to Normandy and joined Geoffrey Plantagenet in an attempt to take control of the region. This was unsuccessful and Stephen was also able to capture Robert's castles in Kent. Robert returned to England and in November, 1139, his army managed to capture Worcester from King Stephen. (18)

Stephen was eventually captured at the Battle of Lincoln (February, 1141). Stephen had promised the people of London more self-government. This helped him gain their support in the civil war. Matilda upset them by imposing a tax on the city's citizens. When Matilda went to be crowned the first queen of England, the people rebelled and she was forced to flee from the area. (19)

In September 1141, Robert, earl of Gloucester, was captured at the ford of Stockbridge by Flemish mercenaries under the command of William de Warenne, earl of Surrey. He was imprisoned first at Rochester, then moved back to Winchester, so as to assist the negotiations to exchange him for the king. Stephen was released on 1st November and Robert two days later. (20)

In Normandy, Geoffrey Plantagenet, was making good progress in taking control of the region. Matilda's army was forced to retreat to Oxford where she was besieged. In December, 1141, she escaped and managed to walk the eight miles to Abingdon. Eventually, she established herself in Devizes and controlled the west of the country, whereas Stephen continued his rule from London. (21)

Dan Jones, the author of The Plantagenets (2013), has pointed out: "Stephen and Matilda both saw themselves as the lawful successor of Henry I, and set up official governments accordingly: they had their own mints, courts, systems of patronage and diplomatic machinery. But there could not be two governments. Neither could be secure or guarantee that their writ would run, hence no subject could be fully confident in the rule of law. As in any state without a single, central source of undisputed authority, violent self-help and spoliation among the magnates exploded.... Forced labour was exacted to help arm the countryside. General violence escalated as individual landholders turned to private defence of their property. The air ran dark with the smoke from burning crops and the ordinary people suffered intolerable misery at the hands of marauding foreign soldiers." (22)

Stephen was accused of waging war on his own people. One anonymous chronicler wrote: "King Stephen set himself to lay waste that fair and delightful district, so full of good things, round Salisbury; they took and plundered everything they came upon, set fire to houses and churches, and, what was a more cruel and brutal sight, fired the crops that had been reaped and stacked all over the fields, consumed and brought to nothing everything edible they found. They raged with this bestial cruelty especially round Marlborough, they showed it very terribly round Devizes, and they had in mind to do the same to their adversaries all over England". (23)

A. L. Morton has argued that the civil war brought out the "worst tendencies of feudalism" and during this period "private wars and private castles sprang up everywhere" and "hundreds of local tyrants massacred, tortured and plundered the unfortunate peasantry and choas reigned everywhere". Morton claims that this "taste of the evils of unrestrained feudal anarchy was sharp enough to make the masses welcome a renewed attempt of the crown to diminish the power of the nobles." (24)

In 1147, Geoffrey and Matilda's, fourteen-year-old son, Henry arrived in England with a small band of mercenaries. His mother disapproved of this escapade and refused to help. So also did Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, who was in charge of Matilda's forces: "So with the impudence of youth he applied to the man against whom he was fighting and with characteristic generorosity Stephen sent him enough money to pay off his mercenaries and go home." (25)

The Deeds of King Stephen reports that "Matilda, Countess of Anjou, who was always above feminine softness and had a mind steeled and unbroken in adversity.... She began to assume the loftiest haughtiness of the greatest arrogance - not now the humble gait of feminine docility, but she began to walk and talk more severely and more arrogantly than was customary, and to do everything herself. " (26) Lisa Hilton, the author of Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) has pointed out that "these traits... would not have been so greatly criticized had they been displayed by a man." (27)

The following year Matilda decided to abandon her campaign to gain control of England. She had been unable to unite the barons behind her. William of Newburgh blamed it on her "intolerable feminine arrogance". (28) Her biographer, Marjorie Chibnall, suggested that she did indeed lack certain leadership qualities: "Matilda had shown on the height of her power that she had neither the political judgement nor the understanding of men to enable her to act wisely in a crisis." (29)

Matilda returned to Normandy which was now under the control of her husband, Geoffrey Plantagent. She lived in the priory of Notre-Dame-du-Pré. Over the next few years Matilda was able to combine active involvement in the business of the duchy with a semi-religious retreat. She also helped to finance the building of a new stone bridge over the Seine, linking Rouen with the royal park at Quevilly and the priory of Le Pré. (30)

Matilda's plan was that as soon as Henry was old enough, Geoffrey would abdicate as Duke of Normany and the title would go to her son. (31 However, this plan was not put into operation as Geoffrey died on 7th September 1151. According to John of Marmoutier, Geoffrey was returning from a royal council when he was stricken with fever. He was buried at St. Julien Cathedral in Le Mans. (32)

King Henry II

In January 1153, Henry, now aged 20, surprised Stephen by crossing the channel in midwinter. The two leaders made a series of truces which were turned into a permanent peace when the death of Eustace, in August, persuaded the king to give up the struggle. (33) In December, 1153, Stephen signed the Treaty of Winchester, that stated he was allowed to keep the kingdom on condition that he adopt Henry as his son and heir. (34)

Stephen died in October 1154, and Henry became king. He took over without difficulty and it was the first undisputed succession to the throne since William the Conqueror took power in 1066. Henry II was the most powerful ruler in Western Europe with an empire which "stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees... but it is important to remember that although England provided him with great wealth as well as a royal title, the heart of the empire lay elsewhere, in Anjou, the land of his fathers." (35)

In 1160 Queen Matilda suffered a serious illness, but after her recovery she remained active in government until she died on 10th September 1167. (36)

Primary Sources

(1) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013)

Stephen and Matilda both saw themselves as the lawful successor of Henry I, and set up official governments accordingly: they had their own mints, courts, systems of patronage and diplomatic machinery. But there could not be two governments. Neither could be secure or guarantee that their writ would run, hence no subject could be fully confident in the rule of law. As in any state without a single, central source of undisputed authority, violent self-help and spoliation among the magnates exploded. Flemish mercenaries garrisoned castles and newly fortified houses the length and breadth of the country. Forced labour was exacted to help arm the countryside. General violence escalated as individual landholders turned to private defence of their property. The air ran dark with the smoke from burning crops and the ordinary people suffered intolerable misery at the hands of marauding foreign soldiers.

(2) The Deeds of King Stephen (c.1150)

King Stephen set himself to lay waste that fair and delightful district, so full of good things, round Salisbury; they took and plundered everything they came upon, set fire to houses and churches, and, what was a more cruel and brutal sight, fired the crops that had been reaped and stacked all over the fields, consumed and brought to nothing everything edible they found. They raged with this bestial cruelty especially round Marlborough, they showed it very terribly round Devizes, and they had in mind to do the same to their adversaries all over England.

Student Activities

Christine de Pizan: A Feminist Historian (Answer Commentary)

The Growth of Female Literacy in the Middle Ages (Answer Commentary)

Women and Medieval Work (Answer Commentary)

The Medieval Village Economy (Answer Commentary)

Women and Medieval Farming (Answer Commentary)

Contemporary Accounts of the Black Death (Answer Commentary)

Disease in the 14th Century (Answer Commentary)

King Harold II and Stamford Bridge (Answer Commentary)

The Battle of Hastings (Answer Commentary)

William the Conqueror (Answer Commentary)

The Feudal System (Answer Commentary)

The Domesday Survey (Answer Commentary)

Thomas Becket and Henry II (Answer Commentary)

Why was Thomas Becket Murdered? (Answer Commentary)

Illuminated Manuscripts in the Middle Ages (Answer Commentary)

Yalding: Medieval Village Project (Differentiation)

References

 

(1) William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of the English (c. 1128)

(2) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 67

(3) Marjorie Chibnall, Matilda: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of the English (c. 1128)

(5) J. F. A. Mason, William Adelinus: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(6) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 81

(7) Henry of Huntingdon, A History of the English People (c. 1150)

(8) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 31

(9) John of Marmoutier, Deeds of the Counts of Anjou (c. 1174)

(10) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 10

(11) Marjorie Chibnall, Matilda: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(12) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 12

(13) Edmund King, King Stephen : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(14) The Deeds of King Stephen (c.1150)

(15) John Guy, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (2012) page 31

(16) Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History (c. 1142)

(17) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 91

(18) David Crouch, Robert, Earl of Gloucester: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(19) Frank Barlow, Thomas Becket (1986) page 27

(20) David Crouch, Robert, Earl of Gloucester: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(21) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(22) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 20

(23) The Deeds of King Stephen (c.1150)

(24) A. L. Morton, A People's History of England (1938) page 54

(25) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 38

(26) The Deeds of King Stephen (c.1150)

(27) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 94

(28) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(29) Marjorie Chibnall, The Empress Matilda (1993) page 115

(30) Marjorie Chibnall, Matilda: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(31) John Guy, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (2012) page 55

(32) John of Marmoutier, Deeds of the Counts of Anjou (c. 1174)

(33) Christopher Brooke, The Saxon and Norman Kings (1963) page 188

(34) Edmund King, King Stephen : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(35) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 39

(36) Marjorie Chibnall, Matilda: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)