Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Matriarch of the Plantagenets - the Empress Matilda III

Count Fulk's seal
A Marriage in Anjou

Henry began to formally look for a new husband for Matilda in early 1127 and received various offers from princes within the Empire. In 1128 Matilda was wed to the handsome fifteen year old son Geoffrey, son of Fulk of Anjou. Henry was still intensely interested in the power of the Counts of Anjou and desperate to offset William Clito’s standing.

Fulk was turning his eye east towards Jerusalem, where Fulk had interests. He had joined the Knights Templar in 1119/20 when on crusade and had remarried to Melisande, the daughter of Baldwin II, the King of Jerusalem. Fulk had already abdicated his County of Anjou in Geoffrey’s favour.

Le Mans cathedral
The marriage between Matilda and Geoffrey took place on 17th June 1128 in Le Mans cathedral. Geoffrey was knighted by his future father-in-law the week before the wedding.

‘The king sent his daughter into Normandy, ordering her to be betrothed, by the archbishop of Rouen, to the son of Fulco aforesaid, a youth of high nobility and noted courage. Nor did he himself delay setting sail for Normandy, for the purpose of uniting them in wedlock.’[i]

Matilda was eleven years senior to her new husband and the marriage was very unhappy. Matters were not aided by the fact that Matilda insisted on speaking only German while Geoffrey spoke French.

Domestic Matters

There was much mutterings about the royal marriage, with a number of the nobility and churchmen claiming that the marriage relieved them of their oath over the succession, as recorded by William of Malmesbury;

‘All declared prophetically, as it were, that, after his death, they would break their plighted oath. I have frequently heard Roger, bishop of Salisbury, say, that he was freed from the oath he had taken to the empress: for that he had sworn conditionally, that the king should not marry his daughter to any one out of the kingdom without his consent, or that of the rest of the nobility.’[ii]

Postern gate of Northampton Castle
At one point early on in the marriage Matilda left Geoffrey, returning to her father’s court in Rouen while Geoffrey announced his determination to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of St James at Santiago di Compostela. Henry appears to have blamed Geoffrey for the separation, but Henry summoned Matilda from Normandy, and she arrived in England that August.

A meeting of the King's great council was called by Henry; the council met at Northampton castle on 8th September 1129. It was decided that Matilda would return to Geoffrey; Henry must have been loath to lose this new alliance. The council also gave another collective oath of allegiance to recognise Matilda as Henry's heir. This action seems to have caused a turning point for Matilda who henceforth supported her husband against her father.

On 5th March 1133 the Matilda gave birth at Le Mans to the couple’s first son Henry[iii]. They were to have three children, the second child Geoffrey[iv] was born on 11th June 1134 at Rouen, a difficult birth during which Matilda nearly died. King Henry was at his daughter’s bedside as she ordered the arrangements for her bequests and burial in the abbey of Bec[v].

Death of a King

Henry I
In the autumn of 1135 King Henry arrived at his castle in Lyons-la Fôret for the purpose of hunting. He was 68; William of Malmesbury claims the king fell sick during the hunt, Henry of Huntingdon claimed that Henry was heartsick that his daughter supported her husband over her father over the issue of her dowry, a number of castles in Normandy. Henry refused to hand over control of the castles to Geoffrey causing a rift between the two courts[vi].

Orderic claims Henry became sick the night before and then generally worsened over the next few days. Henry authorised his bastard son Robert of Gloucester to take £60,000 to pay the soldiers and servants and gave instructions that he was to be buried at the Abbey[vii] at Reading. When queried about his successor Henry;

‘Assigned all lands on both sides of the sea to his daughter in lawful and lasting succession.’[viii]

Donjon of Argentan
Henry was still apparently ‘somewhat angry’ with Geoffrey, who failed to pay him sufficient respect.

Whatever the cause, on 1st December Henry died leaving his daughter the Countess of Anjou as his nominated heir. Matilda immediately rode north to seize the border castles of Domfront, Exmes and Argentan. Geoffrey was unable to come to her aid as he was detained by a rebellion in Anjou and while Matilda was again pregnant. She established herself in the chateau at Argentan where she gave birth to her third child William, born on 22nd July 1136

The Race for the Crown

A significant number of those who swore to support Matilda as ruler of the realm switched allegiance when another contender for the throne arose. Matilda’s cousin Stephen laid claim to the throne for himself, foreswearing the oath he had made seven years before. Stephen had been of use to his uncle on the diplomatic and military stage of northern France for some years.

Now Stephen quickly made peace and came to terms with Henry’s greatest enemy William Clito and. He was well-known to those of import in both England and Normandy, whereas his cousin Matilda had lived most of her life in either Germany or now Anjou.

Westminster Abbey (L)
It was all to be decided at the end of the day by a question of who would be first to be crowned monarch of England, Stephen[ix] or his cousin Matilda, who may have been impeded by her pregnancy from making the cross channel dash . Stephen received the news of his uncle’s death when he was in Boulogne and by the 5th December he had crossed the channel to England and was crowned king on 22nd December at Westminster Abbey;

‘Stephen, count of Boulogne, having been chosen by the nobles of the kingdom, with the sanction of the clergy and people, was crowned king in London on Christmas Day[x], by William, archbishop of Canterbury.’[xi]

Once he’d been acclaimed king in London Stephen travelled post haste to Winchester, the administrative centre of the kingdom. He also stood in Matilda’s place as chief mourner at Henry’s lavish funeral.

Tied up in Knots

In contrast with Matilda’s prickly mien, Stephen was an affable man who got on with people; not a failing Matilda ever suffered from.  He also benefitted from a public backlash against Henry’s harsh governance. Stephen promised to revert to the laws of good king Edward. It was Stephen’s own affability that tied him into knots; he had to promise much to his supporters. The Londoners agreed to support him as long as he brought peace to the land, a promise Stephen would find hard to keep.

Henry of Blois
Stephen was also supported by the church in the person of his brother Henry of Blois[xii] who Stephen described as being the person;

‘On whom his enterprise entirely depended…..[without whom] all his efforts would have been in vain.’[xiii]

The Justiciar Roger of Salisbury proffered the support of the administration and handed over the keys to the treasury. Roger of Salisbury wanted the status quo to continue and Stephen promised this.

Pope Innocent II (L)
Stephen also pledged to the Archbishop of Canterbury that he would restore the freedoms of the church and restoration of all church property lost since 1087, fifty years previously. This had the beneficial result that, at a council in Oxford[xiv] in April 1136, Stephen was able to announce that Pope Innocent II had recognised him as King of England and Duke of Normandy.

Henry of Blois was an ambitious man who was eager to re-establish the pre-eminence of the church. In coalition with Roger of Salisbury the pair had the great offices of the state sewn up, not to mention huge estates and castles. Stephen on the other hand was being pushed by his barons, to whom he owed much, to not give way to his brother’s more extreme ambitions.


The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 – Frank Barlow, Pearson Education Ltd 1999

Stephen and Matilda – Jim Bradbury, The History Press 2005

She Wolves – Helen Castor, Faber and Faber 2010

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, Folio Society 1997

Henry I – C Warren Hollister, Yale University Press, 2003

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2013

King Stephen – Edmund King, Yale University Press 2010

Doomsday to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

At the Edge of the World – Simon Schama, BBC 2002

Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman, Stackpole Books 1996

Henry II – WL Warren, Yale University Press 2000


[ii] Ibid
[iii] At the Palais des Comtes du Maine
[v] Against his wishes; Henry wanted Matilda buried at Rouen cathedral
[vi] Failure to hand over the castles before his death was to impede Matilda’s cause
[vii] Founded by Henry in 1121 and an offshoot of Cluny Abbey
[viii] Henry I - Hollister
[ix] Not his elder brothers William and Thibauld
[x] Richard of Hexham, Stephen’s chronicler, appears to have got the date wrong in his De Gestis Regis Stephani et de Bello Standardii
[xi] King Stephen - King
[xii] Also known as Henry of Winchester
[xiii] King Stephen -  Henry
[xiv] Three years later Geoffrey of Monmouth was to start writing his Historia Regum Brittanniae in the city

Monday, 20 June 2016

Matriarch of the Plantagenets - the Empress Matilda II

Matilda of Canossa (R) Henry V (C)
The Imperial Coronation

That Matilda won the trust of her husband over the course of their marriage was made clear as he made her Regent in his absence on a number of occasions. In April 1115 Archbishop Frederick excommunicated Henry V and Henry felt the need to deal with matters in Rome and arrange for his wife’s coronation. He was aided by being made the heir of Matilda of Tuscany, Countess of Canossa, a great landowner in northern Italy. Matilda of Tuscany had been one of Pope Paschal’s greatest supporters. This legacy would now enable Henry V to pressurise on the pope.

Henry left Augsburg in February 1116, his 14 year old wife at his side. Matilda and her ladies travelled with the imperial army across the Brenner Pass. The imperial couple were welcomed to the Doge’s palace in Venice where they stayed a scant 48 hours. They then travelled to Padua and Mantua before arriving at Canossa. It took Henry V a year to impose his rule on the Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany before moving on Rome. Unable to stomach facing down the imperial troops Paschal retired to Montecassino and Henry V took control of Rome.

There were no cardinals left in the city to crown Henry and his wife and he was forced to turn to the French Archbishop of Braga, Maurice Bourdin[i]. The imperial crown was placed on Matilda’s head at Pentecost 1117. But this was no crowning of the Holy Roman Emperor; Bourdin had been excommunicated for abandoning Paschal’s cause. Henry was forced in 1118 to return to Germany uncrowned. He left his sixteen year old wife to rule his Italian territories. She did not return to Germany until autumn 1119.

The battle of Bremule
In late 1119 an event occurred off the coast of Bar fleur that was to be extremely important for Matilda’s future, and that of England. A few months earlier, at the battle of Brémule Henry I’s army had soundly defeated Louis and William Clito. And by the summer Louis was ready to accede to Henry’s demands, agreeing to accept William Adelin’s homage for Normandy, implicitly recognising Henry’s right to rule.

That barrier out of the way Henry and his nobles gathered at Bar fleur where the English fleet waited to carry the army back to England. The fleet was ready to sail by 25th November; although late in the year for cross-channel trips, the water was smooth and glassy. The decision was taken to make the crossing late in the afternoon. Henry sailed on the Seneca while William Adelin sailed on the White Ship, a brand-new ship of the latest design captained by one Thomas FitzStephen.

The sinking of the White Ship
The ship’s crew and passengers had all been drinking heavily by the time the ship cast off. FitzStephen was ordered to overtake the king’s ship which had already set sail. The White Ship was overcrowded and shortly before sailing had numbered over 300 on board[ii]. The ship hit a submerged rock and sank.

William Adelin was decanted into a small boat and would have survived had he not turned back to rescue his half-sister Matilda Fitzroy. This fraternal impulse was deadly and both William Adelin and Matilda Fitzroy died[iii] as William of Malmesbury recounts;

‘The oars, too, dashing, horribly crashed against the rock, and her battered prow hung immoveably fixed. Now, too, the water washed some of the crew overboard, and, entering the chinks, drowned others; when the boat having been launched, the young prince was received into it, and might certainly have been saved by reaching the shore, had not his illegitimate sister, the countess of Perche, now struggling with death in the larger vessel, implored her brother’s assistance; shrieking out that he should not abandon her so barbarously. Touched with pity, he ordered the boat to return to the ship, that he might rescue his sister; and thus the unhappy youth met his death through excess of affection: for the skiff, overcharged by the multitudes who leaped into her, sank, and buried all indiscriminately in the deep.’[iv]

Henry was now left with the issue of finding an heir; his eventual choice would tear England apart. In 1121 Henry remarried and had hopes that his new wife Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey Count of Louvain, would provide England with a new heir, after all Henry had proved his paternity time and again.

Coming Home
Henry V (centre)
Matilda was eighteen when her brother died, a brother she had not seen for ten years, so it is possible that she was not too upset. Matilda had hoped to visit her father’s court in 1122, but Charles I, the Count of Flanders, a vassal of the French king, failed to give a promise of safe passage. Thereafter Henry V was too busy wresting control of Utrecht from Bishop Godbald to worry about the potential rewards of closer relations with his father-in-law.

Matilda had become used to living at the pinnacle of European power; she had even acted as Regent in her husband’s absences. Matilda and Henry remained childless, but neither party was considered to be infertile and contemporary chroniclers blamed their situation on the Emperor and his sins against the Church.

In early 1122, the couple travelled down the Rhine together as Henry continued to suppress the ongoing political unrest, but by now he was suffering from cancer. In September 1122, Henry and, probably, Matilda were at the Council of Worms. The council settled the long-running dispute with the Church when Henry gave up his rights to invest bishops with their episcopal regalia.

At the age of only 38 Henry V died on 23rd May 1125. He was buried at Speyer Cathedral, the last of his line and, having handed over the imperial regalia to the Archbishop of Mainz, the 24 year old Matilda returned to her father’s court in Normandy. Henry

‘Sent men of distinction and called his daughter home.’[v]

Matilda brought home many treasures including the mummified hand of the apostle St James[vi] and two solid gold coronation crowns. She left behind the lands in Germany that Henry V had endowed her with. In England Matilda was referred to by courtiers and, allegedly, her father himself as Imperatrix augusta[vii]. She was to insist on being so-called for the remainder of her life.

The Oath of Succession
Queen Adeliza

On 1st January 1127, with Roger[viii] Bishop of Salisbury acting as master of ceremonies, the leading, bishops, lords and abbots of England agreed to honour Matilda as Henry’s successor. Henry’s marriage to Adeliza had failed to produce any children and Henry was reduced to the option of making Matilda his heir. William of Malmesbury reported that Henry;

‘In the twenty-seventh year of his reign….at the ensuing Christmas, convening a great number of the clergy and nobility at London….he now at this council compelled all the nobility of England, as well as the bishops and abbats, to make oath, that, if he should die without male issue, they would, without delay or hesitation, accept his daughter Matilda, the late empress, as their sovereign.’[ix]

The most senior of the laity swearing the oath was King David of Scotland; among the other nobility was Stephen, son of Henry’s sister Adela. Many of those taking the oath were to find ways of justifying breaking this solemn vow and the wedding that took place the following year was used as justification by many that sided against Matilda in the civil strife to come.

To add to the general unsettling in Europe, March 1127 saw the brutal murder of the Count of Flanders, as he prayed before the altar in St Donatien’s cathedral in Bruges. In his place King Louis installed William Clito, Henry’s greatest enemy. Flanders was an excellent departure point for any invasion of England, raising the stakes on both sides of the split. William Clito was also allied with Fulk of Anjou who had fallen out with Henry over the return of his daughter’s dowry after the sinking of the White Ship.


The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 – Frank Barlow, Pearson Education Ltd 1999

Stephen and Matilda – Jim Bradbury, The History Press 2005

She Wolves – Helen Castor, Faber and Faber 2010

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, Folio Society 1997

Henry I – C Warren Hollister, Yale University Press, 2003

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2013

King Stephen – Edmund King, Yale University Press 2010

Doomsday to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

At the Edge of the World – Simon Schama, BBC 2002

Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman, Stackpole Books 1996

[i] Later the antipope Gregory VIII; Paschal had sent him as an envoy to Henry V
[ii] A number of the passengers had disembarked due to the drunkenness aboard
[iii] One Guillame de Nangis claimed that all aboard the ship died as they were sodomites
[v] King Stephen - King
[vi] There are two St James who were considered apostles and there is no evidence to identify which of the two the hand ‘belonged’ to.
[vii] Although Matilda was never crowned Empress and documents referring to her in Germany style her only as Romanorum regina
[viii] Formerly Lord Chancellor and Lord Keeper

Monday, 13 June 2016

Matriarch of the Plantagenets - the Empress Matilda

Henry !
Contested Inheritances

Matilda[i] was the granddaughter of the Conqueror; her father Henry, being the youngest of William’s four sons. It is believed that her father killed his older brother William Rufus to snatch the throne of England[ii]. Matilda, born on 7th February 1102 at Sutton Courtenay in Berkshire[iii], was the eldest of Henry’s children by his first wife Matilda of Scotland[iv].

In August 1103 Matilda’s brother William Adelin[v] was born. Henry, not a man to keep his penis to himself, provided Matilda and William with at least twenty half-brothers and sisters. Although a rather naïve and credulous William of Malmesbury states of Henry that;

‘Throughout his life he was altogether free of lewd desires, for….he cast himself into the embraces of women not for the gratification of carnal pleasures but to beget offspring, nor did he assent to sexual intercourse except when it could bring about the spreading of the royal seed. He was thus the master of his libido not its servant.’[vi]

Matilda was probably brought up at her mother’s court, where she would have met her Uncle David, King of Scotland, her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and other of the nobility. In 1108, while he visited Normandy, Henry left Matilda in the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm[vii] one of Queen Matilda’s favoured clerics.

Robert Curthose
Henry’s feud with his brother Robert Curthose was a re-occurring feature of his reign; both men wanting what the other had. Henry attempted to seize Robert’s domains during his absence on crusade. Upon his return Robert appealed to Pope Paschal II against Henry’s illegal seizure of the English throne after William Rufus’ death. He approached the families who had supported Henry and persuaded many of them to become turncoats.

Robert’s invasion of England in 1101 ended with the Treaty of Alton. In return Henry allied himself with Robert’s enemies and then won the battle of Tinchebrai[viii] in 1106. the king of France Louis VI[ix] recognised Henry’s control of Normandy in 1106. But possession of the duchy was threatened in later years by Henry’s nephew William Clito, King Louis and Fulk of Anjou[x].

A Pawn in the European Marriage Market

Henry V (L)
Henry looked for allies in his struggle with France using his children, legitimate and illegitimate, as pawns in alliances with France’s enemies. In 1108 or early 1109, Henry V King of the Romans[xi], wrote to Queen Matilda suggesting that he marry her six year old daughter, as well as sending envoys to her husband in Normandy. Queen Matilda obviously acted on Henry V’s letter as he wrote again thanking her for her efforts on his behalf.

Matilda’s dowry was 100,000 marks[xii], a sum which even the comparatively rich Anglo-Norman kingdom struggled to raise. Many of the great religious houses claimed exemption from the tax to pay her dowry[xiii] At a great council at Nottingham on 17th October 1109 Matilda signed the royal diploma creating the see of Ely; calling herself Mathildis sponsa regis Romanorum. The final details of the deal were negotiated at Westminster in June 1109 and, as a result of her changing status, Matilda attended a royal council for the first time that October.

At the age of eight, in late February 1110 Matilda was sent to Germany to live at her future husband’s court; Henry was twenty four. Matilda arrived in Liège in early March where she first met her husband-to-be and they were betrothed in Utrecht on 10th April. After the betrothal she was placed into the custody of Bruno, the Archbishop of Trier, who was tasked with educating her in German culture, manners and government.

Henry granted Matilda her dower, including lands in Utrecht; in later years she was to make donations to a religious house in the area. Matilda was crowned Queen of the Germans on 25th July 1110 in the cathedral of Mainz by Frederick Archbishop of Cologne, assisted by Bruno, Archbishop of Trier and Henry’s counsellor.

A Coronation and a Wedding

William of Malmesbury had little to say about Matilda herself[xiv], but went into great detail of Henry V’s crowning as Holy Roman Emperor on 12th February 1111 following a successful invasion of Italy to force the Pope to do his duty and crown the elected Emperor.

‘They led him, with litanies, to the confessionary of the Apostles, and there the bishop of Ostia anointed him between the shoulders and on the right arm. This being done he was conducted, by the sovereign pontiff, to the altar of the aforesaid apostles, and there the crown being placed on his head by the pope himself, he was consecrated emperor.’[xv]

Worms cathedral
Following the enthronement a rebellion in western Europe and Germany[xvi] blew up. Henry V had to suppress the revolt before he and Matilda could marry. The wedding took place on 7th January 1114, at the great cathedral in Worms when Matilda was twelve. The nobility and clergy were present in great number;

‘So numerous were the wedding gifts which various kings and primates sent to the emperor, and the gifts which the emperor from his own store gave to the innumerable throngs of jesters and jongleurs and people of all kinds that not one of his chamberlains who received or distributed them could count them.’[xvii]

Matilda acted impeccably throughout the marriage service; one chronicler remarking that she was;

‘Distinguished and beautiful, who was held to bring glory and honour, both to the Roman Empire and the English realm.’[xviii]

Other Pawns

William Adelin
In 1113 the nine year old William Adelin was betrothed to Matilda, Fulk of Anjou’s daughter[xix]. The marriage was intended to split Count Fulk off from his companions in arms. William of Malmesbury reports that Fulk bestowed upon William Adelin the County of Maine as Matilda’s dowry[xx];

‘His father-in-law bestowing on him the county of Maine as her dower.’[xxi]

William of Malmesbury informs us;

‘For to him [William Adelin], when scarcely twelve years of age, all the free men of England and Normandy, of every rank and condition, and under fealty to whatever lord, were obliged to submit themselves by homage, and by oath.’[xxii]

In the same year William Adelin’s half-sister Matilda was married to Conan III, Duke of Brittany. Another of Henry’s illegitimate daughters Sybilla[xxiii] was married to Alexander, King of the Scots, while Matilda Fitzroy was married to Rotrou III, Count of Perche. Alice Fitzroy was married to Matthieu I of Montmorency while another Matilda Fitzroy was made Abbess of Montvilliers. Numerous of Henry’s male bastards were given lands and titles in their own right, strengthening Henry’s hold on the nobility.


The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216 – Frank Barlow, Pearson Education Ltd 1999

Stephen and Matilda – Jim Bradbury, The History Press 2005

She-Wolves – Helen Castor, Faber and Faber 2010

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, Folio Society 1997

Henry I – C Warren Hollister, Yale University Press, 2003

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2013

King Stephen – Edmund King, Yale University Press 2010

Doomsday to Magna Carta – AL Poole, Oxford University Press 1987

At the Edge of the World – Simon Schama, BBC 2002

Early Medieval England – Christopher Tyerman, Stackpole Books 1996

[i] Also spelt as Maud
[ii] The eldest Robert Curthose was made Duke of Normandy by his father and died without heirs, leaving his brother Henry to inherit the dukedom. Richard, the second son died in a hunting accident in the New Forest. William Rufus was gifted with the throne of England while Henry Beauclerk was left without any inheritance. Rivalry between the brothers erupted when Robert and William united to drive Henry out of the powerbase he had created for himself in the Cotentin.
[iii] Now, since 1974, part of Oxfordshire
[iv] Also known as Edith; Matilda was the name she was given when christened. One of Matilda’s attractions was her Anglo-Saxon royal blood
[v] Or William the Aethling
[vi] Henry I -  Hollister
[vii] Later Saint Anselm
[viii] In Normandy
[ix] Known as the Fat
[x] After 1128 Fulk had his hands full, when he went to Jerusalem to make himself king there.
[xi] The title of the designated heir of the Holy Roman Emperor or of an uncrowned emperor
[xii] Which Henry V would use to fund his journey to Rome for his crowning as Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope.
[xiii] Estimated at three shillings on the hide
[xiv] There is a paucity of information relating to Matilda’s early life
[xvi] Over clerical questions thrown to the wolves in an agreement between Henry V and Pope Paschal II
[xvii] She–Wolves - Castor
[xviii] Ibid
[xix] Sixteen years later Matilda was married to Fulk’s son; an emphasis of just how important the alliance with Fulk was to Henry.
[xx] A problematical dowry as the County was eventually inherited by Fulk’s son Geoffrey, probably after William Adelin’s death. Some medieval sources claim that the second son Elias was given the county rather than his brother. William of Malmesbury may have been misinformed
[xxii] Ibid
[xxiii] Daughter of Lady Sybilla Corbet of Alcester, a Norman family settled in Warwickshire