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

1 comment:

  1. Lovely and clear concise summation of a period that is quite confusing at times [if not as much so as The Anarchy which followed]. Adelin is a double diminutive of Adam and a bit more upmarket than the more common diminutive of Adam, which was Adcock. I'll be using these posts to write one of the WIPs