Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring, she lived from 1102 to 1167 and was the daughter of Henry I and mother of Henry II. She fought King Stephen for her son Henry. She was indomitable, as seen particularly in her two Great Escapes.
The image is of the wedding feast of Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich / Henry and Matilda
Let’s begin with genealogical tables, to get the big picture.
From Edmund King’s book on Stephen:
Three tables from Marjorie Chibnall’s book Empress Matilda:
Four tables from W. L. Warren’s book Henry II (the best Medievalist, though all the others I’ve read come in a close second!):
From C. Warren Hollister’s book Henry I:
From Dan Jones’s Plantagenets (Source):
That last table is included because we are heading towards the Plantagenets, for Matilda, daughter of Henry I, fought Stephen over control of England, in the name of her son Henry (future Henry II).
BASIC FACTS ABOUT MATILDA
She was born at London on 7 or 8 Feb 1102. She married (1) Heinrich / Henry at Mainz on 7 Jan 1114 Heinrich (Henry) V, Holy Roman Emperor. He had initiated the search for a bride and thought Matilda would be the one. Her father accepted because he needed Germany on the French flank. However, Heinrich V died at Utrecht on 23 May 1125. They had no issue. She kept the title Empress. Her father recalled her in 1126 and proclaimed her presumptive heir in 1127. She married at Le Mans, Maine, on 17 June 1128 Geoffrey (Geoffroi), Count of Anjou, later Duke of Normandy. He was born 24 Aug 1113.
What kind of child does a Scotswoman and a Norman Frenchman produce? A Medieval sources says she “displayed her father’s courage and her mother’s piety; holiness in her found its equal energy, and it would be hard to say which was more admirable.” What did she look like as she grew up? The Medieval sources are silent, but her father was short and stocky with receding black hair. Her mother Edith-Matilda was Scottish and was considered very holy (she was canonized in 1250), but was also a beauty.
She probably was educated very early in the household of her mother. Her mother sometimes travelled around with her husband, Henry I, so Matilda saw charters signed (documents granting privileges or permission or money to institutions like monasteries). Her mother’s household was cultured and religious, living at Westminster after birthing two children. Little Matilda may have met the great Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury. The elder Matilda loved the music of the church and attracted to her court musicians and learned poets, who were generously paid.
Geoffrey was reportedly good looking (his nickname was le Bel or the Fair or Handsome). He was lithe and athletic. His face was “glowing like the flower of a lily, with rosy flush”; he “dressed in finest armor with golden spurs and a sparkling gem-studded helmet, golden lions proudly on his shield.” He liked to wear a sprig of bright yellow broom blossom (Planta genista in Latin) in his hair. This earned him the nickname Plantagenet.
Matilda and Geoffrey had three sons:
1.. Henry: he was born 5 Mar 1133 at Le Mans, Maine, and he will later become king of England. See his post Henry II.
2. Geoffrey: He was born 1 June 1134 and was Count of Anjou and Nantes; He died without issue at Rouen, Normandy, on 26 July 1158.
3. William: born 22 July 1136. He was Vicomte (Viscount) of Malden, Essex, Throwley, Kent, North Luffenham, Rutland etc. He died at Rouen 30 Jan 1163/64 and was buried in the Cathedral.
Geoffrey (the elder) also had an illegitimate son by an unknown mistress:
Hameline (5th Earl of Surrey)
Geoffrey also had two illegitimate daughters
Mary (Abbess of Shaftesbury).
Geoffrey of Anjou, and then duke of Normandy, died at Chateau-du-Loire on 7 Sep 1151 and was buried in St. Julien’s, Le Mans, Maine. Empress Matilda died at Rouen, capital of Normandy, 10 Sep 1167 and was buried at Bec Abbey (see below for an epitaph).
Matilda’s maternal grandparents were Malcolm III (Canmore), King of the Cumbrians, King of Scots, eldest son of Duncan I, King of Scots by (wife unstated). He was born about 1031. He defeated and killed MacBeth (of Shakespeare fame), King of Scots, at Lunfanan on 15 Mar 1051. He became King of Scots at the defeat and death of Lulach 17 Mar 1057/58. He was crowned at Scone 25 Apr 1058.
Malcolm married (1) Ingebiorg (not Matilda’s mother), widow of Earl of Thorfin Sigurdson, nicknamed the Mighty, Earl of Orkney (died about 1064) and daughter of Earl Finn Arnason. They had three sons: Duncan (king of Scots), Malcolm, and Donald. Ingebiorg died 17 Feb, year unknown.
Malcolm married (2) (Saint) Margaret at Dunfermline, Fife, in 1068-69. She was the daughter of Edward Atheling (or Ætheling), by his wife Agatha, kinswoman of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. She was the great-granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, a kinswoman of King Edward of the true royal family of England (i.e. no Norman interference).
They had six sons: Edward, Edmund (Prince of Cumbria, afterwards a monk), Ethelred (Earl of Fife, Abbott of Dunkeld), Edgar (King of Scots), Alexander (I, King of Scots), and David (I, King of Scots;
They had two daughters: Edith (who married Henry I and then changed her name to the Norman French name Matilda and was this Matilda’s mother) and Mary.
Malcolm’s reign coincided with William the Conqueror and his son William II, nicknamed Rufus. Malcolm was present when the cornerstone was laid for Durham Cathedral 11 Aug 1093.
He was killed by Morel of Bamborough at Alnwick, Northumberland, on 13 Nov 1093. He was initially buried at Tynemouth, but his son, King Alexander I, later moved the body to Dunfermline, Fife.
Margaret died at Edinburgh Castle on 16 Nov 1093 and was buried before the high altar in the church of the Holy Trinity at Dunfermline, fife. She was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1250.
MATILDA’S PARENTS AND SIBLINGS
King Henry I is her father, and he has a separate post, here:
The basics of his life: He was nicknamed Beauclerc. He was William the Conqueror’s fourth son. He was born in 1068 or 1069. On 11 Nov 1100, he married (1) Edith-Matilda, daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots by his second wife (Saint) Margaret (see above). Edith-Matilda was born in about 1079. Edith is an English name, and she changed it to the Norman French name Matilda when she married Henry. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, performed the marriage ceremony and crowned the new queen. She died at Westminster 1 May 1118.
When Henry’s wife Matilda died before their son William did, Henry had to think of a male succession. He married (2) Alice or Adeliza, at Windsor, Berkshire, on 29 Jan 1129; she was the daughter of Gottfried I, Duke of Lower Lorraine, Count of Louvain, by his first wife Ida, daughter of Otto II, Count of Chiny. They had no issue. Henry died at Lyon-la-Forêt, near Rouen. Against his doctor’s wishes he ate Lamprey eels, eel-like fish, a rich delicacy. Were they rancid? Or did he die from another stomach ailment? Date of death: 1 Dec 1135.
Now the dynastic succession is thrown wide open because Henry had no legitimate male heir.
Henry and Edith-Matilda had these two children:
1.. Matilda (sometimes called Maud): She is the subject of this post (see above for the basics). Here are her basics after the data of her birth-marriage-death..
Her father recalled her and proclaimed her presumptive heir in 1126. But could a woman be queen ahead of her husband? She married at Le Mans, Maine, on 17 June 1128, Geoffrey of Anjou, nicknamed Plantagenet and le Bel or the Fair (Handsome). He was born 24 Aug 1113. They had three sons: Henry (later king of England); Geoffrey (Count of Anjou and Nantes); and William Longespée (Longsword). Geoffrey also had an illegitimate son by an unknown mistress, named Hameline (5th Earl of Surrey); and two illegitimate daughters Emma and Mary (Abbess of Shaftesbury). Geoffrey died at Chateau-du-Loire on 7 Sep 1151 and was buried in St. Julien’s, Le Mans, Maine. Empress Matilda died at Rouen, capital of Normandy, 10 Sep 1167 and was buried at Bec Abbey.
2.. William: He was born in 1103, and was heir apparent. He received the homage of the Norman Barons in 1115. He married at Lisieux in May 1119 Maud or Matilda of Anjou, daughter of Fulk (Foulques) V, Count of Anjou. Henry arranged this marriage because Anjou was a rival to Normandy. He fought in the Battle of Brémule in 1119. Early in 1120, King Louis of France invested him with the Duchy of Normandy.
However, he drowned in the wreck of the White Ship on 25 Nov 1120, a dynastic disaster.
It’s always best for a king to have an “heir and a spare.” But Henry had only an heir without a spare. Or maybe Matilda could be queen in her own right?
EXCERPT ON MATILDA’S AND HEINRICH’S WEDDING
Remember, Heinrich is Henry V, the German Holy Roman Emperor. “Heinrich” is used in this post to distinguish him from Matilda’s father Henry and her son Henry (!).
He [the Emperor] had been betrothed three years before to Matilda, the daughter of Henry king of the English, a girl of noble character, distinguished and beautiful, who was held to bring glory and honor to both the Roman empire and the English realm. She was born of ancient lineage, most noble and royal on both sides, and gave promise of abundant future virtue in everything she said and did, so that all hoped she might be the mother of an heir to the Roman empire. The nuptials were attended by such a great concourse of archbishops and bishops, dukes and counts, abbots and provosts and learned clergy that not even the oldest man present could remember ever having seen or heard of such a huge assembly of such great persons. For the marriage was attended by five archbishops, thirty bishops and five dukes, one of whom, the duke of Bohemia, acted as chief butler. As for the counts and abbots and provosts, no one present could tell their numbers, though many observant men were there. 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. (qtd in Chibnall p. 26)
The nobility at the wedding had its own entourage, not mentioned in the excerpt. Also, for a duke, so high in the hierarchy, to be the chief butler meant that the marriage was super-prestigious!
WHO HAS THE BETTER CASE TO BE MONARCH?
The trouble began with the sinking of the White Ship, when Henry I’s male heir died.
The two sides present their evidence to you, the reader:
|Empress Matilda and Her Son Henry||Stephen|
|Henry I, son of the Conqueror, designated his daughter Matilda to succeed him||His mother was Adele, daughter of the Conqueror and older sister of Henry I|
|Henry I had raced to secure the throne against his older brother Robert Curthose, so Henry’s claim to the throne was doubtful, but he was skillful enough to hold it against a weak older brother||Stephen’s ancestry bypassed such doubt, but he descends from a woman. And he will secure the throne in a similar way as that of Henry (see below). But will Stephen be skilful enough to hold it against Matilda?|
|Matilda’s (future) son Henry (born 5 Mar 1133) was a great-grandson of the Conqueror||Adele’s son Stephen was a grandson of the Conqueror|
|Matilda was born (8 Feb 1102) “in the purple,” that is, while her father Henry I was king (crowned 5 Aug 1100) and wore the symbolic royal color of purple. She was the daughter of the king!||Adele’s father was crowned 25 Dec 1066, but she was born c. 1060-62, so she was not born “in the purple”; and it’s not clear this notional privilege was transferrable to Stephen, but it wouldn’t have hurt his case|
|On 7 Jan 1114, Matilda married the Holy Roman Emperor (also named Henry!), but he died in 1125. Childless, she came back to England with money, relics, pure gold crowns, and title Empress||Not knowing how succession would play out, Henry I showered him with land on both sides of the Channel, so Stephen formed extensive alliances|
|On 17 June 1128 at Rouen, she married Count Geoffrey of Anjou, who might take away Normandy-Anjou rivalry and unify the two||In 1125 he married rich heiress Matilda of Boulogne, so his landholdings increased. Coastal town Boulogne had profitable trade ties with London|
|Paternal title / prestige: Henry’s father Geoffrey was a count||Stephen’s father Stephen-Henry was a count|
|Foreign royal bloodline: Matilda’s mother was Edith-Matilda, daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots, by (saint) Margaret; Matilda kept her title “Empress” but it was merely by marriage||He married Matilda of Boulogne, and she was daughter of Mary, also daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scots, by his second wife (saint) Margaret. But this connection was merely by marriage, though Stephen’s sons could gain by it|
|On 1 Jan 1127 barons (including Stephen) swore an oath to her, swearing she would succeed. Henry I made the barons renew their oath on 8 Sep 1133 (Stephen swore the oath too)||Later, his promoters said the barons’ oath was forced because no one dared defy Henry I; and they claimed that on his deathbed Henry (supposedly) repented of his act of designating Matilda and her son (not likely!)|
|She was female, an impediment to her being monarch (long before Mary I and Elizabeth I)||He was a male, which in those days favored him to be king|
|Henry I died 1 Dec 1135 (from eating Lamprey eels)|
|Would her powerful half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, favor her or Stephen? Would Robert claim the crown for himself, or would his illegitimacy disqualify him?||His two older brothers, William and Theobald, were alive; barons at first favored Theobald, until Stephen simply took the crown (next)|
|Instead of taking power immediately, she dawdled. Was she too confident in barons’ oaths? Too confident in her father’s designating her and her son? Her illness in 1134? Was she sizing up her allies or the flow of events? Her first child Henry was born in 1133, so was she fearful of being killed in a conflict at this time? (Later she will challenge him.) Meanwhile ….||On Henry I’s death in Normandy, Stephen promptly crossed the Channel, arrived in London where he was celebrated (trade ties with Boulogne), took control of the bulging Treasury at Winchester, and was crowned king on 22 Dec 1135, at Winchester, in the huge Romanesque cathedral.|
And So the Times Will Be Tumultuous
Christ and His Saints Seemed to “Sleep”
So who has the better case?
BASIC FACTS AND STORIES ABOUT MATILDA
Life in Germany
- She was only six years old when Henry (Heinrich) V, Holy Roman Emperor, most eminent man in western Europe, sought her hand in marriage. He needed a wife chosen from the highest rank.
- In the summer of 1109, when Matilda was seven years old, she became betrothed to Henry V in a proxy magnificent ceremony at her father’s court.
- In February 1110 she said goodbye to her parents, brother, and her home, and sailed for the French town of Boulogne to travel overland with her retinue of aristocrats and clergymen and her ladies-in-waiting.
- Heinrich was twenty-four and was going to get 10,000 marks from Henry I of England.
- In Liège, she performed her first duty: She interceded for Godfrey, duke of Lotharingia, who had been disgraced. Intercession like this was time-honored for queens in many different societies and in ancient legends. The queen consort had the right to intervene in response to petitions and in support of royal grants. Eventually she would become known as Matilda the Good.
- In Utrecht, Holland, Heinrich and Matilda were formally betrothed at Easter.
- On 25 July 1110, on the feast day of St. James the Apostle, whose mummified hand was preserved as a priceless relic, Matilda was crowned Germany’s queen in Mainz, at the Romanesque cathedral. She became the queen consort.
- She settled down to learn German and German customs.
- In 1111 Heinrich and Matilda led a huge entourage over the Alps to be crowned Emperor of the Romans. He wanted to impress the pope and all the lords of Italy. But the relations between Heinrich and Pope Paschal III had deteriorated. He didn’t like how Heinrich imposed his will on appointing church leaders.
- Would he crown Heinrich? Heinrich seized Paschal and sixteen cardinals and held them. So on 13 Apr 1111, in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope gave in and placed the imperial crown on Heinrich’s head. It was octagonal diadem of gold studded with jewels and cloisonné enamelwork, enclosed by a golden arch and surmounted by a jeweled cross. In such a hostile environment Matilda could not be crowned empress at that time.
- However, when the ceremony was over, the pope and his council retracted the anointing. But no matter. The rite was sacred and could not be undone.
- On 7 Jan 1114 just before her twelfth birthday (twelve was the minimal canonical year for girls to marry; “minimal” means earliest; they didn’t have to marry that young), Matilda and Heinrich took their vows in the cathedral at Worms on the western bank of the Rhine.
- Her performance on the marriage stage with an audience of the most important men was flawless. This is training for the future.
- She was a “girl of noble character, distinguished and beautiful, who was held to bring glory and honor to both the Roman Empire and the English realm,” wrote a chronicler of the day.
- She was not a mere appendage to Heinrich’s reign. She might be left in charge when the Emperor was not present or away or act in his presence. She frequently intervened to sponsor royal grants, and her name stood at the head of prelates and lay princes. She petitioned on behalf of those seeking reconciliation with her husband. Her presence was not merely formal; she shared the Emperor’s regality. She added her approval for the Cluniac house of Rueggisberg at Speyer. Early in 1116 she traveled with her husband to Augsburg, where the assembled forces for crossing the Alps into Italy.
- In Apr 1115 the archbishop in behalf of the pope pronounced the sentence of anathema against Heinrich. What should he do?
- A famous and powerful countess (also named Matilda) who ruled in northern Italy died. Childless, she left her properties to Heinrich V (Matilda’s husband). He went down to Italy to defend his inheritance. By the end of Feb 1116 the Emperor’s forces were ready, and so was his fourteen-year-old wife, to take the three-hundred-mile journey across the Alps. Pope Paschal withdrew the curia eighty miles to the Southeast to the abbey at Montecassino, first founded by St. Benedict six hundred years earlier. Heinrich took over the Holy City just before Easter in 1117.
- The French archbishop Bourdin placed the imperial crown on fifteen-year-old Matilda’s head perhaps on Easter, 1117. But Bourdin had been excommunicated, so this crowning was irregular. But it took place in the chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica, next to her husband. In itself, that was powerful. So Matilda took the title Imperatrix, Empress.
- She engaged in her duties as Empress, for example: She assisted her husband in the government of Matildine lands (her lands). On 11 Sep 1117 she presided at a court at Rocca Carpineta near Reggio on behalf of the bishop and pronounced judgment in his favor. At Castrocaro she presided, without her husband, and gave a judgment in favor of the abbot and convent of St. Maria outside the gate of Faenza, pronouncing the ban on anyone who attempted to contravene it.
- The opposition between pope and emperor finally ended at the concordat at Worms in 1122. Peace.
- In spring 1122 she was on the eastern side of the empire, and her father was on with western side of Normandy. Did they make contact? Probably not, for Charles, count of Flanders, vassal of the king of France, was anxious not to offend him, blocked her passage. The visit was canceled.
- One contemporary historian said that she had had a child, but it died early. True? Probably not, but Matilda’s father pinned his hopes on her for the English succession if she was believed to be sterile. Her father Henry I of England hoped that she and Heinrich would have a son, and then the boy who grew to be a man could rule over Germany and England. That’s powerful.
- However, on 23 May 1126, Heinrich V died of cancer, in Utrecht. His wife wasn’t by his side. No son. No daughter. Childless. He did not designate an heir. Tradition says the Empress should be consulted for the election of a new emperor. She was cut out of the picture. Now what?
- Did she have the right training to rule as a female monarch back in England and Normandy? Examples follow.
- In Italy from 1118 to 1119 she acted as regent, and a few years later acted on Henry’s behalf on Lotharingia when rebellion penetrated Saxony.
- She was personally involved in negotiating an alliance with her father, and her husband left the imperial regalia to her when he died. She was involved in negotiations with great magnates (generic term for large landowner) and churchmen and leading citizens.
- She met papal legates and made connections with the papal curia. When the pope excommunicated her husband, some city gates were shut to him. She knew what that felt like. Enemies were ruthlessly punished, even an archbishop.
- She knew how to bring people together to be reconciled to her husband. She witnessed the exercise of political judgment.
- Conclusion: She knew how to be queen consort, but a queen in her own right? Open question.
Back in England: Early Days
- Remember that on 25 Nov 1025, the wreck of the White Ship On it were drunken passengers and crew. The passengers were the best and brightest of the next generation, including Henry I’s son William Adelin. Stephen, Henry’s nephew, was not on it, for he had disembarked (or never got on it) because of a stomach ailment.
- So who would be king or monarch? See the above table for the cases for Matilda and her (future) son Henry versus Stephen.
- Her father recalled her in 1126. (But one historian, Marjorie Chibnall, says she chose to return.)
- She took with her two jeweled crowns of solid gold and the mummified hand of St. James and other relics. One of the crowns was so heavy that it could be worn only when supported by two silver rods, apparently placed on the shoulders.
- On 1 Jan 1127 Henry summoned the barons, including Stephen, to swear an oath to support Matilda. They were not asked to do homage.
- But could she rule in her own right as a woman? The word “queen” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word cwén, which meant the wife of the king, not queen in her own right.
- Henry had to marry Matilda off to someone to his advantage. Who? Geoffrey the Count of Anjou, south of Normandy. The Angevin and Normans were rivals, so maybe Geoffrey could stop the rivalry (not likely!).
- He was fifteen, and she was eleven years older. It is probable that she opposed the match, but her father had the final say.
- In the meantime, Henry’s older brother Robert had a son, named William Clito. Over in Flanders, Count Charles was murdered in Mar 1127. French King Louis decided to install William Clito in his place. What would happen there?
- In June 1128 Geoffrey was knighted by the bride’s father, a week before the wedding.
- On 17 June 1128, Geoffrey and Matilda were married at Le Mans, in the county of Maine, in the glorious new Cathedral. They then went to Angers, the capital of the county of Anjou.
- How did Henry envision Geoffrey’s role? King ahead of his daughter? He was never given royal authority. The Norman barons would have accepted him as king, but what about the English barons? It was not likely that Henry I destined him to be king.
- She avoided calling herself Countess, but “Empress and daughter of the king of the English.” The title of countess was a step down.
- In 1128, six weeks after the wedding, William Clito was killed in a skirmish. He had to fight for his position and was killed by a rival. So one claimant to the throne was taken out of the way.
- By the end of 1129, however, Geoffrey and Matilda were living apart. She had left Anjou and lived up north in Normandy at Rouen, the capital of the duchy.
- In 1131 Henry brokered reconciliation between his daughter and son-in-law. At a council in Northampton, England on 8 Sep 1131 it was decided she should be restored to her husband. In the same council Matilda again received an oath of fealty from all those had had not given one before and a renewal of the oath from those who had previously sworn (Stephen was there too). The English barons were prepared to accept Matilda, even though she had married outside the realm without their knowledge (or consent).
- Score: On 5 Mar 1133, thirty-one-year-old Matilda gave birth to a healthy boy, Henry, at Le Mans. He inherited his Angevin father’s red-gold hair and stocky build. He was named after his grandfather. Certain medievalists say he will be the first Plantagenet, though others place this dynasty with Henry III. In that case Henry II would be only of the House of Anjou (an Angevin).
- In June 1134, Matilda gave birth with great difficulty, to Geoffrey; Matilda almost lost her life.
- On 1 Dec 1135 Henry I died. Matilda was not at his side, for she was in Anjou with her husband. Also, there was some strife between them. If she had been there, Henry could have nailed down to her personally and before the barons her right to succeed.
- Moralistic side-comment: Please make peace with your family members before they pass on.
Struggle for Power
- As noted in the table, above, Stephen crossed the English Channel with a small retinue and got crowned king on 22 Dec 1135 by the archbishop of Canterbury. The precedence for this happened when Henry got himself anointed king right after his brother William II Rufus died in the forest from a stray arrow through the heart.
- But did Stephen have the right to rule? He was in his early forties and had experience and character. Years of campaigning in Normandy and Flanders made him an effective soldier.
- However, Stephen was generous and kind, and does kind = king? We shall see. A struggle for the crown ensues.
- Matilda gave birth to her third son, William, on 22 July 1136. Did she know she was pregnant when her father died?
- Robert, Earl of Gloucester, was Matilda’s illegitimate half-brother. He was very wealthy, for he had received a cash settlement from his father at his father’s death. £60,000! Huge! He was at his father’s bedside when he died. He was a successful military man. What would he do? If he acted for his sister and nephew, that would have been premature, and it would have harmed himself. He held back to see the unfolding events, and then supported, perhaps grudgingly, the king.
- Meanwhile, Matilda, on the death of her father, retreated to her inherited border fortresses of Argentan, Exemes, Domfront, in Normandy, spending the most time in Argentan, while the barons debated who should be king. That’s when Stephen scurried up to Winchester, England, to get crowned. Problem not
- At this point, please see King Stephen’s post for all the revolts against him.
- He half-succeeded and half-failed in his efforts. The problem: a king with a weak hold on the crown must be completely successful.
- In just one instance of the king’s weakness during the suppression of a revolt, Matilda’s half-brother Robert, finally, set himself up as the Empress’s champion. Her prospects improved.
- By Easter 1136 Stephen was able to produce a letter from the pope approving his elevation to the throne. So how could the Anglo-Norman magnates reject him now?
- In spring 1139 she sent to Rome Bishop Ulger of Angers to argue her case for the crown. Stephen’s representatives argued for their king. Back and forth the arguments went. The king’s representatives carried letters from the archbishops and bishops of the realm and also obtained letters from the king of France and Count Theobald of Blois supporting Stephen.
- Finally the pope had heard enough. He was not going to overturn a coronation that he had recognized over three years earlier. He supported Stephen.
- But then Henry, Stephen’s brother, a bishop, was passed over for the archbishop of Canterbury for the more obscure Theobald of Bec (no relation to Stephen), whose main qualification was his association with the Beaumont twins Waleran of Meulan and Robert of Leicester. Their influence over Stephen was growing. Brother Henry wasn’t too happy.
- The Beaumont twins toppled Bishop Henry’s allies Bishop Roger of Salisbury, King Henry I’s chief minister; Bishop Alexander of Lincoln; and Bishop Nigel of Ely; the latter two controlled the chancery (business side of the realm) and exchequer (financial side).
- On 29 Aug 1139 Bishop Henry summoned King Stephen to answer the accusations that he was meddling too much in church matters, because Henry was a defender of reform; that is, the church, not kings, says who should be its leaders. Nothing came of of the summons, except arguments, but it proved Stephen was weak.
- The towering castle at Arundel, in southern England, close to the coast, on a navigable river, was the perfect place for Matilda to make her move to England. The dowager widow queen, Adeliza, the second wife of Henry I, by whom he had no issue, lived there. Matilda and Adeliza knew each other well. They were the same age.
- On 30 Sep 1139 a ship arrived at Arundel. It carried Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and a bodyguard of knights. Matilda was on board too. The earl and some knights rode to Bristol by cover of night to lodge in the earl’s castle. Matilda and the much larger military escort went into the fortress at Arundel.
- Stephen marched south to besiege Arundel. But Matilda’s sex, for once, worked to her advantage. She was the daughter of a king, widow of an emperor. Adeliza was a widow of the same king (Henry). How could Stephen wage war on such illustrious women? He would suffer condemnation, from his allies as well.
- Brian Fitzcount, illegitimate son of the count of Brittany, and Miles of Gloucester, whose father was sheriff of the western side of the county of Gloucestershire and keeper of the king’s castle there, had supported Stephen, but were now loyal supporters of Matilda.
- Stephen decided to ignore the two women at Arundel and go for Earl Robert at Bristol. His army was making good headway and captured castles along the way.
- Also, after negotiations, she was escorted under protection of Bishop Henry (Stephen’s brother) to go to Bristol. Perhaps the bishop told Stephen he could attack Matilda and Robert and finish them off together.
- However, Fitzcount and Miles harried the king with lightning strikes. Miles smashed through one of the king’s contingencies at Wallingford Castle, and was poised to march on London. Stephen had to turn around and handle the new threat.
- All of the battles to put down revolts, many not mentioned here, but are in Stephen’s post at this website, devastated the land. A Parley? Earl Robert and Stephen’s queen, also named Matilda (sorry!), went across the Channel to consult Louis VII of France and Stephen’s older brother Theobald of Blois. Matilda was willing to accept the terms (we don’t know what they were), but Stephen wanted to keep fighting.
- Ranulf, Earl of Chester and Earl Robert’s son-in-law, had been the king’s man, but with Stephen’s troubles, he took the castle at Lincoln, in 1140 by trickery. Stephen marched north to confront him, but Ranulf slipped away.
- Now Robert and Ranulf regrouped to confront Stephen’s small force. On Sunday, 2 Feb, 1141, Stephen celebrated the feast of Candlemas. The flame of his elaborate candle went out and the wax broke in his hands. The pyx containing the Sacred Host fell and plunged to the altar. Ill omen. Should Stephen run or face Robert and Ranulf’s larger army?
- Stephen was not for retreating, for his father had run while on Crusade in the Holy Land and suffered loss of reputation. Stephen fought. However, seeing the overwhelming opposing force, his men retreated, and he was left behind. Matilda’s men were closing in on him, and a rock struck his head, and he fell to the ground. King Stephen was captured!
- He was taken first to Gloucester Castle, where he almost escaped with bribes, but then he was moved to Bristol and put in chains. Humiliating for a king.
- Now what about Matilda’s surge forward? The Empress found herself within reach of the throne. She needed the backing of the church, if she were to overturn Stephen’s sovereign anointing.
- Stephen’s brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, converted to her cause. He presented her as the “Lady (Domina) of England” in 1141. She was a queen-in-waiting. This was an ambiguous title.
- But Stephen’s allies, particularly his queen, also named Matilda (sorry!), did not sit idly by.
- In this post from here on, Empress Matilda = wife of Geoffrey of Anjou, the leader of the Angevin side, and mother to young Henry. Queen Matilda = Stephen’s wife and mother of Eustace.
- How would Empress Matilda handle her new path towards power? The Medieval sources almost—almost—unanimously say she rose above herself, getting too arrogant. She should have been a gentle, deferential woman. But what was virtuous in men was viewed as vicious (vice-filled) in women, so Matilda was trapped in her own times.
- In any case, she summoned the richest men in London and asked them for large contribution of money, but they said they were broke. She retorted that the men had lavished their money on Stephen’s cause. But he was a prisoner. She did not promise rewards after her (future) coronation. She should have been generous and not demanded money to support her cause when they demanded relief. Mismanagement.
- Queen Matilda kept Stephen’s cause alive. She begged the Londoners. She offered them rewards from their still-anointed king. Didn’t London have a special trade with Boulogne, where she was still countess? She still had Stephen’s army intact, breathing down the Londoners’ neck.
- On 24 June 1141, at a banquet before the day she would enter London and then celebrate her coronation, Londoners rang the bells and swarmed the field toward Westminster with weapons in hand. They ransacked her lodgings and ate the feast still at table (one Medievalist historian says they stomped on the feast).
- She was driven out of London and retreated to Oxford, up the Thames.
- Bishop Henry was part of the betrayal. Two months earlier he had declared the Empress Lady of the English, but now Queen Matilda encouraged him to stay with his brother and king—Stephen.
- The Empress got an army together to march on Winchester to secure the treasury and demand Bishop Henry to explain himself. (Remember, he was the bishop of Winchester.) But the bishop slipped away, so she was besieging a garrison he had left behind.
- This time Matilda’s small garrison was ambushed by Stephen’s loyal men marching up from London. On Sunday 14 Sep 1141, Robert and Miles of Gloucester were trapped, and Robert was captured.
- Empress Matilda escaped to Devizes with Fitzcount at her side. She rode a horse astride like a man, but when she was tired, she rode a litter between two horses, like a corpse. This spun wild rumors that she had been smuggled out of Winchester in a coffin. Matilda was a legend!
- Now Earl Robert and King Stephen were exchanged. Stephen was free.
- However, the dramatic reverses that happened between Feb and Nov 1141 scarred the political landscape. People wanted peace. Waleran of Meulan swore peace to Geoffrey of Normandy, for example.
- At the same time, Geoffrey of Anjou, Empress Matilda’s husband, was making military progress in the duchy of Normandy, France. If Stephen couldn’t stop him across the Channel, what would happen to his kingship in England? Empress Matilda sent her brother Robert to Normandy to help her husband campaign against the duchy.
- Stephen seized the castle at Dorset from where Robert had sailed. Then he stormed into Oxford, and Empress Matilda was surprised within the castle’s massive walls. Stephen’s men ransacked and burned the city. The empress and her men were trapped for three months.
- Then just before Christmas in 1142, she escaped from Oxford Castle by a small side gate, in cover of darkness with a bodyguard of three trusted men. They wore white cloaks to be camouflaged in the snowy landscape. They walked across the frozen Thames.
- Exhausted, she reached Abingdon, where they found horses to carry them to the safe haven of Brien Fitzcount’s castle at Wallingford. Stephen accepted the garrison’s surrender. No Matilda!
- Her courage and escape raised questions about God’s verdict on Stephen’s right to reign. Once again, she was a legend!
- Robert of Gloucester returned from Normandy to England, with Matilda’s nine-year-old son Henry. This was significant because it communicated to people that Matilda had another way to the throne—through her son, a male, not herself.
- Then Henry returned to Normandy in 1144, in the wake of Geoffrey of Anjou’s successful military campaign in Normandy.
- Around this time, from 1143 to 1149 key players died: Miles of Gloucester, from an arrow in a hunting accident (another one!); her brother Earl Robert on 31 Oct 1147, from a fever at his castle in Bristol; and in 1149, Brien Fitzcount died, after he retreated from the political world into religious contemplation. But the Empress could count on loyalty from her brother’s earldom in Gloucester and his powerful son-in-law Ranulf. The deceased earl’s vassals remained true.
- Empress Matilda’s Geoffrey husband took Rouen, the capital of Normandy at the beginning of 1144. In the summer he was vested with the title of the Duke of Normandy amid the grandeur of Rouen’s great cathedral. He secured King Louis VII’s recognition at the end of the year.
- Further, though Stephen had control over England, no magnate (large landowner) in England who had estates in Normandy could afford to give complete devotion to Stephen. The king was getting older. He turned fifty probably in 1142.
- Stephen tried to get his son Eustace anointed king, for the kings of France anointed their sons while the kings were living. However, this didn’t happen because reformist Pope Eugenius III, elected in 1145, denounced Stephen’s brother Henry as corrupt.
- Also, Stephen still claimed royal authority over church appointments, and the pope was a reformer, so Stephen’s policy antagonized the pope. Thus Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury refused to anoint Eustace.
- In 1146 young Henry made another unexpected return to England. He had recruited a small band of mercenaries on credit since he had no cash. He attempted to rescue his mother from the blockade at Devizes. News spread of the rescue attempt.
- Stephen countered the rescue attempt without any trouble, and Henry even appealed to Stephen for help to head back to Normandy. Stephen’s generosity came through, and he gave Henry the money to return at the end of May 1147.
- Stephen’s men believed this generosity was weak. Too much “pity and compassion,” wrote the anonymous author of the Deeds of Stephen. But in many ways Stephen was a kind and generous man.
- In June 1148 Empress Matilda managed to return to Normandy because she and Stephen had been locked in a violent stalemate. Smart move because she could consolidate her power from there.
- In spring 1149 Henry again returned to the Devizes, which had belonged to Bishop Roger, and restored it to him.
- By the end of that year, Henry was knighted at the northern outpost of Carlisle by his great-uncle David, King of Scots. This was a sign of his entry into manhood.
- Stephen marched up north, but he could not force Henry to fight because the nobles didn’t want to meet on the battlefield. The earls of Chester and Leicester even signed a private treaty of mutual protection. Several magnates signed agreements with Normandy.
- Returning to Normandy, Henry was holding his own. Geoffrey his father died in Sep 1151, just thirty-eight.
- Louis VII divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine in Mar 1152 (no sons and irreconcilable lifestyles), and Henry married her in May. The rich duchy of Aquitaine belonged to him by right of his wife.
- Queen Matilda, wife of Stephen, died in spring 1152.
- Henry returned to England in January 1153. In July the two sides met at the castle at Wallingford. With no victory for either one, Henry and Stephen met to hammer out a settlement. After negotiations, Eustace left his father in a rage, and went to East Anglia, raiding and plundering, just to express his frustrations. However, he got sick and died in Aug 1153.
- Stephen made no plan to offer his son William the crown. In fact on 6 Nov 1153, he signed a treaty with Henry, called the Treaty of Winchester.
- The terms: Duke Henry of Anjou was Stephen’s heir. Stephen would remain king until he died. Strategic castles would be placed in Henry’s hands. The reconciliation was sealed with a kiss of peace. They went out on a progress together, to advertize their peace and love.
- Stephen was taken ill with pains in his guts and fluxes of blood. His wife’s Confessor, Ralph, Prior of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, was brought quickly to his side. The king was to make his final confession, take the Eucharist if he could. Stephen died on 25 Oct 1154 at Dover, Kent. He was buried at Faversham Abbey, Kent. Stephen’s son William died in Oct 1159.
- On 7 Dec 1154, Henry crossed the Channel and was crowned king on 17 Dec 1154, at Westminster Abbey. Archbishop Theobald placed the crown on his head.
- Matilda did not take a backseat. For example, he wanted to go after Ireland in autumn 1155, but his mother talked him out of it.
- In 1156, she had to endure bitter division between her sons Geoffrey and Henry because Geoffrey claimed their father gave him Anjou. Henry disagreed. Geoffrey rose in rebellion against Henry. Geoffrey lost and had to cede his claim and settle for an annuity.
- Her son Geoffrey died in 1158.
- She was seriously ill in 1160, but recovered. Indomitable.
- In 1162, she tried to mediate between Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the king, but this didn’t work ultimately, since the archbishop was assassinated, though not at Henry’s order.
- Her third son William died in 1164, by his mother’s side. So she predeceased her two sons. The way was now clear for her firstborn. She had fulfilled her father’s wishes and the oaths sworn by the barons in 1127 and 1131 that said she and her son Henry should rule.
- Matilda died 10 Sep 1167, surrounded band y her devoted monks of Bec at Rouen, Normandy. She was buried among them, her body was sewed into an ox-hide and laid to rest before the altar in the abbey church.
- She was never driven from the heartland. Gloucester, Oxford, Wallingford, Bristol, Devzes, Marlborough and other towns and castles remained her base.
- She was even able to mint coins, in Wareham (along the southern coast), Cardiff, and Bristol. The images on the coins prove she always maintained her royal prerogatives. She was the daughter of the king, after all!
- While Matilda’s policies and strategies weren’t perfect, Stephen made more mistakes.
- She was devout and wrote charters for many religious houses, particularly for houses devoted to the Virgin Mary.
- She considered the monks of Bec to be her personal children and lived among them like one of them in her later years when Henry was powerful and her advice unneeded.
- The bulk of her treasures went to Bec-Hellouin: Two gold crowns worn by the emperor; one of solid gold decorated with gems and worn by Henry II at his coronation. This crown was so heavy that it had two silver rods for support; in front was a jewel of great size and a cross of solid gold was superimposed. The smaller crown was a golden cross decorated with precious stone and the foot of another cross; other items: two Gospel books studded with gems; two censers of silver gilt; a silver incense-box and spoon; a gold dish and golden pyx for the Eucharist; three silver flasks, a ewer for holy water and a silver basin; two portable altars of marble mounted in silver; an ebony chest full of relics. Vestments: Chasubles, dalmatics, copes, and an imperial cloak of her own sprinkled with gold.
- She was buried in the abbey church of Bec-Hellouin before the high altar in honor of the Virgin Mary. She was sewed in ox-hide, the customary grave covering.
- Part of the epitaph reads: “Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring. Here lies the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry.” In other words, her father was Henry I, her first husband was Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, and her son was Henry II.
- She was indomitable. Her two Great Escapes were downright miraculous or certainly the stuff of legend. At the time people concluded that she was blessed of God, while Stephen’s reign was questionable.
- However, many of the male chroniclers and historians in her own times and a little afterwards thought she was not demure or sweet enough. She was not female enough, submissive and deferential.
- However, she rose to the challenge of her days—to fulfill her father’s wishes that she should rule and then her son. Stephen had sworn two oaths saying as much.
- Three royal granddaughters who became queens: (1) Matilda who married Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony in 1168, when she was twelve years old, like her grandmother. (2) Joan was married first to William II, King of Sicily, known as the Good. She was widowed in 1189 at twenty-four without having a child; her brother Richard I rescued her in Sicily. She married, second, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse and became the future mother to Count Raymond VI of Toulouse. She died in childbirth at Rouen in Normandy (there, because she was in danger from wars at Toulouse). (3) Eleanor was betrothed to Alfonso of Castile in 1168 when she was seven and had to wait for her marriage to be consummated. She had ten children, and six survived, and four of five became queens: Berengaria of Leon; Urraca of Portugal; Eleanor of Aragon; Blanche of France, who married Louis VIII. Thus the Empress became the great-great-grandmother to Edward I of England and St. Louis IX of France.
Marjorie Chibnall’s assessment:
Once she had accepted what was possible for a woman claimant to the throne of England, in a feudal society where even rules of private inheritance were still flexible and where the success of a putative heir might depend on quick action and armed force, she proved herself able (in spite of many difficulties and a few stumbles) to establish the succession in the line intended by her father.
In other words, she made mistakes, but when she realized she could not be queen in her own right, she fought hard even by military action to secure the throne for her son and got her father’s wishes accomplished.
The fact that she was a strong-willed woman and no passive cipher led at first to problems that cost her dear; but in the end her determined character and her ability to make use of wide experience gained in an eventful life enabled her to succeed where a woman of greater ‘feminine softness’ might have been swept aside.
In other words, her determined character and experience in her first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor carried her through hard times to success. A ‘soft’ woman would have been ‘swept aside.’
Her son Henry II called himself “Henry Fitz Empress.” That was the ultimate compliment.
HOUSES OF NORMANDY AND BLOIS
William Clopton and Our Royal Heritage (royal gateway ancestor)
Jim Bradbury, Stephen and Matilda: The Civil War of 1139-53 (The History P, 1996).
Helen Castor, The She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth (Harper-Perennial, 2011).
Marjorie Chibnall, The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother, and Lady of the English (Blackwell Publishers, 1991).
—, The Normans (Blackwell, 2000).
Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (Metro Books, 2006).
David Crouch, The Normans: The History of the Dynasty (Hambledon and London, 2002).
David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact upon England (UC P, 1964).
C. Warren Hollister and Amanda Clark Frost, Henry I, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 2001).
Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (Penguin, 2012).
Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).
The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).
Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).
W. L. Warren, Henry II (Berkeley: University of California P, 1973).
Carl Watkins, Stephen: The Reign of Anarchy. Penguin Monarchs (Allen Lane and Random House, 2015).