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Empress Matilda
1141 AD

Great Seal of Matilda, Lady of the EnglishMatilda is the Latin form of Maud, and the name of the only surviving legitimate child of King Henry I. She was born in 1101, generally it is said at Winchester, but recent research indicates that she was actually born at the Royal Palace in Sutton Courtenay (Berkshire).

In something of a political coup for her father, Matilda was betrothed to the German Emperor, Henry V, when she was only eight. They were married on 7th January 1114. She was twelve and he was thirty-two. Unfortunately there were no children and on the Emperor's death in 1125, Matilda was recalled to her father's court.

Matilda's only legitimate brother had been killed in the disastrous Wreck of the White Ship in late 1120 and she was now her father's only hope for the continuation of his dynasty. The barons swore allegiance to the young Princess and promised to make her queen after her father's death. She herself needed heirs though and in April 1127, Matilda found herself obliged to marry Prince Geoffrey of Anjou and Maine (the future Geoffrey V, Count of those Regions). He was thirteen, she twenty-three. It is thought that the two never got on. However, despite this unhappy situation they had had three sons in four years.

Being absent in Anjou at the time of her father's death on 1st December 1135, possibly due to pregnancy, Matilda was not in much of a position to take up the throne which had been promised her and she quickly lost out to her fast-moving cousin, Stephen. With her husband, she attempted to take Normandy. With encouragement from supporters in England though, it was not long before Matilda invaded her rightful English domain and so began a long-standing Civil War from the powerbase of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, in the West Country.

After three years of armed struggle, she at last gained the upper hand at the Battle of Lincoln, in February 1141, where King Stephen was captured. However, despite being declared Queen or "Lady of the English" at Winchester and winning over Stephen's brother, Henry of Blois, the powerful Bishop of Winchester, Matilda alienated the citizens of London with her arrogant manner. She failed to secure her coronation and the Londoners joined a renewed push from Stephen's Queen and laid siege to the Empress in Winchester. She managed to escape to the West, but while commanding her rearguard, her brother was captured by the enemy.

Matilda was obliged to swap Stephen for Robert on 1st November 1141. Thus the King soon reimposed his Royal authority. In 1148, after the death of her half-brother, Matilda finally returned to Normandy, leaving her son, who, in 1154, would become Henry II, to fight on in England. She died at Rouen on 10th September 1169 and was buried in Fontevrault Abbey, though some of her entrails may possibly have been later interred in her father's foundation at Reading Abbey.

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