Matilda of Flanders (1031-1083)

(Relation to me: 26th great grandmother)

 

If you have read my other posts, you would have already known of Matilda from William the Conqueror’s post and Henry I’s post. She would be the wife of William the Conqueror as well as Queen of England, and after becoming his wife would later become Henry’s mother. She also was the niece and grand-daughter of other kings of France. Besides Henry, she also bore William eight, maybe nine other children that would survive to adulthood.

Matilda was of a grander background than William, who was illegitimate, had been from. According to some suspiciously romantic tales she had initially refused to marry William, because she felt she was too good for a “bastard”. Her being a descendant of the Anglo-Saxon royal House of Wessex would also be useful to William. Like many royal marriages of the time, this marriage too would breach the rules of consanguinity. Matilda was about twenty years old when she married William in 1051, William was at least three years older. He had already been the Duke of Normandy by this time, having been named as such at the age of eight years old.

The couple’s marriage appears to have been a successful one, and William has never been found to be recorded as having had any illegitimate children. When William would leave on his conquest of England, Matilda was already thirty-five years old and produced most her their children. He would set sail on a ship that Matilda had given him for England, known as the Mora, and in his absence, Matilda governed the Duchy of Normandy.

After his conquest of England, William sent for his wife, she would join him over a year later and then again would have to depart once again back to Normandy. She would spend most of her life on the mainland part of Europe, while her husband was mostly in England.

Matilda was only fifty-one when she had died in 1083. Apart from governing Normandy for her husband and supporting her brother’s interests in Flanders she had kept close watch over her children’s education. They would be well educated even for the royalty at that time. Her boys were tutored by the Italian, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc; and her girls would learn Latin in Sainte-Trinité Abbey in Caen, which had been founded by William and Matilda as part of the papal dispensation given to them allowing them to marry.

 

Early Life

Matilda was the daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders and Adele of France. Her mother was the daughter of Robert II of France. Matilda had spent the early part of her life in Lille, a town that was built by Baldwin V in the northern part of France. Her father had a talent for architecture, of which seems to have been passed down to his daughter. She was a seventh generation direct descendant of Alfred the Great as well. All of the later sovereigns of England and the United Kingdom are directly, and continuously descended from her, including the current ruler, Queen Elizabeth II.

As a young woman in Lille, Matilda met an English ambassador by the name of Brihtric. He was the Earl of Gloucester and Matilda fell in love with him. Brihtric would never return her affections and returned to England, and possibly forgot about the young woman. Her pride would be hurt and later she would seek her revenge on him. Years later when she was acting as regent for her husband while he was away, she is said to have used her authority to take Brihtric’s lands and thrown him into prison, where he would later die.

 

Looks and Personality

Matilda of Flanders

Depiction of Matilda

Matilda was a gifted and highly captivating person. Contemporaries had said that “her air was dignified without being haughty, her speech eloquent, soft and musical, her quick versatile mind was educated with greatest care. She was said to have been very beautiful, and other said that she had refined, delicate features, a well-set head, and a graceful figure. One person had even said that when she was in her state dress she could be greatly compared to a Greek statue. Matilda was England’s shortest queen, according to the Guinness World Records. In 1819 and 1959, her incomplete skeleton had been exhumed and her bones were measured so as to determine her height. The estimate is that she was about five feet tall.

 

He Just Had to Have Her

So how did an illegitimate son win the heart of a royal descendant? According to legend, Duke William II of Normandy, later to be known as William the Conqueror, sent his representatives to ask for Matilda’s hand in marriage. She told them that she was far too high-born to ever consider marrying a bastard. Upon getting word of her response, William rode from Normandy to Bruges. He had found Matilda on her way to church, dragged her off of her horse by her long braids and into the mud on the street in front of her flabbergasted attendants, he wouldn’t kidnap her, but instead just rode away. There is a second story that states that William rode his horse to her father’s house in Lille, threw her to the ground in her room, again by her braids, and hit her, or violently battered her, before he left.

William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror

Naturally, her father Baldwin would take offense to either story. However, before they two drew swords on each other, Matilda would settle the matter. She would refuse to marry anyone but William, even a papal ban by Pope Leo IX at the Council of Reims, which said that the marriage would be grounds of consanguinity would not dissuade her. The couple would marry after a delay while awaiting the Pope’s decision, in 1051. The papal dispensation would not come until 1059, when it was awarded by Pope Nicholas II. Lanfranc, at the time the prior of Bec Abbey, would negotiate an arrangement with Rome and it had come through only after William and Matilda had agreed to found two churches as their penance.

 

Duchess of Normandy and Queen of England

In 1066, when William was preparing for his invasion of England, Matilda outfitted a ship, known as the Mora, out of her own funds and gave it to her beloved husband. Additionally William would entrust his Duchy of Normandy to her while he was away. She would successfully guide the duchy through this time in the name of her then fourteen year old son. During her time as regent there were no uprisings or unrest that would occur, surprising since the wealthy and powerful were all off supporting her husband’s cause in England. She continued to build the arts, education, and culture of Normandy, helping it to become more civilized and refined. Eventually, William sent for her to share in his triumph over England. It would take her over a year to go to him and share in his success. She would reach England in the spring of 1068 and was accompanied by Gui, the Bishop of Amiens and numerous other distinguished nobles. The new king was happy to have her join him and preparations were made for her coronation. After she was crowned she would be addressed as “Queen Regina”. Her being addressed as such would cause her to make some enemies. Previous queens were addressed by Saxons only as the kings’ ladies or consorts. Eventually there were some difficulties that arose in Normandy and the nobles had requested that William send his wife back. Matilda, along with eldest son, Robert, were then again appointed as regents of Normandy.

After being crowned Queen of England on May 11th of 1068 in Westminster, Matilda would spend most of her life in Normandy. Upon her coronation, three new phrases were incorporated to cement the importance of the English consorts. They would state that the Queen was divinely placed by God, she would share in royal power, and bless her people by her power and virtue. Matilda would govern William’s duchy, support her brother’s interests in Flanders and sponsored ecclesiastic houses in Flanders. Only one of the couple’s children would be born in England, Henry, who was born in Yorkshire, when she had gone to accompany her husband in the Harrying of the North. Even though she had royal duties she had been deeply invested in her children’s well-being. They were known to have been remarkably educated.

Upon returning to Normandy after the nobles had asked for her to come back, the king of France, in an alliance with the Duke of Brittany had attacked William’s continental possessions and encouraged the province of Maine to revolt. Matilda realized the impending danger to her husband’s land and sent for him.

At the time, William was at war with the king of Scotland, but would send the son of his great supporter, Fitz-Osbern, to help his wife. He then quickly made peace with the Scottish king and left for Normandy with a large army. He quashed the rebellion and forced France to sue for peace. This brought stability to Normandy again.

Matilda would also be the godmother of Matilda of Scotland. After marrying Henry I, Matilda and William’s youngest son, Matilda of Scotland had become Queen of England. However, years earlier upon her christening, baby Matilda pulled Queen Matilda’s headdress down on top of herself. This was then seen as an omen that younger Matilda would be queen someday as well.

 

Split Between Husband and Son

William and his eldest living son, Robert, would have a falling out when he returned to Normandy. He had taken Robert’s deceased fiancé’s lands, leaving him landless and subject to his father’s control. Added to this, Robert’s two younger brothers,

William Rufus
William Rufus

William and Henry, had poured filthy water on him from a balcony to humiliate him. William had decided not to punish his boys for pulling the prank. See even royalty can pull jokes on one another from time to time.

In a more serious incident, Robert’s brother William Rufus wanted to replace him as the inheritor to his father. Eventually the situation evolved to the point that a rebellion would occur. The rebellion

King Henry I of England
Henry Beauclerc

would conclude when King Philip of France added his military support to William Rufus’s forces, thus allowing him to confront his brother in the Battle of Flanders. During this battle in 1079, Robert had unhorsed a man in the battle and wounded him. He only stopped his attack when he recognized the man’s voice as his fathers. Upon realizing how close he had come to killing his own father, he knelt to him in repentance and then helped him back onto his horse.

Being humiliated, William cursed his son, stopped the siege and

Robert Cuthose Duke of Normandy
Robert Curthose

returned to Rouen, after which he took Robert’s inheritance and throwing him into exile. Later, William discovered an emissary of his wife was carrying money to their son. He was furious with his wife, and when he confronted her, she cried and replied that her motherly love couldn’t allow for her to abandon her needy son. In Easter of 1080, the estranged family members were reunited by efforts of Matilda and a truce was met. However, it would not continue, and father and son would begin to quarrel yet again.

 

The Death of a Queen, a Mother, and a Beloved Wife

In the summer of 1083, Matilda became ill from her concern over the relationship between her husband and her son. By November of that year the Queen, a mother, and the beloved wife of William would pass away. William was away when she became fatally ill and was brought word that his sweetheart was dying. He immediately went to be with her, finding himself present for her final confession. Her dying prayer was for her favorite son, Robert, who was in England when she passed away. Matilda was the Duchess of Normandy for thirty-one years, and Queen of England for seventeen years. After his wife’s death, William went into a deep depression and became tyrannical. People would blame his depression on the loss of the love of his life. William would die four years later.

Contrary to common belief, Matilda was buried at St. Stephen’s, also known as I’Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen, Normandy. Eventually when her husband passed away he too would be buried there. She is now entombed in Caen at I’Abbaye aux Dames, which is in the community of Sainte-Trinité. Her original slab, a sleek black stone decorated with her epitaph still marks her grave at the rear of the church. However, the grave marker at her husband’s tomb was replaced as recent as the beginning of the 19th century.

Matilda's grave
Matilda’s Grave (pink dots are reflection on glass of stained glass windows)
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