Matilda Beauclerc (1102-1167)

Relation to me: 24th Great-Grandmother

Matilda also went by the name of Empress Maude. She was a claimant to the English throne during the Civil War that was also known as The Anarchy. Maude was the daughter of King Henry I of England and moved to Germany when she was a little girl. When she had married the future Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, she traveled with him to Italy in 1166. Matilda was controversially crowned in St. Peter’s Basilica, acting as imperial regent in Italy.

She and her husband would have no children together and he would pass away in 1125. The crown was then claimed by Lothair II, one of her husband’s political enemies. Matilda’s younger brother, William Adelin, had also died in the White Ship disaster in 1120, leaving England in a potential succession crisis. When Henry had died, Matilda was called to go back to Normandy by her father.

Her father would arrange for her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou so an alliance could be formed to protect his southern borders. Since Henry had no legitimate heirs he had nominated Matilda and made his court swear an oath of loyalty to her and her successors. This was a decision that was not popular in the Anglo-Norman court. Henry, Matilda’s father, would die in 1135 and Matilda and Geoffrey would face an opposition from the Norman barons and were unable to pursue their claims. The throne would instead be taken by Matilda’s cousin, Stephen of Blois. He had enjoyed the backing of the English Church and took steps to solidify his new regime, but he did face threats from both the neighboring powers and from his opponents within his own kingdom.

In 1139, Matilda would cross to England and the kingdom by force. She would be supported by her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester and her uncle, King David I of Scotland, while her husband Geoffrey had focused on conquering Normandy. Two years later, Matilda’s forces would capture Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln. Her attempt at being crowned at Westminster had collapsed in the face of bitter opposition from the London crowds. As a result of the retreat, she was never formally declared Queen of England, so instead she was given the title of the Lady of the English.

During the winter of 1141, Matilda became trapped in Oxford Castle by Stephen’s forces. She was forced to escape across the frozen River Isis, so as to avoid being captured. The war would degenerate into a stalemate and Matilda would control much of the Southwest of England, Stephen would control the Southeast and the Midlands, larger parts of the rest of the country would remain in the hands of the local independent barons.

In 1148, Matilda would return to Normandy, which was by then in the hands of her husband. They would leave their son in Normandy to continue the campaign in England. Six years later, Maud’s son would succeed to the throne as Henry II, she would settle her court near Rouen and for the rest of her life, she would concern herself with the administration of Normandy. She would act on Henry’s behalf when it was necessary, particularly in the early years of his reign. She would provide him with political advice and attempted to mediate during the Becket controversy. Matilda worked extensively with the Church and founded Cistercian monasteries, being known for her piety.

During 1167, Matilda would pass away and was buried under the high altar at Bec Abbey.

Matilda’s Childhood

Matilda of Scotland
Matilda of Scotland
King Henry I of England

Henry I, King of England


Matilda was born to Henry I, who was King of England and Duke of

Normandy at the time. Her mother was known as Matilda of Scotland. Maud, which she was also known as, was possibly born on the 7th of February in 1102 at Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire, England. Her father Henry was the youngest son of William the Conqueror who had invaded England in 1066 and created an empire

that would extend into Wales. The invasion would create an Anglo-Norman elite with many having estates that spread across both sides of the English Channel. These barons had typically had close links to the Kingdom of France, which then was a loose collection of counties and smaller polities under only minimal control of the King.

Maud’s mother, Matilda, was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland. He was a member of the West Saxon royal family and a descendant of Alfred the Great. For Henry, marrying Matilda of Scotland had given his reign an increased legitimacy. For his wife, it had been an opportunity for high status and power in England.

Our subject, Matilda, had a younger, legitimate brother named William Adelin. Her father’s relationships with numerous mistresses had resulted in her having twenty-two illegitimate siblings. There is little known about Maud’s earliest years of life. She had probably stayed with her mother and was taught how to read and was educated in religious morals. Among the nobles at her mother’s court were her uncle David, later a King of Scotland, aspiring nobles such as her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester; her cousins, Stephen of Blois and Brian Fitz Count.

In 1108, Henry had left Matilda and her brother in the care of Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm was a favored cleric of Maud’s mother. There is no detailed description of what Matilda had looked like, but contemporaries described her as being very beautiful, however, this may have simply reflected conventional practices among the chroniclers.

Marriage to an Emperor

In either the later part of 1108 or the early part of 1109, Henry V, then King of the Romans, had sent envoys to Normandy proposing that Matilda marry him. He would write separately to her royal mother on the same matter. The match was an attractive one to the English King, his daughter would be marrying into one of the most prestigious dynasties in all of Europe. This would reaffirm his own, slightly questionable status as the youngest son of a new royal house. The marriage would also gain him an ally in dealing with France.

In return, Henry V would receive a dowry of 10,000 marks. He had needed this money to fund an expedition to Rome for his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor. In June of 1109, the final details of the deal would be negotiated at Westminster, as a result of her changing status, Matilda would attend a royal council for the first time that October.

During February of 1110, Matilda left England and made her way to Germany. On April 10th of the same year the couple met at Liege before they traveled to Utrecht, where they were officially betrothed. On the 25th of July, Matilda had been crowned Queen of the Romans in a ceremony at Mainz. There had been a considerable age gap between the two of them, Matilda was only eight years old and Henry was twenty-four. After the betrothal, Matilda was placed in custody of Bruno, the Archbishop of Trier. He was tasked with educating her in the German culture, manners and government.

By January of 1114, she was ready to be married to Henry. Their wedding was held in the city of Worms amid extravagant celebrations. She now would enter into public life in Germany, complete with her own household. Political conflict would break out across the Empire not long after the couple was married. It was triggered when Henry had arrested his Chancellor, Adalbert and various other German princes. Other rebellions would follow and were then accompanied by an opposition from within the Church. This would play an important part in the administration of the Empire and led to a formal excommunication of the Emperor by Pope Paschal II.

In the early part of 1116, Henry and Matilda marched over the Alps into Italy with the intent on settling some matters permanently with the Pope. Matilda would now have full part in the imperial government. She sponsored royal grants, dealt with petitioners and took part in ceremonial occasions. During the rest of the year she spent time establishing control of Northern Italy.

Then during the early part of 1117, Matilda and her husband advanced on Rome itself. Pope Paschal would flee once they had arrived. In his absence the papal envoy of Maruice Bourdin, later the Antipope Gregory VIII would crown the pair at St. Peter’s Basilica,


Interior of St. Peter’s Basilica today


probably during Easter and most certainly by Pentecost. Matilda would use these ceremonies to claim the title of Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire was then governed by elected monarchs who, like Henry V, had been selected by the major nobles to become the King of the Romans. These kings would typically hope to be subsequently crowned by the Pope as the Holy Roman Emperor, but this wasn’t guaranteed.

Back in 1111, Henry V had convinced the Pope to crowning him as Holy Roman Emperor, Matilda’s own status though was unclear. As a result of her marriage she was clearly the legitimate Queen of the Romans and this would be the title that she would use on her seal and her charters. It’s not certain though if she had a legitimate claim to the title of Empress. Both Bourdin’s status and the ceremonies themselves were deeply ambiguous, strictly speaking, they weren’t imperial coronations. Instead they were merely formal “crown-wearing” occasions and were among the few times during the year that rulers would wear their crowns in court.

Bourdin also had been excommunicated by the time that he had conducted the second ceremony. He would later be deposed and imprisoned for life by the Pope. Nevertheless, Matilda would maintain that she had been officially crowned as the Empress in Rome. The titles of emperor and empress weren’t always consistently used in this time period. In any case, her use of the title became widely accepted. She would choose to not dispute Anglo-Norman chroniclers who later incorrectly recorded that the Pope himself had crowned her in Rome.

The Death of Henry

In 1118, Henry would return North over the Alps in Germany so as to suppress fresh rebellions that had started, leaving Matilda as his regent to govern Italy. There are only few records of Matilda’s rule over the next two years, and she probably gained considerably practical experience of the government during that time.

During the latter part of 1119, Matilda would also return North over the Alps to meet with Henry in Lotharingia. Henry was occupied with compromising with the Pope, who had excommunicated him. Three years later, Henry and probably Matilda were at the Council of Worms. The council would settle a long-running dispute with the Church when Henry had given up his rights to invest the bishops with their episcopal regalia.

Matilda tried to visit her father in England in this same year, but the journey was blocked by Charles I, the Count of Flanders whose territory she would have needed to pass through. The historian Marjorie Chibnall argues that Matilda had intended to discuss her inheritance of the English crown on this journey. The couple would remain childless, but neither of them had been considered to have been infertile. Contemporary chroniclers would blame their situation on the Emperor and his sins against the Church.

In early 1122, the couple traveled down the Rhine together as Henry had continued to suppress the ongoing political unrest. By this time Henry was suffering from cancer. A few years later, on May 23, 1125, Henry’s condition had worsened and he would pass away in Utrecht, leaving Matilda in the protection of their nephew Frederick, heir to his estates. Before Henry’s death, he had left the imperial insignia in control of Matilda. It’s not clear what instructions he had given to her about the future of the Empire, which had faced another leadership election. Archbishop Adalbert would subsequently convince her that she should give him the insignia. He would lead the electoral process, which appointed Lothair of Supplinburg as the new King of the Romans, a former enemy of Henry.

Matilda was twenty-three and had only limited options as to how she may spend the rest of her life. She was childless and thus couldn’t exercise a role as an imperial regent, which left her with the choice of either becoming a nun or remarrying. Some offers did come to Matilda for marriage to German princes, but she chose to return to Normandy. She doesn’t appear to have expected to return to Germany, and gave up her estates within the Empire and departed with her personal collection of jewels, her own imperial regalia, two of Henry’s crowns, and the valuable relic of the Hand of St. James the Apostle.

Holy Relic

The Hand of St. James the Apostle Relic


Succession Crisis

In 1120, the English political landscape had changed dramatically after the White Ship Disaster. Around three hundred passengers, including Matilda’s brother William Adelin and many other senior nobles would embark one night on the White Ship. They were traveling from Barfleur in Normandy and across to England. The vessel would founder just outside of the harbor, possibly as a result of overcrowding or excessive drinking by the master and crew of the ship. All but two of the passengers died, William Adelin was a part of these casualties.

White Ship Disaster

The White Ship Disaster


With William being dead, the succession to the English throne was thrown into doubt. Rules of succession were uncertain in Western Europe at this time. In some parts of France, male primogeniture was becoming more popular. In this form of succession the eldest son would inherit a title. It was also traditional for the King of France to crown his successor while still he was still alive, which made the intending line of succession relatively clear.

In England, this was not the case. The best thing that a noble could do was identify what Professor Eleanor Searle has termed, a pool of legitimate heirs, which left them to challenge and dispute inheritance after his death. The problem was that this would further be complicated by the sequence of unstable Anglo-Norman successions over the previous sixty years. William the Conqueror had invaded England and his sons William Rufus and Robert Curthose had fought a war between them to establish inheritance. His other son Henry, had only acquired control of Normandy by force. There had been no peaceful uncontested successions.

Initially, Henry put his hopes in fathering another son. William and Matilda’s mother, Matilda of Scotland, had died in 1118, so Henry would take another wife, Adeliza of Louvain, of whom he hadn’t conceived any children with, therefore, the future of the dynasty had appeared at risk. Henry would start to look among his nephews for a possible heir and may have considered his sister Adela’s son; Stephen of Blois as a possible option. Perhaps in preparation for this, Henry arranged a beneficial marriage for Stephen to Matilda’s wealthy maternal cousin and namesake the Countess of Boulogne.

Theobald of Blois, who was a close ally had possibly felt that he was in favor with Henry and William Clito, the only son of Robert Curthose, was King Louis VI of France’s preferred choice, but William was in an open rebellion against Henry at the time and thus unsuitable. Henry might have also considered his own illegitimate son, Robert of Gloucester, but the English tradition and custom of the time would have looked unfavorably upon this choice. Henry’s plan would shift when Empress Matilda’s husband, Emperor Henry had died in 1125.

Marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou

In 1125, Matilda would return to Normandy, spending about a year at the royal court, where her father Henry was still hoping that his second marriage would produce a male heir. In the event that this may fail to happen, Matilda was now Henry’s preferred choice. He would declare that she was to be his rightful successor if she should die without a male heir.

At Christmas time of 1126, Anglo-Norman barons had gathered together at Westminster where they had sworn, in January of 1127, to recognize Matilda and any future legitimate heir she might have. It was about this time that Henry had started to formally look


Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou Depiction


for a new husband for Matilda. She had received various offers from princes within the Empire. Henry’s preference was to use Matilda’s marriage to secure Southern borders of Normandy by marrying her to Geoffrey of Anjou, the eldest son of Fulk, the Count of Anjou. Henry’s control of Normandy had forced numerous challenges since he had conquered it in 1106. The latest threat came from his nephew, William Clito, the new Count of Flanders who had enjoyed the support of the French King. It was also essential to Henry that he didn’t face a threat from the South as well as the East of Normandy.

William Adelin would marry Fulk’s daughter, Matilda, which would have cemented an alliance between Henry and Anjou. However, the White Ship Disaster would have put an end to this. Henry and Fulk would argue over the fate of the marriage dowry, which encouraged Fulk to turn his support to William Clito instead. Henry’s solution was now to negotiate the marriage of Matilda to Geoffrey, recreating the former alliance. Matilda appears to have been unimpressed by this plan. She had felt that marrying the son of a count had diminished her imperial status and she was probably also unhappy about marrying someone so much younger than herself. She would have been twenty-five at this time and Geoffrey was only thirteen.

Hildebert, the Archbishop of Tours would eventually intervene to persuade her to go along with the engagement. Matilda would finally agree and traveled to Rouen in May of 1127 with Robert of Gloucester and Brian Fitz Count, where she was formally betrothed to Geoffrey. Over the course of the next year, Fulk had decided to depart for Jerusalem, where he would hope to become king, leaving his possessions to Geoffrey. Henry would knight his future son-in-law and Matilda and Geoffrey would be married a week later on June 17th of 1128 in Le Mans. They would be married by the Bishops of La Mans and Seez. Fulk would finally leave Anjou for Jerusalem in 1129, declaring Geoffrey as the Count of Anjou and Maine.


The couples marriage would prove to be difficult. They did not particularly like one another and there would be further dispute over Matilda’s dowry. She was granted various castles in Normandy by Henry, but it wasn’t specified when the couple would actually take possession of these castles. It is also not known whether Henry had intended Geoffrey to have any future claim on England or Normandy, he was probably keeping Geoffrey’s status deliberately uncertain.

Soon after the marriage, Matilda left Geoffrey and went back to Normandy, she appears to blame Henry for the separation. The couple would finally reconcile in 1131. Henry would summon Matilda from Normandy and she had arrived in England in August of 1131. It was decided that she would return to Geoffrey at a meeting of the King’s Great Council in September. The council also gave another collective oath of allegiance to recognize Matilda as Henry’s heir.


King Henry II Plantagenet


In March of 1133, Matilda would give birth to the couples first son at Le Mans, he would be known as the future Henry II. Henry (Matilda’s father) was delighted by the news and came to see his daughter in Rouen. In 1134, during Pentecost, Matilda’s second son Geoffrey was born in Rouen, the childbirth was extremely difficult and Matilda appeared close to death. Arrangements were made for her will and then argued with her husband about where she should be buried broke out. Matilda had preferred to be buried at Bec Abbey, but Henry wanted her to be interred at Rouen Cathedral. However, Matilda would recover and Henry was overjoyed by the birth of his second grandson, possibly insisting on another round of oaths from his nobility.

From then on, relations became increasingly strained between Matilda and Henry. They suspected that they had lacked genuine support in England for the claim to the throne. It was proposed in 1135 that the king should hand over his royal crystals in Normandy to Matilda, and insisted that the Norman nobility immediately swear allegiance to her. This would give them a much more powerful position after Henry’s death, but the King angrily refused, probably out of concern that Geoffrey would try and seize power in Normandy while he was still alive. A fresh rebellion broke out in Southern Normandy.

Geoffrey and Matilda would intervene militarily on behalf of the rebels. In the middle of the confrontation, Henry (Matilda’s father) unexpectedly fell ill and died near Lyons-la-Foret, it’s uncertain what, if anything, Henry had said on his death bed. Contemporary chronicler accounts were colored by subsequent events, sources favorable to Matilda suggest that Henry had reaffirmed his intent to grant all of his lands to his daughter. However, hostile chroniclers argue that Henry had renounced his former plans and had apologized for having forced the barons to swear an oath of allegiance to her.

Road to War

When the news began to spread of Henry I’s death, Matilda and Geoffrey were in Anjou supporting the rebels in their campaign against the royal army. These rebels had included a number of Matilda’s supporters, such as Robert of Gloucester, many of these barons had taken an oath to stay in Normandy until the late king was properly buried, which had prevented them from returning to England. Nonetheless, Geoffrey and Matilda would take the opportunity to march into Southern Normandy and seize a number of key castles around Argentan that had formed Matilda’s disputed dowry. They would then stop as they were unable to advance any further, pillaging the countryside and facing an increased resistance from the Norman nobility, as well as a rebellion in Anjou itself. Opinions vary among historians as to what extent this had affected her military plans.


Stephen of Blois


Meanwhile, the news of Henry I’s death had reached Stephen of Blois, conveniently placed in Boulogne and he left for England accompanied by his military household. Robert of Gloucester would garrison the ports of Dover and Canterbury, some accounts suggest that that the towns refused Stephen access when he had first arrived. Even though they may have done this, Stephen eventually managed to reach the edge of London by December 8th. Over the next week he would begin to seize power in England. The crowds in London would proclaim him as their new monarch, believing that he would grant the city new rights and privileges in return. His brother, Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester had delivered the support of the Church to Stephen.

Stephen swore to support Matilda in 1127, but Henry had convincingly argued that the late King had been wrong to insist that his court take the oath, suggesting that the King had changed his mind on his deathbed. Stephen’s coronation was held a week later at Westminster Abbey on the 26th of December. Once the news that Stephen was gathering support in England, the Norman nobility would gather at Le Neubourg to discuss declaring his elder brother, Theobald, as king. The Normans would argue that the count, as the eldest grandson of William the Conqueror, had the most valid claim over the kingdom and Duchy, which was certainly preferable to Matilda. Their discussions would be interrupted by sudden news from England that Stephen’s coronation was to occur the following day.

On the 22nd of July 1136, Matilda would give birth to her third son, William at Argentan. She then operated out of the border region for the next three years, establishing her household knights on estates around the area. Matilda may have asked Ulger, the Bishop of Angers, to gamer support for her claim with the Pope in Rome. If she did, Ulger was unsuccessful. Earlier that year, Geoffrey had invaded Normandy after a temporary truce and then invaded again later that same year. Geoffrey would raid and burn estates rather than trying to hold the territory.

During 1137, Stephen returned to the Duchy where he had met with Louis VI and Theobald to agree to an informal alliance against Geoffrey and Matilda, so as to counter the growing Angevin power in the region. Stephen then formed an army to retake Matilda’s Argentan castles, however, frictions between his Flemish mercenary forces and the local Norman barons would result in a battle between two halves of his army. The Norman forces then deserted the King and forced Stephen to give up his campaign. He would agree to another truce with Geoffrey, one that would promise to pay him 2,000 marks a year in exchange for peace along the Norman borders.

In England, Stephen’s reign had started off well, with lavish gatherings of the royal court that would see the King give out grants of and and favors to his supporters. Stephen had received the support of Pope Innocent II, thanks in part to the testimony of Louis VI and Theobald, troubles would rapidly begin to emerge. Matilda’s uncle, David I of Scotland, would invade the North of England upon the news of Henry’s death. He would take Carlisle, Newcastle and other key strongholds. Stephen would rapidly march to the North with an army and had met David at Durham, where a temporary compromise was agreed on. The South of Wales would rise in rebellion and by 1137, Stephen was forced to abandon his attempts to suppress the revolt. He then put down two revolts in the Southwest that were led by Baldwin de Redvers and Rrobert of Brampton. Baldwin was released after he was captured and traveled to Normandy, where he became a vocal critic of the King.


Matilda’s half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, was one of the most powerful Anglo-Norman barons, controlling estates in Normandy, he also controlled the Earldom of Gloucester. In 1138, Robert would rebel against Stephen, starting the descent into the civil war in England. Robert would renounce his fealty to the King, declaring his support for Matilda, which would trigger a major regional rebellion in Kent and across the Southwest of England, although he had remained in Normandy. Matilda hadn’t been particularly active in asserting her claims to the throne since 1135.

In France, Geoffrey took advantage of the situation by re-invadiing Normandy. David of Scotland would also invade the North of England again, announcing that he was supporting Matilda’s claim to the throne, pushing South into Yorkshire. Stephen would respond quickly to the revolts and invasions, paying most of his attention to England rather than Normandy. Matilda was sent to Kent with ships and resources from Boulogne tasked with retaking the key port of Dover, which was under Robert’s control. A small number of Stephen’s household knights were sent to the North to help the fight against the Scots. David’s forces were defeated later on that year at the Battle of the Standard. Even though David had been defeated he still occupied most of the North. Stephen himself would go West in an attempt to regain control of Gloucestershire, first striking in the North and into the Welsh marches, taking Hereford and Shrewsbury before he headed South to Bath. However, the town of Bristol would prove to be too strong for him and Stephen contented himself with raiding and pillaging the surrounding area. The rebels appear to have expected Robert to intervene with support, but he remained in Normandy the remainder of the year, trying to persuade Empress Matilda to invade England herself. Dover would finally surrender to the Queen’s forces later in the year.

An invasion of England by Robert and Matilda had appeared imminent in 1139. Geoffrey and Matilda would secure most of Normandy along with Robert, who spent the beginning of the year mobilizing forces for a cross-Channel expedition. Matilda also appealed to the papacy at the beginning of the year, her representative being Bishop Ulger, who had put forward her legal claim to the English throne on the grounds of her hereditary right and oaths that were sworn to by the barons. Arnulf of Lisieux would lead Stephen’s case, arguing that since Matilda’s mother had really been a nun, her claim to the throne was illegitimate. The Pope declined to reverse his earlier support of Stephen. From Matilda’s perspective though, the case had usefully established that Stephen’s claim was disputed.

Civil War

Empress Matilda’s invasion had finally started at the end of the summer of 1139. Baldwin de Redvers had crossed over from Normandy to Wareham in August in an initial attempt to capture a port to receive Matilda’s invading army. Stephen’s forces would force Redvers to retreat into the Southwest. In the following month, the Empress would be invited by her stepmother, Queen Adeliza, to land at Arundel instead.


Arundel Castle Today


On the 30th of September, Robert of Gloucester and Matilda would arrive in England with a force of one hundred and forty knights. Matilda would stay at Arundel Castle while Robert had marched to the Northwest to Wallingford and Bristol, hoping to raise support for the rebellion and link up with Miles of Gloucester, who had taken the opportunity to renounce his fealty to the King and declare for Matilda. Stephen would respond by promptly moving South. He besieged Arundel, trapping Matilda inside the castle. He then agreed to a truce that was proposed by his brother, Henry of Blois. The full details of the agreement are no longer known, but the results were that Matilda and her household of knights would be released from the siege and then escorted to the Southwest of England. It was here that they were reunited with Robert of Gloucester.

The reasons for Matilda’s release are still unclear, but Stephen may have thought it was in his own best interest to release her and concentrate instead on attacking Robert. He might have seen Robert, rather than Matilda, as his main opponent at this point in the conflict. Arundel Castle was considered to have been nearly impregnable, Stephen may have been worried that he had risked tying his army down in the South while Robert was roaming freely in the West. Another theory is that Stephen had released her out of a sense of chivalry. Stephen had a generous and courteous personality and women weren’t normally expected to be targeted in Anglo-Norman warfare. After staying for a time in Robert’s stronghold of Bristol, Matilda had established her court in nearby Gloucester. It was still safely in the Southwest but far enough away for her to remain independent of her half-brother, although there had only been few new defections to her cause. Matilda still had controlled a compact block of territory that stretched outwards from Gloucester and Bristol and South into Wiltshire, West into the Welsh Marches and East through the Thames Valley as far as Oxford and Wallingford, which threatened London. Her influence would extend down into Devon and Cornwall and North through Herefordshire, but her authority within these areas would remain limited.

Matilda had faced a counterattack from Stephen, who had started by attacking Wallingford Castle, which had controlled the Thames corridor and was held by Brian Fitz Count. Stephen would continue into Wiltshire to attack Trowbridge and took the castles of South Cemey and Malmesbury while en-route. In response, Miles would march to the East, attacking Stephen’s rearguard forces at Wallingford, and threatening an advance on London. Stephen would be forced to give up his Western campaign, he would return to the East to stabilize the situation and protect his capital.

At the start of 1140, Nigel, the Bishop of Ely, had joined Matilda’s faction, hoping to seize East Anglia. He would establish his base of operations in the Isle of Ely, which was then surrounded by protective fenland. Bishop Nigel would face a rapid response from Stephen, who made a surprise attack on the Isle, forcing the Bishop to flee to Gloucester. Robert of Gloucester’s men would retake some of the territory that Stephen had taken in his 1139 campaign. In an effort to negotiate a truce, Henry of Blois would hold a peace conference at Bath, at which Matilda was represented by Robert. The conference would collapse after Henry and the clergy had insisted that they should set terms of any peace deal, which Stephen’s representatives had found unacceptable.

The Battle of Lincoln

At the beginning of 1141, Matilda’s fortunes had changed dramatically for the better. Ranulf of Chester, a powerful Northern magnate, had fallen out with the King over the winter months and Stephen had placed his castle in Lincoln under siege. In response, Robert of Gloucester and Ranulf would advance on Stephen’s position with a larger force, resulting in the Battle of Lincoln on the 2nd of February 1141. The King would command the center of his army, with Alan of Brittany on his right and William of Aumale on his left. Robert and Ranulf’s forces had superiority in cavalry, Stephen would dismount many of his knights to form a solid infantry block. After an initial success, in which William’s forces had destroyed the Angevin’s Welsh infantry, the battle went well for Matilda’s forces.


Battle of Lincoln, 1141


Robert and Ranulf’s cavalry would encircle Stephen’s center and the King would find himself surrounded by the Angevin army, after a lot of fighting, Robert’s soldiers had finally overwhelmed Stephen and he was taken away from the field in custody. Matilda would receive Stephen in person at her court in Gloucester, before she had him moved to Bristol Castle, which was traditionally used for holding high-status prisoners. Matilda would now start to take the necessary steps to have herself crowned as queen in his place. This would require an agreement from the Church and her coronation would need to be at Westminster. Stephen’s brother Henry would summon a council at Winchester before that Easter in his capacity as papal legate so as to consider the clergy’s view.

Matilda had made a private deal with Henry and he would deliver the support of the Church in exchange for being granted the control over Church affairs. Henry would hand over the royal treasury to Matilda, which had proved to have been rather depleted, except for Stephen’s crown. He would excommunicate many of Matilda’s enemies who had refused to switch sides. Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury was unwilling to declare Matilda as queen so quickly, a delegation of clergy and nobles, headed by him and traveled to Bristol to see Stephen. He had agreed that, given the situation, he was prepared to release his subjects from their oath of fealty to him. The clergy would gather together again in Winchester after Easter and had declared Matilda the “Lady of England and Normandy”. This title was a precursor to her coronation. Although her own followers had attended the event, a few other major nobles seem to have attended and a delegation from London had procrastinated. Despite having secured support of Geoffrey de Mandeville, who had control of the Tower of London, forces loyal to Stephen and Queen Matilda had remained close to the city, citizens were fearful about welcoming the new Empress.

On the 24th of June, shortly before her planned coronation, the city rose up against her and Geoffrey de Mandeville. Matilda and her followers would flee just in time, making a chaotic retreat back to Oxford. Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou had invaded Normandy again. In the absence of Waleran of Beaumont, who was still fighting in England, Geoffrey took all of the Duchy, South of the River Seine and East of the Risle. There was no forthcoming help from Stephen’s brother, Theobald this time either. He appears to have been preoccupied with his own problems with France during this time, improving relations with Anjou and taking a more bellicose line with Theobald, which would result in a war in the following year.

Geoffrey’s success in Normandy and Stephen’s weakness in England started to influence the loyalty of many of the Anglo-Norman barons who had feared losing their lands in England to Robert and the Empress, their possessions in Normandy would go to Geoffrey. Many of the barons started to leave Stephen’s faction, his friend and adviser, Waleran, was one of those who chose to defect in the middle of 1141. He would cross into Normandy to secure his ancestral possessions by allying himself with the Angevins, bringing Worcestershire into Matilda’s camp.

Waleran’s twin brother, Robert of Leicester, effectively withdrew from fighting in the conflict at the same time, other supporters of the Empress were restored in their former strongholds, such as Bishop Nigel of Ely. Still others would receive new earldoms in the West of England. The royal control of minting coins would break down, leading to coins that were struck by local barons and bishops across the country.

The Rout of Winchester and the Siege of Oxford

Matilda’s position was transformed by her defeat at the Rout of Winchester. Her alliance with Henry of Blois had proved to have been short-lived and they soon fell out over political patronage and ecclesiastical policy. The Bishop transferred his support back to Stephen’s side, in response, during July, Matilda and Robert of Gloucester besieged Henry of Blois in his episcopal castle at Winchester, using the royal castle in the city as the base for their operations.

Stephen’s wife, Queen Matilda; had kept his cause alive in the Southeast of England. The Queen, backed by her lieutenant William of Ypres, and reinforced with fresh troops from London, took the opportunity to advance on Winchester. Their forces would encircle Matilda’s army, and she decided to escape from the city with Fitz Count and Reginald of Cornwall, while the rest of her army delayed the royal forces.

In a subsequent battle, the Empress’ forces were defeated. Robert of Gloucester himself was taken as prisoner during the retreat. Although Matilda had escaped, exhausted, to her fortress at Devizes. With Stephen and Robert being held prisoner, negotiations were held to try to come to an agreement on a long-term peace settlement. Queen Matilda was unwilling to offer any compromise to the Empress and Robert had refused to accept any offer to encourage him to change sides to Stephen. Instead, in November the two sides would simply exchange two leaders, Stephen would return to his Queen and Robert would return to the Empress in Oxford.

Henry would hold another church council. The council would reverse their previous decision and reaffirmed Stephen’s legitimacy to rule, a fresh coronation of Stephen and Matilda had occurred at Christmas in 1141. Stephen would travel North to gather new forces and successfully persuade Ranulf of Chester to change sides yet again. He then would spend the summer attacking some of the new Angevin castles that were built in the year before, including Cirencester, Bampton and Wareham.

During the summer of 1142, Robert had returned to Normandy to assist Geoffrey with operations against some of Stephen’s remaining followers there, before returning in the


Oxford Castle at sunset today


autumn. Matilda had come under increased pressure from Stephen’s forces and was surrounded at Oxford. The town of Oxford was a secure town, protected by walls and the River Isis, but Stephen had led a sudden attack across the river, leading charge and even swimming for part of the way. Once on the other side of the river, the King and his men stormed into town, trapping Matilda in the castle. Oxford Castle was a powerful fortress, and rather than storming it, Stephen chose instead to settle down for a long siege.

Just before Christmas of 1142, Matilda snuck out of the castle with a handful of knights, probably via a postem gate. They would cross the river on foot and made their escape past the royal army to safety at Wallingford, leaving the castle garrison free to surrender the following day.


In the aftermath of the retreat from Winchester, Matilda had rebuilt her court at Devizes


Devizes Castle today


Castle. The area had formerly been that of the Bishop of Salisbury and had been confiscated by Stephen. She would establish her household knights on the surrounding estates, supported by some Flemish mercenaries and ruling through a network of local sheriffs and other officials. Many of those that had lost their lands in the regions that were held by the King had traveled West to take up patronage from Matilda. Backed by the pragmatic, Robert of Gloucester, Matilda was content to engaged in the drawn-out struggle and the war would soon enter a stalemate.

At first, the balance of power had appeared to move slightly in Matilda’s favor. Robert of Gloucester had besieged Stephen in 1143 at Wilton Castle, an assembly point for the royal forces in Herefordshire. Stephen would attempt to break out and escape, resulting in the Battle of Wilton. Once again, the Angevin cavalry had proved to be too strong, for a moment it would appear that Stephen may have been captured a second time, before finally managing to escape.

Later in the year, Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex had risen up in a rebellion against Stephen in East Anglia. Geoffrey had based himself in the Isle of Ely and had began a military campaign against Cambridge, with the intention of progressing South towards London. Ranulf of Chester would revolt once again in the summer of 1144. Meanwhile, Geoffrey of Anjou had finished securing his hold on Southern Normandy.

In January of 1144, Geoffrey would advance into Rouen, the capital of the Duchy, concluding his campaign. Louis VII would recognize him as the Duke of Normandy not long after. Despite these successes, Matilda would be unable to consolidate her position. Miles of Gloucester, one of the most talented military commanders of Matilda’s army, had died while he was hunting over the previous Christmas. Geoffrey de Mandeville’s rebellion against Stephen in the East would end with his death in September of 1144, during the attack on Burwell Castle. As a result, Stephen had made progress against Matilda’s forces in the West in 1145, recapturing Faringdon Castle in Oxfordshire Matilda would authorize Reginald, the Earl of Cornwall, to attempt fresh peace negotiations, neither side was prepared to reach a compromise.

The War’s Conclusion

The character of conflict in England would gradually start to shift by the late 1140s. The major fighting in the war was over, giving way to an intractable stalemate with only occasional outbreaks of fresh fighting. Several of Matilda’s key supporters had passed away, Robert of Gloucester passed peacefully in 1147 and Brian Fitz Count had gradually withdrew from public life, probably having joined a monastery at some point, but by 1151 he too was gone. Many of her followers had also joined the Second Crusade when it was announced in 1145, which left the region without them for several years.

Some of the Anglo-Norman barons had made individual peace agreements with one another, so as to secure their lands and war gains, and many of them were not too keen on pursuing any further conflict. Matilda’s eldest son, Henry had slowly began to assume a leading role in the conflict. He had remained in France when the Empress had first left for England, crossing over to England in 1142, before having returned to Anjou in 1144. Geoffrey of Anjou had expected Henry to become the King of England and started to involve him in the government of the family lands.

During 1147, Henry would intervene in England with a small army of mercenaries, but the expedition had failed, not in the least because Henry lacked the funds to pay his men. Henry had asked his mother for money but she had refused, stating that she had no money available. Stephen himself would end up paying off Henry’s mercenaries, allowing him to return home safely, his reasons for doing such remain unclear. Matilda chose to return to Normandy in 1148, partially due to her difficulties with the Church.

The Empress had occupied the strategically essential Devizes Castle in 1142, maintaining her court there, but legally it had still belonged to Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury. In the later part of 1146, Pope Eugene II had intervened to support his claims, threatening Matilda with excommunication if she hadn’t returned it. She first played for a time, then she left for Normandy in the early part of 1148. She would leave Henry the castle, who then procrastinated over its return for many years.

Matilda would re-establish her court in Rouen, where she had met with her sons and husband, and probably made arrangements for her future life in Normandy, as well as for Henry’s next expedition to England. She would choose to live in the priory of Notre Dame due Pre, situated just South of Roune. She would live there in personal quarters that were attached to the priory and in the nearby palace that had been built by Henry. She’d also increasingly devote her efforts to the administration of Normandy, rather than the war in England.

Geoffrey would send the Bishop of Therouanne to Rome in 1148, to campaign for Henry’s right to the English throne, with the opinion of the English Church gradually shifting in Henry’s favor. Matilda and Geoffrey would make peace with Louis VII, who would in return support Henry’s rights to Normandy. Geoffrey would pass away unexpectedly in 1151 and Henry would claim the family lands.

Henry had returned to England once more at the start of 1153 with a small army, winning the support of some of the major regional barons. Neither side’s army was keen to fight though, the Church brokered a truce and a permanent peace had followed. Under this truce, Henry recognized Stephen as king, but would also become Stephen’s adopted son and successor.

Meanwhile, Normandy had faced considerable disorder and threatened a baronial revolt, of which Matilda was unable to totally suppress. Stephen would pass away in the following year and Henry had assumed the throne. Henry’s coronation had used grander of two imperial crowns that Matilda had brought back from Germany in 1125. Once Henry had been crowned, troubles that faced her in Normandy had died away.

Matilda’s Later Life

Matilda would spend the rest of her life in Normandy, often acting as Henry’s representative and presiding over the government of the Duchy. Early on, Matilda and her son had issued charters in England and Normandy in their joint names. These charters dealt with various land claims that had arose during the wars, particularly in the initial years of his reign. The king would draw on Matilda for advice on policy matters. She was involved in attempts to mediate between Henry and his Chancellor Thomas Becket when the two men had a falling out in the 1160s. Matilda had originally cautioned against the appointment, but when the Prior of Mont St. Jacques had asked her for a private interview on Becket’s behalf to seek her views, she had provided a moderate perspective on the problem. She had explained that she disagreed with Henry’s attempts to codify English customs, which Becket was opposed to, but also condemned poor administration in the English Church and Becket’s own headstrong behavior.

Matilda had helped with the dealings of several diplomatic crises. The first of these had involved the Hand of St. James. This was a relic that Matilda had brought back with her from Germany many years before. Frederick I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had considered the hand as part of the imperial regalia and had requested Henry to return it to Germany. Matilda and Henry were equally insistent that it should remain at Reading Abbey, where it had become a popular attraction for visiting pilgrims. Frederick was bought off with an alternative set of expensive gifts from England, including a huge, luxurious tent, which was probably chosen by Matilda. He would end up using it for court events in Italy.

Louis VII of France would also approach Matilda in 1164 and would help to defuse a growing diplomatic row over the handling of the Crusading funds. In her old age, she had paid increasing attention to Church affairs and her personal faith, although she had remained involved in governing Normandy throughout her life. Matilda appears to have been particularly fond of her youngest son, William. She had opposed Henry’s proposal in 1155 to invade Ireland and gave the lands to William, however, possibly on the grounds that the project was impractical. Instead, William would receive large grants of land in England. Matilda was more easy-going in her later years than she was in her youth. The chronicler of Mont St. Jacques who had met Matilda during this time, still felt that she appeared to be “of the stock of tyrants”.

Matilda’s Death

Matilda would pass away on the 10th of September 1167, her remaining wealth being given to the Church. She would be buried under the high altar at the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin in a service that was led by Rotrou, the Archbishop of Roune.

The tomb’s epitaph would include the lines:

“Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring: here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry”

these lines became a famous phase among her contemporaries. The tomb was damaged in a fire in 1263 and was later restored in 1282 and was then finally destroyed by the English army in 1421.

In 1684, the Congregation of St. Maur had identified some of Matilda’s remaining bones and then reburied them at Bec-Hellouin in a new coffin. Her remains were again lost after the destruction of Bec-Hellouin’s church by Napoleon. They were found again in 1846 and this time were reburied at Rouen Cathedral, where they still remain.

What Was Matilda Like as a Ruler?

When Matilda was young, her court in the Holy Roman Empire had included knights, chaplains and ladies-in-waiting. Unlike some queens in her time, she didn’t have her own personal chancellor to run her household, instead she would use an imperial chancellor.

Acting as regent in Italy, Matilda had found the local rulers were prepared to accept a female ruler. Her Italian administration would include an Italian chancellor, backed by experienced administrators. She would not be called upon to make any major decisions, instead she dealt with smaller matters and acted as a symbolic representative of her absent husband, meeting with and helping to negotiate with magnates and clergy. Upon her return from Germany to Normandy and Anjou, she had styled herself as Empress and daughter of King Henry.

During the Civil War for England, her status was not as certain. Anglo-Saxon queens in England had exercised a considerable formal power, but this tradition had diminished under the Normans. At the most, their queens would rule temporarily as regents on their husband’s behalf when they were away, rather than in their own right.

From 1139 to 1141, Matilda had initially referred to herself as the acting feme sole, “a woman acting alone”. Which highlighted her autonomy and independence from her husband, Geoffrey. She had an imperial great seal created, which was round like the seal of a king, queens had used an oval seal. It had shown her enthroned as the Empress and titled Queen of the Romans. The seal didn’t show her on horseback though, as a male ruler would have been depicted. Since she was never crowned at Westminster, during the rest of the war she does appear to have used the title of Lady of the English, rather than that of Queen of England, although some contemporaries had referred to her by her royal title. She would present herself as continuing the English tradition of a centralized royal government and would attempt to maintain a government in England parallel to Stephen’s, including a royal household and a chancellor.

Matilda had gathered revenues from royal estates in counties under her control, particularly in her core territories where the sheriffs were loyal to her cause. She’d appointed earls to rival those that were created by Stephen, but was unable to operate a system of royal law courts, and her administrative resources were extremely limited, although some of her clerks did go on to become bishops in Normandy.

Two coins were issued by Matilda in her name while she was in England. These were used in the West of the country and in Wales. The first of which were initially minted in Oxford during her time in England. The design was then adopted by her mints at Bristol, Cardiff and Wareham after her victory at the Battle of Lincoln. The second design was minted at Bristol and Cardiff during the 1140s. Upon returning to Normandy for the final time in 1148, Matilda would cease to use the title of Lady of the English, simply styling herself as Empress again. She would never adopt the title of Countess of Anjou.

Matilda’s household had became smaller and often merged with Henry’s own court when the two were co-located in Rouen. She continued to play a special role in the government of the area around Argentan, where she held feudal rights from grants that were made at the time of her second marriage.

Church Relations

It’s not clear how strong Matilda’s personal piety was, although contemporaries would praise her lifelong preference to be buried at the monastic site of Bec, rather than the grander but more worldly Rouen. It is often believed that she had substantial, underlying religious beliefs. Like other members of the Anglo-Norman nobility, she had bestowed considerable patronage on the Church. Early in her life, she had preferred the well-established Benedictine monastery of Cluny, alongside some of the newer Augustinian orders, such as the Victorines and Premonstratensians. As part of this patronage, she re-founded the abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Voeu near Cherbourg. As the time went by, Matilda would direct more and more of her attention to the Cistercian Order. This order was very fashionable in England and Normandy at the time and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, a figure of whom was particularly important to Matilda. She also had close links to Cistercian Mortemer Abbey in Normandy and drew on the house for a supply of monks when she supported the foundation of nearby La Valasse. Matilda would also encourage Cistercians to build at Mortemer on a grand scale, including guest houses to accommodate a range of visitors of all ranks. She might have also played a part in selecting the paintings for the monastic chapels.


Notre-Dame-du-Voeu as it is today



3 thoughts on “Matilda Beauclerc (1102-1167)”

  1. The civil war between the supporters of King Stephen and Empress Maud is little-known in the UK today, except to serious students of history. However, in 2010 it was the subject of a TV series that related the events with some accuracy. It was based on this book, by Ken Follett.
    If you can find it on streaming, or DVD, it might well be of some interest to you.
    Your article was very comprehensive, and well-researched as always.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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