Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Matilda (1102-1167)

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MATILDA, MAUD, MOLD, ÆTHELIC, AALIZ (1102–1167), empress, daughter of Henry I, king of England, and his first wife, Matilda (1080–1118) [q. v.], was born in London (Will. FitzStephen, in Mater. for Hist. of Becket, iii. 13) in 1102 (Gerv. Cant. i. 91–2). The ‘English Chronicle’ (a. 1127) calls her ‘Æthelic,’ and John of Hexham calls her ‘Aaliz’ and ‘Adela’ (Twysden, cols. 266, 269). Gervase, however, says that she was named Matilda after her mother; and by that name, in its various forms, she is known. At Whitsuntide 1109 her father accepted a proposal for her marriage with the German king, Henry V. Early next spring she was sent into Germany, under the care of Bishop Burchard of Cambrai and Roger FitzRichard, and with a dowry of ten thousand marks. At Easter, 10 April, she was betrothed at Utrecht to Henry V in person, and on 8 May she was crowned at Mainz by the Archbishop of Cöln, the Archbishop of Trier holding her ‘reverently’ in his arms. Henry dismissed all her English attendants, and had her carefully trained in the German language and manners. On 6 or 7 Jan. 1114 (Flor. Worc. a. 1114; Sim. Durham, a. 1114; Ann. Hildesheim, a. 1110) he married her and had her crowned again at Mainz. As Robert of Torigni says that ‘once and again, in the city of Romulus, the imperial diadem was placed on her head by the supreme pontiff’ (Contin. Will. Jumièges, p. 306), she may have accompanied her husband to his crowning at Rome in 1111. She certainly went with him to Italy in 1116 (Ekkehard, a. 1116, in Pertz, vi. 250); and he seems to have left her there as his representative during part of the winter of 1118, when she and the chancellor decided a law-case at Castrocaro, near Forlì, 14 Nov. (Mittarelli, Ann. Camaldul. iii. 178). On 22 May 1125 she was present at her husband's death at Utrecht. Her father at once summoned her back to his own court; she joined him in Normandy, and in September 1126 returned with him to England. The emperor when dying had placed his sceptre in her hands, as if bequeathing to her his dominions—where, indeed, she was so much beloved, that some of the princes of the empire followed her over sea to demand her back as their sovereign; a demand to which she would gladly have acceded. But Henry of England had other plans for the daughter who was now his only legitimate child. At Christmas 1126 he made his barons and bishops swear that if he should die without lawful son, they would acknowledge her as lady of England and Normandy. According to William of Malmesbury, he in return swore that he would not give her in marriage to anyone outside his realm. In spite, however, of this promise, of her own reluctance, and of the general resentment of his subjects, he sent her over sea soon after Whitsuntide 1127, under the care of Brian FitzCount [q. v.] and her half-brother, Robert, earl of Gloucester [q. v.], with instructions to the Archbishop of Rouen to make arrangements for her marriage with Geoffrey Plantagenet, son of the Count of Anjou. A year later, on the octave of Whitsunday, 17 June 1128, the wedding was solemnised in Le Mans Cathedral by the Bishop of Avranches (cf. Hist. Gaufredi Ducis, in Marchegay, Chron. des Comtes d'Anjou, pp. 234–6; Ord. Vit. p. 889; Acta Pontif. Cenoman., in Mabillon, Vet. Anal. p. 321; and Green, Princesses, i. 107).

Matilda's first husband had been thirty years older than herself; the second was ten years younger—a boy scarce fifteen, the heir of an upstart race whose territory, insignificant in extent, was so placed as to make their hostility a perpetual thorn in the side of the ruler of Normandy, until it was bought off with Matilda's hand. The empress and her boy-husband soon quarrelled; and in July 1129 Geoffrey, now Count of Anjou, drove his wife out of his dominions. She withdrew to Rouen (Sim. Durham, a. 1129), and remained there till July 1131, when she went with her father to England. Geoffrey soon afterwards sent a message to recall her; a council held at Northampton, 8 Sept., decided that she should return to him, and the barons renewed their homage to her as her father's heir. Thenceforth community of political interest seems to have kept the ill-matched couple on friendly terms. Their first child was born at Le Mans on 5 March 1133 [see Henry II], and the king immediately caused his barons to swear fealty to Matilda for the third time, as well as to her infant son (Rog. Howden, ed. Stubbs, i. 187). Another son, Geoffrey, was born at Rouen on 1 June 1134 (Chron. S. Albin. Andeg. a. 1134, in Marchegay, Eglises d'Anjou). Matilda remained in Normandy with her father till the autumn of 1135, when a quarrel broke out between him and Geoffrey; she now sided with her husband, and went back to Angers after parting in anger from the king. On 1 Dec. Henry died. Matilda at once re-entered Normandy to claim her inheritance; the border-districts submitted to her, but England chose her cousin Stephen for its king, and Normandy soon adopted England's choice. Matilda appealed at Rome against Stephen for his breach of his oath to her; the case was tried before Innocent II early in 1136, but she obtained no redress (cf. ‘Historia Pontificalis,’ in Pertz, Mon. Germ. Hist. xx. 543–4; Gilb. Foliot, Ep. p. lxxix; and Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, App. B). She, however, maintained her position at Argentan, and there her third child, William, was born, 21 July 1136 (ib. a. 1136). On 2 Oct. she brought a body of troops to reinforce Geoffrey at the siege of Le Sap; but Geoffrey was disabled by a wound, and they were compelled to retreat. Matilda now devoted herself to stirring up opposition to Stephen in England through her brother Earl Robert, her great-uncle David [q. v.], king of Scots, and other friends of her father. On 30 Sept. 1139 she landed, with Robert and a hundred and forty knights, at Arundel. Her stepmother, Queen Adeliza, received her into the castle; Stephen besieged her there, but soon allowed her to join her brother at Bristol. The barons of the west rallied round her; she removed to Gloucester, and there, in February 1141, Stephen was brought captive to her feet. She sent him in chains to Bristol Castle, and set out on a triumphal progress towards Winchester. A message to its bishop, Henry [see Henry of Blois], that if he joined her she would honour him as chief of her councillors, but if not, she would ‘lead all the host of England against him at once,’ brought him to a meeting with her at Wherwell, Hampshire, on 2 March. Next day she was solemnly welcomed into the city and the cathedral. From Winchester she proceeded to Wilton, Reading, Oxford, and St. Albans. On 8 April a council held at Winchester, under the direction of Bishop Henry, acknowledged her as ‘Lady of England and Normandy;’ and at midsummer she entered London and took up her abode at Westminster. But she overrated the security of her triumph. She took the title of queen without waiting to be crowned (Monast. Anglic. i. 44; Green, Princesses, vol. i. app. iii.; Round, Geoff. Mandeville, pp. 63–7); she confiscated lands and honours more ruthlessly than Stephen himself; she offended the barons who came to offer her their homage by the haughty coldness of her demeanour; she turned a deaf ear to the appeals of Stephen's wife and brother in his behalf and that of his children; she scornfully rejected a petition from the citizens of London for a renewal of ‘King Eadward's laws,’ demanded from them a heavy subsidy, and when they remonstrated, drove them from her presence with a torrent of abuse. The consequence was that they rose in arms and drove her out of their city. She fled to Oxford; but soon afterwards, hearing that Bishop Henry had renewed his allegiance to Stephen, she set off to try conclusions with him at Winchester. She established herself in the castle, and after vainly calling upon the bishop to rejoin her, rallied her forces to besiege him in his palace of Wolvesey. ‘The king's queen with all her strength,’ however, soon blockaded the city so effectually that the empress and her troops were in danger of starving. On 14 Sept. they cut their way out, but with such heavy loss that Matilda was separated from all her adherents save Brian FitzCount, with whom she rode first to Ludgershall and then to Devizes. There, half dead with fatigue, and still in terror of pursuit, she laid herself on a bier, and, bound to it with ropes as if she were a corpse, was carried thus into Gloucester. In the winter she returned to Oxford; in the spring (1142) she moved to Devizes, and thence, at mid-Lent, she sent messengers asking her husband to come to her aid. Geoffrey refused to come unless fetched by Earl Robert in person; so in June Robert went over sea, leaving his sister in Oxford Castle under the protection of the other leaders of her party, who swore to guard the town from attack until his return. Stephen, however, outgeneralled them, and on 26 Sept. stormed Oxford and laid siege to the castle. Its garrison were on the verge of starvation, when one night just before Christmas, the empress and three faithful knights clad themselves in white robes, dropped down over the castle wall upon the frozen river at its foot, passed unseen and unheard over the freshly fallen snow right through Stephen's camp, fled on foot as far as Abingdon, and by daybreak were safe at Wallingford. There Matilda met her brother and her eldest son. Her cause, however, was lost, though she remained in England five years longer, residing, it seems, chiefly at Gloucester or Bristol; in September 1146 she was once more at Devizes (Stapleton, Mag. Rot. Scacc. Norm. vol. ii. p. lxx). Early in 1148 she went back to Normandy ({{sc|Gerv. Cant. i. 133), which Geoffrey was now holding by right of conquest. In 1150 the husband and wife seem to have conjointly ceded the duchy to their son Henry; but the cession was not formally complete till next summer, when it was ratified by King Louis of France. Peter de Langtoft (ed. Wright, i. 466) says that Matilda accompanied her husband to the French court on this occasion; but she was certainly not with him when he died, on the way home, 7 Sept. 1151.

Thenceforth Matilda seems to have lived entirely in Normandy. After her son's accession to the English crown, December 1154, she took up her abode in a palace which her father had built beside the minster of Notre-Dame des Prés, near Rouen. The Normans held her in great esteem for her works of piety and charity, and for the influence which she was known to exercise over her royal son. In England, where the haughtiness of her conduct had never been forgiven, this influence was regarded with suspicion (W. Map, De Nugis Curial. ed. Wright, p. 227); but it seems to have been exercised chiefly for good. It probably helped to guide the young king's first steps in the reorganisation of his realm; for his mother was the one person with whom he took counsel before sailing for England in December 1154. In September 1155 she induced him to give up a rash scheme for the invasion of Ireland. In 1162 she tried to dissuade him from making Thomas Becket archbishop of Canterbury (Materials for Hist. Becket, v. 410). In the quarrel between Henry and Thomas she was constantly employed as mediatrix, and showed considerable fairness and skill in dealing with the case (ib. v. 142, 145–50, 161, 194–5, 361, 421, 423). Two letters of hers are extant; one, written in 1166–7 at the pope's request, beseeching Thomas to be reconciled with the king (ib. vi. 128–9); the other, of uncertain date, is addressed to Louis of France, and pleads for a cessation of his hostilities against Henry (Duchesne, Hist. Franc. Scriptt. iv. 722). Matilda had a dangerous illness in 1160. She died, after much suffering from fever and decay of strength, at Notre-Dame des Prés, early in the morning of 10 Sept. 1167. On her deathbed she took the veil as a nun of Fontevraud (Geoff. Vigeois, in Labbe, Nova Biblioth. ii. 317). Archbishop Rotrou of Rouen and Bishop Arnulf of Lisieux officiated at her burial before the high altar in the abbey church of Bec—the resting place which she had, despite her father's remonstrances, chosen for herself thirty-three years before (Cont. W. Jumièges, p. 306). In 1263 the church, and with it Matilda's tomb, was destroyed by fire. In 1282, when the church had been restored, search was made for her remains, and they were found, wrapped in an ox-hide (Chron. Becc. ed. Porée, p. 129). The new tomb in which they were reburied was stripped of its ornaments by the English soldiers who sacked Bec in 1421 (ib. p. 91). In 1684 a brass plate, with a long inscription, was placed over the grave by the brethren of St. Maur, who had lately come into possession of the abbey (Ducarel, Anglo-Norm. Antiquities, p. 89). This, too, perished in 1793, and the church itself was demolished in 1841. The leaden coffin of the empress, however, was re-discovered in 1846, and next year her remains were translated to what her father in 1134 had told her was their only fitting abode, the cathedral church of Rouen (Revue de Rouen, 1847, pp. 43–4, 699).

Twice in her life—in 1134 and again in 1160—Matilda had made careful testamentary arrangements for the distribution of her wealth to the poor, and to various hospitals, churches, and monasteries, of which Bec was chief. Her final dispositions included a large bequest for the completion of a stone bridge which she had begun to build over the Seine at Rouen. She founded several religious houses, and was a benefactress to many more. A little settlement of anchorites at Radmore in Staffordshire, on land granted by her in 1142, grew under her fostering care into a Cistercian monastery, which Henry II removed to Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, in 1155 (Monast. Angl. v. 446). Stanley Abbey sprang from a small Cistercian house founded at Lockwell, Wiltshire as a cell to Quarr, Isle of Wight, by her son Henry, acting in her name and his own, in 1149 or 1150 (ib. pp. 563–4). The origin of another English house of the same order, Bordesley, Worcestershire, has been ascribed to her; but this is doubtful (ib. pp. 407, 409–10). A chapel of Notre-Dame du Vœu at Cherbourg, founded by William the Conqueror, formed the nucleus of an Austin priory which she established at some time between 1132 and 1150 (Du Monstier, Neustria Pia, p. 813; Gallia Christiana, vol. xi. instr. col. 229). A Cistercian house bearing the same name, but also known as Valasse, near Lillebonne, was built between 1148 and 1157, the result of a vow which she had made when blockaded in Oxford in 1142 (Du Monstier, pp. 851–2). A Premonstratensian priory at Silly-en-Gouffern, near Argentan, was built on land given by her between 1151 and 1161 (cf. ib. pp. 830–1, and R. Torigni, a. 1167); and in the last year of her life she founded a Cistercian abbey at La Noë, near Evreux (Gallia Christ. vol. xi. instr. col. 133; the date there given to the foundation-charter is disproved by internal evidence). In Matilda's later years the harsh and violent temper which had marred one period of her career seems to have been completely mastered by the real nobleness of character which had gained for her, as a mere girl, the esteem of her first husband and the admiration of his subjects, and which even in her worst days had won and kept for her the devotion of men like Robert of Gloucester, Miles of Hereford, and Brian FitzCount. Arnulf of Lisieux (Opera, ed. Giles, p. 41) called her ‘a woman who had nothing of the woman in her;’ but the words were evidently meant as praise, not blame. One German chronicler gives her the title which English writers give to her mother, ‘the good Matilda’ (Chron. Repkav., in Mencken, Rer. Germ. Scriptt. vol. iii. col. 357). Germans, Normans, and English are agreed as to her beauty. The sole existing portrait of her is that on her great seal; a majestic figure, seated, robed and crowned, and holding in her right hand a sceptre terminating in a lily-flower. This seal had been made for her in Germany, before her husband's coronation at Rome; its legend is ‘Matilda, by God's grace Queen of the Romans.’ The style which she commonly used in her charters was ‘Matilda the Empress, King Henry's daughter;’ during her struggle with Stephen, 1141–7, she sometimes added the title ‘Lady of the English;’ that of ‘Queen of the English’ occurs only twice, early in 1141 (Round, Geoff. Mandeville, pp. 70–7). As Matthew Paris says (Chron. Maj. i. 435), the significance of her life was summed up in the epitaph graven on her tomb: ‘Here lies Henry's daughter, wife and mother; great by birth—greater by marriage—but greatest by motherhood.’

[English Chronicle, ed. Thorpe; Henry of Huntingdon, ed. Arnold; William of Malmesbury's Historia Novella, ed. Stubbs (Gesta Regum, vol. ii.); Draco Normannicus, Gesta Stephani, and Robert of Torigni's Chronicle, ed. Howlett (Chronicles of Stephen, &c., vols ii–iv.); Gervase of Canterbury, ed. Stubbs, vol. i.; Robertson's Materials for History of Becket, vols. iii. v. vi., all in Rolls Series; Florence of Worcester, ed. Thorpe, vol. ii. (English Historical Society); Ordericus Vitalis, and Robert of Torigni's Continuation of William of Jumièges, in Duchesne, Historiæ Normannorum Scriptores; W. de Gray Birch's Charters of Empress Matilda, in Journal of Archæological Association, vol. xxxi.; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville; Mrs. Everett Green's Princesses of England, vol. i.]

K. N.