Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Matilda (1156-1189)

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MATILDA, Duchess of Saxony (1156–1189), third child and eldest daughter of Henry II, king of England, and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine [q. v.], was born in 1156 (R. Diceto, i. 302), and baptised in the church of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, by Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury (‘Hist. Trinity, Aldgate,’ in App. to Hearne's W. Newburgh, iii. 706). In 1160 the queen took her daughter to join the king in Normandy (R. Torgigni, p. 207); they seem to have brought her back with them in January 1163. Early in 1165 an embassy came from the emperor, Frederic Barbarossa, to ask in marriage two of Henry's daughters, one for Frederic's son, the other for his cousin, Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. The former of these proposals came to nothing; the second was accepted for Matilda, who then accompanied her mother on another visit to Normandy, whence they returned in the autumn of 1166 (ib. pp. 224, 225, 233, dating the return a year too late). The earliest extant register of English tenants-in-chivalry and their holdings, still preserved in the ‘Red’ and ‘Black’ ‘Books of the Exchequer,’ was probably compiled with a view to the assessment of the aid levied by the king for his daughter's marriage. Early in 1167 the duke sent envoys to fetch his bride. She sailed from Dover about Michaelmas, was accompanied by her mother to Normandy, and thence proceeded, probably after Christmas, to Germany (Gerv. Cant. i. 205; R. Diceto, i. 330; Eyton, Itin. Hen. II, p. 109). The duke met her at Minden, and there they were married by Bishop Werner in the cathedral church, 1 Feb. 1168 (‘Chron. Episc. Mindens.,’ quoted in Leibnitz's Orig. Guelf. iii. 69).

Henry the Lion was twenty-seven years older than his child-bride; he had been married long before she was born, and divorced from his first wife in 1162. First cousin to the emperor, he was Duke of Bavaria, Saxony, and Brunswick; ‘from the Elbe to the Rhine, from the Hartz to the sea,’ all was his. Brunswick was his home; there the new-married couple held their wedding-feast (Ann. Stadens., Pertz, xvi. 346); and there their first child, Richenza, was born during her father's absence on pilgrimage in 1172 (Arn. Lubeck in Pertz, xxi. 116). Two sons were born in the next eight years. In January 1180 (Böhmer, Regesta Reg. Roman. p. 140) a quarrel which had long been smouldering between the duke and the emperor ended in Henry's condemnation, by a diet at Würzburg, to forfeiture of all his territories (Gesta Hen. i. 249; Rog. Howden, ii. 201). He refused to submit, and Frederic laid siege to Brunswick just as Matilda had given birth within its walls to her third son. She appealed to the emperor's chivalry; he sent her a tun of wine, and raised the siege (‘Chron. Laudun.,’ with a wrong date, in Rer. Gall. Scriptt. xviii. 703). At the end of November 1181 the duke submitted, and abjured his country for three years (Ann. Palidens., Pertz, xvi. 96; Arn. Lubeck, ib. xxi. 142). Frederic secured to Matilda the revenues of her dower-lands, and offered to let her dwell on them in peace, but she preferred to go with her husband to her father's court (Gesta Hen. i. 288). Their daughter and two of their sons accompanied them; the third, Lothar, was left in Germany (R. Diceto, ii. 13). They reached Argentan in the summer of 1182 (cf. Gesta Hen. i. 288, and Eyton, Itin. Hen. II, p. 248), and there soon afterwards their fourth son was born (Gesta Hen. l. c.). On 12 June 1184 Matilda went to England (ib. p. 312), and in that year her fifth son, William, was born at Winchester (ib. p. 313; R. Diceto, ii. 22). In November she was in London with her husband; at Christmas both were at Windsor with the king (Gesta Hen. i. 319, 333). In 1185, the three years having expired, and Henry II having obtained for his son-in-law the restitution of the allodial lands of Brunswick, Matilda returned thither with her husband and sons (ib. pp. 322, 334; Arn. Lubeck, Pertz, xxi. 156). In the spring of 1189 the emperor bade Henry the Lion either accompany him on crusade, or go into exile again till his return. Henry again sought refuge in England (Gesta Hen. ii. 62); Matilda remained with her children at Brunswick, and there died, 28 June (Ann. Stederburg., Pertz, xvi. 221), or 13 July (R. Diceto, ii. 65). Two original portraits of her exist in the church of St. Blasius at Brunswick; one, a picture representing her marriage, painted early in the thirteenth century; the other, a recumbent figure carved in stone upon her tomb. Both are engraved in Leibnitz's ‘Origines Guelficæ’ (vol. iii. pl. iii. and xiv.). She seems to have been tall and handsome. The troubadour Bertrand de Born wrote two love-songs in which he celebrates her under the name of Elena (Raynouard, Poésies des Troubadours, iii. 135, 137, v. 81; Clédat, Bert. de Born, pp. 79, 81). Her husband returned to Brunswick after Frederic's death, and dying there in 1195 was buried at her right hand, ‘choosing to sleep beside her in death as in life’ (Ann. Stederburg, Pertz, xvi. 231). His people revered her as ‘a most religious woman, whose memory is of note before God and man, whose good works and sweet disposition enhanced the lustre of the long royal line whence she sprang; a woman of profound piety, of wondrous sympathy for the afflicted, of much almsgiving and many prayers’ (Arn. Lubeck, Pertz, xxi. 116). Her eldest child, Richenza, is said by some writers to have married Waldemar II, king of Denmark; but it is clear that this is a mistake (see Scheid's note in Orig. Guelf. iii. 172), and that Richenza is identical with the daughter whom the English chroniclers call Matilda, who was left in Normandy with her grandparents in 1185, returned to England with them in 1186 (Gesta Hen. i. 345), was married, first, in 1189, to Geoffrey of Perche (ib. ii. 73), and secondly, between 1200 and 1205, to Ingelram III of Coucy, and died before 1210 (Leibnitz, Orig. Guelf. iii. 174–5, 583–5). The eldest son, Henry, assumed the title of Duke of Saxony on his father's death, became count palatine of the Rhine in 1196, and died in 1227, leaving only two daughters. His brother Otto, nominated by his uncle Richard I as Earl of York in 1190, and Count of Poitou in 1196, was chosen emperor in 1198, crowned at Rome in 1209, and died childless in 1218. Lothar died in 1190. The boy born at Argentan in 1182 is never heard of again; doubtless he died in infancy. Matilda's youngest child, the English-born William ‘of Winchester,’ died in 1213, leaving by his wife, Helen, daughter of Waldemar I of Denmark, a son named Otto, who became sole heir male of the family on the death of his uncle Henry in 1227, and from whom sprang the ducal house of Brunswick and Luneburg, and the present royal house of England.

[The original authorities are given above. Ralph de Diceto, Gervase of Canterbury, the Gesta Henrici, Roger of Howden, and Robert of Torigni (Chronicles of Stephen, &c., vol. iv.) are in the Rolls Series; the German chronicles referred to are in Pertz, Monumenta Germaniæ Historica, vols. xvi. and xxi. The modern works consulted are Mrs. Everett Green's Princesses of England, vol. i.; the Origines Guelficæ, compiled by Leibnitz and edited by Scheid; and L'Art de vérifier les Dates, vol. xvi.]

K. N.