Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Matilda (d.1083)
MATILDA (d. 1083), queen of William the Conqueror, was the daughter of Baldwin V, called of Lisle, count of Flanders, by his second wife, Adela, daughter of Robert, and sister of Henry I, kings of France. She was a descendant of Alfred or Ælfred [q. v.], king of the West Saxons, through his daughter Ælfthryth, wife of Count Baldwin II (d. 918). William, then duke of Normandy, sought her in marriage in 1049, and the marriage was forbidden by the council of Rheims held in that year by Pope Leo IX, the prohibition evidently being grounded on some nearness of kin (Labbe, Concilia, xix. 741). The relationship between Matilda and William has never been made out certainly. Of the various theories on the subject that best worth consideration is that the impediment arose from the marriage contract between Richard III, William's uncle, and Matilda's mother, Adela, although the marriage was not completed (see Spicilegium, iii. 390; Palgrave, England and Normandy, iii. 264; Norman Conquest, iii. 657). A rival but less satisfactory theory is that Matilda, as well as William, was descended from Rolf, for William, called Caput-stupæ, or Tow-head, count of Poitou, is said, on the strength of a vague statement by an anonymous writer, to have been the father of Adela or Adelais, wife of Hugh Capet, great-grandfather of Matilda (Duchesne, Rerum Gallicarum Scriptores, iii. 344, and Life and Times of St. Anselm, i. 419). Against this may be urged that Helgald, who wrote at least a century earlier than the anonymous writer, and was a friend of King Robert, Hugh's son, says that Robert used to declare that his mother Adelais was of Italian family. It is alleged that Helgald's words may be interpreted as meaning that Robert was sprung from Italy by his father's side, but the Italian genealogy of Hugh is baseless (Richer, lib. i. c. 5, and Recueil des Historiens, x. pref. i–xviii). If Hugh married a daughter of William Tow-head, it is hard to see why William IV, duke of Aquitaine, should have opposed Hugh's accession to the throne; for on this supposition Hugh would have been his brother-in-law. If, however, such a relationship existed between them, it is strange that neither Ademar of Chabanois nor Peter of Maillezais, nor indeed any other chronicler should notice it. It is therefore unlikely that Matilda was descended from Rolf through the wife of Hugh Capet. (For opinions on both sides see Recueil, ix. 273 n., x. 74, 99 n., xi. 130 n.; L'Art de Vérifier, x. 95; Guardian, 28 Nov. 1883, p. 1803, 19 Dec. p. 1919, 30 Jan. 1884, p. 176.)
The belief that Matilda was already the wife of Gerbod, advocate of the abbey of St. Bertin, near St. Omer, and that she had by him two or three children, one of whom was Gundrada, afterwards wife of William of Warrenne, earl of Surrey, is erroneous, and was founded on some charters of Lewes Priory, which have been proved to be untrustworthy (see Gundrada de Warenne; Monasticon, v. 12, 14. Stapleton argued that Gundrada was the daughter of Matilda by Gerbod, and that the prohibition of the marriage of Matilda and William was due to the fact that Gerbod was then alive, Archæological Journal, iii. sq.; Blaauw in answer asserted that Matilda was a maid when she married William, and made Gundrada a child of that marriage, Archæologia, 1847, xxxii. 108 sq.; Freeman accepted the alleged marriage to Gerbod as proved, Norman Conquest, iii. 86, 645–53; Mr. Chester Waters pointed out that the marriage was a fiction, and that Gundrada was not the daughter either of Matilda or William, Academy, 28 Dec. 1878, and 24 May 1879, and so far he was followed by Mr. M. Rule, Life and Times of St. Anselm, i. 419, and, finally, Freeman owned that he was mistaken, and summed up the case against the alleged marriage in a paper on the ‘Parentage of Gundrada’ in English Historical Review, 1888, xii. 680–701). According to another story, Matilda wished to marry Brihtric, a Gloucestershire thegn, who came on an embassy to Bruges, but was rejected by him; and that she afterwards when queen of England took vengeance on him for his refusal (Cont. Wace, Chroniques Anglo-Normandes, i. 73; Monasticon, ii. 60; Ellis, Introduction to Domesday, ii. 55) is unworthy of belief (Norman Conquest, iii. 83, iv. 761–4). In spite of the papal prohibition, Matilda was married to William, probably in 1053 (Chronicon Turonense ap. Recueil des Historiens, xi. 348) at Eu, whence William brought her to Rouen, where she was received with much rejoicing. An idle legend records that she at first refused William's offer, declaring that she would never marry a bastard; that William rode secretly to Bruges, caught her as she was coming out of church, and beat and kicked her; and that she thereupon took to her bed, and told her father that she would marry none but the duke (ib.)
Malger, archbishop of Rouen, and Lanfranc [q. v.], then prior of Bec, severely blamed William for this marriage, on the old ground that Matilda was too nearly related to him, and it is said that Normandy was laid under an interdict (William of Jumièges, vii. c. 26; William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum, iii. c. 267; Vita Lanfranci, p. 288; Wace, l. 9659). The matter was not settled until the Lateran Council of 1059, when Nicolas II granted a dispensation for the marriage. As her share in the atonement required from her and her husband, Matilda built the abbey of the Holy Trinity for nuns at Caen; the church, of which the eastern part only can be the work of the foundress, was consecrated 18 June 1066 (Norman Conquest, iii. 107 n.) A curious though untrustworthy story represents her as talking much with Earl Harold [see Harold II, d. 1066] during his visit to the Norman court, and persuading him to promise to marry one of her daughters (Snorro ap. Laing, iii. 76). When William was preparing to invade England, she presented him with a ship for his own use, called the Mora, and had placed on the prow a golden image of a boy, with his right hand pointing towards England, and his left holding an ivory horn to his lips (Brevis Relatio, p. 22).
During William's absence on the invasion of England, Matilda ruled Normandy successfully, being assisted by a council, at the head of which was Roger de Beaumont [see under Beaumont, Robert de, d. 1118]. Her regency ended with the return of William to Normandy in March 1067, and was resumed in conjunction with her eldest son, Robert, on her husband's departure in the following December. Early the next year William sent men of high rank to conduct her to England, whither she came accompanied by a large number of nobles and ladies, and bringing as the chief of her chaplains Guy, bishop of Amiens, who had already written his poem on William's victory (Orderic, p. 510). At Whitsuntide, 11 May, she was crowned and anointed queen by Aldred [q. v.], archbishop of York, at Westminster (ib.; A.-S. Chronicle an. 1067, Worcester version). Later in the year she bore her fourth son, Henry, afterwards Henry I [q. v.], it is said at Selby in Yorkshire. She appears to have resided much in Normandy, and to have been occupied in the affairs of the duchy. In 1070 she and her son Robert joined in requesting Lanfranc to accept the archbishopric of Canterbury. William FitzOsbern was in December sent over from England by the king to help Matilda in the regency of Normandy; he marched at the queen's desire to uphold the cause of her brother's widow and son in Flanders against Robert the Frisian (William of Jumièges, viii. 14). Matilda was deeply afflicted by the death of her brother and nephew and by the troubles that war brought upon her native land (Orderic, p. 527). When her son Robert was in exile, having quarrelled with his father in 1079, she sent him large quantities of gold and silver and other valuable things without her husband's knowledge, for she was very rich. William found it out and reproached her, but she pleaded her love for her son. William ordered that the messenger whom she employed in the business should be blinded, but, warned by the queen's friends, the man escaped to the monastery of St. Evroul, where at the queen's request the abbot received him (ib. p. 571). About this time she sent gifts to a famous hermit in Germany who was held to be a prophet, requesting him to pray for her husband and Robert and tell her what should befall them, which he did (ib.) On the death of her kinsman the holy Simon de Valois, count of Crepy, at Rome in 1082, she sent gifts to adorn his tomb (‘Mabillon,’ Acta Sanctorum, viii. 374); and at this time rendered some help to William, bishop of Durham, in his scheme for substituting monks for canons in his church (Hist. Dunelm. Eccl. iv. c. 2). She died in Normandy on 3 Nov. 1083, after an illness of some length, and was buried in her church at Caen. Her tomb was richly adorned, and bore an epitaph, recorded by Orderic (p. 648); it was restored in 1819, and is in the middle of the choir.
Matilda was handsome in person and noble in disposition (William of Jumièges, vii. c. 21), of great ability, a faithful and helpful wife, and an affectionate mother; she was religious and liberal to the poor, and was followed to the grave by many whom she had befriended. Her husband felt her death keenly, and is said to have mourned for her the rest of his life (William of Malmesbury, iii. 273, who records, without believing it, a foolish story, that William having been unfaithful to her, she had his mistress hamstrung, and was for so doing beaten to death with a bridle). She bore her husband four sons—Robert, who succeeded his father in the duchy; Richard, who met his death while hunting in the New Forest; and William and Henry, who both became kings—and five, or perhaps six, daughters: Cecilia, dedicated as a nun in childhood in her mother's church at Caen in 1066, professed in 1075, became abbess in 1113, and died in 1127; Constance, married to Alan of Brittany in 1086, and died in 1090; Adelaide, probably betrothed to Earl Harold, and died in youth; Adela, married to Stephen of Blois in 1080, and died in 1137; perhaps an Agatha, possibly promised to Edwin, earl of Mercia, and betrothed to Alfonso of Spain, who died unmarried, with a character for sanctity; and a Matilda (see on Matilda's children, Norman Conquest, iii. 666 sqq. with full references). She made her son Henry her heir in England (Orderic, p. 510; Freeman, William Rufus, i. 195), and bequeathed her crown and other ornaments of state to her church at Caen. Besides her abbey there, she founded the abbey of St. Mary de Pré at Rouen (Monasticon, vi. 1106), and gave rich gifts to Cluny (Cluny Charters, ii. 72) and St. Evroul (Orderic, p. 603). At Abingdon, however, she appears as a spoiler; she probably robbed the English abbey in order to enrich a Norman house with its treasures (Historia de Abingdon, i. 485, 491).