Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Who Are All These Kings?: Matilda

[An image showing Who Are All These Kings?: Matilda]Matilda is rarely mentioned in lists of Kings and Queens of England, but she was a serious claimant to the throne in the 12th century, and actually did have the power of a monarch for a while.

Matilda was the daughter of Henry I. She was born at Winchester in 1102, and originally named Adelaide.

In 1114, at the age of twelve, she was married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, and at this point changed her name to Matilda. While living in the German court, she developed the haughty, arrogant demeanour that was to make her so unpopular in England in years to come.

The Emperor died in 1125 and she returned to England, being named as heir to her father as her brothers had died some years before in the White Ship tragedy.

The barons swore fealty to her, but clearly many were unhappy with the prospect of being ruled by a woman, particularly after she was married a second time, this time to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou in 1128, and it was feared that he would actually become King. There was no love lost between the Normans and Angevins.

When Henry I died in 1135, his nephew Stephen of Blois seized his chance and returned to England, where most of the barons happily accepted him as King.

In 1138, Robert of Gloucester, Matilda's half brother, led a revolt on her behalf, and this led to the eight years of civil war when "Christ and His angels slept".

In 1141, Stephen was defeated and captured at the Battle of Lincoln.

Matilda travelled to London, and arrangements were put in hand for her coronation. She was occasionally referred to as Queen, but preferred to be still styled "Empress" or sometimes "Lady of the English".

But her arrogant style soon made her enemies, both among the nobles and the ordinary people, and after a few months she was driven out of London by an army led by Stephen's wife, also named Matilda, and was never crowned.

She settled in Oxford, but was forced to make a trade of prisoners, giving up Stephen for Robert of Gloucester.

Stephen, always a far more personable and popular character, gradually regained authority and was crowned again as King.

Matilda had to escape from Devizes and did so disguised as a corpse. Shortly afterwards, she found herself under siege at Oxford Castle, and only managed to escape by wearing white and making her way across the snow to Abingdon.

After the death of Robert in 1147, Matilda finally left England, returning to Normandy.

Her son, Henry of Anjou, continued to wage a campaign on her behalf, including a siege of Stamford, but in 1153, after Stephen's son Eustace had died suddenly at Bury St. Edmunds, Stephen and Henry signed the Treaty of Wallingford, which acknowledged Henry as Stephen's successor.

Matilda died in 1167 at the Abbey of Notre Dame in Rouen. She was first buried at Bec Abbey, and later removed to Rouen Cathedral.

She had three sons by Geoffrey of Anjou. Henry succeeded Stephen as Henry II. Geoffrey was made Count of Nantes, and died at Nantes. William became Count of Poitou and died at Rouen.

Matilda was certainly the rightful Queen of England, and would probably have been widely accepted as such were it not for her unpleasant manner.