Matilda of Flanders was a crowned Queen Consort of England. She was the wife of William the Conqueror and was his match in every way imaginable.
Matilda’s story focuses on empowerment, loyalty, family, love, strength, sacrifice, and country. It is filled with defying tradition and standing behind the family she loved without measure. Matilda, after all, was the daughter of great kings.
According to historical accounts, it is estimated her birth took place somewhere in 1031.
Matilda was born north of France in Flanders; her parents were count Baldwin V of Flanders and Adele, the daughter of King Robert II of France. She would eventually marry into the House of Normandy. There are not a lot of records giving an account of what the girl’s childhood was really like. She was born into a very powerful family and was descended from Alfred the Great, King of Wessex on her father’s side. Flanders was a small place located in Normandy. The Land greatly improved under the rule of Matilda’s father. It can be easily surmised she lived in wealth and comfort throughout her entire life. She had several siblings and her mother Adele, being an educated woman herself, ensured her children had the best education that could be provided.
Once Matilda grew older, records show that love found its way into her heart through an ambassador to Flanders named Brihtric. It is here Matilda would suffer her first heartbreak. The young man did not return the affection she had felt for him. It is said he turned down the marriage proposal. Matilda was crushed and disillusioned by this experience. She would never forget the slight and would enact her revenge years later when William made her Regent of Normandy while he was away. She had the man imprisoned and confiscated all his belongings, including lands. Brihtric would die while being locked up. The details are very sparse as to how it all came about. Much of Matilda’s life lacks records until she married William the Conqueror.
The story of how she and William became engaged shows how much the pair were similar in temperament, mind, and as a whole. They truly loved each other but at one point Matilda was not keen on William. At this time in Matilda’s life, the young girl was highly sought after and had many families wanting to align themselves with her through marriage. William according to records is said to have greatly admired her and wanted no other. He sent representatives to her family to suggest a betrothal. When Matilda heard of his request for marriage she scoffed at the idea, saying she could never marry a bastard no matter who his father was because she was simply much too high-born for such a thing. William found out about the dismissal and was quite outraged by being called a bastard. The thing about William the Conqueror is this, the man had a temper! The one thing William’s history teaches us is that you do not call him a bastard! He has burned down villages and killed people for such an offense. All out of loyalty to his mother Herleva. So naturally, he did not have a good reaction to Matilda’s words. According to historians, there is two possible versions of what happens next.
William rode all the way to the palace of Matilda’s father and found her on horseback going to church. He marched right up to the lady, grabbed her by the braids, and threw her to the ground off of her horse. He then turned and got back onto his horse riding away from the scene. The servants and those surrounding Matilda were in utter shock at what had just happened. In another account, he rode to the palace and instead of finding her on horseback; he locates Matilda in her private chambers where he proceeds to grab her by the braids and throw her to the ground. In this version, he also slaps her at some point. Some have suggested that he went into her chambers to rape her in order to force the marriage. This is highly discredited though. Despite the lack of clarity on the account of their meeting, the results are all the same. Matilda shockingly agrees to marry him. No, she not only agrees to marry him, but she demands it. She defies the Pope to make it happen! Matilda claimed she would marry no one but William.
Matilda’s father, the count Baldwin, was furious when he found out how William had treated his daughter during their encounter. He was ready to not only prevent the union from ever occurring but was preparing to take arms against William and his house. Matilda quickly puts an end to this by telling her father she really did want to marry him and had changed her mind very thoroughly on the matter. She told him that any man who would attack her in her own father’s palace was courageous and worthy of her love. Count Baldwin allowed the marriage, but that was not the only obstacle the pair faced. They were fifth cousins, and despite how distant the relation really was, it was viewed as too close of kin. A papal ban was put on the union. They married anyway and for quite a time, nearly a decade, they were excommunicated from the church. They would fight this, however, and eventually prevailed. They each were required to build a church as penitence. Once this was accomplished, all was forgiven. Their union proved to be successful and provided many children for the couple.
Marriage & Normandy
No matter how violent and unsavory their first meeting was, the pair were well matched in mind and stubbornness. They had one of the most successful marriages that equal to the likes of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s. Matilda spent much of her married life in Normandy acting as regent for William while he was becoming King of England and taking care of matters abroad. They had nine children altogether though some historians argue it could have been more.
The following list is of Williams and Matilda’s children I can confirm:
- Robert, born between 1051–1054, died 10 February 1134. Duke of Normandy, married Sybil of Conversano, daughter of Geoffrey of Conversano.
- Richard, born c. 1054, died around 1075.
- William Rufus, born between 1056 and 1060, died 2 August 1100. King of England, killed in the New Forest.
- Henry, born late 1068, died 1 December 1135. King of England, married Edith of Scotland, daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland. His second wife was Adeliza of Louvain.
- Agatha, betrothed to Harold II of England, Alfonso VI of Castile, and possibly Herbert I, Count of Maine, but died unmarried.[b]
- Adeliza (or Adelida, Adelaide), died before 1113, reportedly betrothed to Harold II of England, probably a nun of St Léger at Préaux.
- Cecilia (or Cecily), born c. 1056, died 1127. Abbess of Holy Trinity, Caen.
- Matilda, “daughter of the King”, born around 1061, died perhaps about 1086, or else much later (according to Trevor Foulds’s suggestion that she was identical to Matilda d’Aincourt).
- Constance, died 1090, married Alan IV Fergent, Duke of Brittany.
- Adela, died 1137, married Stephen, Count of Blois. Mother of King Stephen of England.
As stated above, Matilda stayed in Normandy quite a lot of the time. She handled raising the children, charities for the church, maintaining the duchy, and much more while William was making preparations to invade England. Throughout their marriage, William is said to have always remained faithful and loyal to his wife even during the most turbulent times of marriage. Although it was common for royal men to cheat on their spouses, Matilda’s husband had several reasons for refraining from temptation. He was the bastard son of a King. This had always haunted him his entire life. He knew what the feeling was like and wanted to ensure he never brought a bastard into the world to face the scorn he had dealt with. He also was very much in love with the beautiful and capable Matilda of Flanders. He knew no one like her and it is said he was highly enamored with the woman. He would do anything to please his wife and the couple consistently showed the affection they had towards each other. When William left to go claim the English throne from two other possible inheritors, Matilda is said to have built her husband a grand ship called the ‘Mora’ and at the head was a gold statue figure of their youngest son. William took this gift for his flagship. When he left, William, declared Matilda as acting regent in the name of their oldest son Robert. Below is a letter from William to Matilda showing the types of duties she performed in the her husband’s name as Queen Of England during their marriage.
William sends Matilda instructions for her administration in Normandy, to settle a dispute over a monastery’s land and taxes. Matilda’s intervention in favor of the monks was required at least one other time against Robert Bertrand (Couppey, 350). The existence of this letter was made known to me by Laura Gathagan, who gave me the reference and the text. She notes that questions have been raised about its authenticity, but that even if it is a forgery it is an early one and crafted to reflect the way William and Matilda communicated.
William, by the grace of God king of the English, to queen Matilda, his dear spouse, perpetual health/greeting.I want you to know that I grant to St. Martin at Marmontier the church of Ste. Marie des Pieux and the lands that depend on it, free of all rents, as priest Hugh held them on the day of his death. Furthermore, I charge you to render, as is just, all the land in Normandy belonging to St. Martin, free and secure from all those who would wish to burden it, as well as from the demands of the foresters; above all forbid Hugolin de Cherbourg to meddle further with the affairs of this house.
Queen of England
William defeated his enemies and was crowned King of England not long after his successful defeat of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. He shortly returned to Normandy in order to bring Matilda to England. He had her crowned Queen Consort of England when he was crowned King. This had never been done before. It defied tradition and displayed how much he cherished and loved his wife. He made sure they were always considered equals. Matilda was not only the Duchess of Normandy but now she was Queen of England. This was quite a lot of responsibility: however, Matilda mastered her leadership roles and proofed to be quite capable. The power and influence she held was recognized all across Europe.
Below is an interesting letter Matilda receives from Gregory VII, Pope that displays an example to just how respected the lady was by the time she was Queen Of England.
Gregory responds to Matilda’s letter with praise and encouragement to inspire her husband to good.
Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God to Matilda, queen of the English, greetings and apostolic blessing. Having read the letters of your noble-mindedness, we have understood with how faithful a mind you obey God, with how much love you cling to his faithful. We also perceive no less how your mind keeps us present in memory from the promises of your greatness by which you made clear that whatever we wished from you, if we made it known to you, we would receive without delay. You should know, dearest daughter, with what love we receive this and whatever gifts we may obtain from you. What more are gold or gems, the precious things of this world that I might expect from you, than a chaste life, the distribution of your things to the poor, the love of God and your fellows? We pray your nobility that we shall obtain these and similar gifts from you, that you love simply and wholely, that you obtain what you love and never lose what you have. With these and similar weapons arm your husband, when God gives you the opportunity, and do not cease to do so. The other things we sent [orally] charging our son, Hubert, faithful to both of us.
Death Of A Queen
By July of 1083, Matilda’s health had begun to deteriorate. She was 52, an advanced age for the time. The various strains from the family relationships, her great responsibilities, travels, and many years of childbearing had finally taken a toll. There is also the possibility she contracted the plague which was rampant at the time. She made her will, giving many particular items, some money, and property to her abbey at La Trinite in Caen. She passed away after a long illness on November 2, 1083 and was buried in La Trinite. William the Conqueror would follow her in death just four years later in 1087.