27 January 2015

Today's Princess: Empress Matilda

I could write a whole book about today's princess, Matilda of England. In fact, I have already written a couple of blog posts about her: The Not-So-Wicked Stepmother and Royal Escape Artist.

Shuttled off as a child of eight to marry the Holy Roman Emperor, Matilda likely never expected to see her father's territories of England and Normandy again. She married at 12 and was left in charge of her husband's Italian lands at age 15. She was deeply respected but when her husband died in 1125, without fathering any children with her, Matilda no longer had a role in Germany. She was 23 and a childless widow.

Meanwhile back in England, Matilda's only legitimate brother had died in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120. Her father, King Henry I, had remarried and was trying unsuccessfully to father a male heir. To cover his bases, he recalled Matilda and proclaimed her his heir. The nobles swore allegiance but were uncomfortable about the unprecedented possibility of a reigning Queen. Henry forced Matilda to marry the 13-year-old Geoffrey of Anjou, probably thinking she could have a son who would become his true heir. (A true leap of faith considering her lack of children during the 11 years of her first marriage.)

Geoffrey and Matilda despised each other but did have three sons. Nevertheless, little Prince Henry was too young to take the English crown when Henry I died in 1135. Matilda did not set out immediately to claim her throne, but for good reasons: it was the dead of winter, she was pregnant with her third child, and she was surrounded by her husband's enemies. Her cousin, Stephen of Blois, had no such concerns and he dashed across the Channel to be proclaimed King.

Once she set out for England, 11 years of anarchy ensued with power shifting between Stephen and Matilda--they even took each other captive at different times. During one six-month period, Matilda was actually recognized as the victor, but support withered when she refused to lower taxes and refused to release Stephen. Eventually, Stephen agreed to name Matilda's son Henry as his heir. Matilda returned to Normandy to become Henry's unofficial regent and was a strong influence on his early reign when he became King in 1154. She died in 1167.

Better known as Empress Matilda or The Lady of the English, she was (nearly) the first reigning Queen of England. She captured the throne her father had left her, but she lost it before she could be crowned through sheer haughtiness.

For more about Matilda:
Empress Matilda--A Summary on History in an Hour
Empress Matilda on Sheroes of History
Matilda on BBC History
The Lady of the English - Matilda on Scandalous Women
Empress Matilda - Lady of the English on Medievalists
Stephen and Matilda: Where History Happened on History Extra
Empress Matilda, Lady of the English on Royal Central
Empress Matilda, Not Quite Queen of England on Medieval Queens

For more about Matilda's treasures:
Empress Matilda's Bling on Elizabeth Chadwick: Living the History

Books about Matilda:

Fiction about Matilda:

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