22 January 2015

Today's Princess: Matilda of Flanders

By Tosca via Wikimedia Commons
Tiny women can have a big impact on their world. Perhaps as short as 4'2 and certainly not taller than 5', the first post-Conquest Queen of England, is also one of the most memorable. Born nearly a millennium ago around 1031, Matilda of Flanders was the daughter of the rich and powerful Count of Flanders and the French Princess Adele.

Although legend claims that their relationship started violently (with her refusing to marry a bastard and him beating her into submission), Matilda and William Duke of Normandy had a long and successful marriage. It is even said that he was completely faithful to her, including during the four years he outlived her. Their marriage was initially controversial. In fact, they were excommunicated by the Pope for it, probably because they were too closely related. It took nearly a decade to receive the Pope's forgiveness and they were required to build two religious houses as penance. By that time, at least five or six of their nine or ten children had already been born.

The trust they placed in each other is well-illustrated by how they faced the Norman Conquest together. As he prepared for the overseas invasion, Matilda used her own money to surprise him with a new ship, which he used as his flagship. For his part, he left her in charge of Normandy while he was away and she repaid him by managing it well. A year after he had secured the English crown for himself, he brought Matilda to England for her own coronation. To underscore her importance, he altered the ceremony to emphasize that she shared in royal power and was a blessing to the people.

However, Matilda spent very little time in England. Only one of their children, the future King Henry I, seems to have been born there. Instead, she helped run their continental interests. Their marriage did suffer when she funded their eldest son Robert in his rebellion against William for full control of Normandy, which he did not receive until William's death while England went first to their next son King William II and then to Henry. Nevertheless, William rushed to Matilda when she grew ill and he was with her when she died at Caen in 1083 in her early fifties.

For more about Matilda:
Consort Profile: Queen Matilda of Flanders on The Mad Monarchist
Wife to the Conqueror on Arrayed in Gold
Matilda of Flanders, Duchess of Normandy, Queen of England on Saints, Sisters and Sluts

Books about Matilda:

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