11 February 2015

Today's Princess: Matilda of England, Duchess of Saxony

Portrait of Matilda from the tomb
created by her sons
By Acoma via Wikimedia Commons
The life of the oldest daughter of England's King Henry II shared some parallels with that of her paternal grandmother. Both were named Matilda. Both were the first daughter of a king named Henry. Both were sent to Germany to marry men named Henry. But today's Matilda had many, many brothers, so unlike her grandmother she never had the opportunity to fight for the English throne. (Read her grandmother's profile.)

However, today's Matilda was as strong-willed as Empress Matilda and, apparently, as romantic as her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. When faced with challenges she took them head on, but that did not stop her from enjoying a little courtly love along the way.

As a girl, Matilda often accompanied her mother as she traversed the Angevin empire created by the marriage between Aquitaine and England/Normandy. She was not sent away to marry until age 12,  when she was wed to Henry the Lion Duke of Saxony to strengthen the ties between her parents' domains and the Holy Roman Empire, and give them a stronger hand against France.

When she was 16, and already a mother, Matilda's husband left her in charge of his territories while he went on Crusade for a couple of years. After his return, they continued building their family, but he had a falling out with his overlord the Emperor. Fortunately, they were able to flee to her father's Norman lands. It was here that Matilda enamored the famous troubador, Bertran de Born, but who wouldn't love a beautiful, rich and powerful princess?

Once the Emperor finally allowed them to return home, it wasn't long before Henry angered him again. This time, Matilda did not accompany him into exile. Instead she stayed to demand his rights, but her early death a few months later at age 33 prevented her from being successful. She left behind at least five children, one of whom eventually became the Emperor. So, perhaps she was successful after all.

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