Birthday: February 7, 1102
Died At Age: 65
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Empress Maude
Born Country: England
Born in: Sutton Courtenay, United Kingdom
Famous as: Queen of Germany
Empresses & Queens
Height: 1.52 m
Spouse/Ex-: Count of Anjou (m. 1128–1151), Geoffrey Plantagenet, Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor (m. 1114–1125)
father: Henry I of England
mother: Matilda of Scotland
siblings: 1st Earl of Gloucester, Robert, William Adelin
children: Count of Nantes, Geoffrey, Henry II of England, William FitzEmpress
Died on: September 10, 1167
Who was Empress Matilda?
Empress Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I of England, the wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, and one of the claimants to the English throne during the Anarchy, the long civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153. She was also the mother of King Henry II of England, who succeeded to the throne from her rival and cousin, Stephen of Blois; Stephen became the undisputed King of England after the civil war ended. Matilda’s first marriage with Emperor Henry V was childless, and there is ambiguity over her coronation as the Empress. Her second marriage was to Geoffrey of Anjou, who became the Count of Anjou and Maine soon after their marriage and later the Duke of Normandy by conquest. Matilda had conflicts with the Church during her early life and later worked extensively with the Church.
Childhood & Early Life
Empress Matilda was probably born on February 7, 1102, at Sutton Courtenay, in Berkshire, England, to Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy, and his first wife, Matilda of Scotland. Her father was the youngest son of William the Conqueror and his mother was the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, a descendant of Alfred the Great.
She had one legitimate younger brother, William Adelin, and around 22 illegitimate siblings from her father's numerous mistresses. She was brought up by her mother, and when her father travelled to Normandy in 1108, she and her brother were left in the care of Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
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Marriage to Henry V
On April 10, 1110, at the age of eight, Matilda was betrothed to Henry V—then the King of the Romans—and was crowned Queen of the Romans in a ceremony at Mainz on July 25, 1110. She was placed into the custody of Bruno, the Archbishop of Trier, until she was ready to marry Henry V. Their marriage was held in 1114 at the city of Worms.
Henry V was excommunicated by the Pope following rebellions caused by his arrest of rival princes, and marched with Matilda to Italy to settle matters with the Pope. The Pope, however, fled before their arrival, and was absent at Matilda's coronation ceremony as the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.
Henry V, who was suffering from cancer, died on May 23, 1125, in Utrecht, following which childless Matilda chose to return to Normandy. As her brother William had died when the White Ship capsized in 1120, her father nominated Matilda as his heir and made his court swear an oath of loyalty to her.
Marriage to Geoffrey
After Henry I failed to produce a child from his second marriage, he attempted to secure the southern borders of Normandy by marrying Empress Matilda to Geoffrey of Anjou, who was only 13. Despite initial reluctance, Matilda was convinced to marry Geoffrey on June 17, 1128, in Le Mans, and Geoffrey became the Count of Anjou and Maine after his father left for Jerusalem in 1129.
Amidst various disputes and personal issues, Matilda soon left Geoffrey and returned to Normandy, but they were reconciled in 1131 and had three sons: Henry II of England, Geoffrey, and William. While Henry I was overjoyed at the arrival of an heir, he refused to hand over to Matilda the royal castles in Normandy, which were granted to the couple as dowry.
Henry I unexpectedly died near Lyons-la-Forêt in December 1135, following which Empress Matilda and Geoffrey marched into southern Normandy and seized a number of key castles. However, they were facing increasing resistance from many Anglo-Norman barons and some claim that her third pregnancy also affected her advances.
In the meantime, Stephen of Blois, the nephew of Henry I, made his claim on the throne and marched to London, where he was proclaimed the new monarch by the crowds. Stephen was coronated in late December 1135, and in early 1136, Geoffrey invaded Normandy with the intent of raiding and burning estates rather than trying to hold the territory.
Stephen's attempt at retaking the castles taken by Matilda failed due to the infighting between his Flemish mercenary forces and the local Norman barons. As he signed a truce with Geoffrey, Matilda's uncle, David I of Scotland, invaded the north of England, and Stephen's attempt at resistance again failed due to several revolts.
After Matilda's half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, revolted against Stephen in 1138 and declared his support for Matilda, it started the descent into civil war in England, which became known as 'The Anarchy'. Stephen won the Battle of the Standard against David's forces, but David still occupied most of the north, and while Stephen attempted to regain control of Gloucestershire, Robert persuaded Matilda to invade England herself.
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Empress Matilda and Robert finally landed at Arundel in September 30, 1139, but as Robert marched north-west to gain further support, Stephen laid siege on Arundel Castle, trapping Matilda. Under unknown circumstances, Stephen agreed to a truce allowing Matilda and her knights to rejoin Robert in Bristol, following which she set up court in nearby Gloucester.
Matilda gained a major victory at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141 when Robert and the Welsh forces overwhelmed Stephen and took him in custody. She was subsequently declared 'Lady of England and Normandy' by the clergy, but her preparations for coronation in London were jeopardized by a revolt in the city that she barely escaped.
As she retreated to Oxford, Stephen's wife and her cousin, Queen Matilda raised an army and encircled Matilda's army in Winchester, during which Robert was captured, even though the Empress escaped. The two sides eventually exchanged Stephen and Robert, following which Stephen was coroneted at Christmas 1141 with support from the church council.
Matilda subsequently escaped Stephen's siege on the Oxford Castle and later Robert besieged Stephen in 1143 at Wilton Castle, nearly capturing him again, which pushed the conflict towards a stalemate. After Robert died peacefully in 1147, she returned to Normandy in 1148 amidst continued conflicts with the church.
During the civil war in England, Geoffrey of Anjou had gained considerable influence in southern Normandy through repeated invasions. As Matilda involved herself in the administration of Normandy, Geoffrey campaigned for Henry II's right to the English throne in Rome, gradually shifting the opinion within the English Church.
Before Geoffrey died unexpectedly in 1151, he and Matilda also made peace with French King Louis VII, who in return supported Henry's rights to Normandy. Meanwhile, Henry returned to England with a small army, but the Church brokered a truce between him and Stephen, who adopted him as his son and successor before his death in 1154.
Later Life & Death
Empress Matilda, aside from governing Normandy, often helped her son in administration during his early reign and was involved in dealing with several diplomatic crises.
She died on September 10, 1167, and was buried under the high altar at the abbey of Bec-Hellouin, but her tomb got destructed and reconstructed several times in the future.
The epitaph in Empress Matilda's tomb read "Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring: here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry", a famous contemporary phrase about her.