Matilda, the first Lady of the Plantagenets

So where to begin?

Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou was the second husband of Empress Matilda the only surviving child of Henry I of England upon his death. The name Plantagenet was a nickname which is claimed to be given to Geoffrey because he wore a sprig of common broom in his hat. The Latin name for the broom is Planta genista, this being then transformed into Plantegenest then becoming Plantagenet.

Matilda was previously married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. Her second husband Geoffrey’s son Henry was the first Plantagenet king of England. Matilda was a grand-daughter of William the Conqueror and daughter to Henry I of England. She really is the mother of the House of Plantagenet and without her grit and determination the family would never set upon its reign in England of over three hundred years.

Matilda was born c 7th February 1102 to Henry I of England and Matilda of Scotland. It is believed that she was born in Winchester, although some historians believe that she was born at a royal palace in Sutton (now Sutton Courtenay) in Oxfordshire. She was educated at the Abbey of Wilton by the nuns that ran the Abbey.

Matilda was sent to Germany, as early as eight years old and she was betrothed to Henry, who at the time was King of the Romans, and King of Italy. Matilda carried with her a large dowry of 10,000 marks in silver. On the 25th July 1110 she was crowned as Queen of the Romans. They married in 1114. It is disputed whether she ever actually carried the title of Empress and to whether she was actually crowned by the Pope. It is believed that she was crowned by Maurice Bordin the Archbishop of Braga on 13th May 1117, although Bordin was excommunicated by the Pope in April of the same year. It is believed that Matilda herself stated that she had been crowned twice and the fact she was lawfully wedded at the time of Henry’s coronation as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1111 by Pope Pashal , gives her title legitimacy and in official records she was known as regina Romanorum.

Matilda 1

Matilda then spent time as Henry’s regent in Italy, gaining valuable political experience that would stand her in good stead for the forthcoming negotiations she would take place in. In 1120 her only other surviving sibling William Adelin died in a maritime disaster known as the ‘White Ship disaster’, leaving her as the only legitimate heir of Henry I. A Queen ruling as the main ruler in feudal medieval England was not a solution that would hold power for long without disputes and upstarts trying to move them self to the front of a queue. Instead of naming Matilda as his heir Henry looked to try and secure the line by remarrying Adeilza of Louvain although the marriage remained barren.

On the 23rd May 1125 Henry V died leaving Matilda as a widow at just twenty two. Having produced no legitimate heirs in the marriage this brought to the end the Salian dynasty and Henry’s rival Lothar III became the next Emperor.
For the next few years Matilda was used as a political pawn by her father and was under his power. To begin with he presumed her barren after remaining childless in Germany. She was summoned back to Normandy and she then had no further political influence or powers relating to her previous marriage. Henry named Matilda as his heiress presumptive. In January 1027 Henry made the court in England swear allegiance to Matilda, this included Stephen of Blois who Matilda would later clash with.

Henry had previously tried to cement the disputes between Normandy and Anjou by marrying William Adelin with Fulk, Count of Anjou’s daughter Matilda, but this was short lived due to the early death of William. Henry then arranged the marriage of Matilda with Geoffrey of Anjou Fulk’s son. Matilda was outraged and thought of Geoffrey as below her and was then sent to Normandy under the care of Robert of Gloucester her half-brother until Geoffrey was of age. The marriage took place in June 1128 at Le Mans.

The marriage didn’t get off to a good start and after a year Matilda left Geoffrey at Rouen and moved back to Normandy. Henry summoned Matilda in 1131 to England, and it was decided that she would return to her husband. Whilst she was in England Matilda received another oath of allegiance from the English court, once again including Stephen of Blois. The re-acquaintance worked and the marriage became a success and in March 1133 Matilda gave birth to a son Henry. In 1134 they had a second son Geoffrey, was born in Rouen. Matilda almost died in childbirth and her funeral was actually planned, however she recovered.

On the 1st December 1135, Henry I of England died in Normandy. Matilda was at the time in Anjou, and in her absence Stephen of Blois although previously swearing oaths to defend Matilda’s rights of succession moved quickly to seize the crown. He was supported by the barons in England and also his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester. Matilda and Geoffrey first moved against Stephen in Normandy with Geoffrey securing all the fiefdoms west and east of the Siene by 1143 and in January 1144 he moved unopposed across the Siene taking Rouen. Geoffrey took the title Duke of Normandy and Matilda, Duchess of Normandy. They held the titles until they passed on the Duchy to their son Henry in 1149, the event ratified by King Louis VII of France. Matilda then turned her eye to England now having the military strength to move against Stephen.

This period in English history with the civil war between Stephen and Matilda is known as ‘The Anarchy’. Her closest ally was her illegitimate half-brother Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester. At the Battle of Lincoln in February 1141 Matilda’s army defeated Stephen who was then captured. Matilda then rode to London. On her arrival she received the support of the city and she took the title Lady of the English and planned to take the title of Queen upon her coronation. The citizens of London requested Matilda to half their taxes. She refused, and they then closed the gates of London to her on 24th June 1141 reigniting the civil war. By November 1141 Stephen had been freed, exchanged for Robert of Gloucester. The following year the tables were turned and Stephen besieged Matilda at Oxford. She managed to escape to Wallingford. In 1148 Matilda and Henry then left England for Normandy.

Great seal of Matilda

Great seal of Matilda

Henry continued to fight different campaigns against England from Normandy. He was knighted by King David I of Scotland his uncle in Carlisle on 22nd May 1149. Stephen’s own son Eustace died leading him to acknowledge Henry as his heir with the Treaty of Wallingford. Matilda herself retired to Rouen and proceeded to maintain her own court and manage the Duchy of Normandy in Henry’s absence.

Although never actually crowned herself she did manage to live to see her son Henry be crowned King of England in 1154 after Stephen’s death, this lead to the start of the Plantagenet dynasty in England that was to see over so much in the history of the country.

Matilda died at Notre Dame du Pre near Rouen in 1167 and was buried in the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin. Her body was transferred to Rouen Cathedral. Her epitaph reads ‘Great by birth, Greater by marriage, Greatest in her offspring; Here lies Matilda the daughter, wife and mother of Henry.

Without her resolve who knows what line and how history would of spun. Like Emma of Normandy it seems that Matilda really was a powerful woman during the time when men and only men were meant to rule. A really remarkable woman and mother who would not give up for her son what she thought he was entitled to. She really is the first building block on the line of the Plantagenets in England.

Matilda 3

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