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Matilda [Matilda of Flanders] (d. 1083), queen of England, consort of William I, was the daughter of Baudouin (V), count of Flanders (d. 1067), and Adela (d. 1076), daughter of Robert the Pious, king of France, and his wife, Constance of Aquitaine. She had two brothers, Baudouin (VI) of Mons, count of Flanders (d. 1070), and Robert the Frisian, count of Flanders (d. 1093).

Marriage and monastic patronage

In 1050, or at the latest 1051, Matilda married William (II), duke of Normandy [see ]. Accompanied by her father she travelled from Flanders to Eu on the Norman border where she met her fiancé, his mother, Herleva, and his stepfather, Herluin of Conteville, and many others. From there they went to the capital, Rouen, where the wedding ceremony took place. The marriage negotiations had probably started in 1048 and were definitely under way in October 1049 when, at the Council of Rheims, Pope Leo IX forbade the union on unknown grounds. Twelfth-century historians like Orderic Vitalis and the anonymous author of the life of Lanfranc suggest that consanguinity was the problem, but they add that in 1059 Pope Nicholas II retrospectively approved the marriage on condition that the couple founded one monastery each. Subsequently Duke William founded St Étienne, dedicated in 1077, and his wife Ste Trinité at Caen, which was dedicated in June 1066. Matilda is also credited with founding the church of Notre Dame du Pré at Emendreville, a suburb of Rouen. The foundation was expanded by her son Henry and turned into a priory of Le Bec.

Children and family

Over a period of seventeen years Matilda gave birth to eight or nine children. She had four sons, of whom , born in 1051 or 1052, was the eldest. He was duke of Normandy from 1087 to 1106 and died in captivity in England in 1134. The second son was Richard, who died as a youth during a hunting accident between 1069 and 1074. William Rufus, king of England, as , from 1087 to 1100, was the third son. , the youngest child, born in 1068, was the son who ultimately reunited his father's realm of Normandy, Maine, and England; he died in 1135. There were four or five daughters: was the eldest, who after a series of collapsed marriage alliances retired as a nun to St Léger at Préaux; Cecilia was given as an oblate to Ste Trinité in 1066, professed in 1075, became abbess in 1113, and died in 1126; Constance married Alain Fergant, duke of Brittany, in 1086 and died in 1090; was born after her father became king of England—she married c.1080 Stephen, count of Blois, and died as a nun at Marcigny in 1137. A daughter Matilda is known from a reference in Domesday Book, whereas Agatha, who is only mentioned once as a daughter by Orderic Vitalis, may never have existed. Matilda of Flanders was also godmother of St Simon, count of Amiens, Valois, and Vexin from 1074 to 1077, who died at Rome in 1082 and for whose tomb she paid, and of Edith (more often known as ), later the wife of her son Henry I.

Matilda was on excellent terms with her children of whom her eldest, Robert Curthose, was particularly dear to her. Despite Robert's quarrels with his father and his time in exile, Matilda supported him and remained upset by their disagreement. Once, when St Simon's intervention between William and Robert had failed, Matilda was so upset that she was, according to the biographer of St Simon, ‘choked by tears and could not speak’ (‘Vita B. Simonis’, col. 1219). Without William's knowledge, Matilda used to send her son vast amounts of silver and gold. When the king discovered his wife's generosity, he threatened to blind the Breton messenger Samson used for these missions. Through the queen's counsel Samson escaped and became a monk at St Evroult, where Orderic Vitalis heard his story. Samson, too, may have told the story of how Matilda sent messengers to a certain hermit in Germany to ask for his prophecy on the future. The German foretold the dire circumstances of the Norman duchy during the next generation but added that the queen would not suffer because she would be dead before the troubles started. As for her other sons, Richard, while he was still alive, William, and Henry, they appear relatively often in the presence of the king and queen, suggesting a cordial relationship. That none of her sons married during her lifetime, despite Robert's short-lived engagement to Margaret of Maine, is an interesting coincidence, which is perhaps not entirely unconnected with William Rufus's homosexual inclinations. Of her daughters, it seems that Constance and Adela did not leave home until their marriages in respectively 1086 and 1080, while Adelida and Cecilia, despite their life as nuns, stayed relatively close at home in Préaux and Caen.

Matilda remained in touch with her own country and family. According to Orderic Vitalis she was grieved by her father's death, her mother's bereavement, and her brother Robert's usurpation of Flanders after the battle of Kassel, where her nephew Arnulf died. Before her father's death, Matilda and her husband arranged for Abbess Elisabeth of Montivilliers to pay her mother, Adela, an annual pension of £100 in return for her gift of land in the Pays-de-Caux. Her cousin Beatrix, daughter of Christian de Valenciennes, married Gilbert d'Auffay, a distant cousin of Duke William. Among Matilda's servants was a chamberlain called William the Fleming who became a benefactor of Ste Trinité. She probably introduced Arnulf de Chocques to the ducal court, where he taught Cecilia before she became a nun. Through her he became a chaplain of Robert Curthose and later travelled with Bishop Odo of Bayeux to the Holy Land, where he was promoted to the archbishopric of Jerusalem.

Political activities

Matilda acted as regent in Normandy for her husband after 1066, probably in collaboration with her son Robert Curthose and sometimes under the guidance of Roger de Montgomery and Roger de Beaumont. Her first visit to England took place in 1068, when at Whitsun she was crowned queen. Among her followers on that occasion was Gui, bishop of Amiens, who had by then already written the Carmen de Hastingae proelio (‘Song of the Battle of Hastings’). She had a share in about one quarter of her husband's gifts: thirty-nine pre-conquest and sixty-one post-conquest charters bear her name. This charter evidence supports the chroniclers who say that she was sometimes left with overall responsibility in Normandy. Her prominence in the government of Normandy was maintained in the 1070s and 1080s. In 1075, for example, she is named at the head of a group who were present when St Simon restored Gisors to Rouen Cathedral, while in late 1080 she was acting on her husband's behalf in Normandy in a land plea when William and Robert Curthose were in England. Alongside her important role in Normandy, she was very often present at the great crown-wearings which were a prominent feature of William's kingship in England. She heard land pleas as well. ‘Royal preoccupations’, according to Gilbert Crispin, prevented her from attending the dedication of the abbey church of Le Bec in 1077, instead of which she sent a benefaction. There is no evidence of contacts with foreign officials other than the French abbots to whom she sent gifts and the German hermit mentioned above, with the exception of Pope Gregory VII (r. 1073–85) who corresponded with her mainly, it seems, to encourage her to use her influence over her husband by quoting the Bible, which says that an unfaithful man can only become faithful through his wife. A large quantity of evidence shows Matilda as playing the central political and familial role typical of the most active medieval queens.

Wealth and gifts

Matilda was the sole donor of two gifts to Ste Trinité at Caen and one each to Malmesbury Abbey and Wells Cathedral. Her pre-conquest income derived from her relatively meagre dowry consisting of estates in the Pays-de-Caux at Bures-en-Bray, Maintru, and Osmoy-St Valéry. She gave the monks of Marmoutier a new refectory and a cope. In support of her husband's invasion of England she gave him the ship Mora, on the prow of which stood the figure of a small gilded boy who with his right hand pointed to England and with his left hand held a horn to his lips. This description given by the anonymous author of the Brevis relatio comes close to, but is not identical with, the picture of the Mora's stern on the Bayeux tapestry. After the conquest of England, Matilda became a wealthy landowner in England, where she held lands in the counties of Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Buckinghamshire, and Gloucestershire. The manor of Sandford, Devon, was presented by her to Muriel (perhaps a confidante or servant) upon her marriage to Roger of Bully. She gave the monks of St Evroult £100 to pay for a refectory, a mark of gold, a chasuble decorated with gold and pearls, and a cope for the chanter. Among her other gifts were a vase decorated with gold and precious stones for St Corneille at Compiègne, a golden chalice for St Florent at Saumur, and a chasuble ‘that was so rigid because of the metal that it could not be folded’ (Musset, ‘La reine Mathilde’, 193) for the great Burgundian abbey of Cluny. Matilda is also the most likely identification for the anonymous English queen who in the late 1070s approached Abbot Adalelme of La Chaise-Dieu in the Auvergne for a cure for lethargy in return for which she sent a liturgical vestment and £100 towards the cost of the monks' dormitory. The nuns of Ste Trinité at Caen received as her bequest, apart from her regalia mentioned below, a chalice, a chasuble made in Winchester by the wife of Aldred, a mantle of brocade kept in the queen's chamber to be used as a cope, two golden chains with a cross, a chain decorated with ‘emblems’ for hanging a lamp in front of the altar, several large candelabras made at St Lô, the draperies for her horse, and all the vases ‘which she had not yet handed out during her life’ (Musset, Les Actes, no. 16). In contrast to her generosity there is only one note suggesting greed. Not surprisingly, this comes from England, where in the 1130s the monks of Abingdon remembered her as one of their foreign despoilers who shortly after the conquest demanded a great number of the abbey's treasures. Both Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury state that her English lands and money went after her death to her youngest son, Henry.

Relationship with the Conqueror and death

Matilda's relationship with her husband was happy. When, during a stay at Cherbourg between 1063 and 1066, William fell seriously ill, Matilda prayed for his recovery and made a gift at the main altar while wearing her hair loose. Her informal appearance, as a sign of distress, was significant enough for the monks to write it down, presumably as a means to jog people's memory of the gift. William the Conqueror is the first Norman duke for whom no evidence of concubines or illegitimate children survives, an absence on the whole interpreted as a sign that his marriage was a happy one. The only story contradicting such a conclusion comes from William of Malmesbury, who professed himself sceptical about its reliability. He relates the rumour that Matilda had William's mistress, a daughter of a priest, hamstrung by her servant; the perpetrator was disinherited and Matilda, in revenge, was beaten to death with a horse's bridle. In fact the chronicles and charters confirm Matilda's natural death: in the late summer of 1083 she fell ill and died on 2 November. She was buried at her own request at Ste Trinité at Caen, where the original tombstone with inscription carved round the edge has survived. All her epitaphs remember her for her royal descent on her maternal side. That her royal origin and state were important for her is also clear from the protocol to her bequest of land and movables to Ste Trinité, dated to the year before she died. Among the treasures she left to the nuns were her crown and sceptre, a gesture which was imitated by her husband when he left his regalia to St Étienne at Caen.

Elisabeth van Houts


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