Empress Matilda

English Royalty
House of Normandy

William I
   Robert Curthose
   William Rufus
   Adela of Blois
   Henry Beauclerc
William II
Henry I
   Empress Matilda
   William Adelin
   Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester
   Eustace IV of Boulogne
   William of Blois
   Marie of Boulogne

Empress Matilda (February, 1101 – September 10, 1167) (Saxon form Maud or Maude) – was the daughter and dispossessed heir of King Henry I of England. She was married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, and after his death to Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, by whom she became the mother of Henry II of England. She is sometimes called Maud to differentiate her from the many other Matildas of the period. Matilda is the Latin form of the name "Maud". She was the first ever female ruler of the Kingdom of England.


Matilda was born in February 1101 to Henry I of England and his wife Maud of Scotland. Her maternal grandparents were Malcolm III of Scotland and Saint Margaret of Scotland. Margaret was a daughter of Edward the Exile and granddaughter of Edmund II of England.

Her birth is generally said to have taken place at Winchester, though recent research by the late John Fletcher (1990) suggests it may have occurred at the Royal palace at Sutton Courtenay in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire).

When she was seven years old, Matilda was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, and was sent to theHoly Roman Empire in 1111 to begin her training as his consort. Matilda and Henry were married at Worms on January 7, 1114 in a splendid ceremony. In March 1116 Matilda and Henry visited Rome and Tuscany, and she acted as Regent in his absence.

The Imperial couple allegedly had no surviving offspring; Hermann of Tournai, however, states that Maud bore a child that lived only a short while (some have theorized that this child may have in fact been Thomas Becket, subsequently raised by his foster parents: Gilbert Becket and Rosea or/and Matilda de Caen). When Henry died in 1125, he left Matilda a "childless" widow of twenty-three. Her brother William Adelin had perished several years before in the wreck of the White Ship, leaving Matilda the only legitimate heir to the English throne, a fact that King Henry II may have had contrary evidence to.

Second marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou

Matilda returned to the Kingdom of England, where her father named her his heir, and arranged another marriage for her. In 1127, she was married again, at Le Mans in Anjou, to Geoffrey of Anjou, who was eleven years her junior. He was nicknamed "Plantagenet" from the broom flower (planta genista) which he took as his emblem, hence the name of the line of English kings descended from him. He was at this time Count of Maine and heir to his father Fulk V of Anjou.

The marriage was not a happy one, and Matilda separated from him and returned to her father. She returned to Geoffrey in 1131, and they were reconciled. They produced three sons, the eldest of whom, Henry, was born on March 5, 1133. The birth of her second son, Geoffrey, Count of Nantes, in 1134 was difficult and Matilda nearly died in childbed. Her father King Henry came to visit and took "great delight" in his grandsons. King Henry and Geoffrey quarreled, and so when her father died on December 1, 1135 in Normandy, Matilda was with Geoffrey in Anjou.

Struggle for throne of England

Empress Matilida
Empress Matilida

On the death of her father in 1135, Matilda expected to succeed to the throne of England, but her cousin, Stephen of Blois usurped the throne, breaking an oath he had previously made to defend her rights. The civil war which followed was bitter and prolonged, with neither side gaining the ascendancy for long, but it was not until 1139 that Matilda could command the military strength necessary to challenge Stephen within his own realm. Stephen's wife was another Matilda: Matilda of Boulogne, Countess of Boulogne. During the war, Matilda's most loyal and capable supporter was her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester.

Matilda's greatest triumph came in April 1141, when her forces defeated and captured King Stephen, who was made a prisoner and effectively deposed. Although she now controlled the kingdom, Matilda never styled herself queen but took the title "Lady of the English". Her advantage lasted only a few months. By November, Stephen was free, and a year later, the tables were turned when Matilda was besieged at Oxford but escaped to Wallingford, supposedly by fleeing across the snow-covered land in a white cape. In 1141 she had escaped Devizes in a similarly clever manner, by disgusing herself as a corpse and being carried out for burial. In 1147, Matilda was finally forced to return to France, following the death of Robert of Gloucester.

Later life

All hope was not lost. Matilda's son, Henry (later, Henry II of England), was showing signs of becoming a successful leader. Although the civil war had been decided in Stephen's favour, his reign was troubled. In 1153, the death of his son Eustace, combined with the arrival of a military expedition led by Henry, led him to acknowledge the latter as his heir by the Treaty of Wallingford.

Matilda retired to Rouen, in Normandy, during her last years, where she maintained her own court. She intervened in the quarrels between her eldest son Henry and her second son Geoffrey, but peace between the brothers was brief. Geoffrey rebelled against Henry twice before his sudden death in 1158. Relations between Henry and his youngest brother, William, were more cordial, and William was given vast estates in England. Archbishop

Thomas Becket refused to allow William to marry the Countess of Surrey and the young man fled to Matilda's court at Rouen. William, who was his mother's favorite child, died there in January 1164, reportedly of disappointment and sorrow. She attempted to mediate in the quarrel between her son Henry and Thomas Becket, but was unsuccessful.

Despite her tenure as "Lady of the English", Matilda was never loved by the people of her native land, who found her too foreign and haughty. She spoke three languages: French, German, and Latin. Even though she gave up hope of being crowned Queen in 1141, her name always preceded that of her son Henry, even after he became king. Matilda died at Rouen, and was buried in the cathedral there; her epitaph reads: "Here lies the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry."



  • Gervase of Canterbury
  • Robert of Torigny
  • Roger of Hoveden
  • Gesta Stephani
  • Walter Map
  • Parsons, John Carmi. Medieval Mothering (New Middle Ages), sub. Marjorie Chibnall, "Empress Matilda and Her Sons"
  • Fletcher, John (1990) Sutton Courtenay: The History of a Thameside Village

Historical fiction

The civil war between supporters of Stephen and the supporters of Maud is the background for the popular"Brother Cadfael" books by Ellis Peters, and the films made from them starring Sir Derek Jacobi as that rare Benedictine.

Another popular series of light historical fiction is that of Jean Plaidy. The third book of her Norman Trilogy, Passionate Enemies tells the story of Stephan and Matilda.

The novel When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman tells the story of the civil war.

It is also an important part in the storyline of Ken Follett's most popular novel The Pillars of the Earth.

The story is told romance-novel style (and highly inaccurately) in Ellen Jones's The Fatal Crown.

Monarchs of England
Alfred | Edward the Elder | Ethelweard | Athelstan | Edmund I | Edred | Edwy | Edgar I | Edward the Martyr | Ethelred | Sweyn I*† | Edmund II | Canute*† | Harthacanute* | Harold I | Edward the Confessor | Harold II | Edgar II | William I | William II | Henry I | Stephen | Matilda | Henry II | Richard I | John | Henry III | Edward I | Edward II | Edward III | Richard II | Henry IV | Henry V | Henry VI | Edward IV | Edward V | Richard III | Henry VII | Henry VIII‡ | Edward VI‡ | Jane‡ | Mary I‡ | Elizabeth I‡ | James I‡§ | Charles I‡§ | Interregnum | Charles II‡§ | James II‡§ | William III‡§¶ and Mary II‡§ | Anne‡§
* Also Monarch of Denmark | † Also Monarch of Norway | ‡Also Monarch of Ireland | § Also Monarch of Scotland | ¶ Also Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel and Drenthe

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