Saturday, 25 February 2023

Medieval Queens in the family tree - Matilda of Flanders

Matilda of Flanders (1031-1083)

Impression of what Matilda might have looked like

Matilda of Flanders married King William the Conqueror.

Matilda was born in Flanders, France, in 1031. She was the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders and Adela, daughter of King Robert II of France. Possibly in 1052 or 1053 Matilda married William, Duke of Normandy, - an alliance to secure the relationship between Flanders and Normandy. The Pope did not approve of the marriage initially but the wedding took place anyway and some years later a papal blessing on the marriage was given.

Matilda and William had four sons, including the future Henry I of England, and five daughters.

In Normandy Matilda worked with William managing the region including preciding over the courts and witnessing charters. She often travelled with her husband when he was visiting parts of his duchy. When William travelled to England for the Battle of Hastings, Matilda was left in charge.

Duke William of Normandy and Edward the Confessor, King of England, were related and William believed that as the English king had no children he was heir to the English throne. However, before his death, the English king selected Harold Godwinson, a military leader, as his successor. William and his army then headed to England to fight Harold for the right to rule England. King Harold II won a victory against an attempted Viking invasion shortly before facing William at the Battle of Hastings which William won on 14 October, 1066. 

William, Duke of Normanby, was crowned William 1 of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. Matilda was crowned as Queen of England in 1067.

During the following years, much of William's time was spent securing his position as King of England. At times Matilda joined him in England but much of her time was acting as his regent in Normandy until their eldest son, Robert Curthose, was old enough to be more involved. Unfortunately William and Robert did not get along for much of the time resulting in much antagonism between the two men. For a while Matilda supported her eldest son providing him with money to support his campaign against his father. The matter was eventually resolved and when William died he left the governance of Normandy to Robert and the kingdom of England to his youngest son, Henry.

Although Matilda was usually busy keeping law and order as regent in Normandy in her husband's absence, there are reports of her spending some of her time with her husband in England. When in England she would attend to court matters as required including land disputes and travel to different parts of England with her husband. 

Crossing the English Channel between Normandy and England was dangerous  and reports suggest that Matilda made the two way journey five times. In total she may have spent only four years in England. Most of her life was spent in Normandy. But her role as ruler of Normandy allowed her husband to concentrate on ruling England, despite some opposition.

Matilda was also responsible for the education of her children and ensured that her daughters also had a good education. Being from France the family spoke French, not just at home but in the court. Latin was the language used for writing documents.

During their reign William and Matilda built many Norman castles and churches. As Queen, Matilda was expected to be a benefactress of the church by making endowments to religious institutions. There are also references to her charity to the poor and sick. 

However the Queen also owned large landholdings in England, particularly in Buckinghamshire and Surrey as well as land between Cornwall and Winchester. The Queen had a large staff to run the estates as well as household staff.

Matilda died on 2 November 1883. She was buried at the Convent of the Holy Trinity at Caen in Normandy.

This statue of Matilda of Flanders is in the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace, Paris.

Apart from her French connections, Matilda was also a direct descendant of Alfred the Great, the Anglo Saxon king of England.

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