The birth of Empress Matilda

Empress Matilda

Matilda (the Latin form of Maud) is known as Empress Matilda.  She is a legendary woman who could have been England’s first queen regnant in her own right.  But the terrible wheels of fate were in motion, and she was never crowned Queen of England.  She is a woman who caused bloody civil war in England, as she endeavored to attain her inheritance – the English throne.  She was titled the Lady of the English, but she always preferred to be called Empress.

Empress Matilda
  Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henri I of England and Matilda of Scotland

Matilda was born to Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy, and his first wife, Matilda of Scotland (born Edith of Scotland).   She was their only daughter, the eldest of the two children they had in their marriage.  The exact date of Matilda’s birth is unknown, but it is assumed that she was born circa the 7th of February, 1102, most likely at the manor house at Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire, England.

White Ship Sinking of 1120
A 14th-century depiction of the White Ship sinking of 1120

Her parents had another legitimate child – William Adelin (alternately referred to as Adelinus or Adelingus).  Her full-blooded brother was born in August 1103, and his early death in the White Ship tragedy of 1120 without issue caused a succession crisis, known as The Anarchy.  Henry I could possibly have had a short-lived son, Richard.  In addition, Matilda also had many illegitimate siblings (approximately 22), as her royal father had extramarital relationships with numerous mistresses.

Unfortunately, there are little contemporary sources about young Matilda’s childhood.  Her mother, Queen Matilda of England (originally Matilda of Scotland) was educated in a nunnery, and she probably controlled her daughter’s spiritual education and her general instruction.  Without a shadow of a doubt, Matilda learned literacy from her tutors and was skilled in embroidery.  Perhaps she was taught to write, tell stories, and read some poetry; she could also undertake singing lessons, and maybe she was instructed in one or more musical instruments.  Of course, the future Empress Matilda was a lady of refinement and was well-schooled in manners and courtesy.

Her most famous grandparent was William the Conqueror, who invaded England in 1066 and very soon defeated and killed Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, at the Battle of Hastings. Therefore, Matilda was a granddaughter of the first Norman King of England.

Matilda of Flanders was Empress Mathilda’s granddaughter.  Matilda of Flanders was William the Conqueror’s wife and daughter of Adèle of France (who was a daughter of King Robert II of France) and Baldwin V, Count of Flanders.  Empress Matilda’s great-great-great-great grandfather on her father’s side was married to Elftrude, the daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (England).

Empress Mathilda’s mother, Matilda of Scotland, was the daughter of the English princess, Saint Margaret, and King Malcolm III of Scotland. Margaret was sometimes called ‘The Pearl of Scotland’.

Anglo-Norman royal family tree
         Anglo-Normal Royal Family

Thus, Empress Matilda could trace her descent from the great Charlemagne, who became a founding father of the French and German empires.  She was very high born, and her noble ancestry was very impressive.

When young Matilda turned seven years old, it was confirmed she would wed Henry V, King of Germany and eventual Holy Roman Emperor.  Her whole life story, including her two marriages to Henry V and then to Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, will be covered in our other articles.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2018 Olivia Longueville

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