Matilda of Flanders, Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy was one of the most influential and formidable medieval Queens of England.
Matilda, or Maud as she was known, was the daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, and Adela, herself daughter of King Robert II of France. Her great-great-great-great grandfather on her father’s side had married Elftrude, the daughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (England), so she was very high born indeed.
No one is sure of the exact date of Matilda’s birth, but it is estimated to be in 1031. Just after the turn of the millennia, Flanders was a primitive area compared to Normandy, but under the rule of Matilda’s father, things were beginning to improve, mostly due to trade and textiles, so Matilda probably lived in some comfort. Her mother was highly educated and made sure that her children were also given a superior education, including Matilda, and due to Flanders’ strategic position in Europe, her father’s wealth and her high rank, Matilda was highly sought after as a bride.
It is rumoured that when Matilda was between 15 and 18, King Edward the Confessor of England sent an ambassador to Flanders named Brihtric Mau, a rich Anglo-Saxon thegn. Apparently Matilda fell in love with Brihtric and without telling her parents, sent him a message asking him to marry her. He rejected her proposal. Whatever the truth of the matter, years later when she was acting as regent for her husband William in England, she is said to have used her authority to confiscate Brictric's lands and throw him into prison, where he died.
Another legend regarding Matilda claims that when Duke William of Normandy (later called the Conqueror) asked for Matilda's hand in marriage, she refused, stating that she was far too high-born to consider marrying a bastard. After hearing this response, William rode from Normandy to Bruges, found Matilda on her way to church, dragged her off her horse by her long braids, threw her down in the street in front of her flabbergasted attendants and rode off.
Another version of the story states that William rode to Matilda's father's house in Lille, threw her to the ground in her room (again, by her braids) and hit her (or violently battered her) before leaving. Naturally, Baldwin took offence at this; but, before they could draw swords, Matilda settled the matter by refusing to marry anyone but William. Matilda and William were married in 1053.
William spent the years from their marriage to 1066 consolidating his power in Normandy, and when King Edward the Confessor of England died in 1066, William was ready to press his claim to the throne of England by invading and attacking King Harold, Edward’s successor.
When William was preparing to invade England, Matilda outfitted a ship, the Mora, out of her own funds and gave it to him. Additionally, William asked his wife to rule Normandy during his absence. Matilda was crowned queen on 11 May 1068 in Westminster
Even after William conquered England and became its king, it took Matilda more than a year to visit the kingdom. Despite having been crowned queen, she spent most of her time in Normandy, governing the duchy.
Matilda bore William nine or ten children. He was believed to have been faithful to her and never produced a child outside their marriage. Despite her royal duties, Matilda was deeply invested in her children's well-being. All were known for being remarkably educated.
Matilda fell ill during the summer of 1083 and died in November 1083. Her husband was present for her final confession. William died four years later in 1087.
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