(1) The Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne: Marriage and Children
(i) Just under 900 years ago today, on 17th June 1128, The Empress Matilda married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in Le Mans, chief city in the province of Maine (in northern France). The Empress Matilda was the daughter, and the only surviving legitimate heir, of King Henry I of England. Matilda’s title, “Empress” was derived from her first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. Matilda had been betrothed, and later married, to the Emperor Henry between 1114 and 1125. Henry had died in 1125, the royal couple having had no surviving children.
In contrast to her childless first marriage, Matilda’s second marriage to Count Geoffrey of Anjou was more fruitful. The Empress Matilda had three sons by her second husband:-
- Henry, later Duke of Normandy and King of England. Born in the city of Le Mans, 5th March, 1133.
- Geoffrey, later Count of Nantes. Born in 1134.
- William, later Count of Poitou. Born in 1135.
(ii) Matilda of Boulogne was probably born in 1105, just three years after the Empress Matilda. Matilda’s own royal ancestry was astonishingly similar to the Empress. Like the Empress Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne was a grand-daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and his Anglo/Saxon wife, Queen Margaret. Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Matilda were therefore cousins; and their close kinship probably sharpened their later rivalry
Matilda’s sobriquet comes from her father, Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, who had married Mary of Scotland. In 1125, Matilda of Boulogne married Stephen, Count of Mortain. This marriage gave Matilda of Boulogne a link to the English monarchy, because Stephen was the nephew of King Henry I. Matilda and Stephen had several children, including two surviving sons: Eustace and William.
(2) The start of their rivalry
(i) After William the Atheling’s premature death in 1120 (see my November 2011 Blog), the Empress Matilda was Henry I’s only legitimate heir. However, her gender was against her, even though King Henry I had taken great steps to get his Tenants-in Chief to recognise the Empress Matilda as his successor.
When King Henry I died in December 1135, Stephen moved quickly. Displaying rare qualities of resolution, Stephen declared himself King of England. His monarchical ambitions were probably encouraged by his wife, Matilda of Boulogne. Matilda may well have lacked the merciless streak of Lady Macbeth; but she certainly shared that aristocratic diva’s ambition. Matilda’s reward was to be crowned Queen Consort of England, on 22nd March, 1136.
(ii) The Empress Matilda was equal to this challenge.
Displaying mature political insight, the Empress realised that the possession of Normandy would be the vital factor in thwarting Stephen, and furthering her own claims to the English Crown. In reaching this decision, Matilda was very much imitating her father; as it was Henry I’s great victory in 1106 in Normandy (Tinchebrai), which really consolidated his rule in England. The Empress delegated the conquest of Normandy to her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. This decision was totally vindicated. By 1144, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, had effectively annexed Normandy (Rouen had been captured in January 1144). Geoffrey then arrogated to himself the title ‘Duke of Normandy’. Exhibiting adroit political judgement, in 1149 Matilda and Geoffrey transferred the title to their eldest son, Henry, then sixteen years old. As Duke of Normandy, Henry presented a formidable challenge to Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne, a challenge that ultimately they were unable to resist.
(3) Matilda of Boulogne and The Empress Matilda at odds in England: 1141
The struggle between these two formidable royal Amazons perhaps reached its zenith in 1141.
- Leaving her husband to conquer Normandy, The Empress crossed the Channel to England in 1141, to take the fight directly to Stephen & Matilda of Boulogne. Landing in England, The Empress rallied the Angevin forces, aided by her half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester (a formidable warrior).
- However, Matilda of Boulogne was not idle in support of her husband, King Stephen. Matilda called up troops from Boulogne, and besieged Dover Castle.
- The struggle reached its climax in February 1141, in the important city of Lincoln. The forces of the Empress, commanded by Earl Robert, overwhelmed Stephen’s Army in Lincoln. Part of Stephen’s Army deserted him (especially the King’s cavalry). In the laconic phrasing of the contemporary chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon; ”so King Stephen was left alone with his infantry in the midst of the enemy.” [EHD, Volume II, page 33]. Like Shakespeare’s tragic king Macbeth, Stephen bravely fought on; however, in contrast to Macbeth, ”the king was taken prisoner.”
- At least, King Stephen was still alive; but there was little else to encourage his supporters. Arriving in London, The Empress Matilda began to act as the de facto ruler of England. As befitted a monarch, the Empress began to issue writs and charters. One such charter, to William de Beauchamp, restored to him the shrievalty of Worcestershire. The Empress was sensibly trying to build up her power in Worcestershire, at a time when Waleran, Earl of Worcester, favoured Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne. The wording of this charter was particularly significant. It began: “Maud the Empress, daughter of King Henry, and Lady of the English, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justicars, sheriffs and all her liegemen, both French and English, of the whole of England.”[EHD, Vol II, page 468]. The very wording of this charter suggests that the Empress was already fairly confident of her success.
- If so, the Empress’s confidence was misplaced. Faced with the daunting prospect of Stephen’s imprisonment, a lesser queen would almost certainly ‘have thrown in the royal towel’. Matilda of Boulogne was made of sterner stuff. Far from being demoralised, Stephen’s capture spurred Matilda to take up the royal cudgels on behalf of her failing husband. Henry of Huntingdon takes up the story: “The empress was recognised as ruler by the whole people of England except in Kent, where the Queen and William of Ypres continued to fight against the empress with all their might;” (my italics) [EHD, Vol II, page 334]. When the Empress Matilda’s forces tried to capitalise on their success by besieging Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry of Blois, in Winchester, Queen Matilda of Boulogne and her forces raised the siege. Their military success was enhanced by the capture of Earl Robert of Gloucester, effectively the commander of the Empress’s Army. Matilda of Boulogne’s triumph led to the release of her husband King Stephen, in exchange for Earl Robert.
(4) The End of the Struggle: 1143 to 1153
The determination and resolution of the two Matildas ensured that the struggle would be protracted. At length, in 1148, the Empress Matilda recognised the existing stalemate, and returned to Normandy, to re-join her husband, Count Geoffrey. By then, the Empress’s banner was effectively being defended by her eldest son, Henry, Duke of Normandy. Even this dynamic Angevin champion found it hard going against the stubborn resistance of Queen Matilda of Boulogne (and King Stephen). Only after Queen Matilda’s death, just over 860 years ago, on 4th May 1152 (probably of fever), did Stephen’s royal curtain start to come down in the English monarchical theatre.
At least death spared Queen Matilda of Boulogne from witnessing the demise of her elder son, Eustace in August 1153 (when he was only twenty-four years old). The death of his heir also knocked out any stuffing that remained in King Stephen; and in November 1153, he reached a compromise with the Angevins in the Treaty of Winchester.
By this important Treaty, Stephen “established Henry, Duke of Normandy, as my successor to the Kingdom of England and have recognised him as my heir by hereditary right, and thus I have given and confirmed to him and his heirs the Kingdom of England.” As the political curtain finally came down on this ruinous English Civil war, the stage was set for the triumphs of the Angevin political theatre.
- On one level, the Empress Matilda had won ‘the Battle of the Two Matildas’. The Empress outlived Matilda of Boulogne by fifteen years. Dying on 10th September 1167, the Empress was to witness the great successes of her son Henry II’s reign.
- However, Matilda of Boulogne had greatly prolonged Stephen’s reign, after the disaster of the battle of Lincoln. Though her son Eustace died early, at least her younger son, William, succeeded to the title of Count of Boulogne.
- Both Matildas are linked to two cities: Le Mans & Boulogne. The Empress Matilda married in Le Mans (1128). Her eldest son and heir, King Henry II, was born there (1133). Finally, when he knew he was facing death, in 1189, King Henry II retired to Le Mans. King Stephen’s wife, Queen Matilda, was always associated with Boulogne. Her father, Eustace III, was Count of Boulogne. Her younger son William inherited his grandfather’s title in 1153. Even when he died, in 1159, the link with Boulogne was retained, as Queen Matilda’s daughter, Marie, became Countess of Boulogne in her own right.
- Both the Empress Matilda, and Matilda of Boulogne, are justifiably part of the 12th Century pantheon of vigorously effective female governors (along with Queen Edith Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine). Such capable and successful female rulers were a key reason explaining the political and economic progress of that dynamic century.
As we have seen, the Empress Matilda confirmed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1141. Amazingly, he was still Sheriff of Worcestershire thirty years later. In 1170, in King Henry II’s ground breaking ‘Inquest of Sheriffs’, William de Beauchamp was still entered as Sheriff of Worcestershire [EHD, Vol II, page 470]. As far as I know, William de Beauchamp holds the record for the longest continual shrieval tenure In England. However, it seems that his tenure was too long, because it had evidently led him into corrupt practices. In 1170, King Henry II dismissed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire. Perhaps the fact that Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, had died three years earlier, in 1167, meant that Henry felt he could dismiss de Beauchamp when Henry returned from his four year sojourn in France in 1170.
i) This Blog has been entitled ‘A tale of Two Cities’. What is the link with that title and the year 2012?
ii) Why can 2012 be described as ‘A Tale of Four Matildas’?