Category Archives: Queen Matilda

A Surfeit of Lampreys: A Surfeit of Success: 12th Century England

Exactly 877 years ago today, on 1st December 1135, King Henry I died, allegedly from over indulging himself on lampreys (one of favourite meals). His ‘surfeit of lampreys’ caused an acute intestinal reaction (possibly food poisoning) that led to a speedy end. Death from such an outwardly ludicrous cause was a somewhat inglorious conclusion to an illustrious reign. This year, 2012, marks the centenary of the birth of Charles Dickens; and Henry’s premature death is the sort of ‘comical’ demise one associates with some of the characters penned by that celebrated 19th century author. Such a judgement might be a little harsh. Over the past year, I hope that my monthly Blogs on Henry I’s reign have demonstrated his great success as Ruler of England (and Normandy) between 1100 and 1135. Indeed, such were Henry I’s achievements that the monks of Peterborough Abbey declared on Henry’s death: “He was a good man, and people were in great awe of him. No one dared injure another in his time. He made peace for man and beast.” [EHD, Volume II, page 209] Such an assessment, coming from the compilers of The Anglo/Saxon Chronicle, is praise indeed.                                                                                                                                     Over the past two years, 2011 and 2012, my monthly Blogs have analysed the reigns of King Henry I (1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (1154 to 1189). In analysing these two distinguished monarchs, I have also, from time to time, inevitably touched on the reigns of Stephen, Richard I and John. That is, my blogs have in effect covered the whole of the 12th century, so I think it is thus very fitting for me to conclude this December 2012 Blog by analysing and assessing the twelfth century as a whole.

(A) The Achievements of 12th Century England

There were, of course, setbacks to progress in the 12th century, notably the breakdown of government in Stephen’s reign (1135 to 1154). The Third Crusade of 1189 to 1192, right at the end of the 12th century, also caused tension and problems. Yet, overall, the 12th century witnessed gains to English Society.

(1) Economic Growth.

The 12th century was a period of marked economic growth. There was investment in agriculture, transport, and general building. According to John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, the volume of currency in circulation in England  greatly increased in the 12th century; from roughly £25,000 to £37,500  around the time of King Henry I’s accession (1100), to about  £250,000 at the time of King John’s accession in 1199 [Hatcher & Bailey, ‘Modelling the Middle Ages’, OUP, (2001), page 138]. This increase in currency circulation probably reflected the increasing proliferation of markets in 12th century England. The population of England also doubled in the 12th century, from roughly 1.5 million in 1100 to about 3 million in 1200 (and these figures might be even higher). Nor did this population increase imply a lessening of GDP per head. In fact, according to Hatcher & Bailey, real GDP per head might well have increased in the 12th century [Hatcher & Bailey, page 159].

(2) General Social and Political Progress for Specific Groups

In a perhaps generalised way, the condition and status of certain groups in English Society did appear to improve in the 12th century; even if these improvements were not uniform throughout the century. For example, beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the rights of widows were increasingly protected throughout the 12th century. In fact, on one level, the 12th century was a period of political advance for women. Several notable female rulers played vital roles in 12th political life in England: Queen Edith Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne, The Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Jewish minority in Angevin England also seemed to prosper for most of the 12th century (with the obvious exception of the 1190 Pogroms). The Jewish population in Angevin England increased to a maximum total of 5,000 by 1200, and this population increase was accompanied by a geographical spread throughout England. Up to a point, positive central government activity by English Kings helped this Jewish expansion (see my September 2011 Blog for details).

(3) Development of English Common Law

This was the greatest single achievement of 12th century England.

Beginning with King Henry I’s Coronation Charter in 1100, the 12th century saw a continual series of ground-breaking measures that collectively  established the Common Law in England (and Wales): one of the glories of European Civilisation:-

  • Leges Henrici Primi (1115) This measure designated serious crime, and enshrined the principle of Appeal. See my October 2012 Blog.
  • Assize of Clarendon (1166) This measure dealt with the criminal law, including the rights of the principal law officers. See my February 2011 Blog
  • Inquest of Sheriffs (1170) This measure enshrined the supremacy of the government over the law officers. See my March 2011 Blog.
  • Assizes of Novel Disseism & Mort d’Ancestor (c.1176) These were major innovations in civil law, dealing with rights of property. See my October 2011 Blog.
  • The General Eyre (1194) As part of the 1194 General Eyre (General Tour of Inspection by the King’s Justices), Justicar Hubert Walter ordered that, in each English shire, three knights and a clerk should act as ‘Keepers of the Pleas of the Crown’. This meant that they would be responsible for collecting and retaining evidence for criminal cases that would then be heard by the King’s Justices. This vital measure is the origin of the modern Coroner System. Note that the 12th century law officers (sheriffs) were not included as ‘Keepers of the Pleas’. Even now, our modern police force is not directly linked to the Coroner’s Court.

It is a remarkable record of legal progress, and the principles of 12th century Common Law still greatly influence English-speaking nations today: the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. Nor have I included all the 12th century Common Law Edicts. The Jury System was written into the above Assizes. A measure of the greatness of the English Legal System in the 12th century is to contrast it with the legal structure of early 19th century England (supposedly a more ‘civilised’ era). By 1800, the English Legal System had become so convoluted (if not corrupt), that a ridiculous total of 200 crimes carried the death penalty (many of them being trivial offences). In contrast, the 12th century saw the death penalty confined to about six offences (Pleas of the Crown).  The 18th Century still conjures up an image of refined gentility, with its classical architecture, polished manners, and baroque music; yet it was also the age of the notorious (and nefarious) ‘Black Act’ of 1723. That legally abominable Act of Parliament introduced the Death Penalty in Britain for over 50 criminal offences, many of them utterly trivial (such as destroying fish ponds while disguised). It goes without saying that such a legally bizarre measure as the 1723 Black Act, would have been inconceivable in the more civilised 12th century.

(B) Final Conclusion

I began this final Blog on King Henry I by suggesting that perhaps his strange demise had overtones of a Charles Dickens novel. In retrospect, I think that Anthony Trollope would be a more appropriate author, especially when viewing the 12th century as a whole.

In the ending of the final novel of his famous Barset Series (‘The Last Chronicle of Barset’); Anthony Trollope writes: “And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset.” To paraphrase that celebrated author, ‘We will together take our last farewell of 12th century England.’

Like Anthony Trollope’s Barset Novels, the 12th Century was filled with a host of distinguished dramatis personae:-

  • Renowned Fighting Monarchs, such as King Richard the Lionheart of England (reigned 1189 to 1199), and King William the Lion of Scotland (reigned 1165 to 1214).
  • Illustrious Female Rulers, such as Edith Matilda (Queen Consort of England 1100 to 1118) and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine (Queen Consort of France, 1137 to 1152 and Queen Consort of England, 1154 to 1189).
  • Exceptionally talented administrators, such as Justicar Bishop Roger of Salisbury (de facto Justicar c.1110 to c.1125) and Archbishop Hubert Walter (Chief Justicar of England, 1193 to 1198).
  • Leading Financiers, such as Aaron of Lincoln (lived from 1125 to 1186).
  • Profound Philosophers, such as Archbishop Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1093 to 1109). Anselm was the originator of the ontological argument for the existence of God.
  • Talented Welsh Princes, such as Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth. He was known as The Lord Rhys (Yr Argwydd Rhys). King Henry II made him Justicar of Deheubarth in 1171.
  • Gifted young persons whose lives were sadly (and prematurely) ended, such as Prince William the Adelin (lived from1103 to 1120). Prince William was Henry I’s son and heir; he tragically died in the White Ship Disaster of 1120.
  • Flawed Icons, such as Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury between 1162 and 1170).
  • Villains, such as Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who died in 1144. He was the original ‘robber baron’, who took advantage of the breakdown of law and order in King Stephen’s reign to ransack Cambridgeshire and the Fens in 1144. Towards the end of the 12th century, Richard Malebisse took advantage of the anti-Semitic hysteria generated by the Third Crusade to play the leading role in the massacre of the York Jewish Community in 1190.
  • Exceptionally talented monarchs, such as King Henry I (reigned 1100 to 1135) and King Henry II (reigned 1154 to 1189).The latter king is probably the greatest monarch ever to reign in England.

In the words of Anthony Trollope, “To them all I now say farewell” (except Geoffrey de Mandeville and Richard Malebisse); but it is certainly not a case of farewell to my Angevinman Blog! In 2013, I hope to take a chronological  leap of 250 years into the mid-fifteenth century. The delights of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ await me and, hopefully, my readers.

Have a Happy Advent and Christmas!

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A Tale of Two Cities: A Tale of Two Matildas

(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.

(5) Conclusions

  • 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.

(6) Postscript

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.

(7) Questions

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’?

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