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Empress Matilda

The Woman Who Would Be England's Ruler


Matilda, wife of Stephen of Blois, pleads with Matilda, Lady of the English

Matilda, wife of Stephen of Blois, pleads with Matilda, Lady of the English

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The inscription on Matilda's tomb at Rouen, France, read: "Here lies Henry's daughter, wife and mother; great by birth, greater by marriage, but greatest in motherhood." The tomb inscription does not tell the whole story, however. The Empress Matilda (or Empress Maud) is best known in history for the civil war sparked by her fight against her cousin, Stephen, to win the throne of England for herself and her descendants.

DatesAugust 5, 1102 - September 10, 1167

Matilda's Titles:

Queen of England (disputed), Lady of the English, Empress (Holy Roman Empire, Germany), imperatrix, Queen of the Romans, Romanorum Regina, Countess of Anjou, Matilda Augusta, Matilda the Good, Regina Anglorum, Domina Anglorum, Anglorum Domina, Angliae Normanniaeque domina.

Also Known as:

Matilda (Latin or Norman form), Maud or Maude (Saxon form).

Empress Matilda Biography

Matilda was the daughter of Henry I ("Henry Longshanks" or "Henry Beauclerc"), Duke of Normandy and King of England. She was the wife of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor (and thus "Empress Maude"). Her eldest son by her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, became Henry II, Duke of Normandy and King of England. Henry II was known as Henry Fitzempress (son of empress) in recognition of his mother's title carried with her from her first marriage.

Through her father, Matilda was descended from the Norman conquerors of England, including her grandfather William I, Duke of Normandy and King of England, known as William the Conqueror. Through her mother's mother, she was descended from more kings of England: Edmund II "Ironside," Ethelred II "the Unready," Edgar "the Peaceable," Edmund I "the Magnificent," Edward I "the Elder" and Alfred "the Great."

After her younger brother, William, the heir to the throne of England as her father's only surviving legitimate son, died when the White Ship capsized in 1120, Henry I named her his heir and obtained the endorsement of that claim by the nobles of the realm.

Henry I himself had won the throne of England when his eldest brother William Rufus, died in a supposed hunting accident, and Henry quickly seized control from the named heir, another older brother, Robert, who settled for the title of Duke of Normandy. In this context, the action of Henry's nephew, Stephen, in quickly taking control as king of England after Henry's death, was not really unpredictable.

It is likely that many of these nobles who supported Stephen in violation of their oath to support Matilda did so because they did not believe a woman could or should hold the office of ruler of England. These nobles probably also assumed that Matilda's husband would be the true ruler -- the concept that a queen could rule in her own right was not well-established in England at that time -- and Geoffrey of Anjou, to whom Henry had married his daughter, was not a character whom the English nobility wanted as their ruler, nor did the barons want a ruler whose main interests were in France.

A few nobles, including Matilda's illegitimate half-brother (one of more than 20 illegitimate children of Henry I), Robert of Gloucestor, supported Matilda's claim, and for most of the long civil war, Matilda's supporters held the west of England.

The Empress Matilda, as well as another Matilda, the wife of Stephen, were active leaders in the fight over the throne of England, as power changed hands and each party seemed ready to defeat the other at various times.

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