Matilda of Flanders had an illustrious pedigree including Alfred the Great. Tracy Borman comments that she was related to most, if not all, Norther Europe’s royalty. Her mother Adela supervised her education and later Matilda would be praised for her learning. By the time Matilda was eighteen in about 1049 a certain Duke William whose lands marched with those of Count Baldwin V looked to be an advantageous match so when he approached Baldwin with a marriage proposal Matilda’s father accepted.
However, Matilda was less delighted. She refused to marry William. Borman speculates that it was because William was illegitimate – although of course the stigma of illegitimacy was not necessarily the bar to high office that it became in later centuries.
William was not a happy man. He rode to Bruges, met Matilda coming out of church and proceeded to knock her into the mud, pull her plaits and hit her…an interesting variation on a box of chocolates and bunch of flowers. In one account he is said to have kicked her with his spurs which would have been painful at the very least and Borman makes the point probably fatal. Baldwin immediately declared war on William only to discover that Matilda had changed her mind. After her rather rough wooing she decided she wanted to marry William. The story was written approximately two hundred years later so a rather large pinch of salt is required in order to digest the tale but the pair do seem to have been evenly matched in terms of temper.
There may have been another reason for the change of heart. Tracey Borman discusses the possibility of an earlier relationship with Brihtric Mau tarnishing her reputation but there again her father had already arranged another betrothal with Saxony when Matilda refused William.
Brihtric Mau was Edward the Confessor’s ambassador. He was descended from the House of Wessex and he was a wealthy man which made him a powerful man. He was tall and handsome with blond hair. Borman suggests that Mau is derived from ‘snew’ which is of course the Old English word for snow (Borman: 17). Borman goes on to explain that the Chronicle of Tewkesbury – and the largest part of Mau’s lands were in Gloucestershire- describes Matilda as falling in love with the handsome Saxon. She apparently sent a messenger back to England when he returned there proposing marriage. This was not the way that a nice girl behaved, even if she was the daughter of a count. It caused a scandal and to make matters worse the unspellable Brihtric rejected her.
The reason why the Chronicle of Tewkesbury is at such pains to tell the tale is because in 1067, twenty years after he’d rejected her, Matilda got her own back. She asked William for the Manor of Tewkesbury and removed Gloucester’s charter – which was a disaster commercially and legally for the town. Dugdale’s History of the Norman Conquest adds the fact that Brihtric found himself in a dungeon in Winchester where he died in suspicious circumstances two years later – though there’s nothing very suspicious about lack of food, poor hygiene and lack of fresh air.
That’s the story – Borman also presents the evidence that Brihtric was present at Matilda’s coronation (Borman:118) which means that he can’t have been languishing in a dank cell in Winchester awaiting a visit from Matilda’s assassin. Whatever the truth all we have is rumours and historical fragments. It does at least demonstrate that Matilda must have been as tempestuous as her spouse.
Borman, Tracy. (2011) Matilda: Queen of the Conqueror. London: Jonathan Cape