Marrying Matilda

dun35zum_largeWilliam Duke of Normandy needed a bride.  He settled on Matilda of Flanders the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders. The German emperor, Henry III, wasn’t keen on the match as in his mind it created an overly powerful duchy. Such was Henry’s clout that  Pope Leo IX forbade the pair to marry in 1049 when William began his negotiations with Flanders.

Matilda was born in about 1031, so about eighteen when the negotiations started.  She had a mind of her own.  It wasn’t just the German emperor and the pope who objected – Matilda wasn’t too keen on the idea either. Apparently being related to most of the royalty in Europe of the time she considered herself a cut above William. (she was also descended from King Alfred the Great). There was also the fact that she’d taken a shine to Brittric of Gloucester, Edward the Confessor’s ambassador in Flanders.

William, according to popular story, rode to Bruges, confronted Matilda and dragged her from her horse by her hair before throwing her on the floor – an unusual courting technique which seems surprisingly successful despite the risk of starting a war with Matilda’s outraged father. Matilda changed her mind and announced that she would have no one but William. Other versions of story are available.

Ultimately William married Matilda in 1051ish (depending on the source) but there was still a question mark over the marriage.  William’s uncle Duke Richard III had been married to Adela of France – who also happened to be Matilda’s mother so there was a degree of relationship. There was also the fact that they shared a common ancestor in Rolf the Viking.

Papal approval only came in 1059.  By that time Pope Nicholas II had replaced Leo who had been German which leads us neatly back to Henry III’s objections to the match. The only condition  to the backdated dispensation was that both William and Matilda had to found a monastic house each. The founding at Caen of the  Benedictine “Abbey aux Dames” dedicated to the Holy Trinity was Matilda’s penance for marrying William.  He founded the abbey of St Stephen’s also in Caen.

Leonie Hicks makes the point that William, who was some four years older than her and who had been duke since childhood, made himself more secure with his marriage to Matilda who brought with her an alliance with Flanders and undoubted royalty.

She would provide her spouse nine or ten children and enjoy a loyalty, unusual for the period, from William in return.

The statue of Matilda can be found in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

 

Hicks, Leonie. Norman women: the power behind the thrones. History Extra,   https://www.historyextra.com/period/norman/norman-women-the-power-behind-the-thrones/

 

Matilda or Mrs William the Conqueror

matilda of flandersMatilda 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.

imagesWilliam 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