Warring Matilda

Empress Matilda (AKA Maude), widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, wife of Geoffery of Anjou, and heir to King Henry I, became “Lady of the English” on 7 April, 1141. However, when she went to be coronated as queen in Westminster Abbey, the people of London and her cousin’s wife rallied against her and prevented the crowning. This was just one of many, MANY crazy things that happened to Empress Matilda during the civil war known as “the Anarchy”.


When Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, died he left his kingdom to his only legitimate child still alive – Matilda. The king had a slew of illegitimate kids (more than 20) but couldn’t leave the throne to one of them because they were born on the wrong side of the blanket. As the only heir and the mother of two (soon to be three) male heirs, it should have been a cake-walk for Matilda to take the throne right?  Wrong. Matilda lacked one very important thing to rule – a penis.

Her cousin, Stephen of Blois, was also a grandchild of William the Conqueror. Although he was descended from the maternal line, and should have been thus disqualified to rule by his own logic that women shouldn’t inherit thrones, his supporters decided it was okay because he was a manly man with man-parts. 

As she fought to recover her rightful throne from her usurping cousin, Matilda lacked support from the Church and many of the nobility because she was, basically, “bossy” and not meek like women were supposed to be. Imagine being expected to take orders form a woman just because she was your queen! Insufferable!

While the cousins were duking it out, England fell apart. It was might = right and survival of the fittest at its most gory for decades. Finally, things found a resolution by the death of Stephan’s son, Eustace, in 1153. Stephan had a younger son, William, but his heartbreak over Eustace’s death made him willing to name Matilda’s oldest son, Henry Curtmantle, as his heir if Matilda promised to stop trying to take the throne for herself.  Stephen died in 1154 and Matilda’s son was crowned Henry II.

Henry II and Thomas Becket

Henry and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine founded the Plantagenet line of kings, which would rule England (by hook or by crook or by bloody warfare) for more than three centuries, until the death of Richard III in 1485.

I think that knowing she had founded a powerful dynasty would have pleased Empress Matilda.


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