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 annointed as the new 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, passed away, he left his kingdom to his only legitimate child still alive – his daughter, Empress 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 child born in wedlock 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?


Matilda lacked one very important thing she needed in order to rule England and Normandy – 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. He also argued that her husband, the Duke of Anjou, was a traditional Norman enemy, and it would be a abomination to let an Angevin bottom sit on a Norman-English throne.

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.

Some historians have argued that Stephen planned to recoup and make his younger son heir once more, but there wasn’t time before the king died in 1154. Whatever Stephen’s plans had been, it was Matilda’s son was crowned.

Henry II and Thomas Becket

Matilda remained in Normandy after her son became King Henry II, giving the young monarch the space and freedom to prove his mettle. She did, however, offer sage advice (which her son relied on) and acted as the king’s representative in his continental territories. She also helped to mediate several diplomatic scrapes her hot-headed offspring got himself into.

The dowager empress, who died on  10 September 1167, also got to enjoy the fact that Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had several healthy, thriving sons  to carry on the Anglo-Norman line. Henry and Eleanor 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. Even today, the current Queen of England is a direct descendant of the penultimate Plantagenet king, Edward IV.

I think that would please Matilda.

2 thoughts on “Warring Matilda

  1. That was still the age when kings were expected to be in the front line of battle, swinging a sword. Bit difficult for a queen.
    Raises the question – who was the first European reigning queen? I’d guess Isabella of Castile/Spain. Anybody earlier?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *