Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens by Alison Weir


  They traveled on via Cologne, Speyer and Worms to Mainz, where, on St. James’s Day, 25 July, in the cathedral where the hand of the Apostle was venerated, Maud was crowned queen of Germany and queen of the Romans by Frederick of Schwarzenburg, Archbishop of Cologne, as Bruno, Archbishop of Trier, her husband’s chief counselor, held her “reverently” in his arms.

  Heinrich wanted his future bride to be “nobly brought up and honourably served. She should learn the language and customs and laws of the country, and all that an empress ought to know, now, in the time of her youth.”25 He established Maud in the ancient Roman city of Trier on the banks of the Moselle. He sent home most of her English attendants, appointed Germans to serve her, and placed her in the charge of his kinsman and wise adviser, Archbishop Bruno. She probably lived at the Aula Palatina, the great palace that had been built by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Its massive hall, sixty-seven feet long and thirty-three feet high, still stands, and the apse was used by the archbishops of Trier as their residence in the Middle Ages. Maud’s seal survives in the British Museum; it shows her with a crown and scepter and bears the legend MATHILDIS DEI GRATIA ROMANORUM REGINA.

  Soon after Maud arrived in Germany, Pope Paschal drove a bargain: if Heinrich would cede the investiture question, Paschal would make the German clergy surrender to the King all lands and rights given to them by his predecessors.

  The chronicler Robert of Torigni, writing at least forty years later, asserts that, on 12 February 1111, in “the city of Romulus, the Imperial diadem was placed on Queen Maud’s head by the Supreme Pontiff.” Torigni knew Maud, and had a good opinion of her, thanks to her generous patronage of the abbey of Bec-Hellouin,26 of which he became prior in 1149. But it has been disputed that Heinrich took her with him when he marched to Rome that year at the head of an army—funded by Maud’s dowry—and demanded that Pope Paschal II crown him Roman emperor.

  Maud herself was to insist that she had been crowned empress; she enjoyed Imperial status as the wife of the Emperor,27 called herself empress, and was widely acknowledged as such. Henry I was under the impression that she had twice been crowned in Rome by the Pope himself,28 and Maud would later lead the Norman chroniclers to believe that she had indeed been crowned empress twice,29 but it seems she was only ever crowned once, as queen of the Romans, the title by which she continued to style herself.

  When the new treaty was announced from the steps of St. Peter’s, the German clergy erupted in furious protest, and it immediately became clear that Heinrich would be unable to keep his part of the bargain. Paschal refused to crown him, whereupon Heinrich refused to concede the right of investiture. Seizing the Supreme Pontiff and sixteen cardinals, he carried them out of Rome as his prisoners. Paschal had no choice but to admit defeat, so Heinrich escorted him back to Rome and was crowned emperor there on 13 April.

  14

  “The Peace of the King and Me”

  Matilda was with Henry when, at Whitsun 1110, he held court for the first time in the new castle at Windsor,1 staying in “the King’s house.” He had built a round stone shell keep2 on the site of his father’s wooden castle, and a great hall measuring seventy-one feet by forty-one, which stood in the lower bailey, or ward. Attached, or nearby, were chambers, offices and kitchens; kitchens were often housed in separate buildings because of the risk of fire.

  At the top of the upper ward stood the King’s house, built of wood, in which were to be found the fine range of apartments Henry had raised for himself and his Queen. Occupying a square quadrangular palace, with towers at its two northern corners, they comprised a smaller hall, chambers, chapels and the King’s kitchen.3 Henry had also raised new walls around the two baileys.

  In 1110, we have the first record of Henry I visiting his newly built hunting lodge at Woodstock, Oxfordshire, which stood on the site of a Saxon royal residence. It lay amid the King’s demesne forests of Woodstock, Cornbury and Wychwood, and the hunting was excellent, which accounted for it quickly becoming “the favourite seat of his retirement and privacy.”4 Henry dated many charters in the house, which had a spacious hall with two aisles of white pillars. He built a stone wall surrounding the deer park in 1111. Yet no charters were signed or witnessed at Woodstock by Matilda, who probably never went there, and other evidence suggests that this was where Henry resorted with his mistresses.5

  At Winchester in 1110, when they kept great state together, they personally assisted at the exhumation of the bodies of King Alfred and his Queen, Ealhswith, which were borne in state through the city from the ruinous abbey church of Newminster and reinterred before the high altar of the newly built Hyde Abbey, which the King and Queen had founded and endowed as a suitable shrine for one of England’s greatest kings—and Matilda’s direct ancestor. The bones of Alfred’s son, King Edward the Elder, were moved at the same time.

  Christmas was kept in great state at Windsor Castle. There Henry gave the earldom of Northamptonshire to Matilda’s brother David.6 David, then twenty-five, was four years younger than Matilda and like her in many ways, being a pious, “just, chaste and humble” prince, “loved for his gentleness, admired for his purity, and approachable by everyone through his humility.”7 Clearly he was fond and proud of his sister, for he styled himself “brother of the Queen of the English,” and called his heir after Henry I.8 He was to succeed Alexander I in 1124, and would become one of Scotland’s greatest kings, and a champion of Matilda’s daughter in her time of need.

  At the Great Council that met at Westminster at Whitsun 1111, “Matilda, the good Queen” did her best to persuade Henry “to love all his folk and leave all his disputing, and bear with his barons” and “the lords of towns and burgesses of cities.”9 She visited Waltham Abbey on 8 August, and issued a charter to the city of Bath.10

  Soon afterward Henry went to Normandy, leaving her as regent. At Michaelmas she was in Winchester, where she presided over “her court and that of her husband”—probably the court of the Exchequer, part of the King’s Council—in the treasury there, referring to it in documents as “my justiciary,” and to “the peace of the King and me,” arrogating to herself an authority that no English regent had hitherto exercised.11 She took decisions in her own right, and affixed her own seal to official documents, another break with tradition.12

  She was present when the relics of St. Ethelwold were translated from the crypt to the choir of Winchester Cathedral.13 It was probably early in 1112 that she traveled to Gloucester to witness Robert Gernon granting two churches to St. Peter’s Abbey.14 Here she may have stayed to the north of the city at the royal hall at Kingsholm, built of timber by Edward the Confessor before 1051; it was here that the Norman kings held court when visiting Gloucester, and here, in 1085, that the Conqueror had given the order for the compiling of Domesday Book.15

  Early in 1113, Matilda’s nine-year-old son, William Atheling, was betrothed to Mahaut, daughter of Fulk V, Count of Anjou, sealing a peace with Anjou. That year the Queen kept great state at Winchester until, in July, the King returned to England. He may have come because she was unwell, for around this time she suffered an unspecified illness of some duration. In Bishop Hildebert’s last surviving letter to her, written possibly in 1114, he asked after her condition, adding:

  Holy love ignores the discomforts of time or place. Affection rules it, which is always its own law, prejudiced by no alien force. It is always permitted to love, even if it is not permitted to see the one you love. So, though I am separated from you by land and sea, I love you in Christ, and mention you there where honourable thought is promised reward and illicit thought, punishment. To the altar of the Lord, indeed, your memory accompanies me, fearing lest it bring down judgment on me if I defraud you of that intervention which you, O Queen, bought with your gifts.16

  Herbert de Losinga composed a special prayer to be offered up to St. John the Evangelist for her “long-awaited recovery,”17 which was complete by the following year.

  15

 
; “All the Dignity of a Queen”

  On 7 January 1114, Maud, now nearly twelve, was married to the Emperor Heinrich, who was twenty-seven. They celebrated their nuptials at Worms Cathedral “with great magnificence,” the bride “bearing herself with all the dignity of a queen, despite her youth.” The congregation included five archbishops, thirty bishops, five dukes and so many nobles, abbots, provosts and clergy that “no one present could tell their numbers. So numerous were the wedding gifts that various kings and primates had sent to the Emperor, and the gifts that the Emperor gave from his own store to the throngs of jesters and jongleurs [minstrels] and people of all kinds, that not one of his chamberlains who received or distributed them could count them.”1

  A drawing of the wedding feast survives in a manuscript in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and in the accompanying description Maud’s beauty, dignity and lineage are effusively lauded.2 Heinrich “endowed” her with eleven hundred knights,3 ladies and chaplains. She did not have her own chancellor, for her household was run by the Imperial chancellor. Following her marriage, England and the Empire grew closer.

  “All hoped that Queen Maud might be the mother of an heir to the Roman Empire,”4 but she was to bear Heinrich just one child, who died soon after birth.5 Herman of Tournai, who believed that Maud’s mother had been a professed nun when she married, saw in the loss of this child divine retribution. Other chroniclers saw the Emperor’s lack of a legitimate heir as God’s punishment for his conflict with the Church. Heinrich had at least one bastard, and Maud was later to prove fruitful with her second husband, so it is hard to determine why they had no other children.

  The chroniclers were unanimous in praising Maud. She was “held to bring glory and honour to both the Roman Empire and the English realm.”6 “The Emperor loved his noble wife deeply,”7 while her “prudent and gracious behaviour to her Imperial spouse won the esteem of the German princes.”8 She played an active supporting and ceremonial role from the start of her marriage and “carried out the duties of imperial rule virtuously and piously,”9 witnessing royal acta, carrying petitions to her husband, interceding for others and keeping her father informed of events.10 Like her mother and grandmother, she shared in the rule of her husband’s vast territories, supported by his advisers and clergy.11 She was loved by the Imperial nobles as their lady, while the poor came to regard her as a pious mother figure,12 and in Germany she became known as “the good Maud.”13 This was in marked contrast to the way in which she would later be viewed by English chroniclers.

  In 1115, the Benedictine chronicler Hugh, Abbot of Fleury, having obtained her permission, dedicated his book, Modernorum regum francorum actus (The Modern Acts of the Frankish Kings):

  To Matilda, glorious Empress, Hugh, unworthy monk of the monastery of Father Benedict at Fleury, to rejoice equally in temporal and eternal felicity. I decided to collect this little book for you, my lady, so that the loftiness of your family might be known to posterity and the nobility of your ancestors published to future centuries. So I shall take pains to put forth briefly to you in the book of the modern kings of the Franks the acts of those who ruled after Emperor Louis the Pious in France, for the raising of your spirits. In this prologue, moreover, I shall take pains to recount to you the splendid genealogy of your ancestors and I shall briefly narrate their actions equally among the deeds of the aforesaid kings, and I shall declare clearly to those who do not know it, the nobility of your lineage.

  He wrote of the rulers of Normandy all the way back to Rollo, and of Maud’s grandfather, the Conqueror, who “appeared glorious to the ends of the earth beyond all the kings and princes of our time. Few later kings will, I think, imitate him and enjoy the affluence and elegance of his customs with which God and happy fortune endowed him in this life. His son and heir was Henry, magnificent king of the English, your father. I ask you, receive favourably this gift offered to you and strengthen it with the sign of your authority. Omnipotent God bless you with his grace and make you fertile with progeny and happy always with prosperity. Amen.”

  —

  The see of Canterbury had remained vacant since the death of Anselm in 1109, until, in April 1114, the King consented to the election of a new archbishop. He and the monks of Canterbury wanted Abbot Faricius, but Bishop Roger and Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln, were opposed to Faricius on the grounds that he had been the Queen’s physician and that “smelling women’s urine” did not qualify him for the primacy. Henry did not press the point, and Ralph d’Escures, Bishop of Rochester, was elected instead.14

  In September 1114, Henry visited Normandy again, once more leaving Matilda ruling England as regent. At Christmas he had his Norman barons swear fealty to William Atheling as his heir.15 William was now eleven, and in the charge of a tutor, Othuer FitzEarl, a bastard son of Hugh d’Avranches, Earl of Chester.

  Matilda spent Easter 1115 at Odiham Castle, Hampshire.16 Weeks later she was mourning the passing of her sister, Mary, Countess of Boulogne. While visiting England, Mary (according to her epitaph) had been taken ill suddenly and died in great pain on 31 May17 at the Cluniac priory at Bermondsey. Here she was buried in a beautiful marble tomb on which her august royal connections were carved in gold letters,18 probably at the command of her sister the Queen.

  Mary’s only child, Matilda, was about two years old at the time of her death. According to Agnes Strickland, her grieving father placed her in Bermondsey Priory to be raised and educated there, but there is no contemporary evidence for this. As her father’s sole heiress, the young Matilda of Boulogne was one of the most desirable brides in Europe, not only on account of the great inheritance that would come to her on her father’s death—the counties of Boulogne and Lens on the Continent and the honor of Boulogne in England—but also because, like Matilda of Flanders and Adeliza of Louvain, she was impeccably descended from Charlemagne, and was also the great-niece of Edward the Confessor, and the niece of the beloved Matilda of Scotland.

  Unsurprisingly, Henry I had already arranged a royal match for this valuable prize in the marriage market, betrothing her to her first cousin, the King’s dearest nephew,19 Stephen of Blois, the son of William the Conqueror’s daughter Adela by Stephen, Count of Blois. Two years earlier, Adela had sent her son to Henry’s court, for the King had promised him great prospects. True to his word, he had knighted him, given him estates in England and the county of Mortain in Normandy, and betrothed him to this wealthy heiress. On marriage, Stephen would acquire the great honor of Boulogne. In return, he would fight for Henry in Normandy when Robert of Normandy’s son, William Clito, began inciting disaffection in the duchy. The betrothal had taken place before June 1115.20

  16

  “Blessed Throughout the Ages”

  Henry returned to England in July 1115. Since the time of William the Conqueror, the Normans had been pushing westward into Wales, but by the reign of Henry I, both the Welsh and the Normans were focused on achieving a peaceful accord. On 19 September 1115, Matilda’s chancellor, Bernard, a royal chaplain from Hereford, was consecrated the first bishop of the Welsh see of St. David’s. There had been some debate as to where the ceremony was to take place, but in the end it was held in Westminster Abbey, as Matilda wanted to be present.1

  By now, “the multitude of brethren praising God day and night” in Matilda’s foundation, Holy Trinity, Aldgate, had so increased “that all the City was delighted in the beholding of them, insomuch that, in the year 1115, certain burgesses of London” came together in the chapter house with Prior Norman, and gave to the church substantial lands in London, their grant being afterward confirmed by charter of the King. Thanks to such benefactions, “the priory, in process of time, became a very fair and large church, rich in lands and ornaments, and surpassed all the priories in the City of London.”2 It had also acquired many daughter houses.

  On 28 December 1115, Matilda, Henry and their twelve-year-old son William attended the consecration of the rebuilt abbey church at St. Alban
s, where they and their court were spending the Christmas season as guests of Abbot Richard d’Albini. Matilda’s brother, David, now Prince of the Cumbrians, was with them. Geoffrey Brito, Archbishop of Rouen, officiated, and the ceremony was performed with great magnificence.3 Matilda was one of the benefactresses of the abbey. The fourteenth-century Golden Book of St. Albans4 records that she gave it two manors, and has a fine illumination of her wearing fourteenth-century dress.5 The royal couple stayed until 6 January.

  Henry and Matilda sometimes made use of the royal manor at Brampton, near Huntingdon. There was good hunting to be had there, and in King John’s reign it was recorded that the King and Queen had worn their crowns on three occasions in the wooden chapel of the royal manor.6

  Matilda took an interest in Merton Priory, Surrey, founded in 1114 by Gilbert the Norman, Sheriff of Surrey, for whom she had a special affection. Once, in the days before his ordination, when he had been at court, she had seen him looking melancholy, and learned from others that his mother had died. She gently asked him why he had not told her, and he replied that he feared his excessive grief might disturb her royal dignity, whereupon she took his hand and offered to adopt him as her own son and treat him with maternal affection for as long as she lived.7 Gilbert came to regard her as a second mother, for she had furthered his career and protected his interests.8

  Soon after Merton’s foundation, Matilda visited the Augustinian community to see how the building works were progressing and give gifts. She brought her son William, whom she allowed to play in the grounds, hoping that his happy memories of the occasion would lead him in time to extend his patronage to Merton. He was with her when she returned in 1117, when the priory moved to a new site, which it would occupy until the Dissolution.9

 
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