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


  Maud stayed with the King and Queen at Windsor for the festive season. Henry summoned another large gathering of lords to a meeting of the Great Council at Windsor, engaged in much “long-continued deliberation” with them16 and took counsel from his chief advisers.17 Few details of their discussions survive. “After deliberating long and deeply,” the King spoke to his lords of the Empress and her doubly royal descent from the Norman and Saxon kings, and demanded that, “if he should die without male issue, they would, without delay or hesitation, accept his daughter as their sovereign.”18 They were reminded that, “through her, who was now his only heir, they should come to be governed again by the royal English blood,”19 inherited from her mother.

  There can be little doubt that Henry intended that Maud herself should rule after him, although historians have speculated that he was hoping that her title to the throne would be transmitted to her male heirs, if she had any, and that one would succeed him. But she was unmarried and childless, and he was fifty-six, only four years younger than his father had been when he died, so it is unlikely that he anticipated living until a son of his daughter was of an age to rule.

  It was commonplace for feudal estates to descend to female heirs, but most of those heiresses married husbands who took over their lands. Maud had no husband, and her choice of one—or Henry’s—would have a crucial bearing on the future of the Anglo-Norman realms. Naturally the assumption was that she would marry, and that the throne would ultimately pass to a son of hers; but, in naming Maud his heir, Henry was taking a huge risk in regard to the succession, since in eleven years of marriage she had produced only one short-lived child, and might never bear any more. Furthermore, he might be sowing the seeds of civil war, as there were four men who might challenge her title: her uncle Robert (although he was now seventy-five and still a prisoner), Robert’s son, William Clito, and Theobald and Stephen of Blois.20

  After Christmas, the Great Council adjourned to Westminster, where, on New Year’s Day 1127, Henry compelled “all the nobility of England, as well as the bishops and abbots, to make oath that they would accept his daughter Maud as their sovereign,” for it was to her alone that “the legitimate succession belonged, from her grandfather, uncle and father, as well as from her maternal descent for many ages back.”21 John of Worcester states the oath provided that, if Henry died without a male heir, and Maud had a son, she was to receive the English kingdom under Christ’s protection with “her lawful husband, should she have one.” The barons swore to defend her loyally against all others; but, fearing foreign interference, they insisted on their oath being conditional upon Maud not marrying outside England without their consent.22

  They all came forward, in order, to swear the oath: William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury; the bishops; David I, King of Scots; Queen Adeliza; Stephen, Count of Boulogne and Mortain; then the other barons, headed by the King’s eldest bastard, Robert of Caen, Earl of Gloucester, now aged about thirty-six and one of the greatest magnates in the land—“a man of proved talent and admirable wisdom.”23 But for his illegitimate status, Robert might have been a contender for the succession, for he had the qualities requisite for kingship; but attitudes to bastards inheriting had hardened since William the Conqueror had succeeded his father as Duke of Normandy in 1135.

  There was “a singular dispute” between Stephen and Robert, who contended, “with laudable emulation,” which of them should take the oath first, at which the abbots entered the affray. The King barked that they should all stop talking and swear the oath.24 Most barons gave their allegiance reluctantly, and many historians have assumed that they were dismayed at the prospect of being ruled by a woman. But not one actually voiced this opinion.

  Although there was no legal bar to a woman succeeding, there was no tradition of female rule in England or Normandy, and Norman England was a military society. Leadership in battle was one of the chief obligations of a feudal ruler, which was why men usually ruled, or ruled in their wives’ names. Yet there was no debate at the time, or later, about Maud’s suitability, as a woman, to be queen. In fact, not one chronicler mentions her sex as a drawback to her succeeding, which strongly suggests that it was not in itself seen as an issue.

  Maud had been highly respected as empress, had ruled effectively in her husband’s name and dispensed justice. But clearly there was concern among the barons, and many doubted that she would ever become queen.25 Chiefly they were preoccupied with the probability that she would remarry, in which case her husband would undertake her military duties. He might also use her resources to pursue his own interests, or subsume England within his own domains.

  There was one immediate, tangible effect of the oath, for it prompted Louis VI immediately to renew his support for Willam Clito, anticipating that the Anglo-Norman barons might prefer him to Maud. That very month, Louis arranged William Clito’s marriage to Jeanne of Montferrat, half sister of his own Queen, Adelaide of Maurienne. Clito thereupon laid claim to Normandy.

  At this time Maud “was abiding continually in the chamber of Adeliza.”26 They shared a European, Imperial perspective that may have forged a bond between them. Philippe de Thaon, who had enjoyed Adeliza’s patronage, dedicated his last work, Le Livre de Sibile, to Maud. It appears that the two women were close, and that Adeliza was sympathetic to Maud. She may have been genuinely fond of the stepdaughter who was probably older than her; but she must also have been aware of the necessity for cultivating the favor of the woman who might one day be her Queen.

  5

  “The Offence of the Daughter”

  During Lent, the court moved to London, and on to Woodstock for Easter (3 April), then back to London before 8 May. By then Henry had determined upon a second marriage for his daughter—but his choice of bridegroom was to prove a contentious one.

  In the months after Maud’s arrival in England, “several princes of Lorraine and Lombardy came to ask her in marriage and to demand her as their sovereign, but they lost the fruit of their labours,” because their aims did not fit with Henry’s political strategy.1 His nephew William Clito was vigorously asserting his claims to England and Normandy, and, to Henry’s consternation, Louis VI had installed William as count of Flanders, following the murder of Charles the Good at the end of March. Fulk V, Count of Anjou, was also supporting him.

  Anjou had long “flourished under high-spirited and warlike rulers” descended from Charlemagne, who had “dominated the peoples surrounding them with terror. They wrought all the destruction within their power upon their neighbours and subjugated the lands around.”2 With France and Flanders hostile, Henry wanted Anjou on his side, protecting his southern border. “Minded to make peace by his daughter’s marriage,”3 he successfully weaned Count Fulk away from his allies by forging an alliance with him to secure assistance against William Clito.4 Under its terms, Maud was to marry Geoffrey of Anjou, Fulk’s heir by Aremburga of Maine, a thirteen-year-old boy5 “of high nobility and noted courage,”6 “blooming in the first flower of youth.” Henry was aware that this “talented” prodigy, although not yet a knight, was celebrated far and wide, and promptly dispatched heralds to Count Fulk “to inform him of the royal will” in regard to the performance of the espousals.7

  Maud was outraged. She refused the marriage. She had been an empress, and evidently considered it beneath her to marry the mere son of a count, that rank being “lower than that of Roman emperor.”8 At twenty-five, she did not want a husband who was eleven years her junior. Furthermore, it was widely believed that the Angevin rulers were descended from Satan, through the beautiful witch Melusine, who was said to have married an early count of Anjou, but—the story went—flew out of a window when he forced her to attend Mass, and was never seen again. The two children she left behind were Geoffrey’s ancestors, and through him the ancestors of the Plantagenet line of kings who ruled England for three hundred years. Even the great Bernard of Clairvaux credited the tale; he said of the Angevin family, “From the Devil they came, an
d to the Devil they will return.”

  One tale had Henry locking Maud up until she agreed to the marriage. A tradition that may have had its origins in her protests links her to Mortemer Abbey at Lyons-la-Forêt, which was built on land gifted to the Cistercians by Henry I, and later refounded by Maud for the soul of her father. In its day, it was the largest Cistercian monastery in Christendom. Local legend has it that Henry had his daughter shut up in a room there for five years, and that her ghost, a white wraith, haunts the ruins.

  The truth is less prosaic. Maud wrote, hinting at her distress and her father’s anger, to her mother’s old correspondent, Hildebert, Bishop of Tours. He replied asking her to unburden herself more fully:

  I say what is known and proved by frequent experience. It is more satisfying to the thirsty to extinguish the ardour of thirst from a fountain than a stream. Wines taken from the first cask retain their native savour. Transferred from one to another, they degenerate. So your page fulfils my desire to know about you more richly than other’s accounts. For whatever I get from you about yourself will be more certain to me than what common rumour might bring to my ears. Therefore when I learned that winds blew in your service favourable to sending a message across the channel, I immediately sent letters to you about what had been conveyed from England revealing the will of the King and what the father’s breast was feeling about the offence of the daughter. I claim from you what I deserve to know through you. I claim, indeed, but as your friend in the Lord, as your servant in Christ, as one who puts your honour at the forefront of my happiness. What you know, therefore, about the King and yourself that should be told to a friend, I ask you to tell me.9

  In Maud’s response, she evidently lamented her situation at length, whereupon the Bishop wrote expressing sorrow at her intransigence and asked for her reassurance that she would cease causing distress to her father by persisting in her disobedience to his wishes.10 His letter may have prompted her capitulation before the King’s insistence that the marriage take place, for “on his advice, she took a second husband.”11

  It appears that the King envisaged Maud and Geoffrey ruling England jointly,12 but none of the nobility of England had “advised the match, or indeed knew of it.”13 Bishop Roger of Salisbury would later complain that only Earl Robert, Brian FitzCount and John, Bishop of Lisieux, had been privy to the King’s plans.14 Henry deliberately kept the treaty a secret because it contravened his promise to the barons not to marry his daughter outside England without their consent, and because of the intense rivalry between Normans and Angevins, arising from the latter coveting Maine. Both factors made it unlikely that the barons would accept Geoffrey as Maud’s future consort. Henry’s priority was to unite the rival peoples of Normandy and Anjou.

  At Whitsun (22 May) 1127, Henry sent Maud ahead to Normandy, escorted by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, and Brian FitzCount. Robert instructed Geoffrey Brito, Archbishop of Rouen, secretly to negotiate the terms of her betrothal. “Pledges were given, and a pact, supported by oaths,” sealed the negotiations in Anjou. At Henry’s behest, Fulk agreed to send his son in style to Rouen to be knighted by the King.15

  Geoffrey set out with a train of barons and knights, while Henry “rejoiced” at the prospect of his arrival.16 He himself arrived in Normandy on 26 August,17 and sent several distinguished nobles to conduct his future son-in-law to Rouen. When Geoffrey entered the hall of the royal palace, “the King, who was accustomed to stand for nobody, rose and went to meet him and, clasping him in an affectionate embrace, gave him a little kiss as though he were his son.” Taking him by the hand, he bade him sit next to him, and laid several problems before him, to determine how wise Geoffrey’s responses were. His “profound admiration grew at every moment,” and he was so “delighted by the youth’s sense and his replies” that the whole day was “spent in rejoicing and exultation.”18

  The next day, Henry knighted Geoffrey, who appeared at the ceremony wearing a cuirass of chain mail, iron boots, gold spurs and a helmet encrusted with precious stones, and carrying a shield on which were emblazoned golden lions. The ceremony took place “amid regal festivities” that lasted seven days.19

  Maud was present, and the couple were introduced. She would have seen that Geoffrey was not nicknamed “le Bel” (“the Fair”) without cause: he was a sharp-eyed “youth of high nobility and noted courage,”20 “tall in stature, handsome and red-headed,” and “exceptionally well educated.”21 But Maud was distinctly underwhelmed, and the antipathy seems to have been mutual.22 Despite her reluctance,23 the betrothal took place before the Archbishop of Rouen,24 with Henry promising Geoffrey a string of castles along Normandy’s southern border as a dowry.25 It was agreed that the marriage would be celebrated the following spring.

  Henry and Maud returned from Normandy soon afterward. He and Adeliza celebrated Christmas in London. They stayed in Normandy for much of the following year.

  In the spring of 1128, Henry sent messengers to Fulk of Anjou informing him that he should go to Le Mans eight days after Whitsun to celebrate his son’s marriage. The Count arrived “in great splendour,” while the King traveled from Rouen with Maud and Geoffrey, and they all “assembled for the nuptial sacrament” at Whitsun (17 June) at Le Mans Cathedral, where the marriage was solemnized by Turgis, Bishop of Avranches, assisted by “archbishops, bishops, abbots and priests.” The bishops were careful to ensure that it took place by mutual consent of the couple, and “both consented and each promised their faith to the other.”26

  We do not know what Maud wore to her second wedding, but by 1130 the “corse” (or “body”), an early form of corset, had made an appearance, satisfying the growing fashion for tiny waists. It was a bodice made of leather stiffened with wood or metal, and laced in front. At the same time, the pleated or gauffered bliaut, a light, shaped gown of Eastern origin, became popular with women of rank in western Europe. Elaborately stitched at the shoulders and elsewhere, it fell in soft folds to the floor. Over it was worn a sleeveless fitted bodice called a corsage, which covered the stomach and was often banded with embroidery or fancy stitchwork. A wide belt stretching from bust to hips was frequently tied over it. The girdle was worn on top, high on the waist and crossed at the back, so that its ends could be tied low over the stomach in front. If Maud had dressed in these fashions, she would have made an impressive bride.

  “There was rejoicing amidst the clergy, dancing by the people, and the shouting of praise by all and sundry.” An abundance of dishes was served at the wedding feast, “both sexes reclining to eat a varied meal.” Three weeks of celebrations followed, then Henry departed, having given his daughter and son-in-law the kiss of peace. Count Fulk was with the couple when they made their triumphal entry into Angers, the capital city of Anjou. When they were still some way off, “the whole city hurried to prepare for them; the walls of the churches were decorated with hangings and covers” and all the clergy went in procession to meet them, “singing hymns and praises. The new lord and lady were received by priests and people with solemn dances,”27 the joyful pealing of bells and the cheers of the people packing the streets.28

  Maud found herself conducted to a great house that dominated the southeast of the city, being situated by the River Maine and enjoying views overlooking vine-clad hills. It was “worthy to be called a palace,” for not long before, luxurious chambers fit for a king had been constructed.29 For Maud, it may have felt like a gilded prison.

  The marriage displeased not only the Empress, but also the King’s subjects, for the bridegroom was not regarded as worthy of her, and it was a blatant violation of the terms of the oath they had sworn to Maud earlier that year. “All the French and English thought ill of it,” the French being even more offended,30 having lost a valuable ally. Those who had sworn to recognize Maud as Henry’s successor “all declared prophetically that, after his death, they would break their plighted oath.”31 Bishop Roger of Salisbury angrily kept repeating that he was freed from the oath, for he had sworn it on
condition that the King should not marry his daughter to “anyone outside the kingdom without consulting himself and the other chief men”; that none of them advised the match or indeed even knew of it.32 Maud was prevailed upon to release the Bishop from his oath,33 but it made little difference. The aging King had been determined on the alliance with Anjou, and continued to be so, even after William Clito, trying to quell his rebellious Flemish subjects, suffered a fatal wound just over a month after Maud’s wedding; and of course Henry was thinking of the succession. He told Geoffrey that, unless he himself had a son by Adeliza, the crown of England would be his.34 Nevertheless, the marriage significantly undermined Maud’s support among the barons.

  Soon after his wedding, Geoffrey became count of Anjou, for his father, Fulk, abdicated and departed for the Holy Land to marry Melisende, heiress to the kingdom of Jerusalem. They wed in 1129 and became joint king and queen of Jerusalem two years later. Fulk never returned to Europe; he died in 1143, when a fall from his horse crushed his skull “and his brains gushed forth from both ears and nostrils.”35

  Before he left Anjou, Fulk visited his daughter Mahaut, the widow of William Atheling, at Fontevrault Abbey, where she had taken the veil. With him went his sons Geoffrey and Hélias, and probably Maud too. It may have been on this occasion that Maud’s reverence for Fontevrault was born.36

  Fontevrault was a fashionable double monastery in Anjou, where monks and nuns followed the Benedictine Rule. Founded in 1100 by an itinerant preacher called Robert d’Arbrissel, it had quickly attracted the attention of royalty and people of rank. The Empress was an early patroness. Fontevrault was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, for whom Maud clearly felt a special veneration, since many of the monasteries she patronized, and all the Cistercian ones, were dedicated to the Virgin.37 In May 1129, she confirmed a generous charter granted by her father to Fontevrault.38 In 1141, she would give the community a perpetual annuity of fifty marks of silver and confirm all Henry I’s charters to Fontevrault.

 
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