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


  She also gave a golden flower from one of her crowns to Abbot Suger for the abbey of Saint-Denis, near Paris,39 and (in 1131) a charter and many gifts to the abbey of Cluny, among them a fragment of the True Cross, a great bell, a set of “Anglican” bells with unique chimes, gold crucifixes, vestments of gold damask encrusted with gems, and a gold candelabrum to stand before the high altar. The latter stood on a pedestal seven feet tall, was adorned with precious stones and metals, and had seven branches, like the Menorah that Moses set up in the wilderness.40 Maud had long been a friend to the Order of Cluny; in Germany, she had witnessed the grant of privileges to its priory of Rüeggisberg. Before he died in 1156, Abbot Peter the Venerable called her the living image of her father in her generosity to Cluny, declaring that she loved it as much as he had done.41

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  Geoffrey’s marriage to Maud proved an unhappy one. She apparently despised him, preferring to style herself “empress and daughter of the King of the English” rather than countess of Anjou. Immediately after King Henry and Queen Adeliza had returned to England on 15 July 1129, Geoffrey repudiated Maud and sent her, with all her goods and chattels, and just a few attendants, to her father’s city of Rouen,42 where she remained for over two years. His reason for putting her away is not recorded. It has been suggested that, having married her in the expectancy of ruling England and Normandy in her name after Henry’s death, he had been angered to discover that that was not the King’s intention after all,43 but in fact Geoffrey showed no interest in England after Henry died; his preoccupation was solely with Normandy. However, there does appear to have been a falling-out between Henry and Geoffrey over Maud.44 Certainly Geoffrey’s repudiation of her was a blow to Henry’s plans for the succession.

  6

  “The Peril of Death”

  Henry and Adeliza kept the Christmas of 1129 at Worcester. At Easter (30 March) 1130 they stayed at Woodstock,1 then it was on to Clarendon, where the Sheriff of Oxford submitted an account for the conveying of their provisions from one royal hunting lodge to the other.2 On 4 May, the royal couple were at Canterbury for the consecration of the newly rebuilt cathedral. They returned to Normandy at Michaelmas (29 September),3 and were at Rouen in May 1131, when the Empress Maud witnessed her father’s charter to the abbey of Cluny. The King and Queen returned to England in June 1131, with Maud in their train,4 almost being shipwrecked on the way. So violent were the seas that Henry vowed that, if God spared him, he would remit all Danegeld for seven years and make a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Edmund at Bury, a vow he kept.5 Adeliza appears for the last time as a witness to a royal grant of Henry I in July 1131.6

  In 1130–31, the King apparently suffered some crisis of conscience, attested to by the numerous gifts he gave at this time to religious houses, especially convents. It has been speculated that this was spurred by guilt for his years of fornication;7 more likely it was part of one final attempt to persuade the Almighty to make his marriage fruitful.

  Disencumbered of his wife, Count Geoffrey had been planning to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Compostela, but when King Henry heard, he was most displeased. His views were conveyed to Geoffrey by Hildebert of Lavardin in a letter sent probably in 1131, in which Hildebert reminded the Count that his duty lay in ruling his lands.8 Geoffrey abandoned the idea of the pilgrimage, and soon afterward asked for Maud to be returned to him, saying he would receive her with all the honor due to her station9—from which it might be inferred that he had not treated her with appropriate honor in the past. Possibly he was concerned that, if he died childless, Anjou would pass to his young half brothers in Jerusalem.10

  Henry sought the advice of his barons at a packed meeting of the Great Council at Northampton, and on 8 September 1131, they consented that Maud be restored to her husband.11 It was politically desirable that she do so, in order to bear the heirs that would safeguard the succession. Soon afterward, Hildebert of Lavardin wrote to the King to say how pleased he was that Henry was reconciled with his son-in-law, “who had now fallen in with his wishes in everything concerning him and his daughter.”12

  That same day, Henry made the barons renew their oath to Maud as his heir, and those who had not sworn before were obliged to do so.13 This was of course a tactical move, given that, in marrying her to Geoffrey, Henry had ignored the barons’ proviso to the first oath, but their resentment still simmered. The fact that Henry did not once demand the allegiance of the barons for Geoffrey reveals his awareness of how contentious the marriage was. Afterward, Maud was “sent to her husband, and was received with the pomp that befitted such a great heroine.”14 Thereafter she and Geoffrey tried to make their marriage work, both politically and personally, and Maud spent time in Rouen learning how her father’s administration functioned.15

  Geoffrey was developing into an astute politician and strategist, “intelligent and of strong character,” “brave and resolute.”16 According to the laudatory Chronicle of the Counts of Anjou, he was “an outstanding soldier and a man of admirable worth, outstandingly just, dedicated to military deeds, most eloquent amidst the clergy and the laity.” He “spent his time riding around the country, performing illustrious feats.” Thanks to good fortune and hard work, he was to become “great in the eyes of the world at large.” Dedicated to defending his own, and to “the liberal arts, he strove to be loved and was honourable to his friends.” He not only “had the kindest soul,” but was “shrewd in his upright dealings,” gentle, gracious, energetic, trustworthy, good-humored, admirable, affable, jovial, generous, patient, likable, “graced with all good habits” and well informed, with “a thorough knowledge of antiquity.” “With outstanding competence he returned the principality to peace and his people to a quiet life.”17 Apart from the assertion that Geoffrey excelled at arguing, Maud might not have agreed with all aspects of this paean of praise; she probably shared the Norman prejudice against the Angevins. But Geoffrey could be cold, calculating and cruel, and he was also a philanderer who fathered several bastards.

  In charters Geoffrey acknowledged his wife’s superior rank, signing himself “the husband of Matilda, daughter of the King of the English and former wife to Henry, Roman Emperor.”18 Preoccupied with his own ambitions, he made no attempt to rule Maud, and let her pursue her affairs autonomously.19

  Henry might have recognized Maud as his heir, but in his final years he refused to allow her any power. Nor, clearly, did he intend that Geoffrey should share in her queenship when the time came; he had not even handed over the castles he had promised as Maud’s dowry. These factors inevitably led to bad feeling and strife between father and daughter, which lost Maud considerable support among the barons; for in supporting the King, they had to oppose the woman who might soon be their sovereign. It did not augur well for her succession.

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  In 1131, Adeliza gave lands for the foundation of a leper hospital dedicated to St. Giles at Fugglestone St. Peter near Wilton, Wiltshire, for poor brethren and sisters. There was once an inscription describing her as the foundress above the door of its chapel.20 That year she and Henry kept Christmas at Dunstable.21

  The King and Queen were at Oxford at Easter (26 March) 1132, where they stayed at Beaumont Palace, the King’s “new hall” outside the North Gate. It boasted an aisled hall, a chapel and cloisters.22 They had taken up residence at Winchester by 30 April, for a meeting of the Great Council early in May.23 They spent Christmas 1132 at Windsor, but Henry was unwell and had to take to his bed. When he left the castle, restored to health, it would be for the last time.

  On 25 March 1133, at Le Mans, Maud bore a healthy red-haired son and named him Henry after her father, although he would be known as Henry FitzEmpress. The birth of a male heir strengthened his mother’s position immeasurably, with its promise of a masculine succession. She wept with joy when Bishop Guy de Ploermel baptized the child on Easter Eve in Le Mans Cathedral, after which she donated a rich pallium to the shrine of St. Julian. Henry I was delighted at
the news, foreseeing that his grandson would one day rule over England, Normandy, Maine and Anjou, and he made a gift of an annual rent to Le Mans Cathedral.24

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  On 2 August 1133, Henry departed for Rouen, having left Adeliza in England. By now, he had apparently given up hope of her conceiving a child, and had ceased taking her with him on his travels. During the voyage across the English Channel there was an eclipse of the sun, followed by the appearance of Halley’s Comet. As before, when it had been seen prior to the Norman Conquest, people took it for an omen.25

  In the last quarter of the twelfth century, the chronicler Roger of Hoveden stated that, in 1133, King Henry had the lords and barons of all his dominions swear fealty to Maud and her infant son as his successors. There is no mention of this in contemporary sources, and if an oath was administered, it could only have been sworn by those magnates who were present in Normandy.

  On 10 February 1134, Henry’s old antagonist, his brother Robert, died in prison at Cardiff Castle, aged about seventy-eight. He was buried in St. Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester, now the cathedral, where his painted tomb, bearing the effigy of a knight, can still be seen.

  That spring, a heavily pregnant Maud took her year-old son to Argentan to see his grandfather the King. As Henry I looked proudly upon the child, he may have prayed that he would live long enough for the boy to succeed him. Whatever his hopes, he could not have foreseen that Henry FitzEmpress would become one of the greatest rulers of the age.

  On 1 June 1134, at Rouen, Maud came close to death giving birth to her second son, who was called Geoffrey after his father.26 The King was at her bedside afterward as she lay critically ill and made her will, in which “the prudent matron distributed her treasures to widows, orphans and the poor.” She also made bequests to various churches, hospitals and religious houses, “lavishing more of her bounty on Bec than on any other monastery”27 in gold, silver and precious stones. In addition, she left money for the completion of the Pont de Pierre (later known as the Pont Mathilde), the large stone bridge she was building across the Seine at the Île de la Roquette in Rouen.28 She expressed her wish to be buried at Bec-Hellouin, but Henry opposed it. “He said it was not worthy that his daughter, an empress who had twice been crowned in Rome by the hands of the Supreme Pontiff [sic], should be buried in any monastery, even one of the very purest religious observance; she should be taken into the city of Rouen, the metropolis of Normandy, and buried in the cathedral church beside her ancestors.” But Maud “knew it was salutary for the souls of the departed if their bodies might lie in the place where prayers for them were offered most frequently and devoutly to God.” Henry capitulated, and soon afterward Maud “escaped the peril of death,” thanks, it was believed, to divine approval of her charitable bequests.29

  Henry remained in Normandy “to rejoice in his grandsons,”30 and that year, as “Matilde imperatrice,” Maud witnessed a charter he granted to Coutances Cathedral, and herself issued one settling a dispute between the cathedral and the canons of Cherbourg. This was the last of only three charters she issued in her own right during her father’s lifetime, proof that he did not involve her in the government of his realms,31 probably because of the tensions between Anjou and Normandy. In fact, apart from the few months she spent in England between 1126 and 1131, Maud never went there, which meant that she was virtually a stranger to her future subjects.32

  7

  “Cast Down in Darkness”

  In the spring of 1135, Henry and Maud quarreled, because “Geoffrey of Anjou aspired to the great riches of his father-in-law and demanded castles in Normandy.”1 The castles had in fact comprised Maud’s dowry, but they had never been given to Geoffrey, so he had a legitimate grievance. “The proud-spirited monarch, however, was not prepared to set anyone above himself as long as he lived, or even to suffer any equal in his house or in his kingdom, for he never forgot the maxim of divine wisdom that no man can serve two masters.”2 Maud supported Geoffrey’s demand, and when he asked that the Norman barons submit to him as their overlord, she was as angered as her husband when Henry refused. An incandescent Geoffrey “vexed the King by not a few threats and insults.”3

  William Talvas, Count of Ponthieu, was the son of Robert of Bellême, Earl of Shrewsbury, a “grasping and cruel”4 rebel baron who had been imprisoned by Henry I since 1112. Talvas had also opposed Henry, and in 1135 the King confiscated his estates, whereupon Talvas fled to Anjou, where he sought Geoffrey’s aid. Maud pleaded with Henry to reinstate Talvas, but in vain. In the summer of 1135, Geoffrey supported—or perhaps instigated—a minor revolt in Normandy against the King.5

  Maud and Geoffrey demanded that Henry “do fealty to his daughter and her husband for all the fortresses in Normandy and England, which they required of him out of regard for their sons, who were King Henry’s lawful heirs.”6 Such a gesture would have gone a long way toward ensuring a peaceful transition of power in England to Maud when the time came, but Henry was not about to pay homage to Geoffrey, and refused out of hand. But he did put Robert, Earl of Gloucester, in command of Dover, so that, when the time came, Maud could land in England unopposed.

  Maud was blamed for the discord between her and her father, and even for hastening his death. Henry had planned on several occasions to return to England,7 but each time he was “detained by his daughter on account of various disputes, which arose on a number of issues between the King and the Count of Anjou, due to the machinations of the King’s daughter. The King was provoked by these irritations to anger and bitter ill feeling, which were said by some to have been the origin of the chill in his bowels, and later the cause of his death.”8 Instead of going to England, he marched to protect his southern border with Anjou, wishing he could take Maud from her aggravating husband by force.9

  Maud’s first loyalty was to her husband and sons. She had sent the children to Angers, and in the autumn, she herself joined them, little realizing that she would never see Henry again. Her decision to go to Angers was to have a fatal bearing on her future.

  On 25 November 1135, the King was staying at his hunting lodge at Saint-Denis-le-Ferment, which lay between Gisors and Lyons-la-Forêt in Normandy. “He had been hunting, and when he came back to Saint-Denis, he ate the flesh of lampreys, which always made him ill, though he always loved them. When his physician forbade him to eat the dish, the King did not take this salutary advice.”10 Lampreys were much enjoyed by the higher ranks of society in the Middle Ages, but some species were poisonous and needed thorough washing before being cooked. It was the opinion of the King’s contemporaries that his cook’s failure to do this “violently excited” an attack of food poisoning. “The meal brought on a most destructive humour, and violently stimulated similar symptoms, producing a deadly chill in his aged body, and a sudden and extreme convulsion.” He suffered “an acute fever with very heavy sweating.”11 Food poisoning such as salmonella can take time to develop, so it is more likely that Henry suffered an acute gastrointestinal episode, such as a peptic or duodenal perforation, which rapidly led to peritonitis.12 Soon it was clear that all his powers of resistance were failing.13

  As Henry lay dying, “much weakened by strenuous labours and family anxieties,”14 his bastard son Robert came to be with him. “His malady increasing,” the King summoned Hugh of Amiens, Archbishop of Rouen, while reports of his sickness prompted four nobles, all connections of his natural family, to hasten to his side. William of Malmesbury, a partisan of Maud’s, wrote that, “being interrogated by these persons as to his successor, he awarded all his territories on either side of the sea to his daughter in legitimate and perpetual succession, being somewhat displeased with her husband, as he had irritated him both by threats and by certain injuries.”15 The hostile anonymous chronicle known as the Gesta Stephani states that, as Henry lay dying, he repented of “the forcible imposition of the oath on his barons.”

  Henry I passed away just before midnight on 1 December 1135, with Earl Robert and the four other lord
s beside him. Queen Adeliza was in England at the time. The next day his inexpertly embalmed body was carried to Rouen, where his entrails, brain and eyes were buried16 in Notre-Dame de Pré, “which he had honoured with no mean presents, as it had been begun by his mother.”17 After being coffined and lying in state for four weeks in the Conqueror’s abbey in Caen, the remains were transported to England, stinking to high heaven.

  “King Henry is dead, once the pride, now the sorrow of the world,” mourned Henry of Huntingdon. “England, which shone on high with the cradle and sceptre of this divine being, is now cast down in darkness—she along with her King, Normandy with her Duke. The former nourished the boy, the latter has lost the man.”

  “What a terrible night was the first of December,” wrote William of Malmesbury, “that all England and Normandy now mourn! For you are dead, Henry. Throughout your life these two nations knew peace; and now they know tears.”

  Henry had been a successful monarch, “certainly, in an extraordinary degree, the greatest of all kings,”18 but a feared one; yet after he was gone, men who had grumbled about his harsh rule had cause to regret his loss. “A good man he was, and there was great dread of him. No man durst do wrong to another in his time. Peace he made for man and beast. Whoso bare his burden of gold and silver, durst no man say aught to him but good.”19 He had indeed brought peace, but it was soon to be shattered.

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  Many nobles had remained in Normandy for the King’s funeral, but Hugh Bigod, the royal steward and constable of Norwich Castle, hastened to Count Stephen in Boulogne to inform him that King Henry, on his deathbed, “had disinherited the Empress Maud and adopted his most dear nephew, Stephen, for his heir,” on account of “certain things that she had done against him.”20 He had also, Bigod stated, released his barons from their oaths to her.21 Bigod swore to this on oath before William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, “openly perjuring himself,”22 for although he said he had heard it from Henry’s own lips, he had not even been present at the deathbed. The Archbishop, believing him, declared that all the oaths sworn to the Empress “were null and void and contrary to the laws and customs of the English, who had never permitted a woman to reign over them.”23

 
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