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


  Matilda wielded considerable power. She spent most of her time in and around London, for her honor of Boulogne encompassed an area that included London and Colchester, which gave her a strong territorial advantage. Evidence in charters shows that she was closely involved in the affairs of Stephen’s court and with his chief advisers.18 She sought the friendship of the pious crusader Thierry of Alsace, who had replaced William Clito as count of Flanders, and was thus able to hire Flemish mercenaries, who would prove useful in the years to come.

  Stephen trusted Matilda’s political judgment. Following the example of his predecessors, he relied on her support in government, and she enjoyed great influence. One of her first acts as queen was to subscribe a charter to Reading Abbey.19 Styling herself “Queen of the English and Countess of Boulogne,” she granted forty-six charters and writs in her own right, thirty-five of them to religious institutions, and witnessed fifty-two royal charters.20

  She adjudicated in disputes. Around 1143–47, she issued a stiffly worded charter to Baldwin of Wissant, constable of the honor of Boulogne, complaining that Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, had objected “at the home of the King and me that you harass his land and his canons of Good Easter, Essex, and surround their men. Therefore I command to you and order that you keep peace for them. May I hear no more complaint from there.” Matilda gave lands to St. John’s Church in Colchester, and ordered “Malcolm de St. Liz, his son Walter and her own tenants, who had dispossessed the church and the monks of that same place of their tenement of Tey, to return the land to the monks’ control.”21

  Matilda became the patron of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, founded by her aunt Matilda of Scotland. At Christmas 1136, she acted as advocate for Prior Norman in a dispute against Aschill, keeper of the Tower of London, who was determined to retain possession of lands his predecessor had appropriated from the priory.22 Norman’s successor, Ralph, was licensed as the Queen’s chaplain by Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1147.23 Ralph was a venerable and amiable man of mature years, “very well educated in divine and humane letters.” Born and raised in London, he was devoted to all its citizens, and greatly loved by Stephen and Matilda and their courtiers.24

  Another Ralph served as the Queen’s chancellor, at least between 1137 and 1141. He witnessed her charters and supervised the clerks of her chapel, who issued documents and letters in her name. Her household was headed by her chamberlain, Hubert, who was responsible for her treasury and assisted with the education of her children.25

  According to her epitaph, Matilda was “a true worshipper of God and a real patroness of the poor. She lived submissive to God, that she might afterwards enjoy His presence.”26 Shared religious interests strengthened the close bond between her and Stephen. Like William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders, they gave their daughter Marie to God, placing her, while she was still a child, in the abbey of Saint-Sulpice La Forêt at Rennes, Brittany.27 Like her great-aunt Cecilia at Caen, she would have been an oblate. The date of her admission is not recorded.28

  The pious Queen made several benefactions; the land she gave to religious houses came from her wealthy honor of Boulogne. In 1147–48, she granted the canons of Holy Trinity lands in Braughing, Hertfordshire. She and Stephen jointly gave Holy Trinity lands in Clayhurst, Kent, and Hertfordshire29 in exchange for “their mill and those parts of their land which they conceded to me next to the Tower of London where I made a paupers’ hospital”; this land was in the parish of St. Botolph, in which Matilda established what she described in the foundation charter as “my hospital next to the Tower of London,” which became known as the Royal Hospital of St. Katharine’s by the Tower and stood to the east of the fortress.30 It was founded, the Queen stated, so that prayers might be said “in perpetual alms for the repose of the souls of Baldwin my son and Matilda my daughter, who rest buried in that same church” of Holy Trinity.31 In associating herself with Holy Trinity in this way, Matilda was identifying herself with the pious and popular Matilda of Scotland32—as she consciously did in several other ways, an affinity that was reinforced by Stephen in charters that linked his wife to “the time of her aunt.”33

  The Queen’s intention was “to maintain in the said Hospital in perpetuity thirteen poor persons for the salvation of the soul of my lord, King Stephen and of mine, and also for the salvation of our sons, Eustace and William and of all our children.”34 Granting £20 a year from her income from Queenhithe,35 Matilda provided for a master, three brethren, three sisters, chaplains, ten poor almswomen and six poor clerks, reserving for herself the right to choose the master.36

  In 1145–47, again for the safety and peace of her children’s souls, Matilda gave the church of Witham, Essex, to the canons of St. Martin le Grand in London, a house that enjoyed the special patronage of her and the King.37 This monastery received more charters from Stephen and Matilda than any other, demonstrating their particular devotion to it, while Matilda’s patronage was of great benefit to the canons in their legal disputes.38

  Stephen granted Matilda the great Saxon abbey at Barking, Essex, “just as Queen Matilda her aunt once held it.”39 Around 1139, he also granted her Waltham Abbey, which had been the property of Matilda of Scotland and Adeliza of Louvain. Matilda of Boulogne held her own court at Waltham, in which, Stephen decreed, “if any of the men of the aforesaid vill is accused of any offence, he shall go before the court of the Queen, and there canons shall plead in accordance with their rule and laymen in accordance with secular law.” She was also a benefactress of the abbeys of Godstow and Bec-Hellouin.40

  Matilda, like Stephen, supported the new eremitical monastic orders to which the early twelfth century had given birth. She lived in an age of monastic revival, when many felt that the oldest-established Order, the Benedictines (called black monks, after the color of their habits)—and even the Cluniacs, who had been founded in the tenth century in the interests of monastic renewal—had grown too worldly and lax in their observance of the Rule laid down by St. Benedict in the sixth century. In this climate, new orders flourished. The first Cistercian abbey had been established in 1098, and this austere Order of white-clad monks, with their strict observance of the Rule and return to the primitive ideals of monasticism, was spreading rapidly; by 1200, they would have five hundred houses. The even more austere Carthusians lived silent, solitary existences within their communities. The Augustinian and Premonstratensian white canons and the eremitical orders of Savigny and Arrouaise (Calais) had been founded in recent years by groups of hermits who followed a simple, ascetic mode of life. The founder of Savigny came from Fontevrault Abbey, which had also been founded by a hermit, Robert d’Arbrissel; Matilda witnessed a charter granted to it by Stephen in 1137.

  Stephen had founded the first Savigniac house in England41 in 1124 at Tulketh, near Preston. Three years later, he moved the community to Furness Abbey, his own foundation. Another Savigniac abbey, Longvilliers in Boulogne, was founded by him and Matilda in 1135. Around 1139–41, the royal couple and their son Eustace established another at Coggeshall, Essex, which was part of the Queen’s honor of Boulogne; in the foundation charter she granted to the monks the manor of Coggeshall.42 The abbey church was not completed until 1167, although today nothing remains from Matilda’s time. In 1147 the Order of Savigny was incorporated into the more powerful Cistercian Order.43

  In 1141 and 1142, Matilda issued charters granting lands jointly with her son Eustace to the Augustinian abbey of the Holy Trinity and Saint-Nicholas at Arrouaise in Calais.44 The Order of Arrouaise, like that of Savigny, was eremitical; it had been founded in 1105 and gained momentum in the 1130s.

  4

  “The First Anniversary of My Lord”

  The widowed Queen Adeliza had been present with King Stephen when, on 4 January 1136, Henry I was buried before the high altar in Reading Abbey. A tomb was raised to his memory, and on it was placed the earliest recorded royal effigy in English history.1

  After the funeral, Adeliza retired from public
life. She may have taken up residence at Arundel Castle, which had been bequeathed to her, with its wealthy honor, by the late King, who also gave her in dower, in perpetuity, the city of Chichester and the Isle of Wight.2 In 1067, William the Conqueror had granted Arundel to his kinsman Roger of Montgomery, who in return was to build a castle, one of a defensive chain of strongholds along the south coast. Roger raised a mighty fortress. Located four miles from the English Channel, near a Saxon earthwork, Arundel Castle was constructed on a very similar plan to Windsor Castle, with a motte crowned by a timber keep, having two baileys on either side, a gatehouse tower of stone—the oldest surviving part of the castle, dating from c.1070—and a massive curtain wall, which substantially survives.3

  A long-standing local tradition asserts that Adeliza lived close to her leper hospital at Fugglestone St. Peter near Wilton for at least the first year of her widowhood, in a house that was still standing, and called after her, in the nineteenth century. In widowhood she held the great abbeys of Wilton, Romsey and Waltham, traditionally part of the dower of queens,4 so it is more likely that she spent some of that year in seclusion at Wilton Abbey. Late in 1136, a “Master Serlo” witnessed a charter issued by Adeliza to Reading Abbey on the anniversary of her husband’s death (see below). He was probably the poet Serlo of Wilton, who apparently returned home that year after completing his studies in the schools of France. In 1139, in a charter of her second husband, Serlo appears as the Queen Dowager’s clerk, and she may have been his patron.5 Several documents attest to his being in her service, and in one he refers to her as “domine mee Aalide regine.” He may have remained with her until her death, or until she left England.6

  Widowhood, and the desire to ensure the safe passage of her late husband’s soul to Heaven, spurred Adeliza to exercise the kind of monastic patronage she had omitted to bestow when Henry was alive. Between 1136 and 1141 she gave donations for his salvation to Winchester Cathedral, Eynsham Abbey and Osney Priory in Oxfordshire, the Cistercian foundations of Tintern and Waverley, Surrey, and the abbey of Saint-Sauver, a cell of Jumièges in the Norman Cotentin. She also gave churches in Salisbury, Stanton Harcourt and Berkeley Hernesse, Gloucestershire, to Reading Abbey.7 She was an early patron of the Knights Templar.8

  In the years of her widowhood, Adeliza may have commissioned the Shaftesbury Psalter, the earliest surviving example of a book commissioned by a woman, which was perhaps written at Arundel under the supervision of her chaplains. It is the prominence given to St. Lambert, Bishop of Maastricht, a popular saint in northern Europe, that has led scholars to suggest that the psalter was made at Adeliza’s behest. It contains colored illustrations of a noblewoman kneeling before Christ and standing in adoration before the Virgin and Child; she is probably Adeliza.9

  Adeliza’s younger brother Joscelin of Louvain came to England to seek his fortune at this time. He was more likely to have been her father’s bastard son by an unknown mistress than the son of Godfrey’s second wife, Clementia of Flanders, and he was perhaps about fifteen years old. Joscelin was with Adeliza on the first anniversary of King Henry’s death, in December 1136, when she visited Reading Abbey, attended by her almoner, her chaplains and her entire household. Having been received by a large company of abbots, priors and priests, she was conducted up the nave by the bishops of Salisbury and Worcester, and placed a rich pall on the altar.

  On that day she granted two charters, one bestowing on the abbey funds for a solemn annual service for the repose of the soul of her late husband. The other read: “Be it known to all the faithful of Holy Church of all England and Normandy that I, Adelidis, wife of the most noble King Henry, have granted and given for ever to God and to the church of St Mary of Reading, for the health and redemption of the soul of my lord, and of mine own, and also for the health of my lord Stephen, by the grace of God, King of the English, and of Queen Matilda his wife, and all the offspring of King Henry, my manor and church of Aston [Hertfordshire], which my lord the King gave to me as his Queen and wife.” She also gave 100s. annually for members of the convent attending the anniversary, and afterward granted land at Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, and 110s. annually, out of her Queenhithe profits, to keep a lamp burning perpetually before the King’s tomb. “And this gift I have made on the first anniversary of my lord, the most noble King Henry, in the same church, by the offering of a pall, which I placed on the altar.”10 Her charter was witnessed by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, several other prominent members of the clergy, Master Serlo, the Queen Dowager’s clerk, Gozo, her constable, Reginald of Windsor, her steward, and Joscelin, her brother.11

  Joscelin of Louvain grew up to be “of handsome presence and great skill in tourney,”12 although he could not have taken part in tournaments in England because Henry I had banned them.13 Adeliza’s tolerance toward her late husband’s bastards, whose souls she had included as beneficiaries of her charter to Reading Abbey, was of a piece with the patronage she extended to her bastard half brother.14 She granted him the manor and honor of Petworth, Sussex, which had been bequeathed to her by Henry I. In tenure, he gave her knight’s service as “castellan” (the Lotharingian title for a constable) of Arundel Castle,15 which—if it were ever besieged—he was to help defend for forty days.16

  In placing King Stephen and his Queen immediately after her late husband in her charter, Adeliza, despite her oath to her stepdaughter, was effectively declaring her loyalty to him as her father’s successor. The Empress is not mentioned, save indirectly as one of Henry I’s offspring.

  5

  “Unable to Break Through”

  At the great Easter court in 1136, Stephen declared himself in favor of reforming the Church and restricting royal interference in its affairs, and made lavish promises, which bolstered his support among the clergy. But then he was taken so ill that reports of his death were circulated. Hearing that the King was dead, Hugh Bigod—he who had claimed that Henry I had left the crown to Stephen—seized Norwich Castle, probably anticipating that the Empress would make a bid for the throne. But Stephen rallied, marched on the city and laid siege to the castle, forcing Hugh to surrender it.

  Stephen’s illness alerted him to the need to have his son recognized as the heir to Normandy by Louis VI, to preempt any possibility of Louis offering his support to Maud. As soon as he was well, he hastened with Eustace to Paris, leaving Matilda in England, and prevailed on Louis to recognize his son as duke of Normandy.

  At Whitsun 1136, another great court—probably a crown-wearing—was held at Winchester and attended by many nobles. The King and Queen had their son Eustace with them, and Matilda and Eustace witnessed a charter granted by Stephen to the abbey of Cluny.1

  Queen Matilda spent part of the hot summer of 1136 at Corfe Castle, while Stephen and Robert, Earl of Gloucester, had Exeter under siege from June to August,2 its castle having been seized by Baldwin de Redvers, who was extorting onerous dues from the citizens. Matilda planned to join Stephen there. On the way, she visited the renowned holy man and seer Wulfric of Haselbury, who was now an anchorite at the church of St. Michael and All Angels at Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset, to which his cell was attached. Wulfric had correctly predicted the death of Henry I and the accession of Stephen, and foretold disasters for the latter. Now he castigated Matilda for snubbing Gwladus ferch Rhiwallon, the Welsh wife of his neighbor and patron, Sir William FitzWalter, Constable of Windsor Castle, when Gwladus had attended her at Corfe. He warned her that she would find herself desperate for friends in the future.3

  The Queen apparently arrived while Exeter was still under siege. She appears as a witness to charters granted to Exeter churches.4 When it became clear that the rebels could no longer hold out against his besieging forces, Earl Robert urged the King to show mercy, upon which Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry, counseled that justice be meted out to Baldwin without further ado. Possibly Henry suspected that Robert was covertly doing his best to undermine the King’s authority. If so, he succeeded, for Stephen set all the rebels
free, unpunished, sending out the unmistakable message that traitors would be dealt with softly.5

  Baldwin fled to Normandy and the protection of Count Geoffrey and the Empress.6 There, he and all the others Maud had induced to obey her were urged “by continual treaties and reminders” to resort to raiding, plundering and committing arson in her husband’s cause.7

  Maud had held her position at Argentan, which Geoffrey used as a springboard for campaigns in the rest of Normandy. There, on 22 July 1136, she bore her third son, William,8 said to have been her favorite child. This birth also seems to have been a difficult one, for it was said to have given rise to an illness that would eventually incapacitate Maud, and might have been one reason why she never bore another child.

  Soon afterward, Maud sought divine help against Stephen. “In order to obtain a happy enterprise against the usurper, and at the same time to fulfill her good intentions in times past,” and out of affection for the late Norbert of Xanten, the saintly founder of the Premonstratensian Order, whom she had known in Germany, she resolved to found an abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary. She sent Drogo, her knight, to Premontré to consult Norbert’s successor, Abbot Hugh, who offered to send canons to help establish a community, the abbey of Notre-Dame de Silly-en-Gouffern.9

  In September 1136, Geoffrey again invaded Normandy, determined to secure it for Maud and their heir, Henry. On 1 October, Maud brought a company of two hundred men to reinforce her husband, who was then besieging the castle of Le Sap, which was holding out on behalf of King Stephen.10 Although she never engaged personally in warfare, throughout her struggle with her rival she rode on horseback at the head of her troops as a figurehead, and may have worn armor. She had her own armorer, called Robert, who is known from a charter issued to him by Maud that may belong to this period.11 The fact that Maud had an armorer suggests that he fashioned for her some kind of protective mail, of which she had need, residing in the midst of a theater of war.

 
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