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

  That year Stephen sent his brother, Bishop Henry, as ambassador to Louis VII in Paris, to seek an alliance against Henry. Queen Matilda accompanied the Bishop as far as the Flemish border, before returning home. In the spring of 1151, Louis invaded Normandy, but he fell ill and had to abandon the campaign and agree to a truce. In the summer, Maud and Geoffrey visited the French court, where they negotiated a peace with Louis and he ratified their secession of Normandy to Henry, who now took the title Duke of Normandy. By now Geoffrey had earned the nickname “Plantagenet” after the broom flower (planta genista) he customarily wore in his hat. The dynasty he founded was to be known by that name.

  It was during that visit to Paris that Henry, now eighteen, began lusting after Louis’s Queen, the beautiful and spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, the greatest heiress in European history. While he was in Paris they became lovers, and after Henry left, Eleanor demanded an annulment of her marriage. She had borne Louis no son, only two daughters, and had complained that she had married a monk, not a king. For Louis, it was a choice between losing her, and her great domains, and marrying another woman who might give him the heir that France needed, for the Salic Law of the Franks forbade the succession of women to the throne. All that Eleanor wanted was to be free of her unwanted husband and marry Henry. At twenty-nine, she was eleven years his senior, but to him that was of no consequence. She was desirable, and she would bring with her half of what is now France.


  It is often claimed that Queen Adeliza left England in 1148 and traveled to Aalst in her native Brabant to became a Benedictine nun at Affligem Abbey. But there is no record of her leaving England in 1148, or abandoning her husband and her children, who were all under ten, for the cloister. Moreover, Affligem was a house of monks. In 1150, in her last recorded charter, she granted the prebend of West Dean to Chichester Cathedral,17 which probably places her in Sussex at that time. It is more likely that she chose to visit Affligem Abbey in the wake of her brother Henry becoming a monk there in 1149.

  The foremost abbey in the province, Affligem had been under the protection of the counts of Brabant since 1085. It was also their mausoleum; Adeliza’s father, Duke Godfrey, had been buried here in 1139. The Abbot, Fulgentius, had visited Adeliza at Henry I’s court, “where he was received with special honours.”18 In 1146, Bernard of Clairvaux had come to Affligem, where God had vouchsafed him a vision of the Virgin Mary, in gratitude for which he gave the abbey his staff and chalice. Adeliza would have no doubt been shown them during her visit, and they can still be seen today.

  She never returned to England. She became ill and died—she may even have died in childbirth—at Affligem19 on 24, 25 or 26 March 1151, largely forgotten in England, her death recorded by only one chronicler.20

  The Annals of Margam state that Adeliza was interred at Affligem near her father on 9 April 1151,21 but probably it was her heart and viscera that were initially interred there,22 while her body was taken back to England. A charter issued by her brother Joscelin states that he gave land in Petworth to Reading Abbey in her memory when he was there for her burial. Her effigy, crowned and veiled, was placed beside that of Henry I on his tomb. Nothing remains of either effigy. However, a note in the margin of a manuscript of Reading Abbey23 confirms that Adeliza’s body was buried in the presbytery between two piers on the north side of the choir, and not in the same sepulcher as her first husband, because she had remarried.24

  William d’Albini survived his “extraordinary Queen” for twenty-five years. He granted land to Reading Abbey for the repose of her soul.25 When he died in 1176, he was buried in the priory he had founded at Wymondham, Norfolk. Their four sons outlived him,26 and their Albini descendants were earls of Arundel until the middle of the thirteenth century.

  The Continuatio Chronici Afflegemiensis records that Adeliza’s body was exhumed from its resting place at Reading and reburied in a tomb “next to the clockwork” at Affligem after Albini’s death in 1176. An eighteenth-century plan of the abbey shows that her tomb was in the nave.27 We do not know what it looked like, and it has long disappeared. In 1796, during the French Revolution, the abbey was almost completely destroyed and the remains of Adeliza and Duke Godfrey were dug up and reburied in a churchyard. After the abbey was reestablished in 1869, they were discovered in the vaults of the ruined church. A modern ledger stone now marks their resting place in the cloister.28


  “Carried by the Hands of Angels”

  Maud was not with her husband Geoffrey when, on 7 September 1151, he went swimming in the Loire and caught a chill. He died a week later, aged thirty-eight, at Château-du-Loir. Much mourned in Anjou as “the father of his country and the scourge of pride,”1 he was buried in Le Mans Cathedral, where an enamel plaque marks his resting place. Henry, Duke of Normandy, was now count of Anjou and Maine. For the first two years of his rule, he would rely on his mother to assist him in the government of Normandy, especially when he was absent in England. Jointly they issued charters relating to their interests in both Normandy and England.2


  Queen Matilda was back in London by 1151, when she attended a council held there. Her dearest wish was to see Eustace crowned, and thereby secure his succession, and in the face of Theobald’s repeated refusals she was happy to intervene, at the instigation of Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, to resolve a quarrel between Stephen and Henry Murdac, who had been appointed archbishop of York in 1147 by the Pope, without the King’s consent. Abbot Bernard had urged her to enhance “the glory of your kingdom,” and she knew that it was to her advantage to persuade her husband to acknowledge Murdac, who was willing to urge the Holy Father to agree to the coronation of Eustace. In 1151, he raised some support in Rome for it, but not enough for the Queen to achieve her ambition.3

  At the end of March 1152, Stephen and Matilda presided over a meeting of the Great Council in London, where Matilda did her best to enlist support for the crowning of Eustace. On 6 April, Stephen induced a few barons to pay homage to his son, but there seems to have been little enthusiasm at the prospect of this unpleasant young man succeeding his father. Probably Eustace’s reputation was increasingly undermining the King’s cause. He was “a good soldier, but an ungodly man. Wherever he was, he did more evil than good. He spoiled the lands and laid thereon heavy taxes.”4 He was dissolute too, and fond of low company. His wife, Constance, “was a good woman, but she had little happiness with him.”5 That was hardly surprising, as he kept her shut up in Canterbury Castle for much of their married life.

  There was still tension between Archbishop Theobald and Stephen, and at a synod attended by the King and Queen that April, Theobald again refused to crown Eustace, once more sending out the message that the Church did not smile on Stephen’s dynasty. Bishop Henry was unable to help—Pope Eugenius III had revoked his office of Papal legate after he failed to attend a Papal council. The real reason for his demotion was probably that he had made himself unpopular by his ambitious scheming to turn Winchester into an archiepiscopal see to rival Canterbury.

  These matters would have been troubling Matilda when she visited a lady who had once served her as damsel, Euphemia de Cantilupe, Countess of Oxford, at Hedingham Castle, Essex, late in April 1152. Euphemia had married the wealthy Aubrey de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a year or so earlier, and the King and Queen had given her the manor of Ickleton, Cambridgeshire, as her dowry. The massive keep built by Aubrey at Hedingham twelve years earlier, which stands 110 feet high today, boasted a soaring great hall that still occupies the second and third floors and has the largest Romanesque arch in Britain (and perhaps in Europe), arched windows in deep embrasures, and an ornamented gallery embedded in the walls. Two of the castle’s corner turrets survive. The remains of a chapel have been uncovered in the inner bailey.

  While at Hedingham, Matilda fell sick with a fever. Feeling her strength failing, she sent for her confessor, Ralph, Prior of Holy Trinity, Aldgate. He “was at the deathbed of the venerable Queen Mat
ilda, having been called especially to it three days before her death. Prior Ralph ministered to the Queen all the sacraments which are needful for that journey, and by his advice that same Queen made many alms.”6

  Stephen was summoned too. His presence is attested to by a grant confirming one he had drawn up at Hedingham, on Matilda’s behalf, to Holy Trinity, Aldgate.7 He was with her when she died on 3 May,8 as was their son Eustace.9

  The Queen’s body was brought in procession to London, then carried to Faversham Abbey, where she was buried with great pomp in the choir.10 In the seventeenth century, Weever recorded her lost epitaph: “In the year one thousand, one hundred and fifty one [sic], not to her own, but to our great loss, the happy Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, died, ennobled by her virtues as by her titles. A true lover of God and patroness of the poor, she lived submissive to God that she might afterwards enjoy His presence. If ever woman deserved to be carried by the hands of angels to Heaven, it was this holy Queen.”11


  “Joy and Honour”

  Matilda did not live to see the end of the long conflict in which she had stoutly supported her husband. Henry FitzEmpress came again to England early in 1153. He was now twenty, and very much the son of his parents, being “a man of reddish, freckled complexion with a large round head, grey eyes which glowed fiercely and grew blood-shot in anger, a fiery countenance and a harsh, cracked voice. His neck was somewhat thrust forward from his shoulders, his chest broad and square, his arms strong and powerful. His frame was stocky, with a pronounced tendency to corpulence. He was a prince of great eloquence and, what is remarkable in these days, polished in letters.”1

  Henry was now in an unassailable position, for he had the support of the Pope. Louis VII had been persuaded by his advisers to agree to an annulment, and on 18 May 1152, at Poitiers, Henry had married Eleanor of Aquitaine, and was now master of a vast domain extending almost from the Loire to the Pyrenees, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Massif Central. In a stroke, Henry had created a Plantagenet empire, the greatest feudal domain of the age.

  In January 1153, Maud met her new daughter-in-law when Henry brought Eleanor to Rouen and left her with his mother before sailing to England,2 enriched with funds Maud had given him. Sadly there is no record of what transpired at the meeting of these two feisty, independent ladies, and indeed little is known of Maud’s relationship with Eleanor. Maud was twenty years older, and we can only speculate what she made of this notorious beauty who had captivated her son. Both were strong, tempestuous women, yet there is no evidence of a power struggle between them. The scanty evidence we have suggests that they cooperated. For example, Joscelin de Balliol, who had served Maud, became a clerk in Eleanor’s household,3 possibly at Maud’s recommendation.

  Maud remained entrenched at Rouen, supporting Henry with her advice and her mediation. Eleanor, who, like her mother-in-law, was eleven years older than her husband, appears not to have encroached on the older woman’s territory. Whether she resented Maud’s influence on Henry is not known, but she had had experience of an interfering mother-in-law in Adelaide of Maurienne, whose dominance over Louis VII she had much resented, and she was older and wiser now, so she may have decided not to ruffle the Empress’s feathers4—and perhaps with good cause, for Maud may have heard gossip that Eleanor “was secretly reputed to have shared Louis’ couch” with her late husband, Geoffrey. It was the courtier Walter Map who first reported this, so the rumors must have been current at Henry II’s court. By the early thirteenth century, the tale had been embroidered: Giraldus Cambrensis asserted that Geoffrey had raped Eleanor and warned Henry not to touch her “because she had been known by his own father.”

  If Maud knew, or suspected, that Geoffrey had betrayed her with Eleanor, she was perhaps hostile—or maybe her unloved husband’s extramarital forays were of no interest to her. What would surely have concerned her more was that such an affair would have rendered her son’s marriage to Eleanor incestuous, which had appalling implications for the legitimacy of their children and the succession.

  It may be that Maud and Eleanor were together for too short a time for hostilities to develop between them. Eleanor was pregnant, a blessing of which Maud cannot but have approved, and may have taken her court off to Angers to await Henry’s return.5 In August, she bore the first of their eight children, and named him William. He was Maud’s first grandchild. The children who followed were Henry (1155), Matilda (1156), the future Richard I (1157), Geoffrey (1158), Eleanor (1162), Joan (1165) and the future King John (1166).

  Henry’s absence in England left Maud vulnerable to a threatened attack on Normandy by King Louis, who was angered at his ex-wife having married his vassal without his permission. Maud could not count on the loyalty of all the Norman barons, some of whom were causing unrest and even ravaging religious houses. In a charter to the community of Mortemer, one of the monasteries that had suffered such depredations, she admitted that she was powerless to prevent the present disorder.6 But her son could not come to her aid at this critical time.


  In the face of Henry’s supremacy, demoralized by the death of his beloved wife and mainstay, and in poor health, Stephen had no choice but to come to terms—terms to which Matilda might never have agreed. In 1153, Henry’s men and Stephen’s refused to engage in battle, which says much for the general desire to end the war.7 That August, with the two sides shouting terms across the River Thames, a treaty was agreed at Wallingford, which provided that, on Stephen’s death, Henry would succeed to the throne of England, restoring the succession to the descendants of Henry I. Henry, for his part, was to pay homage to Stephen and keep the peace for the rest of the King’s life. This brought an end to the civil war.

  The two former enemies then rode together to London, where they were received with great demonstrations of joy, yet we might wonder how Stephen felt, having been forced into agreeing to a treaty that disinherited his heir, Eustace, and his younger son, William, who had become earl of Surrey on his marriage to the heiress Isabella de Warenne in 1149—a marriage that had been arranged by Queen Matilda to secure the Warenne estates for the King.

  Eustace, who was violently jealous of Henry, naturally opposed the treaty, but on 17 August 1153, after ransacking church estates near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, he was staying at Cambridge Castle, where he took one mouthful of food that had been stolen from the abbey of Bury, and died suddenly of what was described as a fit of madness; probably he choked to death, or had a seizure. Contemporaries believed he had been struck down “by the wrath of God” for the sacrilege he had committed.8 Only then would Maud endorse the agreement at Wallingford being enshrined in the new Treaty of Westminster, which was signed in November, and in which she merited a mention only as “the mother of the Duke.”9 She had lost her battles, but her son had won the war, and the crown was to return to the rightful royal line.


  The threat from France receded when Henry “returned triumphantly” to Normandy in March 1154, and at Easter, in Rouen, “was duly received with joy and honour by his mother, Maud, his brothers, and all the people of Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Poitou.”10 Eleanor and the baby William also joined him and Maud for the festival. Afterward, Henry and Eleanor rode off to visit Aquitaine, but in June they were back with Maud in Rouen, where, on the 24th, they celebrated the feast of John the Baptist. In the meantime, on 27 May, alongside Hugh of Amiens, Archbishop of Rouen, Maud had confirmed the election of the chronicler Robert of Torigni as abbot of Mont Saint-Michel.11 Eleanor stayed on her own with Maud in Rouen in the autumn, while Henry was quelling a rebellion in the Vexin, and the two women were together on 26 October when Archbishop Theobald’s messenger arrived from England.


  “The Light of Morning”

  On 25 October 1154, King Stephen died at Dover Priory of a bloody flux that was perhaps symptomatic of acute appendicitis.1 Having survived his beloved wife for over two years, he was buried with her and Eustace in F
aversham Abbey, Kent.2 In 1216, a Flemish clerk visited the abbey and recorded that Stephen and Matilda lay side by side before the high altar, their resting places marked by two ledger stones.3 The fame of their abbey did not long outlive their dynasty.4

  None of their tombs survive today; all that remains of the abbey is the outer gateway and fragments of the fabric that survive in local buildings. In 1964, the site of the church was excavated and a pair of empty subterranean vaults, each measuring 2.2 meters square, were found in the middle of the choir. They contained fragments of carved stone painted red, white, gold and purple, which may once have been part of the monuments that stood above them.5

  According to John Stow, the Elizabethan antiquarian, when the abbey was dissolved and mostly demolished in 1538, the three royal tombs were raided for jewelry and the lead of the coffins, and the remains of Stephen, Matilda and Eustace were thrown into the River Creek; but they were soon retrieved and reburied in the parish church of St. Mary of Charity in Faversham, where a canopy tomb with no contemporary inscription,6 but a carved face of a king among the sculpted decorations of the canopy, is said to be theirs.

  By right of their mother, Eustace’s brother William had succeeded him as count of Boulogne, but when he died in 1159, Boulogne passed to their sister Marie. Around 1156–58, Marie had transferred from Lillechurch Priory to Romsey Abbey to be its abbess. But the following year, Matthew of Alsace, second son of Thierry, Count of Flanders, abducted her from her convent and forced her to marry him, so that he could get his hands on her inheritance, assuming the title of count of Boulogne and making a triumphal entry with Marie into Boulogne. She bore him two daughters, Ida and Matilda; Ida would succeed her as countess of Boulogne. Marie’s marriage to Matthew was annulled around 1169–70, and she returned to the religious life, probably at the Benedictine nunnery of Saint-Austreberthe near Montreuil, where she died and was buried in 1182, the last surviving child of King Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne.

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