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


  Having read the letters of your noble-mindedness, we have understood with how faithful a mind you obey God, with how much love you cling to his faithful. We also perceive no less how your mind keeps us present in memory from the promises of your greatness by which you made clear that whatever we wished from you, if we made it known to you, we would receive without delay. You should know, dearest daughter, with what love we receive this and whatever gifts we may obtain from you. What more are gold or gems, the precious things of this world that I might expect from you, than a chaste life, the distribution of your things to the poor, the love of God and your fellows? We pray your nobility that we shall obtain these and similar gifts from you, that you love simply and wholly, that you obtain what you love and never lose what you have. With these and similar weapons arm your husband, when God gives you the opportunity, and do not cease to do so. The other things we sent [orally] charging our son, Hubert, faithful to both of us.3


  The humble priest of Le Mans, Hildebert, to Matilda, venerable Queen of the English, most worthy in glory and honour, greetings and prayers. It is difficult to place benefits always discreetly and prudently. The highest powers do not know the prudence of what is lovely or improper to bestow. I who have experienced such munificence from you, respond to your blessing with thanks, amazed equally by the glory of the gift and the affection of the giver. Your gift must be commended for the magnificence of its material and the splendour of its carving. Its value is increased by the majesty of the sender; art and nature add less to it than that it comes from the Queen. Which if it did not please by the weight or skill in the craft, I would still embrace as those above did offerings of frankincense and fat sacrifices. They consider not the offering but the affection, giving thanks for their devotion not the cost. A pure and whole spirit bends them wherever it wishes, a penny mitigates heavenly indignation no less than a pound. So with me your spirit commends your gift, magnifies and illumines it. Though it shines indeed with its gold, it shines more with your spirit, a spirit pleased to bestow not by prompting but by innate desire to give; a spirit, I say, which wished from within, which offered swiftly, eager to be accepted, not importunate to be pressed.

  It is manifest from this how devoted you are to the Lord’s sacraments for which you provide the instruments since, as a woman, you cannot administer them, imitating as far as possible the holy women who first came to the Cross with tears and then to the tomb with spices. They were enflamed with great desire to suffer with the crucified and serve the entombed with zeal. You are also present when Christ is sacrificed, when He is buried; neither is celebrated without your service, since you prepared the lamps there where we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that the author of light is present. It does not matter that the service is different, which is celebrated with the same affection.

  There are, however, two things which, unless I am mistaken, you determined to suggest to the Bishop: memory of you and a reminder of pastoral duty. I understand the candelabra sent to me as instruction placed before me that I remember to give the light of doctrine and to pray for you. Their presence stirs and excites my spirit, demanding with secret exhortations that while I use the gift, I should advance by the example. Indeed covertly but very sharply I am ordered to be attentive to what divine eloquence says about [my role as] the bearer of light: “You are the light of the world” and “They do not light a lantern nor place it under a bushel, but over a candelabrum so that it may give light to all who are in the house.”

  I embrace your exhortation, daughter of Christ, which even if it were not your intention, if you simply gave, yet as I accept the service of the gift, I shall not scorn its lesson. For it is fitting to advance and be taught from any source, for virtually all things carry mystic meanings and it is easy to extract beauty of customs from anything. For nothing is created for itself, nothing is so simple that there is not something in it by which we can be taught either to avoid what is harmful or to provide what is helpful.

  What shall I say about remembering you? That memory burst deeply into my breast, occupied it broadly, possesses it firmly and lives with it while it lives. It lives with me, lives, I say, and will even more frequently, whenever I stand at the altar of the Lord, a sinner, but a priest. There the candelabra and the Pontiff perform the services through you, venerable Queen, and your memorial. Fare well.4


  To the venerable father Anselm, Archbishop of the prime see of the English, Primate of the Irish and of all the northern islands which are called the Orkneys, from Matilda, by the grace of God Queen of the English, his most humble handmaid, wishing that after having happily passed through the course of this life he may reach the end, which is Christ.

  Since scarcely anybody doubts that you are turning your daily fasting against nature; even I am not ignorant of it. I admire this greatly, but I have learned from frequent reports of many honourable men that, after a long fast you do not take the usual food according to the claims of nature, but only after having been persuaded by somebody of your household. I am not unaware that you take even this with such frugality that you seem rather to have inflicted violence in detracting from the inherent right of nature than in fulfilling its law. Therefore it is greatly to be feared by many people as well as by myself that the body of such a father may waste away.

  I am under great obligation to your kindness. You are such a brave athlete of God, a vanquisher of human nature, a man by whose untiring vigour the peace of the kingdom and the dignity of the priesthood have been strengthened and defended; such a faithful and prudent steward of God, by whose blessing I was sanctified in legitimate matrimony, by whose consecration I was raised to the dignity of earthly royalty, and by whose prayers I shall be crowned, God granting, in heavenly glory. Moreover, it is also to be feared that the windows of your sight, your hearing and your other senses may become clouded, and your voice, the creator of things spiritual, may grow hoarse so that which was accustomed to dispense the Word of God melodiously and sweetly by peaceful and gentle discourse might become so much more gentle in the future as to deprive those who are removed from you for a while of hearing your voice and even leave them without fruit.

  Therefore, good and holy father, do not let the strength of your body be so inopportunely undermined by fasting lest you cease to be a preacher, because, as Cicero says in the book he wrote On Old Age, “the orator’s gift resides not only in his intellect, but also in his lungs and strength.” To what end is that great quickness of your mind hastening to its ruin? Such a memory of things past and such foresight of things to come, so many accomplishments, so much learning, so many discoveries, so much knowledge of human matters and such experience of divinity accompanied by candour?

  Consider the multitude of talents your rich Lord has given to you, what He has entrusted to you, and what He exacts of you. Bring goodness to everybody, so that what has been brought may shine more brightly and be carried back to the Lord with manifold increase. And do not cheat yourself. Just as spiritual food and drink are necessary for the soul, so bodily food and drink are necessary for the body. Therefore you have to eat and drink, since, by the will of God, a long journey still remains to you in this life; a great crop is to be sown, tended and reaped, and gathered into the Lord’s barn where no thief will come near. You see that the labourers in the great harvest are very few. You have entered into the labours of many so that you may carry back the profit of many.

  Remember indeed to consider yourself like John, the Apostle and Evangelist, dear to the Lord, whom the Lord wished to survive Him, so that His virgin friend might take care of His Virgin Mother. You have accepted to bear the responsibility for Mother Church, for whose sake the brothers and sisters of Christ will be daily endangered unless you come to their help with your profound knowledge. Christ entrusted them to you, havi
ng redeemed them by the price of His own blood. O shepherd of so great a Lord, feed His flock, lest lacking in food they grow faint on the journey! Let the holy priest [St.] Martin, that ineffable man, be an example to you: when he foresaw the heavenly repose prepared for him, nevertheless said that he would not refuse the laborious task because of the destitution of the people. Indeed I know that by the example of many people and by many witnesses in Holy Scripture you are invited and encouraged to fast. No doubt your continual reading often brought to your mind how after a fast the raven fed Elijah, the widow fed Elisha and the angel fed Daniel through Habakkuk; how by a fast Moses merited to receive the tablets inscribed by the finger of God, and after they had been broken, recovered them by the same means. Also, many examples of the Gentiles invite you to frugality. For there is no one who does not know that you have read about the frugality of Pythagoras, Socrates, Antisthenes and other philosophers, whom it would be tedious to enumerate and not necessary in this little work. Therefore, we must come to the grace of the new law. Jesus Christ, who honoured fasting, also honoured eating by going to the marriage feast where He changed water into wine, by going to Simon’s banquet, where, having cast seven demons out of Mary, He first fed her with spiritual dishes, and by not refusing the meal of Zacchaeus, whom He had drawn away from the power of secular service and called to celestial service.

  Listen, Father, listen to Paul persuading Timothy to drink some wine to ease the pain in his stomach saying, “Drink water no longer, but take a little wine.” See how the Apostle dissuades the holy Disciple from his intended fast. For when he tells him, “Drink water no longer,” he openly criticises him for having drunk nothing but water before. I beseech you to imitate Gregory, who alleviated the weariness and weakness of his stomach with the help of food and drink and applied himself manfully and unfailingly to teaching and preaching. Therefore, do what he did so that you reach what he reached, that is Jesus Christ, the fountain of life and lofty mountain, with whom he then rejoiced in eternal glory, is now rejoicing and will continue to rejoice world without end.

  May your Holiness thrive in the Lord, and with your prayers do not give up helping me, your faithful handmaiden, who loves you with all the affection of her heart. Deign to receive, read, listen to and take notice of this letter which I am sending to you not with feigned but with faithful and strong charity.5


  To Matilda, glorious Queen of the English, reverend lady, dearest daughter, Archbishop Anselm, sending due honour, his service, his prayers and the blessing of God and his own, as far as he is able.

  I give great thanks for your generosity, but even greater thanks for the holy love from which your gifts proceed. Your love urges me with pious solicitude to be kind to my body by taking a greater quantity of food lest my voice and my strength fail me for the duty laid upon me. Since you hear that I feel no hunger after a whole day’s fast, even if it happens daily, you fear that hoarseness of my voice or bodily weakness may befall me. If only enough wisdom and vigour as I need would come to me—as much voice and strength as I have—sufficient for the work laid upon me. Even though I may be able to fast without pangs of hunger, I nevertheless can and intend, when I ought, to give my body as much nourishment as is expedient.

  Your kind dignity recalled in your letter that through me your Highness was espoused in legitimate marriage, crowned and raised to the eminence of royalty with my blessing. Indeed, since you call this to mind so kindly and with such gratitude to me, who acted in this matter as a minister as faithfully as I could, one can fully appreciate what immeasurable thanks you must be rendering in your heart to Christ, who is the author and dispenser of this gift.

  If you wish to render these thanks in a proper, good and efficacious manner by your deeds, consider that Queen whom it pleased the Lord to choose for Himself as His bride from this world. She is the one whom He calls beautiful, and His love and His dove in the Scriptures, and of whom it is said to Him, “The Queen is standing at Your right hand.” She is the one to whom it is said about her bridegroom, Christ: “Listen, my daughter, and see; incline your ear, forget your people and your father’s house, and the King will desire your beauty.” Indeed, the more she forgets, despising the secular way of life and her father’s dwelling place—that is to say, this world—the more beautiful and lovable she will be seen in the eyes of her Spouse. He proved how much He loved her when He did not hesitate to surrender Himself freely to death for love of her.

  Now consider, I say, how this woman, an exile, a pilgrim, groans and sighs like a widow with her true children, waiting for her Husband until He returns from the distant region to which He went to receive for Himself a kingdom, and, taking her to His kingdom, repays everyone according to what they did to His beloved, whether good or evil. Those who honour her will be honoured in her and with her; those who maltreat her will be maltreated away from her. Those who exalt her will be exalted with the angels; those who degrade her will be degraded with the demons. Therefore, exalt, honour and defend this spouse so that with her and in her you may be pleasing to her Spouse, God, and live, reigning with her, in eternal beatitude. Amen. May it be so.6


  To Matilda, revered Queen of the English, Ivo, humble minister of the church of Chartres, to hear the wisdom of Solomon to the ends of the earth.

  Since we know from your reputation that you are one of the prudent women, though we are physically far apart, the odour of good opinion has made you present to us and excited us to loving the charity which the Bridegroom of chaste minds ordained in you. Wherefore we desire to deserve mutual love from your excellence which the queens of the Angels before your time showed in splendid memory of the Queen of the Angels, Mary, to the Church which we, though unworthy, serve by God’s disposition. It is not unfitting to your religion and reputation if one whom you ought to love as a fellow man, you love with a certain privilege as a priest of Christ, more beloved in the manner of his Christian religion. Confident in this, we send to your Liberality two of our canons, who will tell you about the needs of our church and receive the favour God will inspire in your heart. I ask also that, in order to impress the memory of your excellence more sharply on my mind, you send a chausuble or some other priestly garment to my smallness which is fitting for a queen to give and a bishop to wear in celebration of the divine sacraments. Farewell.7


  Ivo, humble minister of the church of Chartres, to Matilda, Queen of the Angles, to reign in heaven with the Queen of the Angels.

  Since every gift is to be valued not so much by its quantity as by the affection of the giver, we have received the bells which you gave to the blessed and perpetual Virgin in the place of that perpetual Virgin, grateful as much for your devotion as for their lovely sound, and have had them placed in a special place to be heard by the people who come together there. Whenever they are sounded to announce the hours, they touch the minds of the hearers renewing your memory in the hearts of individuals. Such memory is not to be valued lightly which blossoms again when the peerless Host offered on the altar of the Cross for our redemption is consecrated daily at the Lord’s table by ministers of the new priesthood, when with heavenly hymns like sacrifices of the lips God is honoured by the faithful, when an offended God is inclined to mercy by sinners beating their guilty breasts in the sacrifice of a contrite spirit. There is no doubt that they participate in these goods who offer the goods which they have in abundance to the ministers of God who lack them for His honour and love.

  So what was lacking to our poverty, your abundance has already begun to administer benignly, and has promised to supply even more richly in completing or restoring the roof of our church. So the ancient people of God, at His command given through Moses, offered for the use of His tabernacle gold, silver, and bronze, flax and scarlet, purple and jacinth, women also their jewels and earrings, so that th
e vestment of the Pontiff and the tabernacle would be visibly adorned, signifying the holy customs of the ministers of the New Testament. Those who did not have these precious things offered the hair of goats to make hair-cloth to preserve the splendour of the inner ornaments so they would not be soiled by dust or spoiled by rain. Your Excellence will follow this form of piety when you supply the necessary tools or materials to repair the house of God, as you wish and as much as you wish. For all of these, expect without doubt reward from Him who, you have learned, ordered them.8


  To Matilda, Queen of the English.

  I rejoice in your honour and your good reputation, which is better known to me each day. I rejoice, I say, and give thanks to the Lord God for your goodness, since your goodness is nothing other than His gift. For what do you have that you did not receive? And we all, the Evangelist says, have received from His fullness. From that fullness from which you have what you are, you have that you are good, but you also have that you may be better. Be attentive therefore to what you have from your good Creator and understand that you owe Him for His great kindness. Be attentive, I say, to how your Artificer laboured over you, and labour so that His labour not deteriorate.

  I speak of temporal and fallen things; but temporal and fallen things are also gifts of your Lord God. You did not deserve to be born noble, and you were born of royal blood; you did not labour, and you were made rich. You produced nothing of your own power, but you were placed over the heads of the sons of men. You implored no one for the glory of your form, and you were made beautiful to the delight of a king. The Lord God did these things. God is good, His works are good; the highest good. He made all things very good. Men are not good by these goods, but they may become good by using them well. That you may therefore become good before your Lord God, use His good favour well. If you use it well, it is His favour and your good; if badly, His favour is still good, but by using the good favour of God badly you make yours bad: for nothing is good for man unless he is good. But for the good and those loving God, all things work together for good.

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