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


  To her truly eminent lord and father Anselm, by the grace of God archbishop of Canterbury: Matilda, Queen of the English, his humble handmaid, with the assurance of deep devotion and service.

  Turn, holy lord and merciful father, my mourning into joy and gird me with happiness. See, lord, your humble handmaid throws herself on her knees before your mercy and, stretching suppliant hands towards you, begs you for the fervour of your accustomed kindness. Come, lord, come and visit your servant. Come, I beg, Father, appease my groans, dry my tears, lessen my pains, put an end to my sorrow. Fulfil my desires, grant my request.

  But you will say: “I am prohibited by law and bound by the restraints of certain obligations and dare not transgress the decrees of the Fathers.” How is it, Father, that the Teacher of the gentiles, the chosen Vessel, put all His efforts into the annulling of the laws? Did He not offer sacrifice in the temple for fear of scandalising those of the circumcision [the Jews] who still believed? Did not He who condemned circumcision circumcise Timothy so that he became all things to all men? What indeed should a child of mercy do, a disciple of Him who gave Himself up to death in order to redeem slaves? You see, yes, you see your brothers, your fellow-servants, the people of your Lord, now undergoing shipwreck, now slipping into the deep, and you do not come to their aid, you do not extend your right hand to them, you do not expose yourself to danger! Did not the Apostle choose to be accursed by Christ for the sake of his brothers?

  My good lord, tender father, bend this severity a little and soften—let me say it, with your leave—your heart of iron. Come and visit your people, and among them your handmaid who yearns for you from the depths of her heart. Find a way by which neither you, the shepherd who leads the way, may give offence, nor the rights of royal majesty be diminished. If these cannot be reconciled, at least let the father come to his daughter, the lord to his handmaid, and let him teach her what she should do. Let him come to her before she departs from this world. Indeed if I should die before being able to see you again—I speak shamelessly—I fear that, even in the land of the living, every joyful occasion of exulting would be cut off. You are my joy, my hope, my refuge. My soul [thirsts] for you like a land without water. Therefore I even stretch out my hands to you, so that you may drench its dryness with the oil of gladness and water it with the dew of your natural sweetness. If neither my weeping nor the wish of the people can move you, putting aside my royal dignity, giving up my insignia, putting off my honours, spurning my crown, I will trample the purple and the linen and will come to you, overcome with grief. I will embrace your knees and kiss your feet, and even if Giezi [a corrupt and avaricious servant of the prophet Elisha, who was punished by being made a leper] came, he would not move me until the greatest of my desires had been achieved.

  May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your heart and your mind and cause you to abound with tender mercy.17


  My heart gives as much thanks as it can engender for the great generosity of your Highness, and what it cannot achieve it does not cease to desire. May He who inspires it Himself repay. Indeed, the pious and sweet affection you feel towards me through the inspiration of God you express most clearly when you write to me about the bitterness, sadness and solicitude which you feel on account of my absence. This absence of mine, as far as I and those who consider the case carefully understand it, has not been extended for so long through any fault of mine.

  With devout affection, your excellency complains that my lack of moderation has disturbed the peace of mind of my lord the King and his nobles, and that this has prevented the good, begun by your efforts, from being brought to an end. Indeed, in our letter, which is said to contain that lack of moderation, nothing indiscriminate, nothing unreasonable (although this was imputed to me in the King’s letter) can be found if what is written there, and the prohibition which I heard, and which everybody knows about, is examined with an unbiased judgement and a calm mind.

  I uttered nothing against the King’s father and Archbishop Lanfranc, men of great and religious renown, when I showed that I had not promised either in baptism or in my ordinations to obey their law and customs, and stated that I was not going to disobey the law of God. What is now required of me on the grounds that those men acted as they did I cannot do without committing a most serious offence because of what I heard with my own ears in Rome. If I were to scorn that, I should certainly be acting against the law of God.

  Therefore, in order to show with what reasons I refused to do what was required of me according to their customs, I showed how I would much rather be under obligation to observe the Apostolic and ecclesiastical decree known to everybody. In this the law of God can be perceived without doubt, since it was promulgated to strengthen the Christian religion. I need not say here how dangerous it would be to despise this law, since Christians who have ears to hear may daily learn it from divine utterances.

  That distorted interpretation of my utterances, according to which I am said to have spoken unreasonably, I do not ascribe to the King’s mind or yours. The King received our letter kindly at first, according to what I heard, but later someone with a spiteful and insincere intention, I know not who, incited him against me by a distorted interpretation through no fault of mine. Who that may be I do not know; but I do not doubt that either he does not love, or does not know how to love, his lord.

  May almighty God so favour you and your children with prosperity in this life that He may lead you to the happiness of the life to come.18


  To Matilda, glorious Queen of the English, reverend lady, most beloved daughter, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, sending the blessing of God and his faithful service with prayers.

  Let me speak briefly, but from the heart, as to that person whom I desire to advance from an earthly kingdom to a heavenly one. When I hear anything about you which is not pleasing to God or advantageous for you, and if I then neglected to admonish you, I would neither fear God nor would I love you as I should.

  After I left England I heard that you were dealing with the churches in your hands otherwise than is expedient for them or for your own soul. I do not wish to say here how you are acting—according to what I have been told—because to no one is it better known than to yourself. Therefore, I beseech you as my lady, advise you as my Queen and admonish you as my daughter—as I have done before—that the churches of God which are in your power should know you as mother, as nurse, as kind lady and queen. I do not say this concerning those churches alone but about all the churches in England to which your help can be extended. For He who says that each one will receive according to what he has done in his body whether good or evil does not exclude anyone.

  Again I beg, advise and admonish you, my dearest lady and daughter, not to consider these things heedlessly in your mind, but, if your conscience testifies that you have anything to correct in this matter, hasten to correct it so that in future you will not offend God, as far as this is possible for you through His grace.

  Concerning the past, if you see that you have failed in your duty, you should make Him favourable towards you. Surely, it is not enough for someone to desist from evil unless he takes care, if possible, to make amends for what he has done.

  May almighty God always guide you so that He may repay you with eternal life.19


  Your Highness gave me great joy with your letter, insofar as you have given me good hope about yourself. For the humble acceptance of disapproval and admonition is usually followed by hope of improvement. Therefore I give thanks to God who gives you the good will you indicated in your reply to me, and I give thanks to you that you maintain it with sweet affection. Wherefore I pray God that what He himself inspires in you in His mercy He may preserve
and increase so that when your soul leaves your body it may be brought before His sight and receive from Him the reward of eternal felicity.

  If your prudence needed to be taught how you ought to live in order to please God I would strive to demonstrate this according to my ability. But since I am fully aware that, by the grace of God, you can distinguish between good and evil through the understanding of your mind, this I ask, this I beseech, this I admonish: that the unfailing intention of your heart be that in all your actions, great and small, you rather choose what you consider pleases God more.

  In that letter you demonstrated sufficiently with holy and sweet affection that you desire my return to England. But I do not see that he in whose power my return chiefly rests—as far as it depends on a man—agrees in this matter with the will of God, and it would not be good for my soul to disagree with God’s will. I fear that he may realise too late that he has gone astray from the right path, having despised God’s counsel and having followed the advice of princes, which the Lord brings to nothing. I am certain, however, that he will realize this one day.

  May almighty God gladden your excellency and my lowliness one day by the sight of one another, according to His will, and may He multiply the gifts of His grace in you.20


  To her lord and father Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, equally to be revered and honoured: from Matilda the Queen, devout handmaid of his holiness, sending greeting with Christ.

  As often as you grant me the protection of your Holiness, through the kindness of a letter, you brighten the nebulous gloom of my soul through the light of renewed happiness. Holding your letter and the pleasing, oft-repeated reading of it, is, as it were, like seeing you again, although you are absent. Indeed, my lord, what is there more wonderfully adorned in style and more replete with meaning than your writings? They do not lack the seriousness of Fronto, the fluency of Cicero or the wit of Quintilian; the doctrine of Paul, the precision of Jerome, the learning of Gregory and the interpretation of Augustine are indeed overflowing in them. And what is even greater than all this: from them pours the sweetness of evangelical eloquence. Through this grace pouring over me from your lips, my heart and my flesh thrill with joy at the affection of your love and the effect of your paternal admonition. Indeed, by the most frequent repetition of your exhortation and of your most kind entreaty memory causes the portal of my heart to resound and decide in favour of compliant obedience.

  Relying on the favour of your Holiness I have committed the abbey of Malmesbury, in those things which are under my jurisdiction, to Dom Eadwulf, a monk and once sacristan of Winchester, who I believe is known to you. You retain completely whatever pertains to that monastery for your own donation and disposition, so that the bestowal of the crozier and pastoral care is delivered wholly to the judgement of your discretion. May the worthy gift of the grace of your good will, which never grows cold towards me, recompense him like the reward of heavenly grace. Moreover, may Christ, who blesses you on earth, redeem your dignity, and may He soon give me reason to rejoice over your return. Amen.21


  Most beloved lady, your excellency should know that concerning the abbey of Malmesbury, and the brother about whom you wrote to me, I would gladly confirm your will if I could. For, in what pertains to you, you have acted well and according to the will of God, in what you did there; but he himself did something very foolish in this matter which he should not have done. For, by the same messengers who brought me the letters from you and from others about this case, he sent me a goblet. This goblet I did not wish to keep under any circumstances, but I was very sorry because I do not see how he can be excused from guilt in this matter.

  May almighty God guide all your actions in His good pleasure and defend you from all evil.22


  To Matilda, excellent Queen of the English, Ivo, humble minister of the church of Chartres, the service of devoted prayers.

  The reputation of your pious devotion has inspired the minds of many religious and sweetened them with a certain delight of holy love. Wherefore for the grace divinely conferred on us we give thanks to the Bestower of all goods who placed a man’s strength in a woman’s breast, not only to avoid shame and crime but also to give necessary aid to those in need.

  We who are mindful of common as well as private benefits, devoutly received the prayers of your excellence and we pour out devoted prayers to God for the soul of your brother, the religious King, which, given our sins, are of little value though we are confident that his soul reposes in Abraham’s bosom, if his life was what it is said to have been. But since the state of souls after life is uncertain, it does not seem superfluous for us to intercede for those who already enjoy rest, that their rest be increased, and for those who are in purgatory, that they receive indulgence through the prayers of the faithful. These and other things which do not exceed our strength, your Excellence can place on our shoulders.23


  To the most illustrious ruling lady and most beloved daughter in Christ—which I say not with presumption but in affection—Matilda, by the grace of God, Queen of the English, Bernard.

  If I presume on your Highness, it is no wonder. I do not feel it alone, but almost all know how you keep receiving us and with how much affection you love us. On that account, I am asked by a certain friend of yours, the venerable Abbot of Capelle, to ask you for a certain tithe, about which, if you remember well, I asked you at Boulogne, and you in your customary way heard me benignly. But since what we ask is not yet done, it is time that that request be filled. For the rest, preserve my son for me, to whom you just gave birth, since I also—if it does not displease the king—lay claim to a portion in him. Fare well.24


  To his most beloved daughter in Christ, Matilda, by the grace of God Queen of the English, Bernard, called Abbot of Clairvaux, to reign in perpetuity with the angels.

  Since the occasion offers, we greet your Majesty in the Lord willingly and from affection of the heart, suggesting not only willingly but confidently what we know pertains to your salvation and the glory of your kingdom. Accordingly, if you fear God and if you wish to acquiesce to our counsel in anything, do everything to prevent that man from occupying the church of York any longer, about whose life and entry into the episcopacy religious men in whom one must trust give such testimony. We commit this, God’s cause, to you—act so that it be brought to worthy conclusion, and protect all those who have worked for this side, that they not suffer offence from the King or any harm on its account. They have done good work. Further, if you get the lord King to renounce this sacrilege of intrusion into the election before his bishops and princes, which he should only have assent to, know that it would bring great honour to God, great safety and security to the king and to what is his, great utility to the whole kingdom. Fare well.25


  We thank God, who illumined your nobility with signs of virtue greater than of birth, and one whom He brought forth most brilliant by blood in the Roman orb, He did not fail to light with good works in the world. For your name is great in the Lord from east to west, and the churches of the saints recount your alms. Although the subsidy of temporal things which you extend to Him in His members pleases God greatly, we believe He is no less pleased by [your] solicitude for ecclesiastical peace and liberty which, as it is rumoured, you strive for with such feeling, so that you may say with the Apostle: “Who is sick and I am not sick? Who is offended and I not burn?” Wherefore we, who by reason of your humanity and beneficence, consider it to be properly responsible if we speak very confidently in your ear about the peace of the Church, asking and praying assiduously to the Lord for your salvation and the temporal as we
ll as eternal glory of your son, that you charge him diligently to procure peace for the Church with the assiduousness of devotion with which he desires to procure the peace of God for his heirs and his lands through the merits of the saints.

  What particularly saddens us: it is spoken of from east to west that he afflicts the churches of his kingdom intolerably and requires unheard-of and unaccustomed things from them, which if ancient kings sought them, they should not have. It may be that, in his time, from one on whom God conferred such wisdom, such affliction can in some way be tolerated, but perhaps after his day, will rule those who wish to devour the church with their mouths, and who, hardened, will say with Pharaoh: “I do not know the Lord and I shall not let Israel go.” Let him remember, we beg, by your prayers and exhortations, how [God] lifted him beyond the titles of his noble fathers and extended his boundaries beyond the boundaries of his elders. What good will it do a ruler if he transmits sins to his heirs and makes them enemies of God and the Church in his testament? What good to his ancestors if, having seized the occasion of their crimes, he offends God as if by hereditary right?

  God was to be placated, most serene lady, by other services; it was fitting to offer other gifts for the salvation of elders and redemption of sins. Sacrifices from plunder do not please God, unless perhaps it may please the father that his son be sacrificed. If he came to his senses, the Father of mercies is prompt to forgiveness, but beyond doubt He will render judgment without mercy to those who exercise no mercy. He is powerful and the powerful punish powerfully; He is terrible and destroys princes, so the tortured may threaten the stronger more forcefully.

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