We’ve had many monarchs in English and British history. Nearly all of them have been married, some more than once.
Here’s part one of my series on consorts:
Matilda of Flanders
- Life: c. 1031-2nd November
- Reigned: 25th December 1066-2nd November 1083
- Spouse: William I (m. 1051/1052)
- Children: Nine, including William I and Henry I
- Parents: Baldwin V, Count of Flanders and Adela of France
- Origin: France
Early Life: Matilda of Flanders was born in roughly 1031 to Baldwin V, Count of Flanders and Adela of France. Baldwin was a descendent of Alfred the Great. It’s believed that Adela could be the woman who was married to William I’s uncle, though historians are unsure if it is her. She was also the daughter of Robert II of France. This meant that Matilda had an impeccable lineage.
We do not know much about Matilda’s early life beyond that she spent it in Lille, northern France. Her mother, the extremely devout Adela, taught her daughter.
Marriage and Children: Flanders was a key region of Europe and allied with many of the important players. This made Matilda an extremely eligible match. William of Normandy was a bastard whose legitimacy tainted his prosperity. Legend has it that Matilda told his envoy that she was too high born for a bastard. William reportedly, depending on which version you believe, either dragged her off of her horse or went to her house and hit her. Matilda was reportedly so moved by that passion that she decided she’d marry only him.
Pope Leo Ix refused to give permission as the pair were too closely related as fifth cousins. This did not dissuade them, and they married in around 1051/1052.
William and Matilda had a strong, loving relationship. Unlike many of his contemporary leaders, William never took a mistress. They worked well together and Matilda was instrumental in getting William on the throne of England. He was devastated by her death, which led to an increase in his authoritarian tendencies.
They had at least nine children, including future kings William II and Henry I. Their daughters either took the veil or had advantageous marriages.
Pre-Reign and Queenship: Matilda became the Duchess of Normandy upon marriage. She had all but one of her children there, with Henry being born in England. Matilda contributed to her husband’s attempts to gain the English throne. She purchased and paid for a lavish ship, designing it herself. William was said to be deeply touched by the move.
Matilda remained regent in Normandy as William settled in England following the Battle of Hastings. She proved a capable leader, with Normandy seeing no uprisings or rebellions under her care. It also became a flourishing centre for arts.
She arrived in England in 1068, where she was crowned in a lavish ceremony. William made sure to crown as Queen and not merely a consort, as had been the case up until that point. Her name was mentioned in official documents and the Church fully recognised her.
Matilda had many landholdings and was a very wealthy woman in her own right. She closely supervised the education of her children, all of whom were educated to the highest extent.
The marriage did hit a rough patch. Their son Robert had been furious at his father for taking his (Robert’s) deceased fiancée’s lands. Robert was further angered when William failed to punish his younger sons after a prank on him. After Robert nearly accidentally killed William in battle, he was exiled. A few years later, William discovered that Matilda had been sending Robert money. He was livid but Matilda managed to plead motherly affection and win him back. Matilda brokered a reconciliation between father and son in 1080.
Matilda died in late 1083. William was devastated. He never remarried- though he wouldn’t have needed to- and did not take any mistresses. It’s said that the loss of her good influence made him more tyrannical. She is buried in Normandy at a church not far from where her husband rests.
Personality: Matilda was a deeply intelligent individual in terms of both street smarts and academia. She ensured the education of her children and was by all accounts a very loving mother. Her relationship with her husband was a good one and she was his best counsel. Matilda’s courage and shrewdness made her a strong ally and callable leader. She was deeply pious, even for the time, and left a lot of money to the church and charity.
Legacy: Matilda is remembered as the first official Queen of England. Her pious nature led her to build many religious centres. Some used to believe she was involved in creating the Bayeux Tapestry, though historians discredit that. She’s the descendent of nearly all English and British monarchs.
Matilda of Scotland
- Life: 1080-1st May 1118
- Reigned: 11th November 1100-1st May 1118
- Spouse: Henry I (m.1110)
- Children: Empress Matilda and William Adelin
- Parents: Malcolm III of Scotland and Margaret of Wessex
- Origin: Scotland
Early Life: Matilda was born with the name Edith sometime in 1080. Edith’s parents were Malcolm III of Scotland and Margaret of Wessex. Malcolm ruled Scotland for thirty-five years, whilst the deeply intellectual Margaret would later be given a sainthood. At her christening, Edith pulled the headdress of her godmother, Matilda of Flanders. This was said to be an omen that Edith would one day be Queen.
Edith’s education was advanced for a woman at the time. She was a desirable match, but the strong-willed Edith refused many matches. Her parents had her betrothed to Alan Rufus, Lord of Richmond, a man forty years her senior, when she was thirteen. The death of her parents and older brother saw Rufus run off to marry another. Her uncle took the throne and her brothers were sent to England for protection. It is likely that Edith stayed in England too.
Marriage and Children: When William II of England died in 1100, his brother Henry took the throne as William was childless. He wished to marry and to cement his stature, he wished to marry Edith. Edith was reportedly beautiful and they’d known each other for years. The only problem was that Edith had been raised in a convent and there was conjecture as to whether she’d been a nun or not. It had been her aunt Christina’s wish, but Edith refused. She told a commission that she’d only been veiled to protect from being raped by soldiers. Edith further said she’d stamped on her habit after being given it. It was eventually decided that Edith was free to marry.
Henry married Edith in November 1100. She changed her name to Matilda. Matilda-how I feel refer to her from now on- and Henry had two children who lived past infancy. They were Matilda and William (original naming).
The pair seemed to have a happy marriage, despite Henry’s many, many illegitimate children. This was the norm for the time and it seems that Matilda chose to ignore it.
Queenship: Matilda was a learned Queen who served as a regent when her husband was away-which was often. She was a huge patron of the arts and made her home of Westminster a hub of music and literature. Matilda was also deeply religious, maybe even more so than her mother, and charitable. She commissioned hospitals, churches, schools and other public works. Matilda would wash the feet of the poor and kiss the hands of the ill.
As was custom for the time, Matilda helped find strong marriages for her children. She had her daughter Matilda married off to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1114. William was engaged to Matilda of Anjou in 1113 and would be married when they were old enough.
Matilda died in May 1118, her husband by her side. Henry mourned the loss, but had to remarry after the death of his son.
Personality: Matilda had a strong personality, as evidenced by her fight to be able to marry instead of being kept as a nun. She was extremely intelligent and devout. It seemed that she was trusted enough to be regent when her husband was often away and she had an active role.
Legacy: Matilda is most remembered for being a devout Christian who funded public works and charity. Many suggested that she be canonized but this never happened. Matilda was used as an excuse by King Stephen to deny her daughter the chance at being Queen, as he argued that she’d been a nun and thus not eligible for marriage.
Adeliza of Louvain
- Life: c.1103-1151
- Reigned: 24th January 1121-December 1135
- Spouse(s): Henry I (m. 1121), William d’Aubigny (m.1138)
- Children: Seven with William d’Aubigny
- Parents: Godfrey, Count of Louvain and Ida of Ching
- Origin: Belgium
Early Life: Adeliza of Louvain was born in around 1103 to Godfrey, Count of Louvain and Ida of Ching. Very little is known about her early life beyond the fact she was reportedly extremely beautiful. Her nickname was ‘The Fair Maiden of Brabant.’ Through her father, she was a descendent of Charlemagne. She may have been well-educated as she knew French, this was not the language of her home.
Marriage: In 1120, Henry I lost his only legitimate son William. He needed an heir and wished to marry Adeliza due to her beauty and heritage. The two wed in January 1121.
Their marriage produced no children, though Adeliza would have children with her second husband. Henry and Adeliza likely had a good marriage as they were always together. She was not, however, at his deathbed in France.
Queenship: Adeliza was not political like her predecessor, but was a huge patron of the arts. She pushed for French literature, making it popular among the nobles of Europe. Henry gave her generous dower lands which allowed her to live in wealth.
Post-Queenship: Henry died in 1135, leaving Adeliza as a widow. She lived in her dower lands as the Anarchy started to unfold. In her widowhood, Adeliza was a proponent of religious charity and commissioned many buildings for the Church. She also remembered Henry and took care of his memorial.
Adeliza was living in an abbey when she was proposed to by William d’Aubigny. His family were minor nobility so the marriage was not too much of a challenge. The pair had seven children together and were ancestors of two of Henry VIII’s wives. Her husband William was a staunch supporter of Stephen, but Adeliza quietly supported Matilda, with whom she had a good relationship. It was only after Stephen threatened the family that Adeliza was forced to lure Matilda into a trap. She did ensure that Matilda could safely leave.
In 1150, Adeliza entered a monastery. This is unusual as she was still married with children. Records indicate she died a year later.
Personality: We know little of Adeliza beyond the fact she was uninterested in politics but enjoyed art. She seemed to be a good stepmother.
Legacy: Adeliza is oft-forgotten due to her lack of politics and not being the mother of a monarch. She is an ancestor of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, however, so she did manage to have a say in the royal lineage many years down the line.
Geoffrey of Anjou
- Life: 24th August 1113-7th September 1151
- Reigned: (Disputed) 1141-1148
- Spouse: Empress of Matilda (m.1128)
- Children: Three legitimate, including Henry II
- Parents: Fulk, King of Jerusalem and Ermengarde, Countess of Maine
- Origin: France
Early Life: Geoffrey of Anjou was born on the 24th August 1113. His father Fulk would become King of Jerusalem upon his second marriage to Melisende of Jerusalem’. Geoffrey had three younger siblings and two younger-half siblings. His sister Matilda was the widow of his brother-in-law William. As a young man, Geoffrey was handsome and loved sports and hunting.
Marriage: Aware of the fact that he likely wasn’t going to have any more legitimate sons, Henry I of England needed his daughter Matilda to marry and have heirs. Anjou had been an ally since William had married Geoffrey’s sister Matilda. In 1128, Geoffrey and Matilda married.
Their marriage was not a happy one. Matilda was a decade older than Geoffrey and felt that marrying a Count was beneath her, as her previous husband had been an emperor. They were both strong-willed and independent people who liked to get their own way. Geoffrey would have bastards.
They had three sons together: Henry, Geoffrey and William. The latter two would die fairly young.
Pre-Reign and Consort: As Count of Anjou, Geoffrey was in charge of the state. He put down several rebellions. In 1135, his father-in-law finally died. Some states submitted to Matilda and accepted her reign, but the English nobles chose her cousin Stephen (eldest living nephew of Henry I). This was for two reasons- the fact that Matilda was a woman and the fact that they didn’t particularly like her husband.
During his contested consortship, Geoffrey fought in Normandy whilst Matilda headed to England. He did make headway but was bogged down, leaving him no time to assist his wife in England. Geoffrey was endlessly putting down rebellions and eventually gave Normandy to his eldest son Henry.
Geoffrey died suddenly at the age of 38. He is buried in Les Mans.
Personality: Geoffrey was outwardly affable and charming, with a love for merriment and sports. He could be very cold and his strong personality made him clash with his wife. Geoffrey was nonetheless very loyal to Matilda, though one would argue that gaining the crown would be more of a benefit to him.
Legacy: Along with Lord Guildford Dudley, Geoffrey is one of two disputed consorts. He is often not included in historical rankings or is least not classed as a consort. His son Henry would live on as king, meaning that Geoffrey is an ancestor of many monarchs.
Matilda of Boulogne:
- Life: c.1105-3rd May 1152
- Reigned: 22nd December 1135-3rd May 1152
- Spouse: Stephen (m.1125)
- Children: Five, including Eustace
- Parents: Eustace III, Count of Boulogne and Mary of Scotland
- Origin: France
Early Life: Matilda of Boulogne was born around 1105 to Eustace III, Count of Boulogne and Mary of Scotland. She was their only child, which was unusual for the period. Her mother Mary was the sister of Matilda of Scotland, consort to Henry I and mother of the Empress Matilda.
Extraordinarily little is known about Matilda’s early life beyond the fact she was betrothed to Stephen aged two and was educated in convents.
Marriage and Children: Matilda and Stephen married in 1125. The two enjoyed an extremely happy marriage, with Stephen taking no mistresses nor bearing any illegitimate children. They had a mutual love and respect for one another.
The pair had five children, three of whom would later rule Boulogne. Eustace was the eldest son and heir to Stephen until the Treaty of Wallingford saw him displaced.
Pre-Reign and Queenship: The first ten years of marriage were relatively peaceful, with the couple often visiting England. All that changed in 1135 upon the death of Henry I. Whilst Matilda waited to claim the throne, Stephen immediately jumped into action and headed to England.
The Anarchy would see Matilda and Stephen often parted. When it came to war, Matilda proved to be a surprisingly excellent leader and tactician. She often came to her husband’s aid with troops. Matilda forged an alliance with her uncle, David I of Scotland, before allying with France through the marriage of Stephen to the king’s sister Constance.
Upon hearing of her husband’s capture, Matilda begged her cousin for his release but was refused. Her army then forced the Empress out of London. It was after she captured Matilda’s extremely loyal half-brother that a prisoner exchange finally happened.
The war dragged on until 1147, when the Empress Matilda returned from Normandy. There was a stalemate at this point and no side had declared victory. Stephen acted as king. Meanwhile, Matilda enjoyed widespread popularity. She was admired for her steadfast dedication to her husband, her bravery, courage and intelligence. Contemporary chroniclers said that she had a man’s heart in a woman’s body. Stephen always listened to her counsel.
Matilda died fairly suddenly in spring 1152 whilst staying in Essex. Stephen was not there at the time. One can assume he was devastated. They are buried together at Faversham Abbey, Kent.
Personality: Matilda was one of medieval Europe’s most brilliant women. Not only was she an extremely loyal spouse, but she was also a talented leader and soldier. She was on the frontlines during the war and was key in several victories. Her love for her husband was evident, as was his love for her. Contemporary citizens loved Matilda and held her up as an ideal woman.
Legacy: Despite the fact her children never ruled England, three would rule Boulogne. Her daughter Marie and granddaughter Ida would be Countesses of Boulogne in their own right, not forced to share power with their husbands. As Henry II was her cousin’s son, Matilda is an ancestor of many of our monarchs.