Snippets of French history: Mrs Conqueror.
I mean Mathilda of Flanders, Duchess of Normandy, Queen of England, wife of William the Conqueror.
She was born circa 1031 and died circa 1083. She was the daughter of Baldwin of Flanders and Adela of France, and the grand daughter of Robert II of France. Almost nothing is known about her early life except that she had at least one brother and that she was almost certainly very wealthy**. Any pictures and portrayals of her are results of the artists’ imaginations, and therefore ficticious. We do know, after scientists exhumed her bones in the 1990s, that she was barely 5′ tall – but that was quite common for her day.
There are also several myths and legends surrounding her betrothal to William, Duke of Normandy. Most of these stories seem to weave around William dashing in to her room and grabbing her by her long long braids before ravishing her. Certainly their union seems to have been a happy one because William had no known illegitimate children and there are no records of infidelity on either side. Indeed, Mathilda bore William nine children. Just out of curiosity their names: Robert, Richard, William Rufus, Henry, Agatha, Adeliza (that’s pretty!), Cecilia, Mathilda, Constance and Adela. All children grew in to adulthood and all – even the girls – were remarkably well-educated. From this we can glean that Mathilda was interested in her children and in their well-being.
** Mathilda financed and kitted out one of William’s invasion ships, which indicates that she brought wealth to the marriage
William clearly trusted her implicity because he left her in charge of his kingdom of Normandy while he was off invading England. During that time she seems to have handled things well, for there are no records of disturbances or uprisings. Their eldest child was at that time only 14.
Furthermore, during the crowning ceremony at Westminster Abbey, William made a turning-point in history when he had it stated that his queen ruled with the same power as he did, and was his equal.
Only one of their children, Henry, was born in England. Mathilda stayed in England with her husband but spent far more time in Normandy. I do think that this was more because of her need to oversee the management of the kingdom rather than any wish to be separate from William.
For a long time it was thought that she worked on the Bayeaux Tapestry. Indeed, the French refer to it as La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde. It is now known to have been made in England and that it was probably commissioned by William’s brother, Odo.
Mathilda fell ill and died quite suddenly in 1083. William was distraught and turned from the careful and thoughtful ruler he had been in to a tyrant, till his own death 4 years later.
It is interesting to look at this small section of the Bayeux Tapestry. On the far left is a tavern, with men drinking at the bar. A man at the door is telling them to hurry up and get on the ship. One man is making his way down the steps to the ship, carrying his spear. Three more men are wading through the water, one with his spear and some other implement, one carrying his dog and the other carrying his falcon. Along the top are the words Harold, sea and navigation, and both bottom and top are bordered with depictions of animals. Note the Norman arches under the bar and the way the sea is “shallow” near the land and “deep” under the boat.
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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are available on Amazon or Kindle, or can be ordered from most leading book stores and libraries. More about Catherine Broughton on http://turquoisemoon.co.uk
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