Matilda happens to be the mother-in-law of our first lady profiled in this series, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Like Eleanor, Matilda (sometimes known as Maude) lived an unconventional life for a woman in the Middle Ages. Her life was dedicated around winning her rightful throne as the Queen of England. After the single legitimate male heir died in the White Ship disaster, Matilda was the only remaining of Henry I’s heirs. Her father groomed her to be Queen from then on and had his barons swear fealty to her. However, after Henry’s death, Matilda’s cousin Stephen stole her crown as she hurried to return to England from her husband’s Anjou. This would launch the famous period in English history known simply as “The Anarchy”–the most accurate description of this time would be when “Christ and his saints slept.” Stephen and Matilda fought for many years to solidify their claim to the English throne. Perhaps my favorite Matilda anecdote is when she stole away from a castle in the middle of the night during a blizzard surrounded by Stephen and his men. How did she get past all those men? She covered herself in a white cloak! Genius! If that isn’t badass, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately for Matilda her dream to rule over England would never be realized. However her much-loved son, Henry (the future Henry II), was named as Stephen’s heir and became king after his death. Henry would begin the Plantagenet dynasty of England that would only end with the death of Richard III in 1485 at Bosworth Field.
Matilda’s story is documented in the novel When Christ and His Saints Slept.