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The story of England’s First Queen: Matilda of Flanders

Every monarchy has to start somewhere. For England, the ”modern” monarchy started with William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders.

Matilda was born in 1031 into the House of Flanders. She was the only daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders and Adela of France. The Flanders were of strategic importance to most of Europe and England as they served as a “stepping stone’ for strategic trade. Along with trade, they helped to keep Scandinavian intruders away from England.

Because her mother was the daughter of Robert II of France, she was of grander birth than William, who was illegitimate. Her descent from the Anglo-Saxon royal House of Wessex was useful although her marriage to William, her third cousin once removed would breach strict church rules around consanguinity. She was about 20 when they married circa 1051-1052. William, who had been Duke of Normandy since he was about eight (in 1035) was about four years older.

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According to legend, William sent his representative to ask for Matilda’s hand in marriage. She told the representative she was too high-born to consider marrying someone of illegitimate birth. After hearing of her response, William went from Normandy to Bruges, found Matilda on her way to church, dragged her by her hair, threw her in the street, and rode off. Whether this happened or not can’t be ascertained but the two did marry and appear to have been happy together.

Matilda was also an important member of William’s ruling circle. As he prepared his invasion of England, convinced the throne was his by right, Matilda was among his greatest supporters. William made his journey on the boat Matilda gave him, Mora. Matilda stayed behind to govern the Duchy of Normandy in his absence and joined him in England after more than a year where she was crowned in an elaborate ceremony. She would go back and forth between Normandy and England. She served as regent in Normandy in the absence of William six times.

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During their marriage, William and Matilda had nine or ten children together. Despite royal duties, Matilda was deeply invested in her children’s well-being and upbringing. All were said to be highly educated, and her daughters were also taught to read Latin.

She was also deeply interested in religion and supported Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury Both she and her husband approved of the Archbishop’s desire to revitalise the Church. Despite happy times, William was angry when he discovered Matilda sent large sums of money to their exiled son, Robert.

During the summer of 1083, Matilda fell ill and died on 2 November of that year. Her husband was present for her final confession. William swore to give up his favourite sport of hunting to express his grief after the death of his wife. He died four years later in 1087.

Both were buried in magnificent churches in Caen, Normandy, France. Over time, Matilda’s tomb was desecrated and the original coffin was destroyed. Her remains were put in a sealed box and reburied under the original black slab.

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About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.