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Matilda of Scotland, queen of the English

Title social-status: 
queen of the English

Queen Matilda (Edith) was the daughter of Margaret of Scotland and Malcolm Canmore, king of Scotland. As the wife of Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, she was queen of England from 1100 to her death, and it was she who carried English royal blood, as a direct descendant of Alfred through her mother. Both Orderic Vitalis (HE 8.22, 10.16) and William of Malmesbury (GR 2.470-71) note Margaret's royal descent; her grandfather was Edmund Ironside, halfbrother of Edward known as the Confessor. Matilda and her sister Mary were educated under the tutelage of their mother's sister, abbess Christina, at Romsey and Wilton. Matilda was rumored to have taken the veil, though Anselm was persuaded it was a false rumor when he agreed to marry her to Henry. William of Malmesbury says she wore the veil to discourage suitors. Marjorie Chibnall suggests it may have been her aunt's idea to have her wear a veil without taking vows, to protect her from abduction, The Empress Matilda, Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 7. She was, however, devoted to religion and to Anselm as a spiritual advisor and friend, as well as to the needs of the kingdom, over which she served as regent when her husband was abroad. Matilda's actions in that and other administrative capacities are mentioned in passing by Orderic (HE 6.10, 11.2). Lois Huneycutt notes that Matilda not only participated in Henry's council, but chaired it in his absence, "The Idea of the Perfect Princess: The Life of St. Margaret in the Reign of Matilda II" (1100-1118), Anglo-Norman Studies 12 (1989), 90. Chibnall, 14, says that queen Matilda's correspondence with Anselm shows that her duties as queen came first, just as they did with her daughter the empress. She bore two children, a son William who predeceased his father and a daughter Matilda, the empress, who became her father's heir and very nearly queen of England in her own right. Matilda patronized churches and secular letters in Latin and French. She commissioned at least two histories, a life of her mother, Margaret, from a monk of Durham, and an extended history of her family, the Gesta Regum Anglorum, from another monk William of Malmesbury, which was finished after her death and presented to her daughter, empress Matilda.(1) William notes the queen's patronage of scholars, poets, and singers, though he thinks she favored foreigners at the cost of locals (5.418). Benedeit dedicated the Voyage de saint Brendan to her and Philippe de Thaon the Livre de Sibylle. M. Dominica Legge called Matilda the first known patron of French letters.(2) Some short poems to Matilda are included below. The bulk of Matilda's extant correspondence is with Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and the ranking ecclesiastic of England, and an unusual number of the queen's letters to (and about) him survive. The connection between them was both official by virtue of their offices, and personal in that he was a friend and spiritual advisor. Anselm had performed her marriage ceremony and anointed her as queen, as she reminds him in ep.242, but his disputes over ecclesiastical jurisdiction first with Henry's brother, William Rufus, over vacant sees and simony, and then with Henry over lay investiture, kept him in exile on the continent for many years, and complicated his relations with Matilda as well. Anselm went into exile in 1097 while William was king, was recalled by Henry in 1100, but went back into exile a second time, from 1103-06, during which Matilda continued to write to him and to plead his case.

Biographical notes: 

(1) Letters sent by the monks of Malmesbury to David, king of Scotland, queen Matilda's brother, and to the empress, her daughter, emphasize the queen's role in its composition, see Ewald Könsgen, "Zwei unbekannte Briefe zu den Gesta Regum Anglorum des Wilhelm von Malmesbury," Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 31 (1975), 205-14. On the importance of women in the GRA, see Ferrante, To the Glory of Her Sex (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1997), 100-03. (2) "Son nom est le premier connu d'un patron des lettres françaises," in "La précocité de la littérature anglo-normande," CCM 8 (1965), 329.