Matilda was queen of England and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. So, leader of both Germany and later England. Sounds impressive right? So…why haven’t we heard of her?
To fully explain Matilda’s situation, I need to go back to William the Conqueror. As we know, the Normans were basically Viking’s living in northern France. As Vikings are want to do, William went to conquer England from the Saxons…who had just fought off a Viking invasion ironically. (I’ll get into William at a later date.) For now all we need to know is that William took over England and erased the Saxon aristocracy. It gets a bit complicated because William now owned England as a sovereign monarch, but also held lands in France making him the vassal of the king of France. That sort of arrangement seldom worked out peacefully or logically. William had two sons that fought each other (literally and figuratively) for the crown. Its amazing how dynastic succession caused so much problems but they never tried to get a better system. Hmmm….
His son William won over Rufus in a few fights and Rufus pawned off his share of the kingdom and went on Crusade instead. Well, William had a bunch of sons (most illegitimate though his chronicler said he held no lust in his heart. snicker snicker) and one of them was the next in line for the crown. He was over in France with all his brothers and cousins and friends. They got drunk and got on their boat. They never learned that you never drink and go boating together. No surprise, they had a little accident with a big rock and all of them drowned except for a butcher who happened to be on board. Aside from
This was more than a personal tragedy, it was also a national one because there was now no heir to the kingdom. The only child he left was Matilda over in Germany. She shipped off to Germany at the age of eight to the German king. She was married at twelve (an acceptable age to be married back then) and learned how to act like a queen. She wasn’t empress yet because the German kings of the Holy Roman Empire had to do this rather unusual tradition of marching their armies down to Rome and forcing the Pope to crown them Emperor. (Again, couldn’t they have come up with a more logical system or at least a more peaceful one?)
On a side note, her husband was too scared to go a second time into Italy because of our good friend Matilda, Countess of Tuscany. He left Matilda of England to rule his lands in Italy.
Well, just before all of Matilda’s brothers and cousins died, her husband, the emperor had the good graces to die which cleared up her schedule remarkably! So she came back to England and her father quickly told everyone that she was the next ruler and that they had better like it!
Well, though there was no rule saying a woman couldn’t rule England, they still didn’t trust her. She was a woman and had too many German tendencies and manners.
The historians of her time did their best to ignore her existence and pretend she was nothing. The sharks started circling in the form of noblemen wanting to be king so she needed a husband fast. So, she married some guy that owned a lot of land in France. (all this would latter help cause Hundred Years War when England thought they owned France. They might have been right.) Her husband wanted to be king without her say so. She was used to ruling on her own so shed “Forget that junk” and promptly did her best to ignore him. Also, her father kept trying to muscle in and seize control. Again, he had the good graces to promptly die and she (while her husband was out of town) quickly went around the country assuring her control. She was slowed down by being really pregnant at the time and her husband had a little revolt in his lands in France.
But then some jerk named Stephan came in and quickly stole the throne. Keep in mind that they didn’t have the internet or news networks, news went only as fast as a horse so sometimes confusing things happened at the same time.
Well, Stephan wasn’t as good a ruler as he was a jerk. Normandy began rebelling and the barons and Dukes in England began fighting among themselves and Stephan was powerless to stop them. Slowly the nobles began to turn away from Stephan and back to Matilda.
Then Matilda made her move and with asking a blessing from the Pope, she fought for her throne. She went down to Italy where a bunch of church people held a council and judged her case. Due to a lawyer on Stephan’s side he won the case. I told you he was a jerk.
So, she went on the warpath and at the battle of Lincoln, where Stephan’s men were besieging a castle, her army came up and put a boot in their rear. The fighting went back and forth and carried on within the city. After some cool Call of Duty-esque city fighting, they captured Stephan the Jerk and Matilda rode to London to be crowned.
All seemed well, right?
Well, when she got to the gate of London, the common people said “Hey, you’re going to lower our taxes, eh?”
She said, “Not a chance!”
Then they closed the gates, refused her entry and the civil war erupted all over again. This time Stephan got the throne back and she had to high tail it to Scotland.
Lesson learned: If things are bad, lower taxes.