Matilda of Scotland

Queen of England 1100 - 1118

Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England
Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Christened Edith, Matilda of Scotland (c. 1080 - May 1, 1118) was a princess of Scotland and later queen of England through her marriage to Henry I. She was a popular queen who presided over an educated and pious court, and she even functioned as queen regent in her husband's stead at times.

The Scottish Princess

Matilda was the older daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm III and his second wife, the English princess Margaret later canonized as Saint Margaret of Scotland.  The royal family had several children: Edward, Edmund of Scotland, Ethelred (became an abbot), three future Scottish kings (Edgar, Alexander I, and David I), and Mary of Scotland (who married Eustace III of Boulogne, becoming he mother of Matilda of Boulogne who later married King Stephen of England, a nephew of King Henry I of England). Matilda's father, Malcolm, descended from the Scottish royal family whose brief overthrow inspired Shakespeare's Macbeth (his father was King Duncan).

From the age of six, Matilda and her younger sister Mary were raised under the protection of their aunt Cristina, a nun in the convent at Romsey, England, and later at Wilton. In 1093, Matilda left the convent, and Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, ordered her to return.

Matilda's family turned down several early marriage proposals for Matilda: from William de Warenne, second Earl of Surrey and Alan Rufus, Lord of Richmond. Another rejected proposal, reported by some chroniclers, came from King William II of England.

King William II of England died in 1100, and his son Henry quickly seized power, supplanting his older brother through his quick action (a tactic his nephew Stephen would use later to supplant Henry's named heir). Henry and Matilda apparently knew each other already; Henry decided that Matilda would be the most suitable bride for his new kingdom.

The Marriage Question

Matilda's heritage did make her an excellent choice as a bride for Henry I. Her mother was a descendant of King Edmund Ironside, and through him, Matilda was descended from the great Anglo-Saxon king of England, Alfred the Great. Matilda's great uncle was Edward the Confessor, so she was also related to the Wessex kings of England. Thus, marriage to Matilda would unite the Norman line to the Anglo-Saxon royal line. The marriage would also ally England and Scotland.

However, Matilda's years in the convent raised questions of whether she had taken vows and was thus not free to marry legally. Henry asked Archbishop Anselm for a ruling, and Anselm convened a council of bishops. They heard testimony from Matilda that she had never taken vows, had worn the veil only for protection, and that her stay in the convent had only been for her education. The bishops agreed that Matilda was eligible to marry Henry.

Matilda of Scotland and Henry I of England were married at Westminster Abbey on November 11, 1100. At this point her name was changed from her birth name of Edith to Matilda, by which she is known to history. Matilda and Henry had four children, but only two survived infancy. Matilda, born 1102, was the elder, but by tradition was displaced as heir by her younger brother, William, born the next year.

Queen of England

Matilda's education was valuable in her role as Henry's queen. Matilda served on her husband's council; she was queen regent when he was traveling; she often accompanied him on his travels. From 1103 to 1107, the English investiture controversy led to a conflict between church and state over who had the right to appoint (or "invest") church officials at the local level. During this time, Matilda served as a mediator between Henry and Archbishop Anselm, eventually helping to resolve the conflict. Her work as regent lives on: to this day, charters and documents signed by Matilda as regent do survive.

Matilda also commissioned literary works, including a biography of her mother and a history of her family (the latter was completed after her death). She administered estates that were part of her dower properties and oversaw several architectural projects. In general, Matilda ran a court that valued both culture and religion, and she herself spent a great deal of time on works of charity and compassion.

Matilda of Blessed Memory

Matilda lived long enough to see her children make good royal matches. Her daughter, Matilda (also known as "Maud"), was betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, and she was sent to Germany to be married to him. Maud would later attempt to take the English throne following her father's death; although she did not succeed, her son did and became Henry II.

Matilda and Henry's son, William, was heir apparent to his father. He was betrothed to Matilda of Anjou, daughter of Count Fulk V of Anjou, in 1113, but died in an accident at sea in 1120.

Matilda died on Mary 1, 1118 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. Henry married again but had no more children. He named as his heir his daughter Maud, by that time widow of Emperor Henry V. Henry had his noble swear fealty to his daughter, then married her to Geoffrey of Anjou, brother of Matilda of Anjou and son of Fulk V.

Matilda's legacy lived on through her daughter, who was set to become England's first reigning queen - but Henry's nephew Stephen seized the throne, and enough barons backed him so that Maud, though she fought for her rights, was never crowned queen. Maud's son eventually succeeded Stephen as Henry II, bringing the descendants of both Norman and Anglo-Saxon kings to the throne. Matilda was remembered as "the good queen" and "Matilda of Blessed Memory." A movement began to have her canonized, but never actually took shape.

Matilda of Scotland Facts

Known for: queen consort of King Henry I of England and sometimes queen regent, mother of Empress Matilda/Empress Maud and grandmother of King Henry II.
Occupation: Queen of England
Dates: circa 1080 - May 1, 1118
Spouse: King Henry I of England (m. 1100-1118)

Sources:

  • Chibnall, Marjorie. The Empress Matilda. Malden, Blackwell Publishers, 1992.
  • Huneycutt, Lois L. Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship. Boydell, 2004.