The Empress Matilda, christened Adelaide, was born in 1102, the daughter of King Henry I and his wife Edith of Scotland (known as Matilda). A year later her brother William was born. At the age of 12 years she was sent to Germany to marry the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V of Germany who was 32 years old. Her name was changed to Matilda on her marriage and she was crowned Empress on the same day.
In 1120 Matilda’s brother William, heir to the English throne, died in the White Ship Disaster. Henry I’s first wife, Edith had died in 1118 and in 1121 Henry had married Adeliza of Louvain in the hopes of producing an heir to the throne. When Matilda’s husband died in 1125 Matilda, who had produced no heirs with her husband, was recalled to her father in Normandy. In January 1127 Henry I gathered together the nobility of England and Normandy at Westminster where they swore an oath to recognise Henry’s daughter Matilda as heir to the throne. At the same time Henry began looking for a second husband for his daughter.
In 1128 Matilda was married to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, known as Plantagenet because he always wore a sprig of broom on his hat. The relationship was rocky to begin with but they went on to have three sons, Henry, Geoffrey and William.
In 1135 Henry I died. By rights the throne should have passed to Matilda but the nobles, including the grandson of William I, Count Stephen of Blois were not happy about this arrangement and so Stephen crossed the channel and on 22nd December 1135 took the throne for himself. He was crowned King of England on 26th December 1135.
Matilda’s cause was supported by King David I of Scotland and her half-brother Robert of Gloucester who both rose in rebellion against Stephen. David made peace with Stephen in 1138 but Robert continued to oppose Stephen and supported Matilda and her husband when they invaded England in 1139.
England was now in a state of civil war and Matilda, supported by Robert of Gloucester quickly gained control of south-west England. In 1141 they won a decisive victory at the Battle of Lincoln and took Stephen prisoner. With Stephen in custody Matilda declared herself queen and set 24th June as the date for her coronation. However, on 24th June a group of pro-Stephen supporters approached her base and she had to flee to Oxford. While Matilda was in Oxford Stephen’s forces lay siege to Winchester forcing Matilda to march south with a relieving force. However, the siege held and Matilda became trapped. In September, Matilda’s provisions were depleted and she could no longer withstand the siege and so decided to make a break for it. Matilda successfully escaped but her half-brother and commander Robert of Gloucester was captured. Matilda would not make peace with Stephen’s wife and so with no other action open to her she was forced to release Stephen in exchange for her half brother.
The war continued throughout the 1140s with neither side being able to secure a victory over the other. Robert of Gloucester’s death in 1147 left Matilda without her main supporter. When her husband, Geoffrey Plantagenet died in 1151 his lands were inherited by their son Henry. Henry had made some forays into England in support of his mother’s claim but now, older and with his own lands he crossed the channel to press his own claim to the throne of England. However, neither side were willing to resume armed hostilities and so it was agreed that when Stephen died Henry would become King.
In 1154 following the death of Stephen, Henry became King Henry II of England. Matilda remained in Normandy for the rest of her life administering the family estates. She died on 10th September 1167.