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THE QUEENS OF ENGLAND.
MATILDA OF FLANDERS,
WIFE OF WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.
MATILDA OF FLANDERS, wife of the Norman Conqueror, was one of those royal consorts who have exercised great influence, not only over the minds of their husbands, but of the nation at large. She was descended from the ancient Kings of France. Her mother was Adelais, daughter of Robert, King of France, and by her father, Baldwin the Fifth, Earl of Flanders, she was directly descended from the noblest and wisest of the Saxon kings, Alfred the Great, through the marriage of his daughter, Elstrith, with Baldwin the Second of Flanders.
Of the more immediate ancestors of Queen Matilda, it may be said that Baldwin the Fourth, her grandfather, was a warlike prince. His son and heir, Baldwin the Fifth, her father, obtained the surname of " the Gentle,” on account of his goodness and piety. Henry the First, King of France, not only entrusted to him the education of his two sons, but appointed him regent of the kingdom, during the minority of the eldest, so highly did he esteem his prudence and good qualities.
Matilda was born in the year 1031. She was remarkable for her beauty, and her natural endowments, and being carefully educated became one of the most learned and accomplished princesses of her time. Her skill in needlework and embroidery was very extraordinary, as is proved by her great work, the Bayeux tapestry, which is still in existence. This remarkable performance, which, as a national chronicle, possesses great value, belongs, however, to a later period of
At present we see her only as the young Princess of Flanders, the fame of whose beauty and accomplishments brought many
suitors to the court of her father. Amongst Matilda's numerous lovers came her cousin, Prince William of Normandy, son of the benevolent Duke Robert, no less esteemed by the Norman people for his important services, than were his great ancestors, Rollo and Richard “the Good.”
This prince seemed destined for greatness. He was young, handsome, and of a warlike character. His commanding figure and fine talents, which had been cultivated at the court of France, entitled him to hope for success with the fair object of his choice, of whom he appears to have been sincerely enamoured. But unfortunately, his near consanguinity, and his illegitimate birth, presented objections on the part of her parents; whilst Matilda herself, entirely engrossed by her attachment to Brihtric, a young Saxon nobleman, who had been sent as ambassador to the court of her father by Edward the Confessor, gave him a decided refusal. These difficulties, however, which might have daunted a character of less determination than that of William, seemed by no means to check his ardour. For seven years he steadfastly persevered in his suit, stimulated, not only by his passion for his fair cousin, but by the political advantages which would accrue to him from her alliance.
Fortunately for William, Matilda, who had inspired him with so ardent and so faithful a love, met with no return of affection from the young Saxon, to whom she had given her heart; therefore, after seven long years of tedious waiting, he determined at once to make an end of the courtship, and that by a means which, in an ordinary case, would have promised anything but success. He waylaid Matilda one day in the streets of Bruges, when she was returning from church, and seizing her, rolled her in the mud, spoiled all her gay attire, and then, after striking her several times, rode off at full speed. This conduct, and from a lover especially, appears most extraordinary; but it was according to the fashion of the rude Norse wooing which was familiar enough to William from the ballads and traditions of his Scandinavian ancestry, and the result in his case was the same as is chronicled of all such stout old heroes. The lady, convinced at once of the force of her lover's passion by the strength of his arm, and fearing, perhaps, further corporeal punishment, submitted, as the wisest course. His love was accepted-perhaps returned, and the marriageday was fixed.
The nuptials were celebrated at the duke's castle of Angé, in Normandy, in the year 1052, whither Matilda had been conducted by her parents with great pomp, the Earl of Flanders making many rich presents in addition to the dowry of his daughter. The garments of the bride were of the most costly materials and workmanship, and her mantle, adorned with jewels, together with that of her husband, were long preserved in the Cathedral of Bayeux.
The nuptial festivities over, William conducted his bride through his dominions, and received the homage of his vassals, after which he established his court at Rouen. Never, perhaps, was happiness more complete than that of William and his accomplished consort, who, we are assured, whatever was the previous state of her affections, became devotedly attached to her husband. From this period she also interested herself in many noble and intellectual pursuits, by which she acquired universal respect. The title also of William to the ducal crown, which, on account of his illegitimate birth, had been questioned, was now fully established, whilst his union with Matilda, herself a legitimate descendant of the royal line, gave stability to his power ; add to which the death of the King of France at this time freed him from apprehension of disturbance in that quarter. From this auspicious period William and Matilda passed many years in great conjugal felicity, which was augmented by the birth of several children.
Their happiness, however, was not without alloy. William's uncle, the haughty Mauger, Archbishop of Rouen, who had received many favours from him, took offence at his marriage, and even went so far as to excommunicate the newly married cousins, on the plea of consanguinity, declaring that nothing could expiate their offence but instant separation. William sought, at first, by liberal contributions to the Church, to allay the wrath of this prelate, but in vain ; he then appealed to the Pope, the powerful and far-famed Gregory the Seventh. The afterwards celebrated Lanfranc, at that time a man of but little note, was employed on this mission; and so effective were his zeal and eloquence that Pope Gregory, unwilling to proceed to extremities with so potent a prince, and one who had paid such deference to him, granted a full dispensation ; making, however, an especial proviso, that William and Matilda should atone for their offence, by founding each an abbey for the religious of their own sex. In obedience to which William erected, in 1064, the great Benedictine Abbey of St. Stephen, in Caen, and Matilda the Church of the