Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
HER MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY
OUR SOVEREIGN LADY QUEEN VICTORIA,
The Lives of
The Queens of England
COMPILED FROM OFFICIAL RECORDS AND OTHER AUTHENTIC DOCUMENTS, PRIVATE AS WELL AS PUBLIC, BY AGNES STRICKLAND.
PRECEDED BY A BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION BY JOHN FOSTER KIRK. IN SIXTEEN VOLUMES. WITH PLATES.
Philadelphia: Printed only for Subscribers by George Barrie & Son.
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2006
Matilda of Flanders
Queen of William the Conqueror
Matilda mediates between her husband and son—Robert's insolence and rebellion—Matilda supplies him with money—Conqueror seizes Matilda's agent—Conqueror's reproaches—Queen's answer—Robert's military prowess— Field of Archembraye—Robert wounds the Conqueror—His penitence—Matilda intercedes—Conqueror writes to his son—Robert pardoned—Conqueror's legislation in England—Domesday-book—Royal revenue—Queen of England's perquisites and privileges—Her dues at Queenhithe—Officers of royal household—Matilda's court the model of succeeding ones—She continues to govern Normandy—Her visit to the monastery of Ouche—Illness and death of her second daughter—Fresh cause of sorrow to the queen—Robert's dissensions with his father—Matilda's distress—Applies to a hermit—His vision, and message to the queen—Her grief and lingering illness—Dying of a broken heart—The Conqueror hastens from England—She dies—Her obsequies—Her alms—Tomb—Epitaph—Will—Articles of dress named therein— Portrait (see frontispiece)—Her children—The Conqueror's deep affliction —Disquiets after the death of the queen—Fatal accident to the Conqueror— Death—His body plundered—Accidents and interruptions at his funeral— Monument—Portrait—Destruction of his tomb—Of Matilda's tomb—Her sapphire ring—Their bodies reinterred—Matilda's tomb restored—Final destruction at French revolution.
The feud between her royal husband and her first-born was very painful to Matilda, whose anxious attempts to effect a reconciliation were unavailing. When Robert's passion was somewhat cooled, he consented to see his father, but the interview was anything but friendly. Ordericus Vitalis gives the following particulars of the conference.
Robert assumed a very high tone, and repeated his demand of being invested with the duchies of Normandy and Maine. This was, of course, refused by the Conqueror, who sternly bade his ambitious heir "remember the fate of Absalom, and the misfortunes of Rehoboam, and not to listen to the evil counsellors who wished to seduce him from the paths of duty." On which Robert insolently replied, "That he did not come there to listen to sermons, with which he had been nauseated by his tutors when he was learning grammar, but to claim the investiture which had been promised to him. Answer me positively," continued he; "are not these things my right? Have you not promised to bestow them on me?" [Ordericus Vitalis. Hemmingford. Walsingham.]—"It is not my custom to strip till I go to bed," replied the Conqueror; "and as long as I live I will not deprive myself of my native realm, Normandy; neither will I divide it with another, for it is written in the holy evangelists, 'Every kingdom that is divided against itself shall become desolate.' [Ordericus Vitalis. S. Dunelm. P. Daniel.] I won England by mine own good sword; the vicars of Christ placed the diadem of its ancient kings on my brow and the sceptre in mine hand, and I swear that all the world combined shall not compel me to delegate my power to another. It is not to be borne, that he who owes his existence to me should aspire to be my rival in mine own dominions." But Robert scornfully rejoined, with equal pride and disrespect, "If it be inconvenient for you to keep your word, I will withdraw from Normandy and seek justice from strangers, for here I will not remain as a subject." [Ordericus Vitalis.]
With these words he quitted the royal presence, and, with a party of disaffected nobles, took refuge with Matilda's brother, Robert earl of Flanders, surnamed 'le Frison,' from his having married the countess of Friesland. From this uncle Robert received very bad advice, and the king of France endeavored, by all the means in his power, to widen the breach between the undutiful heir of Normandy and his father. Encouraged by those evil counsellors, Robert busied himself in fomenting discontents and organizing a formidable faction in his father's dominions, whence he drew large sums, in the shape of presents and loans, from many of the vassals of the ducal crown, who were willing to ingratiate themselves with the heir-apparent, and to conciliate the favor of the queen-duchess, whose partial fondness for her eldest son was well known.
The supplies thus obtained Robert improvidently lavished among his dissolute companions, both male and female. In consequence of this extravagance, he was occasionally reduced to the greatest inconvenience. When under the pressure of those pecuniary embarrassments, which could not fail to expose him to the contempt of the foreign princes who espoused his quarrel against his father, he was wont to apply to his too indulgent mother, Matilda, by whom he was so passionately beloved that she could refuse him nothing; from her private coffers she secretly supplied him with large sums of silver and gold, and when these resources were exhausted by the increasing demands of her prodigal son, Matilda had the weakness to strip herself of her jewels and rich garments for the same purpose. [Malmesbury. Ordericus Vitalis.] This system continued even when Robert had taken up arms against his father and sovereign. Roger de Beaumont—that faithful minister whom William had, previous to his first embarkation on the memorable expedition from St. Vallery, appointed as the premier of Normandy, and who had ever since assisted his royal mistress, not only with his counsels in the administration of affairs of state, but even in the education of her children—felt it his duty to inform his sovereign of the underhand proceedings of Matilda in favor of her rebel son. [Malmesbury.]
William was in England when the startling intelligence reached him of the unnatural rebellion of his first-born, and the treachery of his beloved consort, in whom he had ever reposed the most unbounded confidence. He appears scarcely to have given credence to the representations of Roger de Beaumont relating to the conduct of his queen, till, on his return to Normandy, he intercepted one of Matilda's private agents, named Sampson, who was charged with communications from the queen to Robert, which left no doubt on William's mind of the identity of the secret friend by whom his undutiful son had been supplied with the means of carrying on his plots and hostile measures against his government. [Ordericus Vitalis.] There was a stern grandeur, not unmixed with tenderness, in the reproof which he addressed to his offending consort on this occasion. "The observation of a certain philosopher is true," said he, "and I have only too much cause to admit the force of his words,"—
'Naufragium rerum est mulier malefida marito:'
"'The woman who deceives her husband is the destruction of her own house.' Where in all the world could you have found a companion so faithful and devoted in his affection?" continued he, passionately. "Behold my wife, she whom I have loved as my own soul, to whom I have confided the government of my realms, my treasure, and all that I possessed in the world of power and greatness,—she hath supported mine adversary against me,—she hath strengthened and enriched him from the wealth which I confided to her keeping,—she hath secretly employed her zeal and subtlety in his cause, and done everything she could to encourage him against me!" [Ordericus Vitalis.]
Matilda's reply to this indignant but touching appeal, which her royal husband, more it should appear in sorrow than in anger, addressed to her, is no less remarkable for its impassioned eloquence than the subtlety with which she evades the principal point on which she is pressed, and intrenches herself on the strong ground of maternal love. "My lord," said she, "I pray you not to be surprised if I feel a mother's tenderness for my first-born son. By the virtue of the Most High, I protest that if my son Robert were dead, and hidden far from the sight of the living, seven feet deep in the earth, and that the price of my blood could restore him to life, I would cheerfully bid it flow. For his sake I would endure any suffering, yea, things from which, on any other occasion, the feebleness of my sex would shrink with terror. How, then, can you suppose that I could enjoy the pomp and luxuries with which I was surrounded, when I knew that he was pining in want and misery? Far from my heart be such hardness, nor ought your authority to impose such insensibility on a mother." [Ibid.]
William is reported to have turned pale with anger at this rejoinder. It was not, however, on Matilda, the object of his adoring and constant affection, that he prepared to inflict the measure of vengeance which her transgression against him had provoked. Sampson, the comparatively innocent agent whom she had employed in this transaction, was doomed to pay the dreadful penalty of the offence with the loss of sight, by the order of his enraged sovereign. [Ordericus Vitalis.] In such cases it is usual for the instrument to be the sacrifice, and persons of the kind are generally yielded up as a sort of scapegoat, or expiatory victim. But Matilda did not abandon her terrified agent in his distress; she contrived to convey a hasty intimation of his peril, and her desire of preserving him, to some of the persons who were devoted to her service; and Sampson, more fortunate than his illustrious namesake of yore, was enabled to escape the cruel sentence of his lord by taking sanctuary in the monastery of Ouche, of which Matilda was a munificent patroness. Nevertheless, as it was a serious thing to oppose the wrath of such a prince as William, the abbot Manier found no other way of securing the trembling fugitive from his vengeance, than that of causing him to be shorn, shaven, and professed a monk of Ouche the same day he entered the convent, "in happy hour both for his body and soul," observes the contemporary chronicler who relates this circumstance. [Ibid.]
It does not appear that William's affection for Matilda suffered any material diminution in consequence of these transactions, neither would he permit any one to censure her conduct in his presence. [Ibid.] She was the love of his youth, the solace of his meridian hours of life, and she preserved her empire over his mighty heart to the last hour of her life. But though the attachment of the Conqueror to his consort remained unaltered, the happiness of the royal pair was materially impaired. Robert, their first-born, was in arms against his father and sovereign, and at the head of a numerous army,—supported by the hostile power of France on the one hand, and the disaffected portion of William's subjects on the other. He had made a formidable attack on Rouen, and in several instances obtained successes which at first astonished his indignant parent, who had certainly greatly underrated the military talents of his heir. When, however, the Conqueror perceived that the filial foe who had thus audaciously displayed his rebel banner against him inherited the martial genius of his race, and was by no means unlikely to prove a match for himself in the art of war, he advanced with a mighty army to give him battle. The royals chiefs of Normandy met in hostile encounter on the plain of Archembraye, near the castle of Gerberg. William Rufus, the Conqueror's favorite son, was in close attendance on his father's person that day. This prince had already received the honor of knighthood from Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury, his tutor, and he was eager to assist in humbling the pride of his elder brother, over whom the Conqueror anticipated a signal triumph. [Hoveden. S. Dunelm. M. Paris. Polydore Vergil.]
The battle was fought with no common fury on both sides, but Robert, who headed a choice body of cavalry, decided the fortune of the day by his impetuous charge upon the rearward of his foes, where his royal father commanded, whose utmost endeavors to preserve order in his ranks were ineffectual. It was in this charge that Robert, unconscious who the doughty champion was against whom he tilted, ran his father through the arm with his lance, and unhorsed him. [S. Dunelm. Malmesbury. Hoveden. M. Paris.] This was the first time that William had ever been overcome in single combat, for he was one of the strongest men and most approved knights of the age in which he lived; and it is a singular fact, that in all the battles in which he had been engaged, he had never lost a drop of blood, till it was in this field drawn by the lance of his firstborn. Transported with rage at the disgrace of the overthrow, he called so loudly and angrily for rescue, that Robert recognized him, either by his voice or some of his favorite expletives, and hastily alighting, raised him from the ground in his arms with much tenderness and respect, expressed the deepest concern at the unintentional crime of which he had been guilty, for which he most humbly entreated his forgiveness, and then placing him on his own horse, he brought him safely out of the press. [S. Dunelm. M. Paris.] According to some of the historians of that period, William, instead of meeting this generous burst of feeling on the part of his penitent son with answering emotions of paternal tenderness, was so infuriated at the humiliation he had received, that he uttered a malediction against him, which all the after submissions of Robert could not induce him to retract; while others, equally deserving of credit, assert that he was so moved with the proof of Robert's dutiful reverence for his person, and the anxiety he had manifested for his safety, that he presently forgave him, and ever after held him in better respect. Both accounts may be true in part; for it is very possible, that when the conqueror of England found himself defeated by his rebel subjects on his native soil, and his hitherto invincible arm overcome by the prowess of his son (whose person he had been accustomed to mention with a contemptuous allusion to his inferiority in stature), he might, while a smart of his wound lasted, have indulged in a strong ebullition of wrathful reproach, not unmixed with execrations, of which it appears that he, in common with all Normans of that era, had an evil habit. But after his passion was abated, it is certain that he did, in compliance with the entreaties of his queen, consent to receive the submission of his victorious but penitent son. [Ordericus Vitalis.]
In this battle William Rufus was severely wounded, as well as his father, and there was a considerable slaughter of the English troops, of which the Conqueror's army was chiefly composed; for Robert had stolen the hearts of the Normans while associated in the regency with his mother Matilda, and his father considered it unsafe to oppose him with his native troops. As it was, Robert remained the master of the field, having that day given indubitable proofs of able generalship and great personal valor; but the perilous chance that had nearly rendered him the murderer of his father made so deep an impression on his mind, that he remained for a time conscience-stricken, which caused him to endeavor, by employing the intercession of his mother, to obtain a reconciliation with his offended sire. [Ibid.]
Matilda had suffered greatly in mind during the unnatural warfare between her husband and her first-born, especially after the frightful circumstance of their personal encounter in the field of Archembraye, which was fought in the year 1077. Some feelings of self-reproach might possibly mingle with her uneasiness on this occasion. Her health began to decline, and William was at length moved by her incessant pleading, and the sight of her tears, to write a letter with his own hand to Robert, inviting him "to repair to Rouen, and receive a full pardon for his late rebellion, promising at the same time to grant him everything that he could expect from the affection of a father, consistently with the duty of a king." On the receipt of this welcome letter, Robert delayed not a moment to obey the summons. He came to Rouen, attended only by three servants; he was received by his parents in the most affectionate manner, and a temporary reconciliation was effected between him and his brethren. [Ordericus Vitalis. Henderson.]
Matilda did not long enjoy the society of this beloved son; for the Conqueror's affairs in England demanding his presence, he thought proper to carry Robert with him, under the pretence that he required his services in a military capacity to defend the northern counties against the aggression of Malcolm king of Scotland, who had once more violated the treaty of peace. William's real motive for making Robert the companion of his voyage was, because he considered Matilda was too much devoted to the interest of her first-born to render it expedient for him to remain with her in Normandy.
The year 1078 [According to some historians, the survey was not generally begun till 1080. It was not fully completed till 1086.—Tindal's Notes on Rapin.] was remarkable in this country for the great national survey, which was instituted by the Conqueror for the purpose of ascertaining the precise nature of the lands and tangible property throughout England; so that, says Ingulphus, "there was not a hide of land, water, or waste, but he knew the valuation, the owners and possessors, together with the rents and profits thereof; as also of all cities, towns, villages, hamlets, monasteries, and religious houses; causing, also, all the people in England to be numbered, their names to be taken, with notice what any one might dispend by the year; their substance, money, and bondmen recorded, with their cattle, and what service they owed to him who held of him in fee: all which was certified upon the oaths of commissioners." [Ingulphus.]
Such is the account given by the learned abbot of Croyland of the particulars of William's "Great Terrar," or "Domesday-book," as it was called by the Saxons. The proceedings of the commissioners were inquisitorial enough, no doubt, since they extended to ascertaining how much money every man had in his house, and what was owing to him. That in some instances, too, they were partial in their returns is evident, by the acknowledgment of Ingulphus, when, speaking of his own monastery of Croyland, he says, "The commissioners were so kind and civil that they did not give in the true value of it:" we may therefore conclude that, whenever the proprietors made it worth their while, they were equally obliging elsewhere. Yet it was at the risk of severe punishment that any fraud, favor, connivance, or concealment was practised, by either the owners of the property or the commissioners. Robert of Gloucester, in his rhyming chronicle, gives the following quaint description of the Domesday-book:
"Then king William, to learn the worth of his land, Let enquiry stretch throughout all England, How many plough land, and hiden also, Were in every shire, and what they were worth thereto; And the rents of each town, and the waters each one, The worth, and woods eke, and wastes where lived none: By that he wist what he were worth of all England, And set it clearly forth that all might understand, And had it clearly written, and that script he put, I wis, In the treasury of Westminster, where it still is."
[See the Chapter-house, Westminster.]
The description or survey of England was written in two books, the Great and Little Domesday-book; [The little book contains only Norfolk,. Suffolk, and Essex.] and when finished, they were carefully laid up in the king's treasury or exchequer, to be consulted on occasion, or, as Polydore Vergil shrewdly observes, "when it was required to know of how much more wool the English flocks might be fleeced."
Matilda, though residing chiefly in Normandy, had her distinct revenues, perquisites, and privileges as queen of England. She was allowed to claim her aurum reginae, or queen-gold; that is, the tenth part of every fine voluntary that was paid to the crown. [Prynne's Aurum Reginae.] She received from the city of London sums to furnish oil for her lamp, wood for her hearth, and tolls or imposts on goods landed at Queenhithe; with many other immunities, which the queen-consorts in latter days have not ventured to claim. The table at which the queen herself sat was furnished with viands at the daily expenditure of forty shillings. Twelve pence each was allowed for the sustenance of her hundred attendants. [The household-book of Edward IV., called the "Black Book," which cites precedents from extreme antiquity.]
The royal revenues were never richer than in this reign, and they were not charged with any of the expenses attending on the maintenance of the military force of the country, for the king had taken care to impose that burden on such persons among his followers as had been enriched with the forfeited lands of the Anglo-Saxons. Almost every landed proprietor then held his estates on the tenure of performing crown-service, and furnishing a quota of men-at-arms at the king's need or pleasure. The principal or supreme court of judicature in ordinary was called curia regis, or 'king's court,' which was always at the royal residence. There councils were held, and all affairs of state transacted; there the throne was placed, and there justice was administered to the subjects by the king, as chief magistrate. [Madox's History of the Exchequer.]
We must now return to the personal history of Matilda. The latter years of this queen were spent in Normandy, where she continued to exercise the functions of government for her royal husband. [Ordericus Vitalis.] Ordericus Vitalis relates the particulars of a visit which she paid to the monastery of Ouche, to entreat the prayers of the abbot Mainer, and his monks, in behalf of her second daughter, the lady Constance, the wife of Alan Fergeant, duke of Bretagne. This princess, who was passionately desirous of bringing an heir to Bretagne, was childless, and, to the grief of her mother, had fallen into a declining state of health. Matilda, in the hope of averting the apprehended death of the youthful duchess, sought the shrine of St. Eurole, the patron of the monks of Ouche, with prayers and offerings. She was most honorably received by the learned abbot Manier and his monks, who conducted her into the church. She offered a mark of gold on the altar there, and presented to the shrine of St. Eurole a costly ornament, adorned with precious stones, and she vowed many other godly gifts in case the saint were propitious. After this the queen-duchess dined in the common refectory, behaving at the same time with the most edifying humility, so as to leave an agreeable remembrance of her visit on the minds of the brethren, of whom the worthy chronicler (who relates this circumstance to the honor and glory of his convent) was one. [Ordericus Vitalis, the most eloquent of all the historians of that period, and the most minute and faithful in his personal records of the Conqueror, his queen and family, was, nevertheless, born in England, and of Anglo-Saxon parentage. He was ten years old at the epoch of the Norman invasion, when for better security he was, to use his own language, "conveyed with weeping eyes from his native country, to be educated in Normandy at the convent of Ouche," which finally became so dear to him, that all the affections of his heart appear to have been centred within its bounds. In his Chronicle of the Norman Sovereigns, he sometimes makes digressions of a hundred pages to descant on St. Eurole and the merits of the brethren of Ouche.]
The visit and offerings of Matilda to the shrine of St. Eurole were unavailing to prolong the life of her daughter, for the duchess Constance died in the flower of her age, after an unfruitful marriage of seven years. Her remains were conveyed to England, and interred in the abbey of St. Edmund's Bury. Like all the children of William and Matilda she had been carefully educated, and is said to have been a princess possessed of great mental acquirements. After her death, Alan duke of Bretagne married again, and had a family by his second wife; but the rich grant of English lands, with which the Conqueror had dowered his daughter Constance, he was permitted to retain, together with the title of earl of Richmond, which was long borne by the dukes of Bretagne, his successors.
The grief which the early, death of her daughter caused Matilda, was succeeded by feelings of a more painful nature, in consequence of a fresh difference between her royal husband and her beloved son, Robert. Some historians [Henderson, in his Life of the Conqueror, states that Robert was much taken with the beauty of the young Saxon lady, but that his regard was by no means of an honorable nature; and his conduct to her displeased the Conqueror so much, that, to punish his son for insults offered to his beautiful ward, he forbade him the court.] assert that this was occasioned by the refusal of the prince to marry the young and lovely heiress of earl Waltheof, which greatly displeased his father, who was desirous of conciliating his English subjects by such an alliance, and, at the same time, of making some atonement for the murder of the unfortunate Saxon chief, which always appears to have been a painful subject of reflection to him.
About this time, Matilda, hearing that a German hermit, of great sanctity, was possessed of the gift of prophecy, sent to entreat his prayers for her jarring son and husband, and requested his opinion as to what would be the result. [Ordericus Vitalis.] The hermit gave a very affectionate reception to the envoys of the queen, but demanded three days before he delivered his reply to her questions. On the third day he sent for the messengers, and gave his answer in the following strain of oracular allegory. "Return to your mistress," said he, "and tell her I have prayed to God in her behalf, and the Most High has made known to me in a dream the things she desires to learn. I saw in my vision a beautiful pasture, covered with grass and flowers, and a noble charger feeding therein. A numerous herd gathered round about, eager to enter and share the feast, but the fiery charger would not permit them to approach near enough to crop the flowers and herbage. But, alas! the majestic steed, in the midst of his pride and courage, died, his terror departed with him, and a poor silly steer appeared in his place, as the guardian of the pasture. Then the throng of meaner animals, who had hitherto feared to approach, rushed in, and trampled the flowers and grass beneath their feet, and that which they could not devour they defiled and destroyed. I will explain the mystery couched in this parable. The steed is William of Normandy, the conqueror of England, who, by his wisdom, courage, and power, keeps the surrounding foes of Normandy in awe. Robert is the dull, inactive beast who will succeed him; and then those baser sort of animals, the envious princes, who have long watched for the opportunity of attacking this fair, fruitful pasture, Normandy, will overrun the land, and destroy all the prosperity which its present sovereign has established. Illustrious lady, if, after hearing the words of the vision in which the Lord has vouchsafed to reply to my prayers-, you do not labor to restore the peace of Normandy, you will henceforth behold nothing but misery, the death of your royal spouse, the ruin of all your race, and the desolation of your beloved country." [Ordericus Vitalis.] This clever apologue, in which some sagacious advice was implied, Matilda took for a prediction; and this idea, together with the increasing dissensions in her family, pressed heavily on her mind, and is supposed to have occasioned the lingering illness which slowly, but surely, conducted her to the tomb.
The evidence of a charter signed by William king of England, Matildis the queen, earl Robert, son of the king, earl William, son of the king, and earl Henry, son of the king, proves that a meeting had taken place between these illustrious personages in the year 1082. The charter recites that "William, king of England and Normandy, and his wife Matildis, daughter of Baldwin duke of Flanders, and niece of Henry king of France, conceded to the church of the Holy Trinity at Caen, for the good of their souls, the manors of Nailsworth, Felstede, Pinbury, and other lands in England." [A copy of this charter is in the Bibliotheque, Paris.] The restitution of the said lands to their lawful owners or their heirs, would certainly have been a more acceptable work in the sight of the God of mercy and justice, than the oblation of wrong and robbery which was thus dedicated to his service by the mighty Norman conqueror and his dying consort. Nailsworth being part of the manor of Minching-hampton, in Gloucestershire, was a portion of the spoils of the unfortunate Brihtric Meaw, which Matilda, in the last year of her life, thus transferred to the church, in the delusive idea of atoning for the crime by which she obtained the temporal goods of him who had rejected her youthful love.
Matilda's last illness was attended with great depression of spirits. She endeavored to obtain comfort by redoubling her devotional exercises and alms. She confessed her sins frequently, and with bitter tears. It is to be hoped that a feeling of true penitence was mingled with the affliction of the queen, who, at the highest pinnacle of earthly grandeur, afforded a melancholy exemplification of the vanity and insufficiency of the envied distinctions with which she was surrounded, and was dying of a broken heart. [Ordericus Vitalis.] As soon as William, who was in England, was informed of the danger of his beloved consort, he hastily embarked for Normandy, and arrived at Caen in time to receive her last farewell. [Malmesbury. Hoveden. Ingulphus. Ordericus Vitalis.]
After Matilda had received the consolations of religion, she expired on the 2nd of November, or, according to some historians, the 3rd of that month, anno 1083, in the fifty-second year of her age, having borne the title of queen of England seventeen years, and duchess of Normandy upwards of thirty-one. Her body was carried to the convent of the Holy Trinity at Caen, which she had built and munificently endowed. The corpse of the queen-duchess was reverentially received, at the portal of the church, by a numerous procession of bishops and abbots, conducted within the choir, and deposited before the high altar. Her obsequies were celebrated with great pomp and solemnity by the monks and clerks, and attended by a vast concourse of the poor, to whom she had been throughout life a generous benefactress, "and frequently," says Ordericus Vitalis, "relieved with bounteous alms, in the name of her Redeemer."
A magnificent tomb was raised to her memory by her sorrowing lord, adorned with precious stones and elaborate sculpture: and her epitaph, in Latin verse, was emblazoned thereon in letters of gold, setting forth in pompous language the lofty birth and noble qualities of the illustrious dead. The following is a translation of the quaint monkish rhymes, which defy the imitative powers of modern poetry:—
"Here rests within this fair and stately tomb, Matilda, scion of a regal line; The Flemish duke her sire, * and Adelais Her mother, to great Robert king of France Daughter, and sister to his royal heir. In wedlock to our mighty William joined, She built this holy temple, and endowed With lands and goodly gifts. She, the true friend Of piety and soother of distress, Enriching others, indigent herself, Reserving all her treasures for the poor; And, by such deeds as these, she merited To be partaker of eternal life: To which she pass'd November 2, 1083."
* [Baldwin, Matilda's father, was the descendant of 'the six foresters,' as the first sovereigns of Flanders were called.]
Matilda's will, which is in the register of the abbey of the Holy Trinity of Caen, [Ducarel's Norman Antiquities.] fully bears out the assertion of her epitaph touching her poverty; since, from the items in this curious and interesting record, it is plain that the first of our Anglo-Norman queens had little to leave in the way of personal property: the bulk of her landed possessions was already settled on her son Henry. "I give," says the royal testatrix, "to the abbey of the Holy Trinity my tunic, worked at Winchester by Alderet's wife; and the mantle embroidered with gold, which is in my chamber, to make a cope. Of my two golden girdles, I give that which is ornamented with emblems, for the purpose of suspending the lamp before the great altar. I give my large candelabra, made at St. Lo, my crown, my sceptre, my cups in their cases, another cup made in England, with all my horse-trappings, and all my vessels; and lastly, I give the lands of Quetchou and Cotentin, except those which I may already have disposed of in my lifetime, with two dwellings in England; and I have made all these bequests with the consent of my husband."
It is amusing to trace the feminine feeling with regard to dress and bijouterie which has led the dying queen to enumerate, in her last will and testament, her embroidered tunic, girdle, and mantle, with sundry other personal decorations, before she mentions the lands of Quetchou and Cotentin, and her two dwellings in England,—objects evidently of far less importance, in her opinion, than her rich array. Ducarel tells us that among the records preserved in the archives of the Holy Trinity at Caen, there is a curious MS. containing an account of Matilda the royal foundress's wardrobe, jewels, and toilette; but he was unable to obtain a sight of this precious document, because of the jealous care with which it was guarded by those holy ladies, the abbess and nuns of that convent. [Ducarel's Norman Antiquities.]
Matilda did not live long enough to complete her embroidered chronicle of the conquest of England. The outline of the pattern traced on the bare canvas in several places, in readiness for her patient needle, affords, after the lapse of nearly eight centuries, a moral comment on the uncertainty of human life,—the vanity of human undertakings, which, in the aggregate, are arrested in full career by the hand of death, and remain, like the Bayeux tapestry, unfinished fragments.
Till the middle of the seventeenth century, the portraits of Matilda and William were carefully preserved on the walls of St. Stephen's chapel at Caen. The queen had caused these portraits to be painted when this magnificent endowment was founded. [Montfaucon's Monumens de la Monarchie Francoise.] We have seen, by the Bayeux tapestry, that Matilda took great delight in pictorial memorials; and if we may judge by the engraving from this portrait, preserved in Montfaucon, it were a pity that so much grace and beauty should fade from the earth without remembrance. Her costume is singularly dignified and becoming. The robe simply gathered round the throat, a flowing veil falling from the back of the head on the shoulders, is confined by an elegant circlet of gems. The face is beautiful and delicate; the hair falls in waving tresses round her throat; with one hand she confines her drapery, and holds a book; she extends her sceptre with the other, in an attitude full of grace and dignity. Montfaucon declares that this painting was actually copied from the wall, before the room in which it was preserved was pulled down. The elegance of the design and costume ought not to raise doubts of its authenticity, for it is well known that all remains of art were much better executed before the destruction of Constantinople than after that period. Female costume, with the exception of some tasteless attire which crept into the uproarious court of William Rufus, was extremely graceful; the noble circlet, the flowing transparent veil, the natural curls parted on each side of the brow, the vestal stole, drawn just round the neck in regular folds, the falling sleeves, the gemmed zone, confining the plaits of a garment that swept the ground in rich fulness, altogether formed a costume which would not have disgraced a Grecian statue. We shall sec this elegant style of dress superseded in time by the monstrous Syrian conical caps, or by horned head-tire, and the heraldic tabards and surcoats, seemingly made of patchwork, which deformed the female figure in succeeding ages; but we must not look for these barbarisms at the date of Matilda's portrait.
Matilda bore ten children to her royal spouse,—namely, four sons and six daughters. Robert, surnamed Courthose, her eldest son, succeeded his father as duke of Normandy. This darling son of Matilda's heart is thus described in the old chronicler's lines:—
"He was y-wox [grown] ere his fader to England came, Thick man he was enow, but not well long; Square was he, and well made for to be strong. Before his fader, once on a time he did sturdy deed, When he was young, who beheld him, and these words said: 'By the uprising of God, Robelyn me sail see, The Courthose, my young son, a stalwart knight sail be;'—For he was somewhat short, so he named him Courthose, And he might never after this name lose. He was quiet of counsel and speech, and of body strong, Never yet man of might in Christendom, ne in Paynim, In battail from his steed could bring him down."
After the death of Matilda, Robert broke out into open revolt against his royal father once more; and the Conqueror, in his famous death-bed speech and confession, alluded to this conduct with great bitterness, when he spoke of the disposition of his dominions. These were the words of the dying monarch: "The dukedom of Normandy, before I fought in the vale Sanguelac, with Harold, I granted unto my son Robert, for that he is my first begotten; and having received the homage of his baronage, that honor given cannot be revoked. Yet I know that it will be a miserable reign which is subject to the rule of his goverment, for he is a foolish, proud knave, and is to be punished with cruel fortune." [See death-bed speech of the Conqueror, in Speed's Chronicle.]Robert acquired the additional cognomen of the Unready, from the circumstance of being always out of the way when the golden opportunity of improving his fortunes occurred.
Robert, though an indifferent politician, was a gallant knight and a skilful general. He joined the crusade under Godfrey of Boulogne, and so greatly distinguished himself at the taking of the holy city, that of all the Christian princes, his fellow-crusaders, he was judged most deserving of the crown of Jerusalem. This election was made on the Easter-eve as they all stood at the high altar in the temple, each holding an unlighted wax-taper in his hand, and beseeching God to direct their choice; when the taper which duke Robert held becoming ignited without any visible agency, it was regarded by the rest of the Croises as a miraculous intimation in his favor, and he was entreated to accept the kingdom, [Matthew Paris.] but he declined it, under the idea that he should obtain the crown of England.
Richard, the second son of William the Conqueror and Matilda, died in England in the lifetime of his parents, as we have already stated. William, their third son, surnamed Rufus, or Rous, ["Apres William Bastardus regna Will. le Rous."—Fitz-Stephen's Chronicle.] from the color of his hair, and called by the Saxon historians 'the red king,' succeeded to the crown of England after his father's death. Henry, the fourth and youngest son of William and Matilda, won the surname of Beauclerc by his scholastic attainments, and succeeded to the throne of England after the death of William Rufus. The personal history of this prince will be found in the memoirs of his two queens, Matilda of Scotland, and Adelicia of Louvaine.
There is great confusion among historians and genealogists respecting the names of the daughters of Matilda and the Conqueror, and the order of their birth. William of Malmesbury, who wrote in the reign of Henry I., when enumerating the daughters of the Conqueror, says, "Cecilia the abbess of Caen still survives." The generality of historians mention Constance, the wife of Alan duke of Bretagne, as the second daughter of this illustrious pair. Ordericus Vitalis, a contemporary, calls her the third [Ordericus Vitalis. William of Malmesbury.] and Agatha the second daughter. Of Agatha he relates the following interesting particulars: "This princess, who had been formerly affianced to Harold, was demanded of her father in marriage by Alphonso king of Galicia, but manifested the greatest repugnance to this alliance." She told her father "that her heart was devoted to her first spouse, and that she should consider it an abomination if she gave her hand to another. She had seen and loved her Saxon betrothed, and she revolted from a union with the foreign monarch whom she had never seen;" and bursting into tears, she added, with passionate emotion, "that she prayed that the Most High would rather take her to himself than allow her ever to be transported into Spain." Her prayer was granted, and the reluctant bride died on her journey to her unknown lord. Her remains were conveyed to her native land, and interred at Bayeux, in the church of St. Mary the perpetual Virgin. [Ordericus Vitalis.]
Sandford calls this princess the sixth daughter. If so, she could not have been the betrothed of Harold, but of earl Edwin; and, indeed, if we reflect on the great disparity in age between Harold and the younger daughters of William of Normandy, and take into consideration the circumstances of his breach of contract with the little Norman lady by wedding Algitha, it is scarcely probable that his memory could have been cherished with the passionate fondness Ordericus Vitalis attributes to the lady Agatha; whereas Edwin was young, and, remarkable for his beauty, had, in all probability, been privileged with some intimacy with the princess, whom the Conqueror had promised to bestow on him in marriage. The breach of this promise on the part of William, too, was the cause of Edwin's revolt, which implies that the youthful thane was deeply wounded at the refusal of the Norman; and it is at least probable, that to the princess who had innocently been made a snare to him by her guileful sire, he might have become an object of the tenderest affection. Malmesbury, speaking of this princess, says, "Agatha, to whom God granted a virgin death, was so devoted to the exercises of religion, that after her decease it was discovered that her knees had become hard, like horn, with constant kneeling." [Ordericus Vitalis. Malmesbury.] Perhaps this is the same princess whom Ordericus Vitalis mentions as their fourth daughter, of whom he says, "Adelaide, very fair and very noble, recommended herself entirely to a life of devotion, and made a holy end, under the direction of Roger de Beaumont."
Adela, or Adelicia, generally classed as the fourth daughter of William and Matilda, Ordericus Vitalis places as the fifth, and says, "She was sought in marriage by Stephen earl of Blois, who was desirous of allying himself with the aspiring family of the Conqueror, and by the advice of William's councillors she was united to him." The marriage took place at Breteuil, and the marriage fetes were celebrated at Chartres. This princess was a learned woman, and possessed of considerable diplomatic talents. She had four sons: William, an idiot; Thibaut, surnamed the great earl of Champagne; Stephen de Blois, who succeeded to the English throne after the death of Henry I.; and Henry bishop of Winchester. After the death of the count de Blois, her husband, the countess Adela took the veil at Marigney. [Ordericus Vitalis.]
Gundred, or Gundreda, the sixth and youngest daughter of the Conqueror and Matilda, was married to William de Warren, a powerful Norman noble, and the first earl of Surrey in England. By him the lady Gundred had two sons: William, the successor of his father and the progenitor of a mighty line of earls of that family, and Rainold, who died without issue. Gundred only survived her royal mother two years. She died, anno 1085, in child-bed at Castleacre in Norfolk, and is buried in the chapter-house of St. Pancras church, within the priory, at Lewes in Sussex. [Sandford. St. Pancras church and monastery had been founded and munificently endowed by her lord, for the health (as his charter recites) of his soul, and the soul of Gundred his wife, and for the soul of king William, who brought him into England ... for the health also of queen Maud, mother of his wife, and for the health of king William her son, who made him earl of Surrey.— Horsfield's Hist. of the Antiquities of Sussex, p. 232. Warren, though one of the most ferocious and rapacious of William's followers, was tenderly attached to his wife, whom he scarcely survived three years. The remains of both were discovered, October 28th, 1845, by the workmen in forming a cutting for the Lewes and Brighton railroad through the grounds of St. Pancras priory, in two leaden coffins, with the simple inscription of Gundrada on the one, and Willelmus on the other. They are now deposited in Southover church, together with a tablet, previously discovered, which preserves part of the mutilated monastic verses that commemorated her virtues. They have been thus beautifully translated into modern English rhymes by the learned historian of Lewes:—
"Gundred, illustrious branch of princely race, Brought into England's church balsamic grace; Pious as Mary, and as Martha kind, To generous deeds she gave her virtuous mind. Though the cold tomb her Martha's part receives, Her Mary's better part forever lives. O holy Pancras! keep, with gracious care, A mother who has made thy sons her heir. On the sixth calend of June's fatal morn, The marble ..."
One of the most remarkable tokens of the interest excited by the discovery of these remains of the youngest daughter of the Conqueror and queen Matilda may be considered the fact, that an eloquent sermon was preached by the Rev. J. Wood, to a Unitarian congregation at Westgate, on the occasion.]
The death of his beloved queen Matilda afflicted the Conqueror very deeply. He wept excessively for many days after her decease; and to testify how keenly he felt her loss, he renounced his favorite amusement of hunting, and all the boisterous sports in which he formerly delighted. [Ordericus Vitalis.] After this event his temper became melancholy and irritable, to which, indeed, a train of public calamities and domestic vexations might in a great measure have contributed. To the honor of Matilda, it has been asserted by sonic of the historians of the period, that she used her influence over the mind of her mighty lord for the mitigation of the sufferings of the people whom he had subjugated to his yoke. Thomas Rudborne, the author of the Annals of Winton, says. "King William, by the advice of Matilda, treated the English kindly as long as she lived, but after her death he became a thorough tyrant." [Thomas Rudborne, Hist. Major.] It is certainly true, that after Matilda left England in 1070, the condition of the people became infinitely worse, and it is possible that it might have been aggravated by her death. Not only the happiness, but the worldly prosperity of William appeared sensibly diminished during his widowed state. In the course of the four years that he survived his consort, he experienced nothing but trouble and disquiet. [Malmesbury. Ordericus Vitalis.]
William met with the accident which caused his death at the storming of the city of Mantes. He had roused himself from a sick bed to execute a terrible vengeance on the French border, for the ribald joke which his old antagonist, the king of France, had passed on his malady; and in pursuance of his declaration "that he would set all France in a blaze at his uprising," he had ordered the city to be fired. While he was, with savage fury, encouraging his soldiers to pursue the work of destruction to which he had incited them, his horse, chancing to set his foot on a piece of burning timber, started, and occasioned his lord so severe an injury from the pummel of the saddle, as to bring on a violent access of fever. [Malmesbury.] Being unable to remount his horse, after an accident which must have appeared to him like a retributive chastisement for the barbarous deed in which he was engaged, he was conveyed in a litter to Rouen, where, perceiving he drew near his end, he began to experience some compunctious visitings of conscience for the crimes and oppressions of which he had been guilty, and endeavored to make some self-deceiving reparation for his wrongs.
In the first place, he ordered large sums to be distributed to the poor, and likewise for the building of churches, especially those which he had recently burnt at Mantes; next he set all the Saxon prisoners at liberty whom he had detained in his Norman prisons; among them were Morcar, and Ulnoth the brother of Harold, who had remained in captivity from his childhood, when he was given in hostage by earl Godwin to Edward the Confessor. The heart of the dying monarch being deeply touched with remorse, he confessed that he had done Morcar much wrong: he bitterly bewailed the blood he had shed in England, and the desolation and woe he had caused in Hampshire for the sake of planting the New Forest, protesting "that having so misused that fair and beautiful land, he dared not appoint a successor to it, but left the disposal of that matter in the hands of God." [See William's death-bed confession in Speed.] He had, however, taken some pains, by writing a letter to Lanfranc expressive of his earnest wish that William Rufus should succeed him in his regal dignity, and to secure the crown of England to this his favorite son,—for whom he called as soon as he had concluded his deathbed confessions,—and sealing the letter with his own seal, he put it into the hands of the prince, bidding him hasten to England with all speed, and deliver it to the archbishop, blessed him with a farewell kiss, and dismissed him.
When the conqueror had settled his temporal affairs, he caused himself to be removed to Hermentrude, a pleasant village near Rouen, [Eadmer.] that he might be more at liberty to prepare himself for death. On the 9th of September the awful change which he awaited took place. Hearing the sound of the great bell in the metropolitan church of St. Gervase, near Rouen, William, raising his exhausted frame from the supporting pillows, asked "What it meant?" [Ordericus Vitalis. Malmesbury.] One of his attendants replying "that it then rang prime to Our Lady," the dying monarch, lifting his eyes to heaven, and spreading abroad his hands, exclaimed, "I commend myself to that blessed lady, Mary the mother of God, that she by her holy intercession may reconcile me to her most dear son, our Lord Jesus Christ;" and with these words he expired, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, 1087, after a reign of fifty-two years in Normandy, and twenty-one in England.
His eldest son, Robert, was absent in Germany at the time of his death; [Ordericus Vitalis. Brompton.] William was on his voyage to England; Henry, who had taken charge of his obsequies, suddenly departed on some self-interested business; and all the great officers of the court having dispersed themselves, some to offer their homage to Robert, and others to William, the inferior servants of the household, with some of their rapacious confederates, took the opportunity of plundering the house where their sovereign had just breathed his last of all the money, plate, wearing apparel, hangings, and precious furniture; they even stripped the person of the royal dead, and left his body naked upon the floor. [Ordericus Vitalis. Brompton. Malmesbury. Speed.]
Every one appeared struck with consternation and dismay, and neither the proper officers of state nor the sons of the deceased king issuing the necessary orders respecting the funeral, the remains of the Conqueror were left wholly neglected, till Herlewin, a poor country knight,—but in all probability the same Herlewin who married his mother Arlotta,—undertook to convey the royal corpse to Caen, at his own cost, for interment in the abbey of St. Stephen, where it was met by prince Henry and a procession of monks. [Ibid.] Scarcely, however, had the burial rites commenced, when there was a terrible alarm of fire in that quarter of the town; and as there was great danger of the devouring element communicating to the cloisters of St. Stephen, the monks, who were far more concerned for the preservation of their stately abbey than for the lifeless remains of the munificent founder, scampered out of the church, without the slightest regard to decency or the remonstrances of prince Henry and the faithful Herlewin. The example of the ecclesiastics was followed by the secular attendants, so that the hearse of the mighty William was in a manner wholly deserted till the conflagration was suppressed. [Ibid.] The monks then re-entered the holy fane and proceeded with the solemnity, if so it might be called; but the interruptions and accidents with which it had been marked were not yet ended, for when the funeral sermon was finished, the stone coffin set in the grave which had been dug in the chancel between the choir and the altar, and the body ready to be laid therein, [Speed.] Anselm Fitz-Arthur, a Norman gentleman, stood forth and forbade the interment: "This spot," said he, "was the site of my father's house, which this dead duke took violently from him, and here, upon part of mine inheritance, founded this church. This ground I therefore challenge, and I charge ye all, as ye shall answer it at the great and dreadful day of judgment, that ye lay not the bones of the despoiler on the hearth of my fathers." [Eadmer.Malmesbury. Ordericus Vitalis.]
The effect of this bold appeal of a solitary individual, was an instant pause in the burial rite of the deceased sovereign. The claims of Anselm Fitz-Arthur were examined and his rights recognized by prince Henry, who prevailed upon him to accept sixty shillings as the price of the grave, and to suffer the interment of his royal father to proceed, on the condition of his pledging himself to pay the full value of the rest of the land. [Ordericus Vitalis. M. Paris.] The compensation was stipulated between Anselm Fitz-Arthur and prince Henry, standing on either side the grave, on the verge of which the unburied remains of the Conqueror rested, while the agreement was ratified in the presence of the mourners and assistant priests and monks, whereby Henry promised to pay, and Fitz-Arthur to receive, one hundred pounds of silver, as the purchase of the ground on which William had, thirty-five years previously, wrongfully founded the abbey of St. Stephen's, to purchase a dispensation from the pope for his marriage with his cousin Matilda of Flanders. The bargain having been struck, and the payment of the sixty shillings earnest-money (for the occupation of the seven feet of earth required as the last abode of the conqueror of England) being tendered by the prince and received by Fitz-Arthur,—strange interlude as it was in a royal funeral,—the obseiquies were suffered to proceed. The Saxon chroniclers have taken evident pleasure in enlarging on all the mischances and humiliations which befell the unconscious clay of their great national adversary in its passage to the tomb; yet, surely, so singular a chapter of accidents was never yet recorded as occurred to the corpse of this mighty sovereign, who died in the plenitude of his power.
William of Normandy was remarkable for his personal strength, and for the majestic beauty of his countenance. It has been said of him, that no one but himself could bend his bow, and that he could, when riding at full speed, discharge either arblast or long-bow with unerring aim. [Robert of Gloucester. W. Malmesbury.] His forehead was high and bald, his aspect stern and commanding; yet he could, when it pleased him to do so, assume such winning sweetness in his looks and manner as could scarcely be resisted, but when in anger, no man could meet the terror of his eye. [W. Malmesbury.] Like Saul, he was, from the shoulders upwards, taller than the rest of his subjects; before he became too corpulent, his figure was finely proportioned.
The loftiness of stature which contemporary chroniclers have ascribed to William the Conqueror was fully confirmed by the post-mortem examination of his body, which was made by the bishop of Bayeux in the year 1542, when, prompted by a strong desire to behold the remains of this great sovereign, he obtained leave to open his tomb. [Ducarel's Norman Antiquities.] On removing the stone cover, the body, which was corpulent, and exceeding in stature the tallest man then known, appeared as entire as when it was first buried. Within the tomb lay a plate of copper gilt, oil which was engraved an inscription in Latin verse. [Thomas, archbishop of York, was the author of the Latin verse, of which the following lines present a close translation, not unpoetical in its antique simplicity:
"He who the sturdy Normans ruled, and over England reigned, And stoutly won and strongly kept what he had so obtained; And did the swords of those of Maine by force bring under awe, And made them under his command live subject to his law; This great king William lieth here entombed in little grave,—So great a lord so small a house sufficeth him to have. When Phoebus in the Virgin's lap his circled course applied, And twenty-three degrees had past, e'en at that time he died."]
The bishop, who was greatly surprised at finding the body in such perfect preservation, caused a painting to be executed of the royal remains, in the state in which they then appeared, by the best artist in Caen, and caused it to be hung up on the abbey wall, opposite to the monument. The tomb was then carefully closed, but in 1562, when the Calvinists under Chastillon took Caen, a party of the rapacious soldiers forced it open, in hope of meeting with a treasure; but finding nothing more than the bones of the Conqueror wrapped in red taffeta, they threw them about the church in great derision. Viscount Falaise, having obtained from the rioters one of the thigh-bones, it was by him deposited in the royal grave. Monsieur le Bras, who saw this bone, testified that it was longer by the breadth of his four fingers than that of the tallest man he had ever seen. [The picture of the remains, which had been painted by the order of the bishop of Bayeux, fell into the hands of Peter Ildo, the jailer of Caen, who was one of the spoilers, and he converted one part into a table, and the other into a cupboard door; which proves that this portrait was not painted on canvas, but, as usual, on wood. Some years after, these curious relics were discovered and reclaimed by M. le Bras, in whose possession they remained till his death.—Ducarel's Norman Antiquities.]The fanatic spoilers also entered the church of the Holy Trinity, threatening the same violence to the remains of Matilda. The entreaties and tears of the abbess and her nuns had no effect on men, who considered the destruction of church ornaments and monumental sculpture a service to God quite sufficient to atone for the sacrilegious violence of defacing a temple consecrated to his worship, and rifling the sepulchres of the dead. They threw down the monument, and broke the effigies of the queen which lay thereon. On opening the grave in which the royal corpse was deposited, one of the party observing that there was a gold ring set with a fine sapphire on one of the queen's fingers, took it off, and, with more gallantry than might have been expected from such a person, presented it to the abbess, madame Anna de Montmorenci, who afterwards gave it to her father, the constable of France, when he attended Charles IX. to Caen, in the year 1563. [Ducarel.]
In 1642 the monks of St. Stephen collected the bones of their royal patron, William of Normandy, and built a plain altar-shaped tomb over them, on the spot where the original monument stood in the chancel. The nuns of the Holy Trinity, with equal zeal, caused the broken fragments of Matilda's statue and monument to be restored, and placed over her grave, near the middle of the choir, on a tomb of black and white marble, three feet high and six long, in the shape of a coffin, surrounded with iron spikes, and hung with ancient tapestry. [Ducarel.]
The restored monument of Matilda remained undisturbed till nearly the close of the last century, when the French republicans paid one of their destructive visits to the church of the Holy Trinity at Caen, and, among other outrages against taste and feeling, swept away this memorial of its royal foundress; [Ibid.] but while a single arch of that majestic and time-honored fane, the church of the Holy Trinity, survives, the first of our Anglo-Norman queens, Matilda of Flanders, will require no other monument.