Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England

Matilda of Scotland

We would like to turn our attention to the daughter of Saint Margaret and King Malcolm of Scotland. Edith was born in 1080 at Dunfermline. Yes, her parents named her Edith, possibly in honor of Edith of Wessex, Queen of Edward the Confessor. She lived with her family in Scotland until she was six, when she was sent to school at the abbey of Romsey with her Aunt Cristina. Her Aunt didn’t treat her very well while there and eventually Edith went to the aristocratic abbey of Wilton to further her education. She became versed in music, poetry, Old and New Testament, Church fathers and Latin authors and learned to speak Latin, French and English.

In 1093, a frantic sequence of events changed Edith’s life and would have consequences for her even after her death. While at Wilton, the abbess would have Edith wear a nun’s veil even though she had no intention of becoming a nun. It was common practice for Anglo-Saxon women to hide their identity to be safe from attack or kidnapping by Normans. Edith’s father King Malcolm had negotiated for her to marry Alan the Red, Count of Richmond and about the same time, Malcolm was coming to England to meet King William Rufus II, son of William the Conqueror. Alan and Rufus visited Edith at the convent for unknown reasons and both saw Edith wearing the nun’s veil and assumed she had taken vows to become a nun. Alan ended up kidnapping another nun from the abbey and marrying her. Rufus refused to meet with Malcolm after this incident. Malcolm was furious and concerned about the safety of his daughter. He went to the convent to get her and brought her home. Shortly after that, Malcolm and Edith’s older brother were killed in combat against Rufus. A few days later, her mother died.

Where Edith resided from 1093 to the autumn of 1100 is unknown. She may have been at Wilton or the English court of Rufus where she met Henry, Rufus’ younger brother. After Rufus was killed in a hunting accident in August of 1100, Henry vigorously seized the throne and treasury and proposed marriage to Edith. There was some controversy whether Edith had taken vows to become a nun or not but all objections were overcome and the marriage went forward.

Historians hint Henry had known Edith for awhile and was very fond of her. It is clear from the records he chose her as his bride. It would be an illustrious match, combining the newly formed Norman dynasty with the legacy of the old Anglo-Saxon line of kings. There was no doubt this combination would help strengthen Henry’s authority to hold the English throne. It was after 1100 the chroniclers began calling Edith by the name Matilda. The reasons for the name change are not known.

Henry I, King of England and Matilda of Scotland were married on November 11, 1100 in Westminster Abbey and Matilda was duly crowned Queen. Matilda was to become adept at combining family connections, political alliances and patronization of the Church to her advantage.

Matilda was given abbeys, land, manors, cities and income by Henry, some of which were held by Edith of Wessex. For the 18 years of her marriage, she was part of the king’s council and participated in policy decisions. Henry would name her head of the council when he traveled to Normandy to administer his dukedom there. She issued judgments and charters. Her family connections with her brothers in Scotland kept the two kingdoms at peace. The historians state she played a vital role in affairs of the kingdom. Her position amounted to being vice-regal. She was the deputy of the king, acting in his name. She certainly had earned Henry’s trust to wield so much power. Matilda was very skilled and effective in persuading Henry to follow her advice and do her will and may have relished in her power. In 1111, there is affirmation of a seal used by Matilda to verify a document. This is the first use of a seal by a European Queen and a rare use of a seal by a queen-consort.

Henry and Matilda’s daughter Maud (Matilda) was born in early 1102 and their son William Adelin (or Atheling) in November 1103. She had no more children. In 1110, her eight year old daughter was sent to Germany to be raised and learn the German language in anticipation of her marriage to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. One of Matilda’s projects was to commission Bishop of St. Andrew Turgot to write a biography of her mother Saint Margaret. She also followed in the footsteps of her virtuous mother by doing holy works and endowing abbeys. She built abbeys, hospitals for lepers, bridges and other public works for cities and gave numerous and costly gifts to churches. She patronized scholars and musicians and was admired for being cultured and learned.

It was unfortunate that Matilda died suddenly on May 1, 1118 at her favorite palace of Westminster. She was buried in Westminster Abbey. Almost immediately there were rumors of miracles at her tomb. In the years of turmoil over the English throne after Henry died, there was a campaign to stain the image of Matilda by saying she should never have married Henry due to the fact she took vows to be a nun. This cost her chance to become a saint like her mother.

As a postscript to her life, her son William Adelin died at seventeen in a tragic shipwreck. When Henry died he named his daughter Matilda (also called Maud) as his heir. The English people were not fond of the idea of being ruled by a Queen and civil war commenced.

Further reading: “Matilda of Scotland, A Study in Medieval Queenship” by Lois L. Huneycutt

25 thoughts on “Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England

  1. And perhaps Matilda/Maud was not arrogant and haughty but just “king like”…a totally unacceptable thing for a woman to be in her own right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Edith sounds a lot like her mother, both in intelligence, piety and her ability to be a strong queen while not threatening her husband. I wonder what it was like for her to marry the brother of the man who betrayed and killed her father. Perhaps she just accepted it as a part of the times. Perhaps Henry was disgusted by his brother’s debauched lifestyle and Edith was aware of it. Her name Edith was a good English (Anglo-Saxon) name whereas the name she took on her marriage, “Matilda”, was a fashionable Norman name. Perhaps she was making a statement.


  3. Given Matilda/Edith’s abilities, it’s easy to understand why Henry felt he could entrust the kingdom to his daughter, but she wasn’t as known to the people, and didn’t have her mother’s popularity, apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s interesting that after all the accomplishments of Matilda/Edith the english people still didn’t like the idea of being ruled by a queen, Matilda/Maud. Is this a case of the isolationism of the royals from the common folk, a tradition of preferring kings or does history not record something the populace didn’t care for?


    • Funny you mention something “the populace didn’t care for” Jackie. That’s exactly what happened. Young Matilda certainly inherited the abilities of her mother but not her sweet disposition. After wresting the throne from King Stephen, Matilda was preparing for her coronation in London. She managed to alienate the city with her haughty attitude and by rescinding some of the privileges the city enjoyed and was basically run out of town! She was never able to regain her advantage.


    • Hi Emily, I just did a search and it does appear there may have been two other births. The records are probably inconclusive. I’m going to e-mail you a genealogy page that mentions these two children.


  5. I never made the connexion previously — Saint Margaret was the grandmother of Maud, who fought Stephen for the crown for many years (the backdrop to the Brother Cadfael Mysteries?) Or have I got it muddled?


    • You are correct Genevieve! Maud and Stephen created “Anarchy” fighting for the throne of England. Did you know Stephen married Matilda of Boulogne who was also a granddaughter of St. Margaret? St. Margaret’s daughter Mary married the Count of Boulogne. Isn’t history fascinating?


  6. I do have one question though. In the paragraph about her daughter, is that list of accomplishments (commissioning a biography of her mother, etc.) the mother’s or the daughters? When I made my comment I was assuming that it was referring to Maud, but even if it isn’t a woman who inspires civil war is intriguing anyway! Looking forward to hearing more about her, I hope. 🙂


    • Matilda commissioned a biography of her mother Margaret of Scotland. Perhaps I should edit to make it clearer. Maud, the daughter of Matilda, incited civil war. She will be the subject of a future post. 🙂


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