Matilda of Flanders

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Matilda of Flanders was the smallest Queen of England standing 4’2” tall. She was born around the year 1031 and became the wife of William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, who became the King of England after his conquest and crowning in 1066. Their children included notably Robert II of Normandy; Henry I of England; William II of England; and Adela, Countess of Blois.

Matilda’s father was Baldwin V, Count of Flanders. Her mother was Adele of France who was a member of the House of Capet. There are many legends surrounding Queen Matilda. The best-known is her possible involvement in commissioning the famed Bayeux Tapestry to commemorate her husband’s conquest of England. For centuries scholars have believed her to be responsible for this relic and in France the tapestry is even referred to as La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde; however, recent historians have rejected the idea of her involvement and favored William the Conqueror’s half brother Odo (Bishop of Bayeux) as the originator.

Other legends involve her initial refusal to wed William the Conqueror. One story claims that she rejected him on account of his illegitimacy, or rather, she rejected the representative he sent to make his marital request. According to tradition, William traveled from Normandy to Bruges and found her near her church. Supposedly he threw her off her horse and dragged her by her braids. Other stories claim that after her refusal he traveled to her home where he accosted her. In any case, the pair was married in 1053. Their marriage was held up on account of their close family ties, but it was finally allowed by Pope Leo IX. Another legend claims that Matilda was in love with a Saxon who was the English ambassador to Flanders. He rejected her suit and she later confiscated his estates and had him confined to prison where he died.

Whatever truth may lie in these legends is uncertain. What is known, however, is that Matilda gave birth to eleven children—although some scholars believe it may have only been nine. She was crowned Queen of England in 1068; however, she lived mainly in France. She and William enjoyed a happy marriage until she sided with her son Robert against his father. Essentially, he rebelled against his father’s authority and Matilda sent him money. Before her death she was instrumental in organizing a truce between them. She died at the age of fifty-one in 1083. She is buried in Caen at the l’Abbaye aux Dames.