“The Softness of Her Sex”: Matilda’s Role in the English Civil War of 1138-1153
Senior Thesis, Honors Program, Liberty University, Fall (2011)
When the White Ship disappeared beneath the waves of the English Channel in November 1120, it took with it William Atheling, the sole legitimate son of the English King Henry I. With his heir-presumptive dead, Henry was forced to consider the options left for succession. The king’s immediate reaction was to take another young wife, but his marriage to Adeliza of Louvain in January of 1121 produced no children. A possible solution to this impending crisis presented itself when the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V died in 1125, leaving Henry I’s daughter Matilda a widow. As his only surviving legitimate offspring, Henry I recalled Matilda (1102-1167) from Germany and introduced her to the English and Norman nobility as his heir.
This young woman, who would have such an impact on England over the next several decades, had been sent to Germany at the tender age of eight to begin preparation for her agreed upon marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor. She grew up in Germany as the consort of one of the most powerful men in Europe, with influence and wealth to match her status. Following the death of her husband, her father arranged another marriage for her, this one far less illustrious. Matilda’s marriage in the year 1128 to Geoffrey, son of the Count of Anjou, who was more than ten years her junior, made peace between Normandy and Anjou and produced three sons.
In 1126, prior to her marriage to Geoffrey, Henry I attempted to ensure the accession of Matilda by requiring all of his barons to swear an oath that they would support her as her father’s heir. When King Henry died in 1135, however, the king’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, stepped into the vacuum of power and had himself anointed king in December of the same year. There was no significant challenge to Stephen’s reign until Earl Robert of Gloucester, the half-brother of Matilda, renounced his loyalty to the king.