“A model of wisdom and exemplar of modesty without parallel in our time”: how Matilda of Flanders was represented in two twelfth-century histories

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Matilda of Flanders, queen consort of England and wife of William the Conqueror, by Carle Elshoecht (1850). Luxembourg Garden, Paris. Photo by Tosca“A model of wisdom and exemplar of modesty without parallel in our time”: how Matilda of Flanders was represented in two twelfth-century histories

By Alexandra Lee Pierce

Master’s Thesis, University of Melbourne, 2010

Abstract: Matilda of Flanders was the wife of William the Conqueror, and as such was the first Anglo-Norman queen of England. Coming from an important family with connections to the French royal family, she played a crucial role in the new Anglo-Norman kingdom. As well as being a duchess and a queen, Matilda was also important as a monastic benefactor and as the mother of eight children, a number of whom went on to play important roles. My thesis investigates the different ways in which two twelfth-century historians, William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis, represented Matilda. Beginning with an understanding that women in medieval historical texts are an ‘imaginative construction,’ it examines how these two near-contemporary historians constructed Matilda’s image to reinforce their own overall purposes.

My discussion of how Matilda was represented is divided into three chapters. The first chapter examines how the two historians represented Matilda through family connections. Her marital relationship with William was the most important to both historians; how Malmesbury and Orderic represented her relationships with her children and her natal family is also examined.




The second chapter is concerned with representations of Matilda through political activities, as duchess and queen. Finally, the third chapter considers how Matilda was represented through expressions of piety. I consider actions such as donations to monasteries, alms-giving, and prayer, and the connection between outward appearance and inward virtue.

In sum, I argue that William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis constructed the figure of Matilda of Flanders, through her family relationships, political actions, and piety, in order to meet the overall objectives for their histories. William of Malmesbury was primarily interested in demonstrating appropriate kingly behaviour to his audience, and in legitimating the Norman Conquest of England. Orderic Vitalis, in writing a universal history, sought to delineate generally appropriate Christian behaviour, to guide his audience in right ways of living. The figure of Matilda was useful in advancing these aims.

Click here to read this thesis from University of Melbourne

See also Matilda of Flanders, Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy

Sharan Newman