How the death of a Queen led to 68,000 people being fed

The death of a medieval queen was often an occasion for great sorrow throughout their own country – even more so when the lady was very popular among the people. Such was the case when Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, passed away in the year 1118. Over an eight-day period commemorations were held throughout England, with over 68,000 poor people being fed.

Matilda, the daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, was about 20 years old when she married Henry in the year 1100. While Henry spent much of his time in Normandy, often fighting with rebellious nobles or the French, the governing of England was left largely in Matilda’s capable hands. She got the nickname “Good Queen Matilday” for her patronage over many building projects in England, including bridges, abbeys and leper hospitals. She also displayed care and attention for the poor and sick, while making sure her own court was the home of musicians and poets.


On May 1, 1118, Matilda died at Westminster Palace, perhaps due to unexpected illness. She was about 38 years old. Chroniclers of her time praised her behaviour and ability. The Warenne Chronicle, also called the Hyde Chronicle, for example offers this glowing account of her piety:

For she, above all women, was filled with twofold love to such an extent that it was her entire intention to please God everywhere and to be a stumbling-block to no man. And so she rendered service to the Lord every day at the established hours, so devotedly, so joyously, that you would think that her chapel was not an assembly of court clerics, but a most fervent one of holy monks.

The author of this chronicle also goes on to note how churches throughout England helped to commemorate their queen. Organized by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, a series of masses, feasts and services were held in Matilda’s honour:


although rightly no man can grasp the number of gifts performed for her, yet here is a brief summary of those collected within eight days: of masses, 47,000; of psalters, 9,000; of trentals, 80; and the poor who were sustained for a day, 67,820; those sustained for a year, 108, and those for life 128. It is related that at least as much was done for her in Normandy…

Queen Matilda depicted in the 1875 book 'The Queens of England or Royal Book of Beauty'
Queen Matilda depicted in the 1875 book ‘The Queens of England or Royal Book of Beauty’

Matilda was buried at Westminster Abbey. On her tomb it was written:

Here lies the distinguished Queen Matilda the second,
who surpassed both young and old in her time.
Pattern of morals, life’s adornment,
she was for all.


Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!