Few were more powerful than Empress Matilda (1102 – 1167), heir to the English throne. When her father the king died, however, the magnates who had sworn to support her decided they did not want a female monarch. So they reneged, and supported a rival claimant. Matilda did not meekly accept such treachery. She raised an army and fought for her right, plunging England into a period of strife so awful that it came to be known simply as The Anarchy. Below are thirty things about her and other tough women from history.
30. Holy Roman Empress and Heir to the English Throne
As a child, Matilda was betrothed to Henry V, King of Germany, and Holy Roman Emperor from 1111 to 1125. Her father sent her to her future husband in Germany when she was eight, and the couple were married six years later. Their reign as emperor and empress was turbulent, marked by rebellions and wars in both Germany and Italy, which Matilda governed for some years as regent. The couple were childless, and her reign as empress ended in 1125 when her husband died. In the meantime, back in England, Matilda’s brother and heir to the English throne had gotten himself killed in 1120 in a drunken ship race. That left Matilda’s father without a male heir, and try as he would sire another son, he was unsuccessful.
When the widowed Matilda returned to England in 1125, her father declared her his heir. In 1126, the realm’s barons were assembled at Westminster, where they swore to support Matilda. The following year, she was married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, heir to the Count of Anjou. When her father died in 1135, Matilda prepared to ascend England’s throne. Unfortunately, the nobles reneged on their oath, and threw their support to her cousin Stephen of Blois, who was crowned King Stephen I. Matilda was not having it. She was pregnant at the time, but soon as she gave birth in 1136, she raised her forces, and for the next three years, fought Stephen in Normandy. By 1139, she had secured Normandy, and then set her eyes on England.