The White Ship, ladies and gentlemen. Or, as I like to call, the Titantic of the 12th century. There are some similarities, actually, though this one had a by far more marked impact on the English succession. The ship sank on November 25, 1120 and it carried many members of the Royal Family, not least of whom was William Adelin, Duke of Normandy and only son of King Henry I.
On May 23, 1125 the only daughter of King Henry I of England was widowed by the death of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. Matilda of England had left her home 15 years earlier and in the subsequent years both her mother, Matilda of Scotland, and her brother, William Adelin, had died. Though Henry I married a second time to Adeliza of Louvain, by 1125 the union hadn’t produced any children and Matilda remained her father’s sole legitimate offspring.
Thus, her next steps, including the urgent need for her to marry again, were not only of personal concern, but of national importance. If one considers the amount of sexism that female monarchs like Mary I, Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots encountered in the 16th century, then it should be easy to imagine the disbelief with which many viewed the idea of Matilda ruling England as queen regnant in the 12th. However, rather surprisingly, that’s exactly the plan Henry I put in place.
Back in January we took a look at Adeliza of Louvain and her marriage to Henry I, which, had it been fruitful, may have been able to hold off the decades of civil war that ensued after Henry’s death when his daughter and nephew fought over the throne. But Adeliza was Henry’s second wife and today we’re going to take a look at his first wife, Matilda of Scotland.
Matilda was born “Edith” in around 1080 in Dunfermline, Scotland to King Malcolm III and Margaret of England. Margaret was the daughter of Edward “the Exile,” the son of the English King Edmund Ironside who was defeated by the Danish Canute the Great in 1016. She is more famously known, however, as Saint Margaret of Scotland since she was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV, a relatively rare occurrence for royalty. Margaret became renowned for both her piety and her focus on education, of which her children were beneficiaries.
The Anarchy is best remembered (assuming it’s known to you at all) as a civil war between the unfortunate King Stephen and Empress Matilda. There was, however, another Matilda in the mix which does very little to keep things straightforward. There were also two Henrys, but isn’t there always?
Anyway, the second Matilda wasn’t Stephen’s rival, but his wife, and she went a long way in positioning him as able to claim the throne when the Empress Matilda’s father, Henry I, died in 1135.