We would like to turn our attention to the daughter of Saint Margaret and King Malcolm of Scotland. Edith was born in 1080 at Dunfermline. Yes, her parents named her Edith, possibly in honor of Edith of Wessex, Queen of Edward the Confessor. She lived with her family in Scotland until she was six, when she was sent to school at the abbey of Romsey with her Aunt Cristina. Her Aunt didn’t treat her very well while there and eventually Edith went to the aristocratic abbey of Wilton to further her education. She became versed in music, poetry, Old and New Testament, Church fathers and Latin authors and learned to speak Latin, French and English.
In 1093, a frantic sequence of events changed Edith’s life and would have consequences for her even after her death. While at Wilton, the abbess would have Edith wear a nun’s veil even though she had no intention of becoming a nun. It was common practice for Anglo-Saxon women to hide their identity to be safe from attack or kidnapping by Normans. Edith’s father King Malcolm had negotiated for her to marry Alan the Red, Count of Richmond and about the same time, Malcolm was coming to England to meet King William Rufus II, son of William the Conqueror. Alan and Rufus visited Edith at the convent for unknown reasons and both saw Edith wearing the nun’s veil and assumed she had taken vows to become a nun. Alan ended up kidnapping another nun from the abbey and marrying her. Rufus refused to meet with Malcolm after this incident. Malcolm was furious and concerned about the safety of his daughter. He went to the convent to get her and brought her home. Shortly after that, Malcolm and Edith’s older brother were killed in combat against Rufus. A few days later, her mother died.
Where Edith resided from 1093 to the autumn of 1100 is unknown. She may have been at Wilton or the English court of Rufus where she met Henry, Rufus’ younger brother. After Rufus was killed in a hunting accident in August of 1100, Henry vigorously seized the throne and treasury and proposed marriage to Edith. There was some controversy whether Edith had taken vows to become a nun or not but all objections were overcome and the marriage went forward.
Historians hint Henry had known Edith for awhile and was very fond of her. It is clear from the records he chose her as his bride. It would be an illustrious match, combining the newly formed Norman dynasty with the legacy of the old Anglo-Saxon line of kings. There was no doubt this combination would help strengthen Henry’s authority to hold the English throne. It was after 1100 the chroniclers began calling Edith by the name Matilda. The reasons for the name change are not known.
Henry I, King of England and Matilda of Scotland were married on November 11, 1100 in Westminster Abbey and Matilda was duly crowned Queen. Matilda was to become adept at combining family connections, political alliances and patronization of the Church to her advantage.
Matilda was given abbeys, land, manors, cities and income by Henry, some of which were held by Edith of Wessex. For the 18 years of her marriage, she was part of the king’s council and participated in policy decisions. Henry would name her head of the council when he traveled to Normandy to administer his dukedom there. She issued judgments and charters. Her family connections with her brothers in Scotland kept the two kingdoms at peace. The historians state she played a vital role in affairs of the kingdom. Her position amounted to being vice-regal. She was the deputy of the king, acting in his name. She certainly had earned Henry’s trust to wield so much power. Matilda was very skilled and effective in persuading Henry to follow her advice and do her will and may have relished in her power. In 1111, there is affirmation of a seal used by Matilda to verify a document. This is the first use of a seal by a European Queen and a rare use of a seal by a queen-consort.
Henry and Matilda’s daughter Matilda was born in early 1102 and their son William Adelin (or Atheling) in November 1103. She had no more children. In 1110, her eight year old daughter was sent to Germany to be raised and learn the German language in anticipation of her marriage to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. One of Matilda’s projects was to commission Bishop of St. Andrew Turgot to write a biography of her mother Saint Margaret. She also followed in the footsteps of her virtuous mother by doing holy works and endowing abbeys. She built abbeys, hospitals for lepers, bridges and other public works for cities and gave numerous and costly gifts to churches. She patronized scholars and musicians and was admired for being cultured and learned.
It was unfortunate that Matilda died suddenly on May 1, 1118 at her favorite palace of Westminster. She was buried in Westminster Abbey. Almost immediately there were rumors of miracles at her tomb. In the years of turmoil over the English throne after Henry died, there was a campaign to stain the image of Matilda by saying she should never have married Henry due to the fact she took vows to be a nun. This cost her chance to become a saint like her mother.
As a postscript to her life, her son William Adelin died at seventeen in a tragic shipwreck. When Henry died he named his daughter Matilda (also called Maud) as his heir. The English people were not fond of the idea of being ruled by a Queen and civil war commenced. We will visit the life of Maud later.
Resources: “Matilda of Scotland, A Study in Medieval Queenship” by Lois L. Huneycutt