Matilda of Flanders
Posted by Admin on January 05 2013 01:48:35

Matilda of Flanders


Matilda of FlandersMatilda, the queen of William the Conqueror, was the daughter of Baldwin V., Count of Flanders, called also Baldwin of Lisle, and Baldwin the Debonnaire. Her mother was Adela, the daughter of Robert, and sister of Henry I., King of France. As to the statement, that before her marriage with William, she had been the wife of Gerbod, Advocate of the Abbey of St. Bertin at St. Omer, it is extrcmely improbable. It was founded on some charters of Lewis Priory, which have been proved altogether untrustworthy.


Her marriage with William, however, was prohibited by the Council of Rheims, assembled in 1049, on account of "nearness of kin." This relationship has never been satisfactorily explained. In spite of the prohibition, she became the wife of William, ]053 A. D. At the head of the Nonl1an Church now stood William's uncle, Mauger, the Archbishop of Roune and he did nt shrink from reproving his powerful nephew for the breach of canonical Jaw which he had committed. Lanfranc also severely blamed him for the step. Not until 1059 was it that the marriage was recognized at Rome. In that year Pope Nicholas H. granted them a dispensation. It was given with the understanding that William and Matilda, by way of atonement, were each to erect and endow a monastery for religious persous of their respective sex. The Holy Trinity for the nuns of Caen was the one built by Matilda. It was consecrated June 18, 1066; but the church then hallowed was merely a fragment of the present fabric. William's edifice for the monks of St. Stephen was not consecrated till eleven years later .


The confidence that William reposed on Matilda was unbounded, and very shortly after their marriage he entrusted her with the reins of government in Normandy, during his absence in England. Niue months after their marriage their first son, Robert, was born. When Harold, the son of Godwin, was thrown into the power of William, Matilda is said to have offered him the hand of one of their daughters. Duke William departed from Normandy in 1066 to invade England, and invested Matilda with the regency. She presented her lord with a magnificent vessel of war, called the " Mora, " adorned in the most royal style. On the bow was a golden figure-head representing a boy with his right hand pointing to England. During the absence of William Matilda governed Normandy with prudence and skill. After the battle of Senlac or Hastings, William caused his coronation to take place at Westminster. Matilda, though not yet crowned, assumed the title of Queen, probably on the occasion of her husband's return from England, six months afterwards. When William landed on his native shore, a little below the Abbey of Feschamp, all Normans gave themselves up to rejoicing, and vied with each other to honoror the "Conqueror." He re-embarked ou the 6th of December for Enland, leaving Matilda and Robert as regents in Normandy.


In 1068 Matilda and her children joined William in England. She was crowned at Winchester on Whitsunday. The graceful and majestic bearing of the Queen, and the number and beauty of her children, charmed the people. After her return to France, in 1069, she appears to have occupied much of her time in the affairs of the Duchy. In 1070 she favored in every way the appointment of Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury. William sent William Fitz. Osborn to assist in military arrangements for the defence of Normandy.


No unhappiness entered the marriage life of William and Matilda until her excessive partiality for her eldest son, Robert, provoked the jealousy of his brothers. Their quarrel led to the father's interference, which resulted in Robert's rebellion. Still passionately loved by Matilda, she refused him nothing, secretly supplied him with large sums of money, and even stripped herself of her jewels to supply his wants. On William's hearing of this, he bitterly reproached his wife for supporting the rebel against his father. Matilda rejoined, pleading her position and feelings as a mother toward the erring one. However, Matilda hearing that a hermit in Germany possessed the power of prophecy, sent to him entreating his prayers for her husband and Robert, and requesting his opinion on the subject of their quarrel. ".rhe answer, which was but a further prediction of misery and trouble, so depressed her that it brought on a lingering illness which terminated fatally on November 3, 1083. She was buried in her Church of the Holy Trinity, at Caen. Her death completely overwhelmed the strong heart of William and for a time he was unconsolable. He raised a magnificent tomb to her memory, very richly adorned, and bearing an epitaph in quaint monkish rhyme. This tomb was restored in 1819. Matilda was handsome and queenly in person a good ruler, a true wife and loving mother, and a liberal giver in all charity. Indeed, she impoverished herself in helping others. She had four sons, Robert, Richard, William and Henry and five, perhaps six, daughters. Her eldest, Cecilia, took the veil,and entered the convent at Caen, which Matilda had established.




The most extraordinary memorial of that eventful period of transition, which saw the descendants of the old Saxon conquerors of Britain swept from their power and their possessions, and their places usurped by a swarm of adventurers from the shores of Normandy, is a work not of stone or brass, not of writing and illumination more durable than stone or brass, but a roll of needlework, which records the principal events which preceded and accompanied the Conquest, with a minuteness and fidelity which leave no reasonable doubt of its being a contemporary production. This is the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry. 'When Napoleon contemplated the invasion of England in 1803, he caused this invaluable record to be removed from Bayeux, and to be exhibited in the National Museum at Paris and then the French players, always ready to seize upon q popular subject, produced a little drama ill which they exhibited Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror, sitting in her lonely tower in Normandy, whilst her husband was fighting in England, and thus recording, with the aid of her needlewomen, the mighty acts of her hero, portrayed to the life in this immortal worsted-work.


But there is more affecting theory of the accomplishment of this labor than that told in the French vaudeville. The women of England were celebrated all over Europe for their work in embroidery; and when the husband of Matilda ascended the throne of England, it is reasonably concluded that the skillful daughters of the land were retained around the person of the Queen. They were thus employed to celebrate their own calamities. But there was nothing in this tapestry which told a tale of degradation. There is no delineation of cowardly flight or abject submission. The colors of the threads might have been dimmed with the tears of the workers, but they would not have b3d the deep pain of believing that their homes were not gallantly defended. In this great invasion and conquest, as an old historian has poetically said, "was tried by the great assize of God's judgment in battle the right of power between the English and Norman nations-a battle the most memorable of an others; and, howsoever miserably lost, yet most nobly fought on the part of England." There was nothing in this tapestry to encourage another invasion eight centuries later.


The tapestry, having served its purpose of popular delusion, was returned to its original obscurity. It had previously been known to Lancelot and Montfaucon, French antiquaries; and Dr. Ducarel, in 1767, printed a description of it, in which he stated that it was annually hung up round the nave of the church of Bayeux on St. John's day. During the last thirty years this ancient work has been fully described, and its date and origin discussed. Above all, the Society of Antiquaries rendered a most valuable service to the world, by causing a complete set of colored fac-simile drawings to be made by an accomplished artist, Mr. Charles Stothard, which have since been published in the "Vetusta Monumenta."


In the hotel of the prefecture at Bayeux is now preserved this famous tapestry. In 1814, so little was known of it in the town where it had remained for so many centuries, that Mr. Hudson Gurney was coming away without discovering it, not being aware that it went by the name of the Toile de S. Jean." It was coiled round a windlass and drawing it out at leisure over a table, he found that it consisted of "a very long piece of brownish linen cloth, worked with woolen thread of different colors, which are as bright and distinct, and the letters of the super scriptions as legible, as if of yesterday." The roll is 20 inches broad and 214 feet in length. Mr. Gurney has some sensible remarks upon the internal evidence of the work being contemporaneous with the Conquest. In the buildings portrayed there is not the trace of a pointed arch there is not an indication of armorial bearings, properly so called, which would certainly have been given to the fighting knights had the needlework belonged to a later age; and the Norman banner is invariably Argent, a cross or in a border Azure. and not the tater invention of the Norman leopards. Mr. Gurney adds, "It may be remarked, that the whole is worked with a strong outline; that the clearness and relief are given to it by the variety of the colors. The likenesses of individuals are preserved throughout the Saxons invariably wear moustaches and William, from his erect figure and manner, could be recognized were there no supers criptions Mr. Charles Stothard adds to Mr. Gurney's account of its character as a work of art, that" there is no attempt at light and shade, or perspective, the waut of which is substituted by the use of different colored worsteds. We observe this in the off-legs of the horses, which are distinguished alone from the near-legs by being of different colors. The horses, the hair and moustaches, as welt as the eyes and features of the characters, are depicted with all the various colors of green, blue, red, etc., according to the taste or caprice of the artist. This may be easily accounted for, when we consider how few colors composed their materials.


The first of the seventy-two compartments into which the roll of needlework is divided, is inscribed, "Edwardus Rex." The crowned king, sealed on a chair of state, with a sceptre,is giving audience to two persons in attendance; and this is held to represent Harold departing for Normandy. The second shows Harold and his attendants, with hounds, on a journey. He bears the hawk all his hand, the distinguishing mark of nobility. The inscription purports that the figures represent Harold, Duke of the English, and his soldiers journeying to Bosham. The third is inscribed" Ecclesia, and exhibits a Saxon church, with two bending figures about to enter. The fourth compartment represents Harold embarking; and the fifth shows him on his voyage. The sixth is his coming to anchor previous to his disembarking on the coast of Normandy. The seventh and eighth compartments exhibit the seizure of Harold by the Count of Pouthieu. The ninth shows Harold remonstrating with Guy, the Count, upon his unjust seizure.


The compartments from ten to twenty-five, inclusive, exhibit various circumstances connected with the sojourn of Harold at the court of William. Mr. Stothard has justly observed, "That whoever designed this historical record was intimately acquainted with whatever was passing all the Norman side, is evidently proved by that minute attention to familiar and local circumstances evinced in introducing, solely ill the Norman part, characters certainly not essential to the great events connected with the story of the work. The twenty-sixth compartment represents Harold swearing fidelity to William, with each hand all a shrine of relics. All the historians appear to be agreed that Harold did take an oath to William to support his claims to the crown of England, whatever might have been the circumstances under which that oath was extorted from him. The twenty.seventh compartment exhibits Harold's return to England and the twenty-eighth shows him on his journey after landing. The twenty-ninth compartment has an inscription purporting that Harold comes to Edward the King. The thirtieth shows the funeral procession of the deceased Edward to Westminster Abbey, a hand out of heaven pointing to that building us a monument of his piety. The inscription says : "Here the body of Edward the King is borne to the church of St. Peter the Apostle." The thirty-first and thirty-second compartments exhibit the sickness and death of the Confessor. The thirty-third shows the crown orrered to Harold. 'rhe thirtyfourth presents us Harold all the throne, with Stigand the archbishop.


Then comes the compartment representing the comet which was held to presage the defeat of the Saxon Harold; and that is followed by one showing William giving orders for the building of ships for the invasion of England. We have then compartments, in which men are cutting down trees building ships, dragging along vessels, and bearing arms and armor. The forty-third has an inscription, "Here they draw a car with wine and arms." After a compartment with 'William on horseback, we have the fleet on its voyage. The inscription to this recounts that he passes the sea with a great Beet, and comes to Prevensey. Three other compartments show the disembarkation of horses, the hasty march of cavalry, and the seizure and slaughter of animals for the hungry invaders. The forty-ninth compartment bears the inseription, "This is Wadard." Who this personage on horseback, thus honored, could be, was a great puzzle, till the name was found in Domesday-book as a holder of land in six English counties, under Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, the Conqueror's half-brother. This is one of the circumstances exhibiting the minute knowledge of the designers of this needlework. The fiftieth and fifty-first compartments present us the cooking and feasting of the Norman army. We have then the dining of the chief, the Duke about to dine, whilst Odo blesses the food; and the Duke sitting under a canopy. The fifty-fifth shows him holding a banner, and giving orders for the constraction of a camp at Hastings.


Six other compartments show us the burning of a house with firebrands, the march out of Hastings, the advance to the battle and the anxious questioning by William of his spies and scouts as to the approach of the army of Harold. The sixty-third presents a messenger announcing to Harold that the army of William is near at hand. The sixty-fourth bears the inscription that Duke William addresses his soldiers that they should prepare themselves boldly and skilfully for the battle. We have then six compartment". each exhibiting some scene of the terrible conflict. The seventy-first shows the death of Harold. The tapestry abrutptly ends with the figures of flying soldiers.


Mr. Amyot, in his defence of the Early Antiquity of the Bayeux Tapestry," which is almost conclusive as to the fact of its being executed under direction of Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror, says truly " If the Bayeux " Tapestry be not history of the first class, it is perhaps something better. It exhibits genuine traits, elsewhere sought in vain, of the costume and manners of that age which, of all others, if we except the period of Reformation, ought to be the most interesting to us; that age which gave us a new race of monarchs, bringing with them new landholders, new laws, and almost a new language. As in the magic pages of Froissart, we here behold our ancestors of each race in most of the occupations of life-in courts and camps-in pastime and in battle- at. feasts, and in the bed of sickness. These are characteristics which of themselves would call forth a lively interest; but their value is greatly enhanced by their connection with one of the most important events in history, the main subject of the whole design."-C. KNIGHT.


Matilda of Flanders