Sunday, June 14, 2009

Question from Haven - The Empress Matilda and female succession in Tudor times

I heard somewhere that Henry VIII didn't want his daughters to rule because of something that happened with the first queen of England Matilda. Who is Matilda, and what did she do?


Lara said...

I'm going to piggy-back a question of my own on to this one -

I've always heard this argument too, that people (or Henry specifically) knew of the disaster of Matilda's short reign and that's why he was so desperate to have a son. But, is there actual evidence to support this? It is just an assumption or was there something written (by Henry, an ambassador, etc.) to suggest that the "memory" of Matilda did in fact color people's opinion of the rule of women? Or was it really more because it was considered to be against the natural order of things (i.e. that a woman shouldn't rule in general)?

Lara said...

Ooops, I meant to put a short a answer to Haven's question in there...

Matilda (sometimes called Maud) was the only legitimate heir of Henry I of England (r. 1100-1135) and he named her to succeed him, even making his barons swear to it. However, when Henry I died, Matilda's cousin Stephen (the closest male heir) swooped in and took the crown, prompting civil war. At one point Matilda did take the crown, but wasn't able to hold on to power (I think it is often attributed to Matilda's own arrogance that she lost the crown). Eventually Stephen won out, but after his death Matilda's son became Henry II (who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine).

That is a VERY simplified explanation of it all, I'm sure others will chime in more with more info. I thought there was talk about a new non-fiction biography of Matilda coming out, but I'm not sure what became of it.

PhD Historian said...

To expand on Lara's excellent description of Matilda: She is sometimes called "the Empress Matilda" because she was the wife of the the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V (who was also King of Germany). Her name is sometimes given in its Latin form, "Maude." Though she was recognized for a time as Lady of the English, she was never crowned Queen.

The following too is over-simpified, but:

Monarchs were expected to lead armies and to be able to defend their realm. Yet women were never expected to lead armies, and were only rarely tolerated in positions of authority over men. And the Bible placed women under men, not over them. It was therefore thought that women should not rule. When Henry I died, Matilda and Stephen of Blois battled each other for several years in an effort to gain the crown. That period of civil war was of course unsettling for the people.

In my opinion, it is incorrect to say that the English people of the Tudor period wished to avoid female rule because of what had happened under Matilda. Yes, there was still a general belief that rule by men was far preferrable to rule by women. However, the English were well aware of women then ruling successfully as queens regnant or regents in other realms: Isabella of Spain, Margaret in the Low Countries, and others.

Rather than the experience of Matilda coloring people's opinion of rule by women, I think she was held up as an example to support an opinion derived from other sources, especially religious sources.