How To Be A Lady: Matilda of England and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Invasion Force

empress_matilda

A lady who is struggling to advance her career will always discover that the key to success is to rely on her girlfriends.

Matilda of England had the distinction of being named the first “Lady of England” in 1141; in effect (if not in name), a queen regnant. She spoke Norman French but could also read Latin, and a contemporary account describes her as a “girl of noble character, distinguished and beautiful, who was held to bring glory and honor to…the English realm.”

In 1139, however, the crown intended for Matilda as the late king’s designated heir was still out of reach, having been snatched away by her cousin Stephen while she was stuck in Normandy. To press her claim, Matilda had gathered an escort of loyal supporters, led by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, and they were headed for Gloucester’s stronghold at Bristol. But in order to reach it they needed to make landfall on English soil. The sea route to Bristol was too dangerous to sail directly, and their previous attempts to land elsewhere had been thwarted because the line of available ports was controlled by Stephen.

Even when one of Gloucester’s men tried to hold one of his own ports open long enough for Matilda to land, he was quickly crushed by Stephen’s navy and the port slammed shut.

Their prospects looked grim, until one of Matilda’s girlfriends stepped up.

As the second wife of the late king, Adeliza of Louvain was technically Matilda’s stepmother, but their girl-bonding ran much deeper than that. They were both of a similar age and they had a long-established friendship dating back at least fifteen years. Adeliza had a castle at one of the ports, but her new husband, William d’Aubigny, had already professed loyalty to Stephen, thus never causing the usurper a moment’s concern.

In hindsight, however, Stephen should have known that girlfriends never let each other down.

So one night Matilda and Gloucester made landfall at Adeliza’s port of Arundel. And Matilda slipped inside the castle for an evening of medieval chick flicks and cosmos and maybe a little battle strategy, while Gloucester and his knights (now traveling light) rode full-tilt and reached Bristol before Stephen could catch them.

Stephen was furious. But, unable to breach Bristol’s defenses and acutely conscious of the bad optics of besieging two poor helpless ladies at Arundel, he reluctantly allowed Matilda to rejoin Gloucester. And once inside Gloucester’s stronghold and surrounded by his army, Matilda could finally press the claim that would eventually make her “Lady of England.”

Thus a lady whose career progress has been frustrated by the men in her life will find that in her hour of greatest need, she can always count on her girlfriends.

Further Reading

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