Mary Wellesley

Wed to Rule

Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens 1066–1167


Jonathan Cape 468pp £20 order from our bookshop

In 1048–9, William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, was in the market for a wife. Envoys were dispatched to Baldwin, Count of Flanders, to ask for the hand of his daughter, Matilda. Matilda was not taken with the idea of marrying a bastard and refused, whereupon – if several 13th-century chronicles are to be believed – William rode to Flanders and accosted her in the street. According to one account, he ‘beat her, rolled her in the mud, spoiled her rich array’; according to another, he used his ‘fists, heels and spurs’. The result? Reader, she married him – apparently impressed by his ‘great courage’ and ‘high daring’.

Another story, this time from the 14th century, states that at one moment in the late 1060s William was enraged with Matilda for her handling of a financial matter. To punish her, he had her stripped naked and her hair tied to a horse’s tail before having her dragged naked through the streets.

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