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.
These stories get at a tension at the heart of Alison Weir’s group biography of England’s medieval queens from 1066 to 1167. Some of the best stories (or worst, depending on your likeness for history with a tinge of Fifty Shades of Grey) come from later and not wholly reliable