Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Empress Matilda

1991, 1995 Blackwell edition
Marjorie Chibnall
The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English
Original and purchase price unknown, bought about four years ago
Worn paperback

As the titles of the title and subtitle suggest, Matilda of England etc. was a medieval woman very close to the centre of power.  In fact, she was (on her brother's death) her father's heir to the English crown, but the twelfth century was both too late and too early for a queen-in-her-own-right to be accepted, particularly by the nobles.  Her cousin Stephen seized the throne, and his late uncle's money, so he was able to finance a war for almost twenty years.  Matilda's eldest son was a great warleader from an early age, and he succeeded Stephen as Henry II, Mum stepping aside.  But Matilda throughout her sixty-five years, including as child-bride Holy Roman Empress, was an active participant, rather than a would-be figurehead.

Chibnall's dry academic style makes Matilda's life blander, even the Lady's daring escape in white against the snow.  I never felt like I knew Matilda in the way I did, say, Mary Queen of Scots in Fraser's biography.  She was brave and intelligent, but I couldn't tell what she thought.  For instance, what was her personal and political relationship with her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine?

Read the book if you're a medieval history buff with a tolerance for quotes from charters and such.  Chibnall, by the way, died a little over a year ago, at the impressive age of 96.

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