Catherine Hanley on Matilda: “Honestly, if I were her, I’d have wanted to put my fist through a wall”

Catherine Hanley talks to Ellie Cawthorne about Matilda, the legitimate daughter of Henry I who – blocked by her gender from the English throne – began a bitter civil war for the crown

Catherine Hanley talks to Ellie Cawthorne about Matilda, the legitimate daughter of Henry I. (Photographed for BBC History Magazine by Jeni Nott).

Born in 1102, Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I and the granddaughter of William the Conqueror. As Henry I’s only legitimate child at the time of his death, she had a strong claim to the English throne. However, there was opposition to the idea of a female ruler, and her cousin Stephen was crowned king. From 1135–53, the pair were embroiled in a battle for the throne often known as ‘the Anarchy’. This civil war was finally brought to an end by a negotiated peace that saw Matilda’s son appointed Stephen’s heir. He went on to become King Henry II.

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