Matilda of Boulogne: Norman England’s warrior queen

The achievements of Matilda of Boulogne, wife of King Stephen, are often overlooked in favour of her enemy, Empress Maud. Alison Weir examines the woman who raised an army in the 1140s to defend the English throne...

Illustration of Queen Matilda of Boulogne, by Eleanor Shakespeare

In the spring of 1141, as England suffered in the midst of a bitter civil war, Queen Matilda of Boulogne was in Kent, busily raising an army. Galvanised by the news that her husband, King Stephen, had been imprisoned by his vengeful rival and cousin, the Empress Maud (also known as Empress Matilda), the queen was utterly determined to march on London and ensure that the empress would never wear the crown she so fiercely coveted.

It was rare in the 12th century for a woman to bear arms. Although the Norman queens of England had wielded considerable power as sharers in the royal dominion, it was now being eroded thanks to the centralisation of government administration at Westminster, over which queens often had less influence. Had it not been for the war, Matilda might have had a very different role.

The only child of Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, and Mary of Scotland, Matilda was born c1103. She was one of the most desirable princesses in Europe, on account of having royal Saxon and Scottish blood, and the great inheritance that would come to her on her father’s death: the county of Boulogne and its lands – its ‘honour’ – in England.

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