The future Empress Matilda was born around February 1102 as the daughter of King Henry I of England and Matilda of Scotland. A younger brother was born the following year. We know very little of Matilda’s early childhood and education. She probably remained with her mother, and she was known to be literate.
By 1108, the future Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, came to her father with a proposal for Matilda. It was a magnificent match, and her dowry was estimated at 10,000 marks in silver. On 17 October 1109, Matilda made her first appearance in a royal council at Nottingham. She witnessed the royal charter creating the see of Ely and added her cross as “sponsa regis Romanorum” – the betrothed wife of the King of the Romans.
In February 1110, envoys arrived to take the young Matilda to her future husband. She was just eight years old and left almost everything she knew behind. She landed at Boulogne and travelled to Liège, where she met Henry for the first time – he was 23 years old at the time. He received her “as befitted a King.” They then moved north to the city of Utrecht for the Easter festivities. Their formal betrothal took place at Utrecht before they moved on down the Rhine to Cologne, Speyer, Worms and finally, Mainz. Mainz was home to one of the three Kaiserdome, imperial churches which were built in red sandstone.
On 25 July 1110, Matilda was crowned Queen of the Romans at Mainz Cathedral, following in the footsteps of Henry’s grandmother Agnes of Poitou who was also crowned there in 1043. It was also the feast of St James the Apostle, whose mummified hand was part of the relics in the royal chapel. As the Archbishopric of Mainz was vacant, she was anointed by Archbishop Frederick of Cologne, and he placed a crown – probably one that was too large for a child – on her head. She was carried by Archbishop of Trier. After her coronation as Queen of the Romans, Matilda was sent away to be prepared for her future role under the guardianship of Bruno of Trier.
In January 1114, before her 12th birthday, she was formally married to Henry at Worms and became known as the Holy Roman Empress, though she was never crowned as such. She was widowed on 23 May 1125, and she would eventually return to England to become – albeit briefly – the Lady of the English.1