Matilda of Scotland was born in the late summer or early autumn of 1080 as the daughter of King Malcolm III and (Saint) Margaret of Wessex. She was christened with the name Edith. As her mother was a literate woman, it is likely that Margaret supervised Matilda’s early education. She spent part of her childhood in England with her aunt and sister Mary at Romsey Abbey. They continued their education in the royal nunnery of Wilton. Perhaps Margaret hoped that both her daughters would become nuns and their aunt certainly pressured them to take the veil. Matilda gave her own account to Archbishop Anselm:
For when I was quite a young girl and went in fear of the rod of my Aunt Christina, whom you knew quite well, she to preserve me from the lust of the Normans which was rampant and at that time ready to assault any woman’s honour, used to put a little black hood on my head and, when I threw it off, she would often make me smart with a good slapping and most horrible scolding, as well as treating me at being in disgrace. That hood I did indeed wear in her presence, chafing at it and fearful; but, as soon as I was able to escape out of her sight, I tore it off and threw it on the ground and trampled on it and in that way, although foolishly, I used to vent my rage and the hatred of it which boiled up in me. In that way, and only in that way, I was veiled, as my conscience bears witness.
Matilda eventually returned to Scotland with her father in 1093, but he died later that same year, and her mother followed just three days later. There is no evidence of Matilda’s whereabouts between 1093 and 1100. Her older half-brother succeeded her father as King. The future King Henry I of England showed interest in her, although it was probably entirely political. Many people believed that Matilda had become a nun and the church forbade the marriage. Matilda managed to persuade Archbishop Anselm and swore that she was free to marry in front of a council. Matilda and Henry finally married on 11 November 1100, and she was consecrated Queen shortly after the wedding.
According to a contemporary named William of Malmesbury, “she was a woman of exceptional holiness, and by no means negligible beauty, in piety her mother’s rival, and in her own character exempt from all evill influence, outside the royal marriage-bed of unblemished chastity, and untouched even by the breath of suspicion.”
Matilda gave birth to two children, her namesake Matilda in 1102 and William in 1103. They probably ceased to have a sexual relationship after this as William fathered plenty of illegitimate children after this. She had political influence and over 33 charters issued in her name survive to this day. She often acted as regent while Henry was in Normandy and was assisted by her son William during her last regency.
Matilda is mainly remembered for her piety. William of Malmesbury wrote that she wore a hair-cloth shift under her robes and that she went barefoot to church during Lent. She was also quite interested in lepers and washed their feet. She also founded a leper hospital dedicated to St Giles.
She died on 1 May 1118, but the cause of death is not recorded. She did not live to see the chaos that was caused by the death of her son. 1
- Read more: England’s Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York by