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The coronation of the first post Conquest queen of England wasn’t just a milestone for a new regime. It changed the concept of consorts in the country. For until the crown was placed on the head of Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, England hadn’t usually held coronations for queens. In fact, the Anglo-Saxons hadn’t used that title for the spouses of its kings. This was the start of a new chapter in royal power.
Matilda was crowned on May 11th 1068 in a ceremony designed to demonstrate her power as a queen as well as underline that she had been chosen by God for the position. The service included specially written words which emphasised that Matilda shared her husband’s royal authority and that this governance and her virtues were a blessing sent to those she now ruled.
The new queen was hailed with chants created just for her coronation. The only focal point of the day was Matilda. This wasn’t just the recognition of a king’s wife. This was the crowning of a royal with a vital role in the leadership of a conquered country that was now part of an empire that would influence politics and power on the continent of Europe for decades to come.
It would have been hard for the new Norman regime to do anything else. Queen Matilda had taken the lead in establishing this new Norman stronghold. After William had conquered England’s ruling elite at the Battle of Hastings, he spent a lot of time in his newly won kingdom establishing his power and imposing the administration that would change the country forever. But Normandy remained vitally important and hugely potent and the person he chose to run it in his absence was Matilda.
His wife was more than a match for the role, imposing her authority and ruling effectively while her husband focused on England. By the time she arrived in Westminster for her coronation, William was in control of their new realm and she was firmly in charge of Normandy.
But her coronation was special for another reason. Queen Matilda was very aware of the potency her very presence gave to her husband. The new king had been born the illegitimate son of Robert, Duke of Normandy and Herleva, a tanner’s daughter and had only inherited his Norman realm because his father without any other heir. He had consolidated his rule through military ruthlessness and formidable administration but he remained ‘William the Bastard’, looked down on by those with royal pedigrees. Matilda had helped change that.
She was a granddaughter of King Robert II of France while her father, Baldwin of Flanders, was another continental powerhouse. Matilda brought plenty of royal blood to the union and ensured her children with William had a regal ancestry that countered criticism of their father’s illegitimacy.
But the first Queen of England to be crowned at Westminster Abbey brought another important link with the past with her. Matilda’s ancestors included Judith of Flanders whose first husband had been Æthelwulf, King of Wessex. Judith had been crowned, a rare event for Anglo-Saxon kings usually only recognised their spouses as wives not queens. Even though Matilda was descended from one of Judith’s later husbands, her link with Wessex was handy PR for a regime that had won England by battle but whose conquest had to include assimilation with the existing population to succeed.
But William and Matilda’s eyes were also on the future. The queen was pregnant when she was crowned. The couple already had a stable of sons and daughters but the image of an expectant consort underlined the safety of the succession. The child Matilda was carrying as a son who she would call Henry and who would eventually rule England himself.
He inherited a throne shored up by the power of both his parents. Matilda of Flanders was an integral part of the development of a new form of royal authority in England following the Norman Conquest. Her coronation created a new role, that of a modern Queen of England.