Sorting Through the Myths, Facts, & Rumours of Matilda's Life,
This review is from: Matilda: Wife of the Conqueror, First Queen of England (Paperback)
Although Matilda is by any account a compelling character, relatively little has been written about her. Much of what does exist is hearsay, biased reporting, or downright fiction. After nearly a thousand years, it's no easy task to assemble the bits and pieces that remain and construct a credible biography.
Tracy Borman has done it. Following her book Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen, about the women of Elizabeth I's court, Borman has filtered through the sources in France and England to draw a picture of the influential wife of William the Conqueror. When she includes the fairy tales and gossip, she labels them as such. They are part of what made Matilda's reputation during her life and after. It would be as wrong to disregard the rumors of Matilda as it would be to disregard the effect that Shakespeare's hunchbacked Richard III has had on the reputation of the Richard III of history. But it's important to distinguish between the legend and the reality.
What emerges from the few credible sources that Borman has found, is a strong-minded and charismatic woman. William left her in charge in Normandy when he was away conquering England and for much of the several years after that. This contradicts what I thought I knew about the role of women in Norman times. Borman further points out that both William and Matilda had had strong women as role models as they were growing up, so Matilda was not breaking any new ground by running the show in her husband's absence.
The details of Matilda's life and the background information about her times are interesting but not really the most important part of the book. Just as in her previous book, where Borman showed a side of Elizabethan times that is missing from most of the history books, here she shows that while Matilda's power was limited, she still exercised a great deal of influence over her husband's subjects and over William himself. It may say more about our own times that we find that so remarkable.