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a stone room in a church with rounded arches

Matilda of Flanders had this church built: Nave of Abbaye aux Dames (Caen, 1050 AD)

Who was Matilda of Flanders?

About 1050 ADWilliam the Conqueror married Matilda of Flanders. They were both rich Normans, and there weren’t that many rich Normans yet at this time. So William and Matilda were distantly related to each other.

William the Conqueror
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The Pope had said that people who were related shouldn’t get married, even if they were only second cousins or even third or fourth or fifth cousins. William’s enemies pointed this out to the Pope. They got the Pope to say that God was against this marriage.

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To get God on their side again, William and Matilda promised to build two big abbeys in Caen. William built an abbey for men, and Matilda built another one for women.

Schools for their children

These abbeys also served as schools for their ten children, so maybe William and Matilda had that in mind, too. The girls went to the women’s abbey and the boys went to the men’s abbey.

Abbaye aux Dames
Abbaye aux Hommes
Romanesque architecture

Matilda rules Normandy

Outer walls of Caen castle, Normandy, France

Outer walls of Caen castle, Normandy, France

When William and Matilda had been married for sixteen years, and they had had most of their children, he took an army from Normandy and invaded England. That was in 1066. William lived most of the rest of his life in England, getting his new kingdom organized. But Matilda mostly stayed behind in France. She ruled Normandy for the rest of her life, and also raised the children.

Castle at Caen
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Henry II
Blanche of Castile

Many of Matilda’s children and grandchildren went on to rule countries of their own. Two of her sons, William II and Henry I, became Kings of England. Her granddaughter Matilda also ruled England, and her great-grandson Henry II. Blanche of Castile, who ruled France, was Matilda’s great-great-great-granddaughter. Matilda’s descendants ruled Europe through the Middle Ages and later.

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Bibliography and further reading about the Normans:


William the Conqueror
William’s castle at Caen
The men’s abbey in Caen
The women’s abbey in Caen
Tower of London
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