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The Empress Maud

Born in August of 1102, Maud (also called Matilda) was the daughter of England's King Henry I and his Queen, Edith of Scotland. Her father was himself a son of William I, "the Conqueror", and had imprisoned one elder brother and murdered another to secure the throne for himself.

When Maud was about 12 years old, she was sent to marry the Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich V, thus becoming Empress of Germany. The pair were married for some years, but produced no children.

Meanwhile, Maud's elder brother Prince William drowned at sea in the wreck of the White Ship. As William was Henry I's heir, as well as his only surviving legitimate son, Henry found himself on an increasingly unstable throne. The chief candidate for King now that William was dead was King Henry's nephew Stephen of Blois, son of his sister Adela. But Henry decided that he did not want Stephen to rule after him, and recalled Maud (who's husband had convieniently died).

Maud was twenty-three years old at the time, and her father had plans to create her a sort of 'female king'. He did not reveal this to her yet, instead arranging a marriage for her with Geoffrey V Plantagenet, the Count of Anjou, who was some eleven years younger than Maud! Despite being a lowly Count, he was extremely powerful, owning a large portion of France. Maud and Geoffrey were notorious for their fighting and angry spats, but were able to produce a son and heir, Henry, who was born in 1133. Now that his grandson had been born, King Henry gathered together his barons and advisors and made them swear an oath of loyalty to Maud when he died. The King passed away in 1135.

Treacherously, Maud's cousin Stephen seized her rightful throne and had himself declared King of England. This plunged England into a fightful cival war, with the added intervention of Anjou. While Stephen was handsome and charismatic, he lacked the confidence to instill loyalty in his followers, who deserted him and switched sides at leisure. Maud's most ardent supporter was her bastard half-brother Robert of Gloucester, who became her commander-in-cheif.

Robert was captured by Stephen's forces, but King Stephen himself had been captured by Maud's. The two were exchanged for each other, and Maud sent Robert to Anjou to convince her husband to come to her aid. However, Geoffrey declined to help until he had conquered Normandy, so Robert took his nephew Henry with him to liberate Henry's mother, who was beseiged at Oxford. In 1143 Robert defeated Stephen at Wilton, but sadly died of a fever a couple of years later.

The death of her devoted half-brother was a major blow to Maud, but she and her son pressed on in their cival war agaisnt Stephen. Just a few years later, in 1151, her husband died also, making Maud a widow twice over. On the 25th of October, 1154, Stephen died. Not long afterwards, Maud abdicated the throne she had fought for so long to her eldest son, who became King Henry II and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Maud died September 10th, 1167 in Notre Dame, France, having outlived both her husbands, her father, her brothers, and her cousin. Though she ruled only briefly as Queen of England, she continued to be known as the Dowager Empress of Germany all her life. It was to be more than three hundred years before another woman would sit on the throne of England, with the coronation of Queen Mary I.

"She had the nature of a man in the frame of a woman. Fierce, proud, hard, cynical, living only for politics above all other passions, however turbulent, she was fitted to bear her part in any war and be the mother of one of the greatest English kings." -- from 'A History of the English Speaking Peoples' by Winston S.Churchill.

Written by Jessica Key