on March 20, 2017
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Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Matilda, a twelfth-century Empress of the Holy Roman Empire and daughter of Henry I, is twenty-four years old and a widow. She returns to her father's double realm of England and Normandy and is promptly married against her will to Geoffrey, a minor continental nobleman. When she is absent from England at the time of her father's death, Matilda loses her throne to her cousin Stephen despite their ongoing and secret love affair.
For almost twenty years, anarchy reins, and their passion fluctuates between hatred and obsession. The only hope in sight is Matilda and Stephen's two sons, whose rightful claim to the throne may finally end the bloody and endless war.
In the vein of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, Matilda Empress follows the real history of the early English monarchs, and what happens when strong a woman at the center of great upheaval refuses to play by the rules laid out for her.
Christmas was the day chosen for the ceremonial vows. The great hall at Windsor was strewn with fresh rushes and hung with King Henry’s most valuable tapestries. At his most imperious, my father compelled obedience, thundering at length to his assembled archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and lesser nobles. He expounded upon my claims to the throne: first, my birth to a reigning king and queen; second, my mother’s ancestors, fourteen kings in the times of the Anglo-Saxons; third, my father’s line—his father, his brother, and himself, all three Norman kings; fourth, my unification of Norman and Saxon blood, guaranteeing a future reign of civil unity and peace. His Majesty demanded an oath from all the men present. In front of the assembly and without delay or hesitation, they must swear to accept me and my legitimate sons as his heirs to England and Normandy. Each promise was to be accompanied by the kiss of fidelity, symbolizing their deference to my will and my reciprocal good faith.
The archbishop of Canterbury gave the first pledge to uphold my rights to the succession. The other church leaders followed, with murmured affirmations and cold lips. Some of the clerics failed to wipe the spittle from their mouths before approaching me; I struggled to mask my aversion. Henry of Blois, Stephen’s brother and bishop of Winchester, smugly delivered his assurance, but fumbled over my face. I heard several smothered giggles; His Grace is known to be lecherous, but is said to prefer the company of young men.
Then King David, the preeminent layman, emphatically guaranteed to be my vassal. After his booming declaration of service, his buss was sturdy, not quite the lover’s, but I remembered our other embrace.
Unfortunately, squabbles marred the holy day. Robert and Stephen disagreed over who should be the next to give me his vow and kiss. The earl stepped forward as the king’s son, but my cousin’s supporters grumbled against an illegitimate coming first among the royal kin.
My brother interjected, “My grandfather, William the Conqueror, was once known as William the Bastard.”
The Count of Boulogne flushed. “Our grandfather battled his way to the throne. Do you scheme to do the same?”
His Majesty put an end to this ugliness. “I hope and intend that neither of you will put on armor to usurp what is to be Matilda’s by your oath. You are to be allies, in her defense and in her sons’.”
Well-mannered Gloucester backed down, courteously waiving the argument that threatened to spoil the proceedings. So it was Stephen who next swore his fealty to me, offering an indifferent peck. Maud, whose smiles had greeted her husband’s precedence over Robert, now seemed less gratified that he should be among the first to worship me as his sovereign. My brother offered his testimony and embrace with an air of affection.
All the court magnates followed, some honoring me with zeal and others with thinly concealed uncertainty. Perhaps they reassure themselves that an unsatisfactory queen may be deposed more easily than a troublesome king. Yet they gave their word in my favor, as my father ordains.
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