Empress Matilda, also known as Empress Maud, ruled England for only a few months in 1141, and even then she wasn't officially crowned. Her father had named her his heir, but she had a pesky cousin, Stephen, who stole her crown. Find out more below!

Empress Matilda


  • Born 1102
  • Ruled 1141 (disputed)
  • Died 1167

Who was she?

What is she most remembered for?

  • Being disagreeable and ill tempered!
  • Marrying the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, when she was just 12 years old.
  • Marrying Geoffrey of Anjou after the death of her first husband.
  • Ruling for a few months in 1141 (although her rule was disputed).
  • Being the only woman to assume the throne of England during the Middle Ages.

What happened next?

Matilda gave up trying to fight her cousin Stephen for the throne (although he promised to let her son Henry become king when he died).

Points of interest:

  • Matilda is also known as Empress Matilda (from her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor) and ‘Lady of the English’ because she was never formally declared Queen of England.
  • Matilda was taken captive in Oxford Castle by her cousin Stephen’s supporters. She escaped one winter’s night across a frozen river, wearing white to camouflage her against the snow. She was a brave and formidable lady!


The text on Matilda’s tombstone is said to read:

“Here lies the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry.”

A Short Biography of Empress Matilda

Matilda became Henry I’s only legitimate heir when her brother William Adelin drowned in 1120 aboard the royal boat, The White Ship, which sank in the English Channel. Henry promised to give Matilda the throne, but the English lords and nobles weren’t so keen. England had never been ruled by a woman, and no one liked the ill-tempered Matilda!

When Matilda’s husband, the Holy Roman Emperor, died in 1125, her father arranged for her to marry Geoffrey of Anjou (her brother’s wife’s brother). It was a difficult marriage (she was 11 years his senior) but they had three sons together – Henry, Geoffrey and William.

When Henry I died in 1135, Matilda’s first cousin Stephen seized the crown while she was still in France. Although the lords and nobles had promised Henry they would support Matilda as queen, they went back on their agreement. Matilda was a strong and brave character, but they thought girls were too weak to rule. They were also wary of being controlled by her husband Geoffrey of Anjou. However, Matilda did have the support of her half-brother, Robert Earl of Gloucester, and her uncle King David of Scotland.

Fighting for the throne
In 1139 Matilda invaded Britain, supported by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and her uncle King David I of Scotland. Meanwhile Geoffrey of Anjou attacked Normandy. Two years later, Matilda's army captured Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln and Matilda went to London to be crowned. She didn't count on the crowds - who were fiercely opposed! She retreated and never actually became Queen of England.

After years of fighting, there was stalemate. The country was divided. Neither Matilda nor Stephen were in control. As some of Matilda's key supporters died, withdrew or joined the Second Crusade, she decided to return to Normandy, now in the hands of her husband.

Final days
Matilda spent the rest of her days in Normandy and died in Rouen in 1167. She was buried in Rouen Cathedral. When Stephen died in 1154, her son Henry took the throne (Henry II) and the crown moved to the House of Plantagenet.


Our Matilda Printables


Empress Matilda Booklet

Empress Matilda Booklet

Write down everything you have learned about Empress Matilda in this useful little booklet. You can find our Origami Booklet folding instructions here...

Matilda Fact Sheet

Matilda Fact Sheet

This 3-page pdf contains our fun facts and short biography of the Empress Matilda, unofficially queen of England for a few months in 1141.

Stephen and Matilda Colouring Page

Stephen and Matilda Colouring Page

Stephen stole the crown from Matilda, and Matilda tried to steal it back again ... and so civil war raged in England for 20 years! Here's a fun colouring page for the kids that will help them to remember about "the Anarchy" and the reign of Stephen.

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