ATILDA OF FLANDERS, of whom few princesses can boast a more noble descent, was born about the thirtieth or thirty-first year of the tenth century. History has not chronicled the day when she first saw the light, but, judging from the writings of her contemporaries, we cannot be far wrong in referring the early days of her infancy to the above period. Her father, the gentle Baldwin the Fifth, reigned over Flanders. He possessed no other title than that of earl, but his virtues and talents were so great and many, that under his wise rule commerce and arts flourished exceedingly, and the industrious Flemings became a great and wealthy people. Her mother, the no less beautiful than accomplished Adelais, was a daughter of the royal house of France, and allied by marriage to the greatest sovereigns of Europe.
Matilda was gifted with highly captivating charms of person. Her air was dignified without being haughty, her speech eloquent, soft, and musical, and, as her quick versatile mind was educated with the greatest care, she grew up, in the language of an old chronicler, "the pearl of beauty, the perfection of goodness, and the mirror of womanly accomplishments; nobly patronizing the learned, and, with a queenly hand, encouraging the arts and refinements of the times." Her childhood was passed in quiet retirement: but the bloom of youthful maidenhood had scarcely tinged her features with womanly charms, when her beauty and accomplishments, her noble descent, and the power and wealth of her father, the Earl of Flanders, induced many of the neighbouring princes to seek her hand in marriage.
Of these, the most ardent and persevering was her cousin, William, the young Duke of Normandy, surnamed the Bastard, who desired this union, less as an act of political policy, than to satisfy the burning longings of love. But the cautious Karl of Flanders considered that William held his ducal crown by an uncertain tenure; and a yet stronger objection had Matilda to the match— her affections having been bestowed on Brithric, the Earl of Gloucester, a wealthy Saxon noble, who had visited the court of her father as an ambassador from Edward tin Confessor.
William, however, having determined on this marriage, was not to be discouraged by difficulties. The intrigues of jealous rivals, the opposition of inveterate foes, the many objections raised by the parents and kindred of Matilda, and even her own cool replies, hut increased the glow of his burning ardour, and prompted him to redouble his exertions. Driven to desperation by the failure of negociations and entreaties during a lapse of more than six years, he, in 1047, suddenly presented himself before his fair cousin, when she was returning from early mass, in the ancient city of Bruges, and with wildly glaring eyes, and lips quivering with passion, accused her of loving Brithric.
" Know ye, cousin," he continued, in bitter, reproachful tones, "Edward, England's king, has named me his heir, and, by the Holy Cross, the Saxon churl who dares aspire to thy hand, shall, ere long, be crushed by the vengeance of our royal resentment!"
"Mighty words—easily spoken, and, verily, proof not of greatness, nor valour," observed the princess, to whom the tale appeared a boastful improbability. Then bursting into a fit of malicious laughter, she exclaimed, "The doubtful Duke of Normandy, monarch of England; an excellent joke, truly! But had not my politic cousin better say Emperor of all Christendom?"
These sarcastic remarks, uttered with derisive scorn, so excited the fury of William, that, in a frenzy of anger, he seized Matilda, dragged her along the ground, rolled her in a muddy pool, beat her severely, and leaving her more dead than alive, mounted his charger, and gallopped from the town, before the patrols heard of his brutal doings.
History saith not what emboldened him, after such outrageous conduct, to again enter Matilda's presence. Although, as that princess's passion for Brithric—the greatest obstruction to the progress of his protracted courtship— was about this time changed to hate, by the coolness of the Saxon earl himself, who positively refused to marry her, it is not improbable that, either from a dread or admiration of his prowess, or, perhaps, both, she overlooked his enormities, and gave him her heart. Be this as it may, it is a historical fact, that in 1052, the royal cousins were married, with great pomp and rejoicings, the ceremony being performed at Augi, a castle in Normandy, belonging to William, and whither Matilda was conveyed by her illustrious relatives, and a numerous train of nobles and knights.
William was the illegitimate son of Duke Robert of Normandy, surnamed the Devil, of whom so many strange legends are still current in the north of
rance. His mother was the beautiful Arlotta, the daughter of a tanner in the town of Falaise. Duke Robert had no other issue, and he was so pleased with the vigour, handsomeness, and early promise, of the infant William, that, with the affection of a fond parent, he caused him to be nurtured and educated with royal distinctions in his own palace, and declared that " the world had never seen the like of so fair and forward a boy." When about proceeding on that mysterious pilgrimage to the Holy Land, whence he returned not, nor was heard of more, the duke left his son, then an infant but seven years old, in the guardianship of his suzerain, Henry the First, the reigning King of France, after having first received from his nobles their solemn acknowledgment of the infant as his successor.
The French monarch appears to have faithfully discharged his duty, as guardian to the young Duke of Normandy, for several years. But scarcely had he resigned him to the ambassadors from the Norman nobles, who now