Matilda still governs Normandy — Death of her second son, Richard, and second daughter, Constance — Her visit to St. Eurole — Her liberality — Profuse table — Income — Fresh dissensions between the Conqueror and Robert — Matilda's sorrow — Application to a German hermit — His pretended dream depresses Matilda's spirits — She sinks into a slow nervous fever — Her malady increases — She becomes charitable and penitent — The Conqueror hastens to her presence — Her death— Funeral — Tomb—Sepulchre plundered — Curious will — The Conqueror's deep grief for her loss — His excesses — Illness — Sage at the French King's jeu d'esprit — His vengeance — He meets with a fatal accident — His death — His body plundered and neglected — His obsequies thrice interrupted — His tomb — His grave ransacked — Finally destroyed by the French revolutionists — Matilda's children.
ATILDA did not again return to England. The remainder of her days she occupied in governing Normandy and deploring her domestic misfortunes. Her second son, Richard, a prince of promising endowments, and a pupil of the learned Lanfranc, had scarcely been consigned by fever to the cold grasp of death, when her daughter, Constance, whilst yet in the prime of womanhood, breathed her last. This princess had been married seven years to Alan Fergeant, Duke of Brittany, without giving birth to an heir, which so preyed upon her mind, as to occasion the lingering sickness of which she died. Her remains were conveyed to England, and interred with due solemnity in the abbey of St. Edmund's Bury. For the recovery of this beloved daughter, Matilda paid a ceremonious but vain visit to the monastery of Ouche, and at the venerated shrine of St. Eurole, offered prayers and costly presents, and vowed to bestow other and yet more valuable gifts, should her prayers be favourably answered. She afterwards retired to the refectory, and dined with the monks, where she behaved with great humility and condescension, and delighted the holy brethren with her liberality in providing so goodly a feast, for she maintained all the pomp and state of an English queen. The table at which she herself usually dined being furnished at a daily expense of forty shillings—a most extravagant sum for those times, whilst, at a lower table, one hundred attendants were provided for at the high charge of twelve-pence each per day. It was principally out of her income from England, that the fair regent of Normandy supported the splendour of her dignity. The citizens of London paid for the oil for her lamps, and the wood for her fires; she received the tolls imposed on merchandise at Queenhithe, and a tenth part of the voluntary fines paid to the crown, besides other incomes and immunities.
As years rolled on, Matilda found the clouds of trouble thicken around her. Whilst yet mourning for the bereavement of her daughter Constance, she received the sorrowful tidings that her beloved son Robert had again rankled his father's wrath, by refusing to marry the beautiful daughter of Waltheof, the Saxon earl, to whom the Conqueror had espoused his niece, Judith, at York, but who, having joined in a plot against the Normans, was betrayed by his treacherous wife into the hands of her uncle, and by his order beheaded at Winchester.*
Sorely grieved at the renewed breach between her royal lord and darling son, Matilda sent to a German hermit, who was renowned for sanctity, learning, and prophetic gifts, and requested his advice in the matter. The sage, after a lapse of three days, pretended to have had a wondrous dream, to the effect that if Matilda did not succeed in restoring amity between her royal lord and her son; nobleman executed in this reign.
Robert, after the death of his father, would rule the land with weakness, rebellions would spring up in all directions, and, ultimately, enemies from without would tear the crown from his head.
This pretended prophecy weighed heavily on Matilda's heart. Her best endeavours to restore her son Robert to his father's affections were vain, and at longth her spirits became depressed, and she sunk into a slow nervous fever, from which she never recovered. As her malady increased, she increased her charities to the poor, repeatedly confessed her sins, released several state prisoners, made costly presents to the monasteries, and by complying with all the superstitious rituals of her country and times, endeavoured to make peace with rod and man.
When no hope was entertained of her recovery, a hasty message was despatched to the Conqueror in England, who, without delay, embarked for Normandy, and arrived at Caen only a few hours before she expired.
Matilda, who will ever be remembered for her long, wise and liberal rule, as Regent of Normandy, closed her earthly pilgrimage on the second of November, 1083, in the fifty-second year of her age. She had been Duchess of Normandy thirty-one years, and Queen of England seventeen years, Her dying prayer was for the prosperity of her favourite son, Robert, who, to her great regret, was in England when she ceased to breathe.
Her remains were interred with imposing funeral solemnity in the convent of the Holy Trinity, at Caen, which Matilda herself had founded, and where her sorrowing lord erected a magnificent tomb to her memory. But this splendid monument of the Conqueror's love for his departed queen, was despoiled during the religious wars that desolated France in the sixteenth century. A party of Calvinists entered the monastery, and, despite the earnest entreaties of the abbess and the nuns, broke into pieces the statue of Matilda that surmounted the tomb, tore open the sepulchre, and took from the fingers of the queen's body a valuable gold ring, which, however, was afterwards given to the abbess. These rapacious fanatics had previously entered the Abbey of St. Stephen's, in the same city, where, after levelling the Conqueror's monument to the dust, they, with the hope of discovering valuable treasures, opened his grave, and strewed his bones about the chapel.