"M AUDE, the good queen;" "Dame Maude, a kind woman and true;" "The good queen Maude;" "Queen Maude, that's right well loved England through." When these are the terms used by the people of her time there is little need to say more about her character.
Born in 1080, she was christened Edith, but as her name was changed to Maude or Matilda, on her marriage, out of compliment to the mother of Henry I., we will call her Maude throughout. Her mother was Margaret, the gentle Queen of Scotland, her father the well-known Malcolm, of whom Shakspere has written, a mighty king, but a man who could neither read nor write.
When Maude was quite a little girl, she was sent with her sister Mary to live with her aunt Christina, the Abbess of Romsey. Now, although she had no intention of making Maude a nun, her aunt compelled her to wear the nun's veil; this made the little girl not only very unhappy, but angry, and, whenever her aunt's back was turned, Maude tore the veil from her head and trampled upon it. One day her father came to the abbey to see his daughters, and he saw Maude wearing the nun's veil. He was very angry, and, tearing it off her head, he declared that his fair-haired Maude should never be a nun, but that she was to marry Count Alan. It is probable that Malcolm took his two children back to Scotland with him, for the next mention of Maude is beside her mother's death-bed.
Malcolm had invaded England for the fifth time, when he was slain, together with his eldest son Edward. This was heavy news for Prince Edgar to break to his mother.
"How fares it with the king and my Edward?" asked the dying queen, as her son Edgar entered the room. The young prince was silent, but his sad face spoke more than words.
"I know all—I know all," sobbed his mother; "but speak the worst."
"Then your husband and son are both slain!" replied Edgar.
The widowed queen lifted up her hands and eyes to heaven and prayed, and, as the last words were uttered, she died.
Then Maude and Mary were sent back to their aunt Christina to complete their education.
While they were there, the news suddenly burst upon England that William Rufus, the Red King, had been shot by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest, and that his brother Henry intended to be King of England, as Robert the elder brother was away fighting in the Holy Land. Henry said, if the people would only make him king, he would do everything they wished; and, when they at last consented, he pleased them all by marrying Maude, the daughter of good Queen Margaret, and descended from Alfred the Great, whose memory all England loved.
At first Christina the abbess refused to allow her niece to marry the king, and, knowing what a bad man Henry was, Maude refused too. But at last, commanded by her brother Edgar, urged by the people, entreated by the king, she consented. So they were married on November 11th, in 1100, and Archbishop Anselm preached a very celebrated sermon to the crowds who had come to see the royal wedding. Then Maude was crowned Queen of England, to the joy of the people.
She was very kind to the poor and to all around her; every day in Lent she went barefoot, clothed in haircloth, to wash the feet of the poorest people, after the custom of her mother. She had hospitals built, new roads made, and bridges over the rivers.
One day she was riding on horseback through a ford on the river Lea, with her train of attendants. The river was flooded, and the current sweeping along so fast, that they were in danger of perishing, and out of gratitude for her life, Queen Maude caused the first arched bridge ever known in England to be built.
In 1102, a little son was born, and named William, after his grandfather William the Conqueror.
Now Robert, the Duke of Normandy, Henry's elder brother, had returned from his wars in the Holy Land, and finding it useless to try and assert his rights in England, he settled in Normandy. But he was very idle; he had spent all his money; it is even said that he had to lie in bed sometimes, for want of clothes to put on, and the Norman people were so unhappy, that they sent for Henry to come and help them. So leaving his wife Maude to govern England, Henry took an army to Normandy, and a battle was fought in which Duke Robert and his little son were taken prisoners.
It was just forty years after the battle of Hastings; then the Normans came over and conquered the English; now the English went over, and Normandy was conquered. Of course Henry had to spend a good deal of time over there, to reform laws and make peace, but Queen Maude was quite capable of reigning in England, and keeping the people peaceful and happy.
In the summer of 1109 Henry returned to England, and kept court in great splendour at the new palace at Windsor. His little daughter Matilda was just live years old, when the Emperor of Germany, a man of forty-five, begged to be allowed to marry her. The proposal was eagerly accepted by her father, for the union would secure peace between Germany and England, so the little princess was solemnly married. The child could not stand under the weight of jewels with which she was adorned as bride, and had to be carried; she was allowed to live with her mother in England till she was twelve, when she was sent over in great state to her royal husband.
When Prince William was twelve, he was taken over to Normandy, for the Norman barons to swear fealty to him and acknowledge him as their future king. But he was never their king, because he was drowned when he was only eighteen.
A revolt in Normandy to set Robert's little son upon the throne, took Henry and his son away from England again, and the queen was left alone. She was in failing health, and Henry returned to spend Christmas with her, but he could not stay long. He had left Prince William as a pledge that he would return; so he left the queen, and they never met again. Maude lived on in her palace at Westminster, very lonely in heart, although she was surrounded with all the splendour of royalty; her two children were gone, her husband was across the sea. Her only pleasure lay in caring for the poor around her, and making them happy. For five months she lived on in her solitude, and in May, 1118, she died, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. She was spared the blow of hearing that her only boy, Prince William, was drowned in the White Ship crossing over to England; spared the misery of knowing that her daughter Matilda, left a widow at twenty-one, was obliged to fight for the crown of England, and spared witnessing the bitter grief of her husband Henry, who, after the loss of his son, never "smiled again."