The Marriage of Mathilde and William the Conqueror

This kind of arrangement, know as a more danico union, a Danish-style union, was common among people of Norse descent.

By Catherine Delors

Caen, as I hardly need to remind you, was one of the capitals, with Rouen, and later London, of Guillaume, Duc de Normandie, remembered by posterity as William the Conqueror, King of England.

You can still admire the Dukes’ impressive chateau, as well as the gorgeous Abbaye aux Hommes, the Abbey of the Men, founded by Guillaume to expiate the sin of marrying his cousin, Mathilde de Flandres. Guillaume and Mathilde were related to a degree forbidden by the Church, and the proper dispensations had not been secured beforehand.

L’abbaye aux Hommes / Photo by Chemose, Flickr, Creative Commons

The marriage was off to a rocky start, apart from any issues of canon law. When Guillaume and Mathilde were first introduced, the prospective bride declared rather bluntly that “she would rather be a cloistered nun than married to a bastard.” Guillaume took offense at his fiancee’s comment. He seized her by her braids and dragged her across the room. Indeed he was born out of wedlock, the son of the prior Duke, Robert the Magnifique, and his concubine Arlette.

In Normandy this kind of arrangement, know as a more danico union, a Danish-style union, was common among people of Norse descent, like the Dukes. It was a recognized relationship, though not sanctioned by the Church. Apparently Mathilde, who had just arrived from faraway Flanders, had not been informed of the customs of Normandy. Or if she had, she did not think much of them.

Matilda of Flanders, Queen of England and Duchess of Normandy / Public Domain

But the newlyweds soon settled their differences, and by the standards of the times it was a happy marriage. Then Guillaume went on to claim the throne of England, cross the Channel, defeat the Saxons at the battle of Hastings in 1066, and become King William I.

Originally published by Catherine Delors, Versailles and More, under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.