Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Tale of Matilda FitzWalter

Situated between two pillars in the Priory Church, Little Dunmow, Essex lies the tomb of one known as Matilda.

Her story, as told by Edward Brayley in “The Graphic and Historical Illustrator” (1834):

Matilda was the daughter of one Robert, Baron FitzWalter, castellan of Castle Baynard, and one of those who opposed King John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta.

Aged 18yo, she was among many neighbouring nobles who were invited to a banquet hosted by Prince John. There were three days of jousts and tournaments which entertained those assembled. The young Matilda was the “queen” of the event. On the fourth day a mailed knight entered the field, vanquishing all those who came before him, and enamouring the fair Matilda, who duly awarded him a fine collar of gold. He left as he had arrived.

During the course of events, Prince John found himself also smitten by Matilda’s charm, and “basely endeavoured to take her for a mistress”. Her father’s indignation so enraged the Prince, that he attacked Baynard Castle, taking advantage of the king’s absence in the Holy Land. Her father slain, Matilda escaped into the nearby forest, coming upon none other than the knight. No long clad in mail but dressed in "Lincoln Green", he revealed himself to be one Robin Hood, outlawed Earl of Huntingdon, and insisted on keeping both her and her honour safe from the Prince.

However, Prince John discovered her escape and attacked the foresters – in the course of the battle, the Prince met the fair Matilda (now in male attire) and engaged in battle. She put up a “stout defence” and as such, the Prince was obliged to withdraw.

Matilda married Robin, who upon Richard’s return, was restored to his lost earldom, and she became Countess of Huntingdon. When Robin was outlawed by King John, she joined him. Following his death, Matilda took refuge at Dunmow Priory – which had been patronized by her family.

King John, learning of her refuge, sent the knight Robert de Medewe to the priory with a small token – a poisoned bracelet. Robert was received by Matilda, who though no longer in the fresh bloom of youth, still could flutter the heart of a hardened warrior. Robert hastily left – not as a result of his mission but due to his growing passion for Matilda. Absence did not curb his desire, and he returned to the priory. He was greeted by the sounds of a funeral dirge echoing through the church. There in the chancel, on a bier of flowers, was the lifeless body of Matilda.

The poisoned gift had “eaten its way to her bone, and the fiery poison had dried her life blood". Robert flung himself upon her corpse and could not be persuaded to return to court. He instead gave up his knightly was for the cowl and became an Augustine monk.

The Case for Matilda as Maid Marion:
The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, afterwards called Robin Hood, with his Love to Chaste Matilda, the Lord Fitzwater's daughter, afterwards his faire Maid Marian, and The Death of Robin Hood with the lamentable Tragedy of Chaste Matilda, his faire Maid Marian, poisoned at Dunmowe by King John by Henry Chettle & Anthony Munday (1601)
The Tragedy of King John and Matilda by Robert Davenport (p.1639)

Matilda, the faire and chaste Daughter of the Lord Robert Fitzwalter by Michael Drayton (c.1594)


judith arnopp said...

very interesting, i really enjoy your blog although i seldom commnent. thank you for sharing


Earl of Huntingdon said...

Shame that it is probably all myth, started by the chronicle of Dunmow as a way of giving an honourable cover story to Fitzwalter's rebellion against his king, and then further embellished with the Robin Hood stuff in the plays of Henry Chettle and Anthony Munday. King John probably wasn't quite as bad as Elizabethan historians/ propagandists liked to make out....

carabou said...

I am a descendant of Robert Fitzwalter. He was the leading Baron who brought about the Magna Charta in 1215. And of all things on the same family tree is Anne Bradstreet Dudley. The stories of Matilda aka "maid marion" are wonderful.

Cara Webb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sheila said...

Baron Robert FitzWalter was the brother of my x22 great grandmother Alice FitzWalter who married Gilbert de Pecche----I love this tale --it makes my childhood memories of the story of Robin Hood a lot more personal and meaningful--my imagination is now awakened..

Unknown said...

I am a decedent of Robert De I am told. I find this very curious concidering he became a monk after killing Matilda. But interesting non the less.

Anonymous said...

I am a decendent of William DeBraose Lord of many places but Bramber Castle was home . Prince forever John Lackland was a piece of shit ,ring in not the son of the king & was not left land because the king knew. He murdered Arthur if Brittany in the cellar tried, locked Matilda & his eldest son in the tower & starved them both to death. Then William was murdered . John never ,age a kings bum hair.