[Matilda of Boulogne, source: Wikimedia Commons]
Matilda was the only child of Eustace of Boulogne and Mary of Scotland.*** In 1125 she became Countess of Boulogne in her own right and in the same year married Stephen of Blois. Stephen would rely heavily not only on her inheritance (not only for financial stability, but also because she held several strategic ports in Flanders), but also on her gifts for political and military strategy.
Stephen seized the English throne in 1135. During the subsequent years, Matilda involved herself in politics and diplomacy. She appears as witness to many of his charters and maintained her own courts to deal with the affairs of the royal lands and, more specifically, her own holdings. She settled her husband’s feud with King David of Scotland and married her son Eustace to Constance of France, strengthening the alliance between the two powers. She even attempted to set up a diplomatic meeting between her husband and his cousin Matilda of England in 1140, three years after the fighting started, but her plans fell through.
She also showed herself a capable military leader. When Stephen found himself facing three separate revolts, he chose her to besiege Dover and take it back from the rebels. This is one of the only known cases in Western Europe of a woman directing a siege. In 1141 the Empress captured first Stephen and then the city of London. Matilda quickly negotiated for aid from her allies and drove her cousin out of London four days after she entered the city. Getting Stephen back took a bit longer, but within the year she was able to negotiate a hostage trade. During his absence, it was she who led both his government and his military.
In her later years, Matilda remained involved in the government of her husband’s kingdom and in caring for her own lands, but left much of the official governance to Stephen. She died in 1152, two years before Stephen, and was buried at Faversham Abbey.
*Though she wasn’t Holy Roman Empress during the time of this civil war, she had held that title for 11 years and is sometimes known as Empress Matilda.
**In (very) brief: Henry I of England made his only child Matilda his heir. When Henry died, however, her cousin Stephen of Blois managed to get himself crowned and take over the country before she could. A civil war ensued (1135-1154) during which Stephen mostly managed to retain control of the country in his own hands. For a slightly longer summary see here.
***It is through Mary of Scotland and her sister Matilda of Scotland that Matilda of Boulogne and Matilda of England were first cousins.
Tanner, Heather J. "Queenship: Office, Custom, or Ad Hoc? The Case of Queen Matilda III of England (1135-1152)." In Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady, edited by Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons, 133-158. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Matilda of Boulogne - Epistolae
Matilda of Boulogne - Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Matilda of Boulogne - Wikipedia