Empress Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I of England and his first wife Matilda of Scotland. At aged 8, Matilda was sent to Germany in betrothal to Henry V of Germany, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope.
As Henry’s Empress, Matilda wielded authority when her husband was absent. She gained practical experience of exercising political power and widespread popularity as ‘Good Matilda’. When her husband died in 1125, Matilda was just 23 and childless, so she returned to England.
During her absence, her only legitimate brother William had died in 1120 in the ‘White Ship disaster’, when his boat sank during a drunken crossing of the English Channel. This left King Henry and England without a direct male heir at a time when every Norman succession had been fought over. To ensure the succession, Henry’s barons swore on oath to recognise Matilda, and any of her future children, as heirs to the throne.