At 4'2" (127 cm) tall, Matilda was Britain's smallest adult queen, according to the Guinness Book of Records. According to legend, Matilda (or "Maud") told the representative of William, Duke of Normandy (later king of England as William the Conqueror), who had come asking for her hand, that she was far too high-born (being descended from King Alfred the Great of England) to consider marrying a bastard. When that was repeated to him, William rode from Normandy to Bruges, found Matilda on her way to church, dragged her off her horse by her long braids, threw her down in the street in front of her flabbergasted attendants, and then rode off. Another version of the story states that William rode to Matilda's father's house in Lille, threw her to the ground in her room (again, by the braids), and hit her (or violently shook her) before leaving. Naturally Baldwin took offense at this but, before they drew swords, Matilda settled the matter. by deciding to marry him, and even a papal ban (on the grounds of consanguinity) did not dissuade her. They were married in 1053.
There were rumours that Matilda had been in love with the English ambassador to Flanders, a Saxon named Brihtric, who declined her advances. Whatever the truth of the matter, years later when she was acting as Regent for William in England, she used her authority to confiscate Brihtric's lands and throw him into prison, where he died.
When William was preparing to invade England, Matilda outfitted a ship, the Mora, out of her own money and gave it to him. For many years it was thought that she had some involvement in the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry (commonly called La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde in French), but historians no longer believe that; it seems to have been commissioned by William's half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and made by English artists in Kent.
Matilda bore William eleven children, and he was believed to have been faithful to her, at least up until the time their son Robert rebelled against his father and Matilda sided with Robert against William. After she died, in 1083 at the age of 51, William became tyrannical, and people blamed it on his having lost her. Contrary to the belief that she was buried at St. Stephen's, also called l'Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen, Normandy, where William was eventually buried, she is intombed at l'Abbaye aux Dames, which is the Sainte-Trinité church, also in Caen. Of particular interest is the 11th century slab, a sleek black stone decorated with her epitaph, marking her grave at the rear of the church. It is of special note since the grave marker for William was replaced as recently as the beginning of the 19th century. Years later, their graves were opened and their bones measured, proving their physical statures.
Gundred (c. 1063 – 1085), wife of William de Warenne (c. 1055 – 1088), was formerly thought of as being yet another of Matilda's daughters, with speculation that she was William I's full daughter, a stepdaughter, or even a foundling or adopted daughter. However, this connection to William I has now been firmly debunked--see Gundred's discussion page for further information.
On screen, Matilda has been portrayed by Jane Wenham in the two-part BBC TV play Conquest (1966), part of the series Theatre 625, and by Anna Calder-Marshall in the TV drama Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990).