Matilda (or Maude) of England, perhaps more commonly known as Empress Matilda, was the only legitimate daughter of King Henry I of England and Matilda of Scotland. When her only brother, William Adelin, died in the White Ship disaster of 1120, it left Henry I without a male heir and he therefore designated Matilda his heir.
At the age of 12, Matilda had been married to the future Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. They were crowned in 1116 and henceforth Matilda was known as Empress Matilda. Henry V died in 1125 and left Matilda a widow at the relatively tender age of 23. However, as Matilda was her father’s heir, she couldn’t remain childless and Henry I began looking for an appropriate husband for her. He found the 13-year-old Geoffrey of Anjou they married in 1128. This second marriage produced three sons: Henry, Geoffrey and William.
Circumstances would have it that Matilda was in Normandy, pregnant with her third son, at the time of her father’s death in England in 1135. Her cousin, Stephen of Blois, saw this as a perfect opportunity to seize the throne for himself and so he did, backed by the crowds in London. As Matilda refused to give up her right to the throne, this led to year of civil war and unrest in England, a period known as The Anarchy, that did not end till 1154 when Stephen agreed to name her eldest son, Henry (later King Henry II), his heir.
In April 1141, Matilda and her forces did manage to capture Stephen at the battle of Lincoln and technically, she was the ruler of England for nine months. However, the reason why she isn’t widely recognised as the first female ruler of England is that during these nine months, she never managed to get crowned or consolidate her rule. Instead, she assumed the title Lady of the English. In November 1141, she was forced to give up her throne when her half-brother and most loyal supporter Robert of Gloucester was captured by Stephen’s forces. Matilda, however, never stopped campaigning for her and her son’s rightful claim to the English throne and she lived to see her son ascend to the English throne as Henry II in 1154.