Letters from Matilda, Queen of England, to Saint Anselm

Dated around 1100

To: The lord and reverend father, Ansel m, Archbishop of the foremost see [Canterbury], and primate of all the Irish islands of the Northern hemisphere, which are called the Orkneys:

From: Matilda, by God's grace, Queen of the English people, his most humble handmaid. Once the course o f this present life is happily over, may she arrive at its goal, which is Christ.

There is almost no doubt that you thwart nature in your daily fasting. This is not unknown to me. What amazes me most is that after long fasts you take your usual f ood, not because nature requires it, but because someone on your personal staff insists. Frequent reports from reliable witnesses have persuaded me of the truth of this. I have also learned that your intake of food is so scanty that you might be said to have done a violence to nature by deliberately weakening it rather than by attacking it directly.

It is for these reasons that many people, and I count myself first among them, are afraid that the body of such a wonderful priest might waste away. This is a priest whose kindness binds me to him through ties of obligation, a priest who is a strong athlete of God and a victor over human nature. The peace of the realm and the dignity of the priesthood have been strengthened and defended through the continued energy of this priest, this steward of God, this wise and faithful man. By his blessing I was consecrated in holy matrimony; through his anointing I was raised to the dignity of holy rule as queen. Through his prayers, I shall be crowned in h eavenly glory--by God's grace.

It is to be feared that his body may wither away, that the windows of his eyesight and hearing and other senses will grow dull, that his spiritually edifying voice will grow hoarse, that his voice--which once gave to quiet gentle discussion the qualities of song and speech most sweet to God--may grow quieter from now on. Then, people who are at that time farther away from you may well be deprived of hearing your voice and may lack its benefit.

Do not, theref ore, good and sainted father, give up your bodily strength by such inopportune fasting as this, for fear "The orator's gift is not only talent, but lung power." Once this is gone, your great spiritual eminence will soon be lost, and so would your great m emory of the past and your ability to foresee the future. So much art, so much learning, so much invention, so much understanding of human affairs, as well as the clear wisdom of the divine, would soon be lost.

Consider the abundance of talents t hat your rich Lord has given you. consider what god has entrusted to you and what then may be required. Reap the profit for the common use, for once this profit has been reaped itself, it will shine forth more beautifully and may be yielded up to the Lo rd with manifold interest.

Do not deprive yourself of these two things in turn. Just as spiritual drink and food are necessary to the soul, so are physical drink and food necessary for the soul. You must, therefore, eat and drink, since by God's grace, the great path of this life remains to you. A great harvest is to planted, hoed, weighed, and gathered to God's granary, so that no thief can carry it off. You see that there are very few day-laborers in this greatest of harvests. You have emba rked on this labor on behalf of many people, so that you will be able to bring back wealth to many.

Remember, in truth, that you hold the place of John, the apostle and beloved of the Lord, whom the Lord wanted to survive him so that this virgin, cherished and chosen above all others, might take care of the Virgin-Mother. You have undertaken the care that must be assumed of Mother Church, out of whose womb have come your brothers and sisters in Christ. These people are in daily peril unless you come to their assistance with great devotion. Christ himself, who redeemed them with his own blood, has entrusted them to you.

O shepherd of so great a God, feed his flock so that it does not fall by the wayside untended! Let the holy priest M artin be an example to you--indescribable man who, although he foresaw that his heavenly repose was prepared for him, nevertheless said that he would not refuse to labor for the peopleÕs needs.

Indeed, I know that you are encouraged and strengthen ed in your fasting by the examples of many people, and by the many testimonies of Scripture. Still, diligent reading has often shown you how, after fasting, the ravens fed Elijah, the widow fed Elisha, and the angel fed Daniel according to Habakkuk. Moses, once he had fasted, deserved, through his merit, to read the tablets written by the finger of God, and recovered them in the same way once they had been broken. Several such examples incite you to the frugality of the pagans, (everyone knows that you have read of the sobriety of Pythagoras, Socrates, Antisthenes, and the other philosophers). There are too many such to count, and it is not necessary to do so for the little treatise at hand.

We must, therefore, come to the grace of the New L aw. Christ Jesus, who consecrated fasting, when he went to the wedding feast where he changed water to wine, and when he attended the banquet of Simon. There, after he drove the seven demons from Mary, he fed her for the first time with spiritual dishes . He did not refuse the mean of Zacchaeus, whom he pulled back from the power of the earthly army and called to the army of heaven.

Listen, father; listen to Paul's urging to Timothy to drink wine for the pain in his stomach, when he said, "Do no t drink water now." Clearly, he indicates that he had previously drunk nothing but water. Imitate Gregory, who relieved the weakness and fatigue of is stomach with the comfort of food and drink, while he continued without interruption and in a manly way with his teaching and preaching. So, then, do as he did, that like him you may arrive at Jesus Christ, the fountain of life and the loftily mountain, with whom he has long rejoiced and will rejoice forever and ever in immortal glory.

Let your ho liness flourish in the Lord, and with your prayers do not cease to help me, your faithful servant who cherishes you with all the affection in her heart. Deign to receive, read, heed, and obey this letter, which is not framed with art, but rather sent wit h strong and faithful love, from me to you.


Return to Women Writers Table of Contents

Bonnie Duncan
English Department
Millersville University
bduncan@marauder.millersv.edu
L ast edited January 6, 1996