This is, quite simply, a modern myth. There is no evidence, contemporary or otherwise, to support it. It derives entirely from an excavation of Matilda’s tomb in Caen carried out in 1959, during which the scanty remains of her skeleton were measured. The French press at the time reported that she was only 127cm (4’2”) tall, and this arresting ‘fact’ soon found its way into the next generation of history books. But it was not true. Twenty years or so later, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Sir Jack Dewhurst, didn’t believe a word of it. Matilda, he pointed out, gave birth to at least nine healthy children, eight of whom grew to adulthood. The queen could not have done this had she been 4’2”. Dewhurst, who was writing a book about royal confinements, made enquiries with Professor Dastague (Institut d'Anthropologie, Caen) who had led the original dig, and was told that they had never claimed Matilda was so short. In fact they had concluded that she was 152cm (about 5’). As Dewhurst points out in his article, this height is far more compatible with Matilda’s successful multiple pregnancies.
*(Actually, the monastery in question had nuns not monks.) Share
But that doesn’t solve the problem beyond reasonable doubt. In the first place, the skeleton that the archaeologists examined in 1959 was far from complete; Matilda’s height was extrapolated from her femur and tibia. Second, and more problematic still, the excavation of 1959 was not the first time that the queen’s remains had been disturbed. The tomb had been destroyed during the Huguenot revolutions of the sixteenth century and its contents scattered. Whether or not the remains measured in 1959 actually belonged to Matilda thus depends on how diligent the monks* of La Trinité were when they returned to sweep up. (Read more.)