Vol. 53 No. 3 (2005)
Research Article

In the Name of Matilda: Feminine Transgression and Romantic Conceit

Published 2005-09-01



This essay explores frequent recurrences of the name Matilda throughout the British Romantic Period as a means of defining what I term the Romantic conceit, an idea whose sustained presence becomes a shared cultural construct with special meaning. The essay traces the name to primarily Continental sources, with special emphasis on Dante and Spenser, on members of the British royal family with Continental connections, and on Matthew Lewis's The Monk. The juxtaposition of historical and biographical sources suggests that the Romantics appropriated this name traditionally associated with strength and nobility to transform it into an emblem of feminine transgression and irrational behavior. Romantic Matildas are connected with physical violence, with incest, and with direct challenges to religious and political authority as presented most visibly in Gothic literature. As the Romantic Period progressed, the connotations associated with the name coalesced into a well defined set so that a mere invocation of the name also invoked revolutionary sentiment.


  1. Ackroyd, Peter. 1995. Blake: A biography. New York: Ballantine.
  2. Ashton, John. 1917. “Caroline, Amelia Elizabeth.” Dictionary of national biography. Ed. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. Vol. 3. London: Oxford University Press. 1059–62.
  3. Ashton, Rosemary. 1996. The life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
  4. Aspinall, A., ed. 1966–70. The later correspondence of George III. 5 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Barnard, John. 1999. “Keats’s ‘Robin Hood’ John Hamilton Reynolds, and the ‘old poets.’” Ed. Stephen Knight. Robin Hood: An anthology of scholarship and criticism. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer. 123–39. http://www.netlibrary.com (accessed 31 January 2005).
  6. Barton, Bernard. 1828. “The death of Robin Hood.” A New Year’s Eve and other poems. London: John Hatchard. 114–15.
  7. Bate, W. Jackson. 1963. John Keats. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  8. Bearne. 1910. Four fascinating frenchwomen. London: Unwin.
  9. Berryman, John. 1952. “Introduction.” The monk. By Matthew G. Lewis. New York: Grove Press. 11–28.
  10. Best, Thomas. 1789. MatildaiAn original poem in seven cantos. London: C. Stalker.
  11. Blain, Virginia. 1998. Caroline Bowles Southey, 1786–1854: The making of a woman writer. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  12. Blake, William. 1824–27. “Illustrations to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy,’ object 90 (Butlin 812.87): ‘Beatrice on the car with Matilda and Dante.’“ The William Blake archive. Ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi. http://www.blakearchive.org/ (accessed 31 January 2005). Path: US Home, Works in the Archive, Non-Illuminated Materials, Drawings and Paintings, Water Color Drawings,Illustrations to Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (1824–27), Illustrations to Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” 1824–27, object 90 (Butlin 812.87).
  13. Bregnsbo, Michael. 2004. “Danish absolutism and queenship: Louisa, Caroline Matilda,and Juliana Maria.” Queenship in Europe, 1660–1815: The Role of the Consort. Ed. Clarissa Campbell Orr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 344–67.
  14. Butler, Marilyn. 1999. “The good old times: Maid Marian.” Ed. Stephen Knight. Robin Hood: An anthology of scholarship and criticism. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. 141–53. http://www.netlibrary.com (accessed 31 January 2005).
  15. Byron, George Gordon. 1996. Selected poems. Ed. and pref. Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning. London: Penguin.
  16. C. A. [1809]. Malone and Matilda: A tragedy in five acts. London: N.p.
  17. Chapman, Hester W. 1972. Caroline Matilda, Queen of Denmark. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan.
  18. Chibnall, Marjorie. 1991. The Empress Matilda: Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Oxford: Blackwell.
  19. Clemit, Pamela. 2000. “From The Fields of Fancy to Matilda.” Mary Shelley in her times. Ed. Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 64–75.
  20. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 1794. “Elegy imitated from one of Akenside’s blank-verse inscriptions.” The complete poetical works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge. Vol. I. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912. 69–70.
  21. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. 802. “To Matilda Betham from a stranger.” The complete poetical works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge. Vol. I. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912. 374–76.
  22. Craciun, Adriana. 1997. “Introduction.” Zofloyaior, the moor: A romance of the fifteenth century. Peterborough, ON: Broadview. 9–32.
  23. Dacre, Charlotte. 1806. Zofloya; or, the moor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  24. Dante Alighieri. 1955. The divine comedy. Trans. Henry Francis Cary. Ed. and introd. Edmund Gardner. London: J. M. Dent.
  25. Delap, John. 1803. Dramatic poems. Lewes: W& A Lee.
  26. Dobson, R. B. and J. Taylor. 1999. “The legend since the Middle Ages.” Ed. Stephen Knight. Robin Hood: An anthology of scholarship and criticism. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer. 155–84. http://www.netlibrary.com (accessed 31 January 2005).
  27. Egestas. 1809. Old times revived. London: Cawthorn.
  28. The exile: or, Matilda of the castle and Rousina of the Alps; an historical memoir. 1820. London: N.p.
  29. Foster, E. M. 1795. The Duke of Clarence. London: Lane.
  30. Francklin, Thomas. 1775. Matilda: A tragedy. N.p.
  31. Fuller, Anne. 1787. Alan FitzOsborne: An historical tale. London: Wilkins.
  32. Gill, Stephen. 1989. William Wordsworth: A life. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  33. Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. 1990. “Matilda.” A dictionary of first names. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 229.
  34. Hanks, Patrick, Flavia Hodges, A. D. Mills, and Adrian Room. 2002. “Matilda.” The Oxford names companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 822.
  35. Hibbert, Christopher. 1972. George IV: Prince of Wales, 1762–1811. New York: Harper & Row.
  36. Hofland, Barbara. 1816. Matilda; or, the Barbadoes girl. N.p.
  37. Holmes, Richard. 1975. Shelley: The pursuit. New York: Dutton.
  38. Hunt, Leigh. 1820. “Ballads of Robin Hood.” The poetical works of Leigh Hunt. Ed. H. S. Milford. London: Oxford University Press, 1923. 103–09. Library of English literature. Los Angeles: UMF Systems/Library Resources, 1970. Fiche 10999.
  39. Inchbald, Elizabeth. 1780. Pocketbook diary, ms. M.a. 150. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington.
  40. Inchbald, Elizabeth. 1788. Pocketbook diary, ms. M.a. 153. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington.
  41. Inchbald, Elizabeth. 1789. The married man. The plays of Elizabeth Inchbald. Ed. and introd. Paula R. Backscheider. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1980.
  42. Inchbald, Elizabeth. 1791. A simple story. Ed. J. M. S. Tompkins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  43. Inchbald, Elizabeth. 1820. Pocketbook diary, ms. M.a. 157. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington.
  44. Ingram, Henry. 1830. Matilda; a tale of the Crusades. London: N.p.
  45. Keats, John. 1820. “Robin Hood.” Complete poems. Ed. Jack Stillinger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. 169–70.
  46. Keats, John. 1848. King Stephen. Complete poems. Ed. Jack Stillinger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982. 378–84.
  47. Knight, Stephen, ed. 1999. Robin Hood: An anthology of scholarship and criticism. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer. http://www.netlibrary.com (accessed 31 January 2005).
  48. Labbe, Jacqueline M. 2000. “The anthologised romance of Della Crusca and Anna Matilda.” Romanticism on the net 18, http://users.ox.ac.uk/-scat0385/181abbe.html (accessed 13 December 2004).
  49. Lee, Sophia. 1785. The recess; or, a tale of other times. New York: Arno Press, 1972.
  50. Lewis, Matthew. 1796. The monk: A romance. Ed., introd., and notes Christopher MacLachlan. London: Penguin, 1998.
  51. Lewis, W. S. 1969. “Introduction.” The castle of Otranto. By Horace Walpole. London: Oxford University Press, vii-xvi.
  52. Longmore, George. 1827. Matilda: or, the Crusades. 5th ed. London: N.p.
  53. Mackenzie, Anna Maria. 1800. Feudal events, or, Days of yore. London: Lane.
  54. MacLachlan, Christopher. 1998. “Introduction.” The monk: A romance. By Matthew Lewis. London: Penguin.
  55. The man of sensibility; or the history of Edward and Matilda. 1810. 2 vols. London: Vernor & Co.
  56. Marchand, Leslie. 1957. Byron: A biography. 3 vols. New York: Knopf.
  57. Matilda; or the adventures of an orphan: An interesting tale. [1804]. London: N.p.
  58. Matilda; or, the efforts of virtue. 1785. London: W. Lane.
  59. Matilda and Fanny, or, the sisters of Rosedale. [1828]. London: Dean & Munday.
  60. Matilda: A tale of the day. 1825. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn.
  61. Matilda: A tragedy. 1811. Trans, of Voltaire’s Le Duc de Foix. N.p.
  62. Mosse, Henrietta. 1807. A peep at our ancestors. London: Lane, Newman & Co.
  63. The mountain piper; or the history of Edgar and Matilda. [1770]. London: E. Newberry.
  64. Murray, E. B. 1972. Ann Radcliffe. New York: Twayne.
  65. Musgrave, Agnes. 1795. Cicely; or the rose of Raby. London: [Lane].
  66. Musgrave, Agnes. 1797. Edmund of the forest. London: Lane.
  67. Pain, Nesta. 1978. Empress Matilda: Uncrowned queen of England. Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London.
  68. Paley, Morton D. 1996. “Coleridge’s ‘To Matilda Betham, from a stranger.” The Wordsworth circle 27.3: 169–72.
  69. Peacock, Thomas Love. 1822. Maid Marian. London: T. Hookham. Library of English literature. Los Angeles: UMF Systems/Library Resources, 1978. Fiche 12590.
  70. Pollin, Burton. 1968. “Byron, Poe, and Miss Matilda.” Names 16: 390–414.
  71. Rattcliffe [Radcliffe], Anne. 1796. The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A highland story. Philadelphia: Thomas Bradford. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.
  72. Richards, George. 1795. Matilda; or, the dying penitent. Oxford: N.p.
  73. Ritson, Joseph. 1795. Robin Hood: A collection of all the ancient poems, songs, and ballads, now extant, relative to that celebrated English outlaw. London: Egerton and Johnson.
  74. Roe, Albert S. 1953. Blake’s illustrations to the Divine Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  75. Scott, Walter. 1820. Ivanhoe. Ed. and introd. Graham Tulloch. London: Penguin, 1998.
  76. Sharpe, Richard Scrafton. 1801. Matilda: or, the Welch cottage, a poetic tale. London: R. Dutton.
  77. Shelley, Mary. 1959/1990. Mathilda. The Mary Shelley reader. Ed. Betty T. Bennett and Charles E. Robinson. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 173–246.
  78. Shelley, Mary. 1959/1992. Matilda. Mary / Maria / Matilda. By Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. Ed. Janet Todd. London: Penguin. 149–210.
  79. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. 1810. Zastrozzi: A romance. London: Hesperus Press, 2002.
  80. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. 1820. “Matilda gathering flowers.” The complete works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck. Vol. 4. New York: Gordian, 1965.
  81. The sorrows of Matilda, a novel. 1798. London: Lee & Hurst.
  82. Spenser, Edmund. 1596. The Faerie Queene. Poetical works. Ed. J. C. Smith and E. de Selincourt. London: Oxford University Press, 1912. 1–413.
  83. Stuart, Dorothy Margaret. 1939. The daughters of George III. London: Macmillan.
  84. Sunstein, Emily W. 1975. A different face: The life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Harper & Row.
  85. [Thelwall, John]. 1792. The rock of Modrec. London: N.p.
  86. Thomson, Douglass H. 2002. “Charlotte Dacre [Rosa Matilda] (1771/1772?—1825).” Gothic writers: A critical and bibliographical guide. Ed. Douglass H. Thomson, Jack G. Voller, and Frederick S. Frank. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 99–103.
  87. Uhldal. 1772. “Reply of the avocat Uhldal to the High Court of Justice on the trial between his Majesty the King, and the Queen Caroline Matilda.” Stowe ms. 254. British Library, London.
  88. Walpole, Horace. 1765. The castle of Otranto: A gothic story. Ed. W. S. Lewis. London: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  89. Ward, Adolphus William. 1917. “Caroline Matilda.” Dictionary of national biography. Ed. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. Vol. 3. London: Oxford University Press. 1054–59.
  90. Wilkins, W. H. 1904. A queen of tears: Caroline MatildaiQueen of Denmark and Norway and Princess of Great Britain and Ireland. 2 vols. New York: Longmans.
  91. Wilson, Lisa M. 1998. “Female pseudonymity in the Romantic ‘age of personality’: The career of Charlotte King/Rosa Matilda/Charlotte Dacre.” European Romantic review 9.3: 393–420.
  92. Withycombe, E. G. 1977. “Matilda, Maud(e).” The Oxford dictionary of English Christian names. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 212–13.
  93. Wollstonecraft, Mary. 1796. Letters written during a short residence in SwedeniNorwayiand Denmark. London: J. Johnson. Library of English literature. Los Angeles: UMF Systems/Library Resources, 1978. Fiche 12511.
  94. Woodland, M. 1810. Matilda Mortimer; or, false pride: A moral tale. London: B. Tabart & Co.