Tuesday, 23 September 2014

That Son of Perdition: Geoffrey Duke of Brittany

Today marks the 856th anniversary of the birth of Geoffrey, the younger brother of Henry the Young King, in England on 23 September 1158. Incidentally, at the time of his arrival, his father, King Henry II, was on the Continent, visiting Paris, where Princess Marguerite (b.1157/1158), the baby daughter of Louis VII of France and Constance of Castile, was confided to his care as the future bride for his eldest surviving son, Henry [our Henry]. But back to Geoffrey- as the fourth son (third surviving) he was to become the duke of Brittany upon his marriage to Constance, the only daughter and heiress of Duke Conan IV, in 1181. The ducal couple was to rule Brittany effectively till Geoffrey's untimely death in 1186. When he lived, Geoffrey supported his brother Henry in his revolts aginst their father, and later their brother Richard. After Henry's premature death in 1183, he allied himself with their youngest brother John [Lackland] against Richard, and later with Philippe Auguste, the king of France, against both his father and Richard. Little wonder the contemporary chroniclers found nothing but condemning words for him, calling him- among others- "that son of perdition" and "that son of iniquity". To find out what the real Geoffrey was, to understand his motives and to celebrate his birthday, I have invited Mr. Malcolm Craig, the expert in Geoffrey and his family, to tell us a few words about a remarkable discovery he made while working on his thesis in Brittany in the 1970s.

I am deeply honoured to welcome you to our humble abode, Mr. Craig. Thank you for accepting my invitation. Could you tell us why Geoffrey? Of all Eleanor and Henry's sons, why him? Why not Richard or John or Henry the Young King?

My favorite medieval century is the 12th, and my preferred area of study is France and England. These preferences fit the Norman-Angevin royal family well, and Henry II was the King of England I always found most interesting. For my senior thesis topic at Harvard College, Geoffrey was the obvious choice among Henry and Eleanor's adult sons, since his life and career had been by far the least studied. I knew very little about Brittany when I began work on the thesis. I have learned much about France's western peninsula through subsequent study, and I came to love Brittany while my wife Allys and I lived in Rennes for 8 months.

Mr. Malcolm Craig atop Notre-Dame de Paris on 8 February 1974, after he had seen Geoffrey's plaque in the cathedral. 

As Marion Meade said in her biography of Geoffrey's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine: "On September 23, 1158, without fuss or fanfare and almost seeming to be an afterthought, she gave birth to another son, Geoffrey." We know that of all Henry and Eleanor's sons Geoffrey is the least known, not to say utterly forgotten. Historians seem not to care about the duke among kings, as he could be called. But what about Geoffrey's parents? Do you truly believe they treated him as an afterthought? It is my impression that things might have looked quite different.

As I said in answer to your first question, I chose to study Geoffrey's career for the very reason that it had been so neglected by mainstream historians. The neglect by historians is partly explained by the fact that he never became a king. It is disappointing that many historians continue to repeat the old stereotypes in relation to Geoffrey, despite the recent work of Judith Everard (references below), who clearly demonstrated Geoffrey's competence and tact in his administration of Brittany. It is clear that Geoffrey is the one son who was never the favorite of either parent, though I believe "afterthought" is an exaggeration. Perhaps he was a practical and competent son who was less than lovable. In this regard, a quote from Richard Barber, Henry Plantagenet (1964), is apt:

Geoffrey, though skilled in military affairs, eloquent and astute, never won men's hearts or admiration as his elder brothers had done; he took after his Angevin grandfather, in whose dry and ambitious nature these three qualities predominated. (page 220)

Henry II did not neglect his third surviving son, affiancing him to a great heiress. Constance brought Brittany on the Continent and the Honor of Richmond in England to Geoffrey. Typically for Henry, however, he delayed his son's independent rule of these acquisitions. Geoffrey was active in Brittany as his father's agent during the late 1170s, but his accession as Duke was delayed until his marriage with Constance in 1181, when he was 23. He did not receive control of the Honor of Richmond until 1183, and the County of Nantes was withheld from him until 1185 or 1186. Despite his demonstrated abilities as both an administrator and a soldier, his father only granted him real authority slowly and grudgingly. Geoffrey's mother did mourn her loss. Eleanor wrote to the pope, while Richard remained in captivity after the Third Crusade: "My posterity has been snatched from me . . . . The young king and the Count of Brittany sleep in the dust. Their unhappy mother is forced to live on, tormented by their memory." (Quoted by Amy Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (1950), p. 440.)

                                                     Geoffrey's plaque in the cathedral

What did you learn about Geoffrey while working on the thesis and later, during your stay in Brittany? Was he really, as Roger of Howden called him, a son of iniquity and perdition? Are there still traces of Geoffrey to be found? I mean his and Constance's foundations, residences, documents, etc.

My senior thesis was titled "The Career of Geoffrey Duke Brittany," since there was not sufficient material for a biography. While working on the thesis, I learned a great deal about that career, about Breton history in the 12th century, and about Geoffrey's relations with other members of his family. Geoffrey was called "filius perditionis" and "filius iniquitatis" by Roger of Howden, only in relation to the rebellion of 1183. Gerald of Wales, who was not favorably disposed toward the Angevins, had other negative things to say about Geoffrey. The chief surviving traces of Geoffrey and Constance are in their documents. For a modern edition of these documents, see Judith Everard and Michael Jones, The Charters of Duchess Constance of Brittany and Her Family, 1171-1221 (1999). Charter C20 is the one I used to prove the existence of their second daughter. The volume includes two plates showing copies of original charters. Dr. Everard's Brittany and the Angevins, Province and Empire, 1158-1203 (2000), demonstrates how effectively Geoffrey ruled Brittany, iure uxore with Constance, during the five years before his untimely death. The Chronicle of St.-Brieuc, compiled more than 200 years after his ducal rule in Brittany ended, stated that while Geoffrey lived he treated the Breton population well ("dulciter tractavit"). While this is not contemporary evidence, it may well reflect a long-standing tradition in Brittany. I did find the trace of Geoffrey in Paris. In February 1974, when Allys and I visited Notre-Dame, where Geoffrey was buried, we located the plaque in his honor. It includes an incorrect year of death, 1185 rather than 1186.

And this leads us to your remarkable discovery of the second daughter of Geoffrey and Constance.

As explained in detail in a note called "Proving Matilda" that Sharon Kay Penman included in her blog in 2010, there was an unproven statement about Geoffrey's family that I had encountered during research for the senior thesis. I had kept this bit of information in the back of my mind for more than six years.

You must have been tremendously excited about discovering and confirming the existence of that unknown child. Did you realize then that from that time your life and Geoffrey's would become inextricable?

While doing research in Brittany on a much broader topic, I was examining acts of the rulers of Brittany published by the 19th century Breton historian Arthur de la Borderie. When I read the 1189 document containing the donation of Duchess Constance to the abbey of St.-Gildas de Rhuys, made for the salvation of the soul of the duchess and for the souls of her father Conan, her husband Geoffrey, and her daughter Matilda, I knew exactly what I had found. Ralph de Diceto had written that Geoffrey had left two daughters, and Dom Lobineau (1707) had called her "Mathilde." Any historical discovery is exciting, but there in our apartment in Rennes, in January 1974, I was not sure what I would do with the discovery of this evidence. As I explained in Proving Matilda, Allys and I saw Professor Martin Havran in London during the next month, and he steered me in an appropriate direction for publication of this new information.

How does it feel to make such a significant historical discovery? You have brought the little Matilda back to life, after all. I would even risk the statement that you have given her back to her parents. Thanks to you, she has emerged from obscurity and back onto the pages of history. In my view, there is no "bigger" feat to be accomplished by an historian.

From the time of my research at Harvard in 1966-67, my life had become entwined with the records of Geoffrey's too-brief life. Proving the existence of a little girl who lived for no more than two or three years in the 12th century was significant because of the importance of her family.

How was your life and work in Brittany? Was it difficult to follow in Geoffrey's footsteps? Did you receive any help and support from fellow historians?

Allys and I had already lived in Canada for a school year, when I earned my M.A. at the University of Toronto. Living in France, where we became familiar with a different culture and learned to speak a foreign language, was an even more enriching experience. Naturally, there was an immense amount of source material on medieval Breton history, both published and unpublished, available in Brittany. We were able to travel on occasion, visiting Paris three times, the south of France between Christmas and New Year, and London in February 1974. We also saw other parts of Brittany and nearby Normandy and toured the Loire Valley with my mother and aunt when they visited. The Breton medievalist, Hubert Guillotel, whom I met in the spring of 1974, was very helpful. When we were on our way out of the country in June, he got me into the Bibliothèque Nationale, where I spent two days on research for the Matilda article. As I have said, my research covered a much wider topic than Geoffrey and his career. From time to time, while living in Rennes, I would think about Geoffrey and Constance living there nearly 800 years before we did.

Since we are here, in the realm of Geoffrey's elder brother Henry, I feel obliged to ask: do you think Geoffrey and Henry were close? They were allies in their revolts, this we know, but as brothers?

As far as one can tell, the relations between Henry and Geoffrey remained cordial as long as both brothers lived. They may have been united by their mutual antipathy toward Richard, the brother born between them. Since Henry was the designated heir to their father's domains, Geoffrey showed political wisdom by supporting the eldest brother. In 1184, Geoffrey and Constance founded a chaplaincy at the cathedral of Rouen for the soul of his late brother. A copy of this document is found on page 14 of Dr. Everard's Charters.

What if Henry had not died in 1183? Did he and Geoffrey have realistic chances of defeating their father and Richard?

I think not. As the events in 1183 demonstrated, when Henry used his immense resources to support Richard, the other two brothers were no match for his combination with Richard, though intervention by the French king might have tilted the balance. At that time, John was still a teenager, and not yet involved in the intra-familial strife.

What course might history have taken had Geoffrey not died in 1186?

There is really no way to tell what course events would have taken between 1186 and 1189. It is difficult to envision Richard and Geoffrey being on the same side. So the combination of Richard and Philip against Henry alone would not have been likely. Whichever brother was allied with the Capetian king, the other brother would probably have remained loyal to their father. Once Henry II was gone, Geoffrey would have had to reconcile himself to Richard's position as ruler of England, Normandy, and Anjou. Whether Richard would have gone on the Third Crusade and left such a competent brother behind is another question. Had Geoffrey lived through the end of the 12th century, he would have followed Richard as King of England.

What books on Geoffrey would you recommend? Are there any?

I have mentioned the pioneering study of late 12th century Brittany by Judith Everard, citing the two books she published at the end of the 20th century. There, one will find the most comprehensive and carefully reasoned analysis of Geoffrey's rule in Brittany in print. In his second edition of The Angevin Empire (2001), John Gillingham takes Dr. Everard's scholarship fully into account. For a contemporary view on Geoffrey's government, I cite Richard Barber's translation of a poem by Bertran de Born, who compared him to his elder brothers:

If only Geoffrey, noble duke of Brittany
Had been the eldest of the English princes;
For he's a better ruler than you both!

Finally, though she writes historical novels rather than straight history, it is my opinion that Sharon Kay Penman has captured Geoffrey's character extraordinarily well in both Time and Chance and Devil's Brood.

Thank you for paying a visit to Henry the Young King blog and for doing me the rare honour of welcoming you to our humble abode, Mr. Craig. I do believe that the above interview is the best birthday present Duke Geoffrey could get.

Mr. Malcolm Craig was born in Massachusetts, where his mother's family had lived for more than 300 years. When his father became a Professor of Meteorology at Florida State University, the family moved to Florida, where Malcolm attended high school. He returned home to attend Harvard College and earn a B.A. in Medieval History. Soon after graduation, he married Allys Palladino. They moved 13 times during the first 13 years of their marriage, living in Massachusetts, Canada, Virginia, France, and finally back in Florida again. There has been only one more move since 1980, when the first of their three sons was born, and that was for a distance of one block on the same street. Malcolm has an M.A. in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto, and he studied Medieval History for several years at the University of Virginia. His dissertation on medieval Brittany and England was not completed, due partly to the need to work full-time with a growing family and partly to the declining job market for university historians. He explains his 30-odd years of work as a bureaucrat by the origins of modern bureaucracy in medieval England. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Louis VII of France, the Father-in-Law of Henry the Young King

Yesterday marked the 834th anniversary of Louis VII of France's death on 18 September 1180. I am not going to discuss Louis's career as a king of France. This I leave to my friend, Mr. Richard Willis, who wrote a brilliant post about the monarch. It is Louis the father-in-law of Henry the Young King who interests me today. As a matter of fact, I find it necessary to mention that Louis was the first husband of Henry's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Unfortunately- or quite fortunately, as it turned out- the marriage proved to be as complete a failure as the Second Crusade, in which both Eleanor and Louis took part (he as one of the leaders). In 1152 the couple obtained the annulment, oficially on the grounds of consaguity, which, apparently had been overlooked for fifteen years of their marriage (hmm...). It was common knowledge, however, that Louis wanted to get rid of his wife because she had been unable to give him the much anticipated male heir. The annulment resulted in... founding the Plantagenet dynasty. "But how?", you may ask. Let me explain: precisely six weeks after the divorce was granted, Eleanor, that shameless woman, had a cheek to marry Henry Fitz Empress, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and heir presumptive to the English throne. To make things even worse, scarcely a year passed when she gave birth to a healthy BOY. Two years later another boy was born (the one of interest to us). She was to give her second husband five boys in total. One may only wonder what Louis thought about it, especially that his second wife, Constance of Castile, just like Eleanor before her, gave him only two daughters. The elder of them, Marguerite was bethrothed to our Henry in 1158 and married off to him two years later, on 2 November 1160. Louis did not attend the wedding, for he had no idea it was taking place. Henry II outmanoeuvred him, and having the papal legates at hand, seized the opportunity to gain control of Marguerite's dowry, the Norman Vexin*, which he was to get after the children were wed sometime in distant future- that was at least how Louis must have envisaged it. 

Louis VII of France, with his third wife, Adele of Blois, shown holding his son (source: Wikipedia)

As I said, all the above occured in 1160, but when exactly our Henry met his father-in-law in person for the first time? It seems that their first meeting took place shortly before Henry and Marguerite's wedding, in October, when Henry's father and Louis renewed peaceful negotiations- they were practically at war since Henry's unsuccessful Toulouse campaign of 1159 during which Louis had chosen to come to his brother-in-law Raymond St Giles's aid. The meeting was arranged at the marches of Normandy. On the occasion five-year-old Henry did homage to his father-in-law for the Duchy of Normandy. Louis content- as it seemed- with the outcome of negotiations, went back to Paris where he busied himself with preparations for his hasty wedding to Adela of Blois, which was to be his third wife** Apparently the border meeting dulled his vigilance, for he never saw the blow coming. Only later did he learn that the afore-mentioned five-year-old prince became his son-in-law in the opening days of November. It took Louis and Henry II two years to be reconciled.

But let us not get distracted from the main subject of this post. The meeting on the Norman marches opened the series of similar conferences that were to take place during Henry's entire life. Louis was Henry's father-in-law, but let's not forget that he was, first and foremost, his liege lord. The meeting well worth a mention occured at Montmirail, a town of Maine, near to the French frontier and to Chartres, in January 1169. On the feast of Epiphany Henry II, accompanied by his three eldest sons (John was but three years old at the time), agreed that he and his son Henry were to hold Normandy, doing fealty to Louis and his son Philippe. Additionaly Prince Henry was to hold Brittany, Maine and Anjou and the honorary title of Seneschal of France was to be bestowed upon him by Louis*** Henry and Richard did homage to Louis the following day (7 January). Soon after the meeting, on 2 February, Henry attended his father-in-law's court and performed the office of the Seneschal of France (previously held by Theobald of Blois). It was then perhaps that young Henry and Louis came to know each other better.

When the fifteen-year-old Henry was crowned king in 1170, Louis was enraged that his daughter, Marguerite, was not crowned with her husband. It is hard to believe, however, that he blamed his son-in-law. After all it was Henry II, who pulled the strings. Three years later Henry the Young King rebelled against his father and this time Louis was said to have dipped his oar in already troubled waters by inciting his son-in-law to stand against his sire.**** The Young King did pay a visit to his father-in-law's court four months prior to the outbreak of the revolt (in November 1172), true, but it could not be Louis's scheming itself that galvanized him into action. Let's not forget that the Young King was not a dolt and was uble to think and decide for himself. We can be pretty sure, however, that the French king's conduct as Henry's chief ally and commander in chief during the Great Revolt must have left his son-in-law disillusioned not only about Louis's military and political skills, but also about his piety and sincerity. Louis's blatant violation of the agreements at both the siege of Verneuil in 1173 and the siege of Rouen in 1174, must have been a profoundly disturbing experience for his young son-in-law especially that he was the eyewitness to it.***** When peace was restored and Henry and his brothers met their father to discuss the terms of agreement at Mt Louis, between Tours and Amboise, on 30 September 1174, they did it, as Roger of Howden reports, "by the advice and consent of the king and barons of France". In the light of Louis's shameful conduct- encouraging his son-in-law to oppose his father, violating the terms of truce at Verneuil and later Rouen plus excluding the then sevnteen-year-old Richard "from all benefit of the truce" and leaving him on his own to fight against his father in Poitou- how does his taking on the role of a "peace-maker" look like. Not that our Henry was an innocent, no. But judging from the chronicles of the time, his powerful allies, Louis among them, paid him little heed (in his account of the siege of Rouen Howden does not even mention him as one of the commanders). I wonder what Henry must have been thinking when three years later he witnessed a historic moment: on 21 September 1177, at Ivri, both his father and his father-in-law swore to take the cross. 

In 1179 Louis had his only son crowned king. He himself, “labouring under old age and a paralytic malady”, did not attend the coronation which took place at Reims on All Saints' Day. As I wrote in one of my previous posts, Henry the Young King together with his younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, represented his father on the occasion, carrying Philippe's crown in the procesion and supporting his head during the ceremony itself. He stood close behind and bent forward to hold the crown upon the boy’s head, and thus relieve him of its weight. ‘This implied’, Ralph of Diceto observes, ‘that if ever the French needed help they could safely ask for it from one who had helped at their king’s coronation’. Kate Norgate interprets this act of kindness as the symbol and harbinger of the later political attitude of Henry’s father towards the boy-king of France. Louis must have known about it. Perhaps the Young King paid a visit to his ailing father-in-law and assured him of his and his father's readiness to support young Philippe. It must have been the last time Henry saw and talked to his father-in-law. Louis died a year afterwards, on 18 September 1180. I have not been able to find any record that he and his son-in-law ever met again.

* To learn more about the Norman Vexin, that heated point of contention between England and France, read a brilliant post by Mr. Richard Willis here.

** Constance of Castile died a month earlier, in September, after giving birth to yet one more daughter, Alais, the younger sister of Marguerite.

*** Prince Richard was to hold Aquitaine and marry Louis's daughter, the younger Alais (Louis had two daughters of that name, the elder by Eleanor, the younger by Constance of Castile) and Prince Geoffrey Brittany under Prince Henry.

**** This is how Roger of Howden described Louis's part in the outbreak of the Great Revolt of 1173-74:

'Louis, king of France, who always held the king of England in hatred, counselled the new king of England, as soon as he should arrive in Normandy, to request the king, his father, to give him either the whole of England or the whole of Normandy, where he himself might reside with his daughter. He further advised him, if his father will be willing to grant him neither of those countries, to return, together with his queen to France to him...' (The Annals, p. 362)

***** Let's not forget that Henry was known for being the epitome of chivalry.


Ralph of Diceto. Images of History. In The Plantagenet Chronicles, ed. Dr.Elizabeth Hallam Greenwich Edition, 2002.

The Annals of Roger of Hoveden   http://archive.org/details/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft

Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II by Robert William Eyton, 1878. Internet Archive. http://archive.org/details/courthouseholdit00eyto

The Government of Philip Augustus by John W. Baldwin. Google Books.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade. Pheonix Press Paperback, 2002.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Henry the Young King Takes Centre Stage II

Some time ago I wrote about a new biography of Henry the Young King by Professor Matthew Strickland which is to be ""the first full length study for a century of the eldest son and principal heir of Henry II". For further details check here. Today I have some exciting news to report as well: yesterday saw the publication of the long-awaited second part of Ms Elizabeth Chadwick's Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, The Winter Crown. To my utter delight, Henry [the future Young King] gets a mention already in the first sentence of the novel. He attends his parents' coronation, giving his mother a vigorous kick in her womb as the Archbishop of Canterbury places the crown on her head!!! He is but seven months old and leads a very eventful prenatal life, it seems :-) For example, he can boast about, no more no less, but crossing the Narrow Sea in the royal boat esnecca (we can read about it in the first part of the trilogy, The Summer Queen). Anyway, in the first chapter of The Winter Crown Henry is given a mention five times in total, but see for yourself. You can read the whole chapter here

Hurrah for Henry the Young King!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Two September Deaths

10 September 1167 saw the passing of one of the most important figures of the 12th century, Henry the Young King's paternal grandmother, Empress Matilda (b.1102). Matilda died at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Prés, near Rouen and was buried at the Abbaye du Bec, the religious house she had cherished throughout her life. The monks, following their benefactress’s wish, interred her body before the altar of the Virgin Mary. According to Stephen (known as Stephen of Rouen- Fr. Etienne de Rouen), one of the monks, when she died the flower of the meadow (Fr.le pré) withered and a star fell. It was the first time when Empress Matilda was compared to a flower. Usually she was described in different terms, such as ‘haughty, hard, inflexible and lacking feminine qualities’. She is still best remembered for pitching England into a disastrous civil war while trying to win back what she considered her rightful inheritance. And she might have won, had she only not alienated those whom she ought to have treated with due respect. Her chief allies, David I, king of Scotland (her maternal uncle) and Robert of Gloucester (her half-brother and the eldest of Henry I numerous illegitimate children) were influential backing in her war against Stephen, but proved not enough to overcome the main obstacle, Matilda’s own personality. Instead of trying to win as much support as possible, the Empress showed the same lack of political acumen as her enemy and cousin, king Stephen. After ‘God’s judgment was passed on’ Stephen and he was captured at the battle of Lincoln, ‘the Empress was regarded as their lady by all the English except in Kent, where the queen and William of Ypres fought against her with all their might. She was first recognized by the bishop of Winchester, the papal legate [and Stephen’s brother], and soon after by the Londoners. But she was puffed up with intolerable pride because her followers had been so successful in the uncertainties of war, and she alienated everyone from her. So, 'whether by conspiracy or by divine providence (for whatever men do is by the will of God) she was expelled from London’. She had levied a heavy tax from the citizens (who showed enough eagerness to support her cause) and offended nobles who could have provided arms, ipso facto turning their loyalty and willingness to cooperate into resistance. Still it is hard not to admire her iron will and determination. She was an exceptional and powerful woman in an age dominated by men. Tough and ambitious, she never deviated from her political aims. In the end, it was she who won and lived to see her beloved eldest son, Henry crowned king of England. Her epitaph in the Rouen Cathedral (to which her remains were moved from Bec) reads, “Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring, here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife and mother of Henry”.
                    15th-century depiction of the Empress (source: Wikipedia)

The epitaph does not mention the Empress's second husband*, the founder of the Plantagenet dynastywho was an exceptional man in his own right** and whom she outlived for sixteen years. Geoffrey of Anjou, for he was the man, died on 7 September 1151. This is how John of Marmoutier, Geoffrey's first biographer, described his sudden death at the Chateau-du-Loir, in the Pays de la Loire region of France: ‘… on 7 September 1151, the victorious duke of the Normans, of the people of Anjou, Touraine and Maine, returning from a royal council [held in Paris by Louis VII of France], having been taken seriously ill with a fever [after he went to swim on a hot day] … collapsed on his couch. Then, looking into the future of his land and his people with the spirit of prophecy, he forbade Henry his heir to introduce the customs of Normandy or England into his own county, nor the reverse, as it might be, according to the succession of changing fortune’. Geoffrey was only thirty-eight at the time and did not live long enough to see his eldest son, Henry crowned king of England. He was buried in the church of St Julien at Le Mans ‘in a most noble tomb which the righteous bishop, William of pious fame, had built fittingly. Such a venerable likeness of the count was fashioned there, suitably ornamented with gold and precious stones, that it seemed to express their doom for the proud and grace to the humble. At the altar of the crucifix, at which the dead man lay, a chaplain was appointed by the bishop with a stipend in perpetuity, who each day offered the sacrifice to God for the count’s sake…’

Blessed with good looks Geoffrey was called ‘le Bel’, a nickname he won due to being ‘tall in stature, handsome and red-headed’. He had other praiseworthy qualities as well: ‘unusually skilled at warfare… energetic soldier, shrewd in his upright dealings, exceptionally well educated, generous to all’. John of Marmoutier claimed that the count ‘differed in no respect from the most excellent princes of his time and was loved by all, although he endured much trouble from his own men’. Good-looking or not, Geoffrey failed to impress his imperial bride. She remained cold and aloof throughout the twenty-three years of their marriage. She never ceased to despise him as her social inferior. Their marriage was described as tempestuous. They disliked each other from the start. On the other hand, they both proved to be tough and ambitious, as well as shrewd politicians. They fulfilled their duty and produced the children necessary to guarantee the continuation of their lines***. When she was fighting with Stephen over her inheritance in England, he made himself busily occupied in Normandy, the conquest of which he completed in 1144, after taking Rouen and being invested as duke. One year later, the last of Stephen’s strongholds, Arques, fell to him. In 1149 Geoffrey had turned over the duchy to his eldest son Henry. Perhaps John of Marmoutier gave us a clue, a key to Geoffrey’s success, when he wrote that ‘being intelligent and of strong character, he [Geoffrey] did not allow himself to be corrupted by excess or sloth in early adulthood, but spent his time riding around the country and performing illustrious feats, but saying little about himself as he did so’. I daresay that in that love of illustrious feats, Henry the Young King must have resembled his grandfather. A pity they had never been given a chance to meet. Unless the posthumous meetings do count, of course. I have Henry the Young King’s speedy and utterly unplanned burial at St Julien in mind, where his body was  interred next to his grandfather’s resting place for a short time in the course of the hot and humid summer of 1183.

Enamel effigy of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou on his tomb at Le Mans (source: Wikipedia)

Note: Both Matilda nad Geoffrey are important characters in Ms Elizabeth Chadwick's novel, Lady of the English and in Ms Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept.

* Geoffrey was Matilda's second husband. In 1114 she had been married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. Upon the latter's death eleven years later Matilda returned to England. She never ceased to use the imperial title, styling herself as "the Empress".

** At this point I would like to recommend a brilliant post on Geoffrey by Ms Elizabeth Chadwick. Find out how exceptional man he really was. Pity he is usually in the shadow, neglected by historians, whereas his formidable spouse takes centre stage ;-)

*** Geoffrey and Matilda had three sons: Henry (later Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou, Maine and Touraine, King of England) in 1133, Geoffrey (future count of Nantes) in 1134, and William, count of Poitou in 1136.


History of Duke Geoffrey by John of Marmoutier in The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Dr. Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Editions, 2002.
The History of the English by Henry of Huntigdon in the Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Editions, 2002.
'The Empress Matilda and Bec-Hellouin' by Marjorie Chibnall in Anglo-Norman Studies X ed. by R.Allen Brown, Google Books.
Henry II by W. L. Warren. Eyre Methuen, 1977.
The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.
Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton. Google Books.
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly. Vintage Books, 1950.

Monday, 8 September 2014

8 September 1157: Birth of King Richard I

Happy Birthday to HM Richard I, the younger brother of HM Henry the Young King, who was born on this day in 1157 as the third son (second surviving) of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) and Henry II of England (1133-1189). He was four years younger than his brother William (b. 17 August 1153- d. spring of 1156), two years younger than his brother Henry (b. 28 February 1155), and one year younger than his sister Matilda (b. June 1156). He was the elder brother to Geoffrey (b. 23 September 1158), Eleanor (b. September 1161), Joanna (b. September 1165) and John (b. December 1166). From the day of his arrival he was destined to rule his mother's duchy, Aquitaine. I wonder whether it had ever occured to Richard to say (if only mentally) "Thank you!" to his brother Henry. After all he owed him, no more no less, but the throne of England itself (plus Normandy, Anjou, Maine, etc.) That might have been not possible had the Young King not died suddenly, prematurely and quite conveniently in 1183. For there was only one obstacle on Richard's path to becoming a legend, and it was his elder brother Henry. As Professor Matthew Strickland observed, and I cannot agree more, "had it been Richard who died in 1183, he would have left a reputation as a harsh, even tyrannical ruler, as much as that of a fine warrior" (The Upbrining of Henry the Young King. p.187). The author said this in the context of Henry's death in 1183 and the universal outpour of grief it caused, but I would go even further claiming that without Henry's death Richard would have never become the Lionheart of the legend. He would have gone to the Holy Land and won his name there, that I am quite certain of, but still I will hold on to the notion that it was the royal crown that turned out to be the crucial element of his success and fame (both in his lifetime and posthumously). 

Modern historians have discussed at length differences between the two brothers, Richard and Henry, praising the former's virtues and pointing out the latter's shortcomings. It seems that they have formed their judgement on what can be read in the works of Gerald of Wales, who gave us a glimpse of the two princes. Usually Gerald was at his malicious best when writing about Henry II and his family, never ceasing to nurse a personal grudge against them, but I get the impression that in his evalution of Henry and Richard he came very close to, what can be called, objectivity. 

Different as were the habits and pursuits of the two brothers, sprung from the same stock and the same root, each has merited everlasting glory and endless fame. They were both tall in stature, rather above the middle size, and of commanding aspect. In courage and magnanimity they were nearly equal; but in the character of their virtues there v as a great disparity. One was admirable for gentleness and liberality, the other distinguished himself by his severity and firmness. The one had a commendable suavity, the other gravity. One was commended for his easy temper, the other for his determined spirit. One was remarkable for his clemency, the other for his justice. The vile and undeserving found their refuge in the one, their punishment from the other. One was the shield of bad men, the other the hammer to crush them. The one was bent on martial sports, the other on serious conflicts. The one bestowed his favours on foreigners, the other on his own people; the one on all the world, the other on the worthy only. The one's ambition magnanimously compassed the world; the other coveted, to good purpose, what was rightfully his own. 
But why should I dwell on such details? Neither the present age, nor any former times, have seen two princes born of the same king, so noble, and yet so different. Yet the germs of their great and various virtues, and of far greater still, if it were possible, might all be derived, different as they were, in rich abundance, from their illustrious stock. Whatever good qualities you find in either of them, you know v ere transfused from the root into the branches. For who was ever more merciful to the meek, or more cruel to the fierce, than their right noble father?" (On Henry II and His Sons, from The Topography of Ireland, Chapters 49-50)

Unfortunately, modern historians have apparently decided to go a little bit further and misinterpret Gerald's words. The outcome? Let me just say that when compared to Richard, poor Henry does not stand a chance. For what the poor thing could say in the face of this (just random quote from Frank McLynn's Richard and John: Kings at War):

"A hedonist and wastrel, permanently in debt, he was prodigal, improvident, insouciant and foolish; the notion of paying his way was unknown to him. Henry [the father] had tried to train him in court politics and administration, especially after the first coronation in 1170, but the young man proved an unwilling apprentice, lazy, incompetent and empty-headed. as with most charismatic figures, he was given the benefir of the doubt, and sagacious observers, bedazzled by his charm and magnetism, put their intellectual faculties on hold and indulged in a primitive form of a sun worship." 

No comment today, but my next post is on the way :-) Thank you Mr. McLynn for the inspiration.

But back to Richard. Taking this opportunity I would like to recommend a few blog posts about him, discussing his eventful life, unnecessary death and posthumous career as a character of many novels. Here they are:

My Coronation Post here.
Death Post by Mr. Richard Willis here.
The reviews of Ms. Sharon Kay Penman's Richard-centred novels here and here.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

3 September 1189: Coronation of Richard I

Today marks the anniversary of the coronation of Henry the Young King's younger brother Richard on 3 September 1189. When Richard was born on 8 September 1157 he was second in line to succession after his brother Henry (b. 28 February 1157) and this did not change until the latter's untimely death in 1183. Then Richard's prospects of becoming king of England, duke of Normandy and count of Anjou boosted. One may think that Richard became his father's heir immediately upon Henry the Young King's death. Far from that. As John Gillingham has pointed out, Richard's inability to quell the 1183 revolt by effectively defeating his brothers could have been the reason for his father's stubborn refusals to recognize him as his heir. Also, there might have been more to this: Henry II probably feared that Richard would follow in his elder brother's footsteps and try to supplant him, as the Young King had tried to do in 1173 (see the Great Revolt of 1173-74). I wrote about Richard's rocky road to becoming his father's rightful heir in my previous post about his brother Geoffrey's death, and about Richard's coronation itself here

Sunday, 31 August 2014

August 1186: Death of Geoffrey of Brittany

Geoffrey, the younger brother of Henry the Young King, was the third surviving son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. Born in 1158, he succeeded to the Duchy of Brittany upon his marriage to Constance, the daughter and heiress of Duke Conan IV, in 1181. He supported his elder brother Henry in both 1173 and 1183 rebellions against their father, and, in case of the second one, against their brother Richard.

Geoffrey has always been "neglected” by historians, perhaps because he was the only son of Eleanor and Henry who never wore a crown. "Duke among kings”, as he could be called. At present I'm working on his biographical note which should appear on 23 September, being his birthday. Today, however, I would like to focus solely on the events surrounding Geoffrey's untimely death and the depiction of this sad event as described by the contemporary chroniclers*.

The popular version holds it that in August 1186 Geoffrey went to Paris to plot with Philippe Auguste against his father and Richard, and when already there he was killed in a tournament**. As simple as that. It was also said that Philippe was so grief-stricken that he had to be restrained from following Geoffrey into the grave. The latter was buried with great honour in the cathedral of Notre-Dame at Paris ***. Whether Philippe's grief was genuine or not, he had a good political reason for regretting the duke's premature passing. Without Geoffrey and the resources he could draw on, the French king was too weak to chalenge the Angevin dominance and venture into Henry II's territory**** 

Why did Geoffrey decide to enter into alliance with Philip Augustus in 1186? After all his life's goals and ambitions had been fulfilled: he ruled independantly as a duke of Brittany, including the county of Nantes (since 1185), and as earl of Richmond (from Michaelmas 1183). To get the answer we are looking for we need to go back in time to the events preceeding and following his elder brother Henry the Young King's death in 1183. When Geoffrey had decided to ally himself with Henry against Richard he was third in line to succession, so without prospects of advancement other than by the favour of the Young King when the latter became independent ruler. Young Henry, as the History of William Marshal tells us, placed great trust in Geoffrey and relied on his judgement, which might mean that during Henry III's reign (:-)) Geoffrey might have become influential voice behind the throne or even unofficial co-ruler. Unfortunately, all those plans came to naught when Henry died suddenly in June 1183, leaving his younger brother with no other prospects but to pledge allegiance to their father, the king, which Geoffrey dutifully did in late June or early July at Angers. To show loyalty to his father he allied himself with the youngest brother John against Richard. John had been told by their father that Aquitaine was his for taking. Richard was in extreme disfavour at the time due to his refusal to give his duchy over to John, which Henry II had demanded of him at Michealmas 1183. Geoffrey, to the contrary, was in high favour, which may explain his position as 'custos' of Normandy in late 1184. With Richard estranged from their father Geoffrey had a good reason to believe that he was only one step away from being acknowledged as future duke of Normandy. Did he not prove himself an effective administrator and military leader? Was he not the only one of Henry II's sons to have produced legitimate offspring?***** Additionaly, according to William of Newburgh, Geoffrey cherished hopes that his father would give him the county of Anjou. In the first half of 1185, however, it became obvious that he would get neither Normandy nor Anjou, for his father reconsidered the possibility of disinheriting Richard and the two came to terms. In return for being recognised as heir to England, Normandy and Anjou, Richard surrendered Aquitaine to his mother, which was confirmed in March 1186. Richard was now the undisputable heir to their father's lands. With little prospect of advancement by his father Geoffrey turned to the French king, Philippe Auguste. Here is how Dr. Judith Everard explains Geoffrey's motives: what had been generous provision for the infant third son must have seemed meagre for the second in line of succession to Henry II, and in 1186 Geoffrey was second in line.  

Geoffrey must have known Philippe well. Technically his allegiance to the king of France was simply a continuation of a feudal bond which dated back to Phlippe's coronation on All Saints' Day 1179, when Geoffrey is said to have paid homage for Brittany. Furthermore, in 1181, together with his brothers, Henry and Richard, Goeffrey came to Philippe's aid, offering his support against Philip of Flanders (Diceto). The details of Geoffrey's visit to Paris in 1186 remain unknown, and little wonder, all that was said and done was a part of conspiracy after all****** As we know, the scheme failed when Geoffrey died suddenly at Philippe's court. 

There were numerous versions of Geoffrey's death circulating at the time, all agreeing that he died at Paris in August 1186. The Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi gives more detailed account. It says that Geoffrey was unhorsed and trumpled to death while participating in a tournament ******* The author adds that Geoffrey had sought the King of France to enter the alliance with him and boasted that he would lay Normandy waste. Strangely enough after saying this Geoffrey was seized by "acute abdominal pain" (Brittany and the Angevins, p.142). As Dr. Everard points out, there must have been two different sources of information the chronicler had access to, which suggests that the rumours of Geoffrey's illness had already been circulating at his father's court when the messanger bore the news about his death. Thus we get two contradictory pieces of information in one account. Dr. Everard suggests the following sequence of events: Geoffrey was at Paris, where he bacame ill, but recovered and felt well enough to take part in a tournament, in which he met his end. The author finds it all highly improbable. That is why she introduces two possible explanations for the tournament story: either it was the chronicler's pure invention, a device he chose to moralise on how Geoffrey, that "son of perdition" and "son of iniquity" was punished (probably by the Almighty himself) by means of a sinful tournament- but then why spoilt the effect by including the account of Geoffrey's ilness, Dr. Everard wonders- or the chronicler simply recorded all the information which came to his knowledge. He used both, the tournament and the ilness, to condemn Geoffrey's trecherous actions. To explain the tournament version it can be assumed that tournament, a purely social occassion, might have been invented by Philippe to hide the truth about real reason for Geoffrey's visit to Paris from Henry II. Without Geoffrey's aid, Philippe was not ready to enter into armed conflict with Geoffrey's father and brother, that's why he did everything to cover up the plotting. His grief for the duke was rather a grief at the loss of a perfect opportunity to conquer the Angevin empire. Dr. Everard finds the illness version more probable, noting that incurable as it proved to be, it could not have affected Geoffrey the very moment he made his declaration of allegiance, of course :-) Note: Reminds me of the White Ship sinking described as a divine punishment for laughing down and mocking the clerks who arrived to bless William Atheling and his companions shortly before they embarked.

One thing we can be certain of: in the long run Geoffrey's untimely passing proved to be disastrous for his children. His son Arthur (b.1187), that golden boy, in whom all of Brittany saw the  incarnation of his namesake, the legendary king, was to disappear from the pages of history murdered probably on orders or by his uncle John himself. Geoffrey's daughter Eleanor was to spend her entire adult life in John's and later his son Henry III's custody. She was to live out her days in close confinement in Bristol Castle.

* At the time of his death Geoffrey was a month shy of his twenty-eighth birthday.

** Four different sources give 19 August as the day on which Geoffrey died (The Charters of Duchess Constance of Brittany)

*** A plaque commemorating Geoffrey can still be seen today, but it is very difficult to spot as I have learnt thanks to Mr. Malcolm Craig, the expert in Geoffrey and his family. Countess Marie of Champagne, Geoffrey's half-sister, dedicated an altar in Paris for him.

**** Sadly it seems that Philippe was more affected by Geoffrey's death than Henry II himself. The latter, as Gerald of Wales records, was grief-stricken, but mainly because Geoffrey's untimely passing reminded him of that of Henry the Young King (Brittany and the Angevins, p.145). I would be cautious, though, when it comes to Gerald's notes on Geoffrey- apparently he disliked him more than other sons of Henry II. I wonder where this personal hostility stemmed from. 

*****  In 1184, Geoffrey had at least one daughter, Eleanor (b.1182/84)

****** As it was rumoured, Philippe enticed Geoffrey with attractive offers, including the seneschalship of France (the prestigious office his brother Henry once held) 

******* Geoffrey was as avid fan of tournaments as his brother Henry the Young King


The Annals of Roger of Hoveden   http://archive.org/details/annalsofrogerdeh01hoveuoft

Gerald of Wales: On Henry II and his Sons, from the Topography of Ireland, chapters 49-50” fromThe Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis. Translated by Thomas Forester; revised by Thomas Wright. Etext file created for a class by Scott Mcletchie. Reproduced in Paul Hassal, ed.the Internet Medieval Source Book. Fordham University

Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles. Ed. by Dr. Elizabeth Hallam, London 2002.

Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire. 1158-1203 by J. A. Everard, Cambridge 2004.

The Charters of  Duchess Constance of Brittany and her Family, 1171-1221. Ed. by Judith Everard and Michael Jones. Google Books.

The Government of Philip Augustus by John W. Baldwin. Google Books.

"Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne" by Theodore Evergates inAristocratic Women in Medieval France ed. by T. Evergates. Google Books