Best known as the father of future Henry II and founder of the Plantagenet dynasty, Geoffrey had become the count of
The image of Geoffrey on his tomb at Le Mans
On the 17th day of June, eight days after Whitsun, in the year 1128, Henry the Young King’s future grandparents were standing in the presence of archbishops, bishops, abbots, and priests of all ranks, and listening as the solemn masses blessing their marriage were celebrated in Le Mans. Matilda was twenty-six at the time whereas her betrothed was a youth two months shy of his fifteenth birthday, newly knighted by his father-in-law, Henry I of
There was rejoicing amidst the clergy, dancing by the people and the shouting of praise by all and sundry, whether native or foreigner, rich, middling or poor, noble or commoner, soldier or husbandman drawn in by the general rejoicing. He who was unconcerned by the wedding festivities was doubtless deemed a traitor. Men and women spent the wedding feast taking their fill of the different dishes. For three weeks, the marriage was celebrated without a break and, when it was over, no one left without a gift.
Blessed with good looks Geoffrey was later 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, Geoffrey’s first biographer 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’. Perhaps the aforesaid John gave us a clue, a key to Geoffrey’s success, when he wrote that ‘being intelligent and of strong character, he 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.
Good-looking or not, Geoffrey failed to impress his imperial bride. She remained cold and aloof throughout the splendid wedding celebrations of 1128 and throughout the twenty-three years of their marriage. She never ceased to despise him as her social inferior. He was her second husband. In 1114 she had been married to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. Henry died eleven years later and Matilda returned to
Matilda had been promised the succession of both,
Matilda outlived her second husband for sixteen years. She died on 10 September 1167, at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Prés, near
For further reading I highly recommend a brilliant text devoted to Geoffrey on Elizabeth Chadwick’s wonderful blog.
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.
Henry II by W. L. Warren. Google Books.
The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.
Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton. Google Books.
and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly. Vintage Books, 1950. Aquitaine