Geoffrey II of Brittany

14th century depiction Geoffrey II of Brittany/ Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Geoffrey was the fifth child and fourth son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is unknown where he was born. What is known is that, along with his brothers and sisters, he was raised in England. By the time he was of full height, Geoffrey stood at 5’ 6’’. The first record of Geoffrey is in 1166, around July or August of that year, crossing Normandy to join his father in Brittany. Geoffrey attended many Christmas courts with his father from 1169 to 1183, at places across the Channel such as Bar, Caen, and Le Mans, and places in England like Winchester, Nottingham and Woodstock.

In 1173, Henry II offered Geoffrey the lands of Constance of Brittany, daughter of Conan IV of Brittany, or at least her inheritance. Papal dispensation was granted for the marriage to take place. Along with the Treaty of Falaise it was agreed that Geoffrey would receive the revenues of half of Constance’s ‘maritagium’ in Brittany until their marriage, and all the revenues of the ‘maritagium’ in Brittany after their marriage.’ Together, Geoffrey and Constance had two children, Arthur, born in 1185 the ill-fated son, who would end up murdered in 1203 by, or on the orders, of his uncle King John of England, and Eleanor, born in 1187, known as the Fair Maid of Brittany, who would become the longest imprisoned member of the royal family, thirty-nine years to be exact, from 1203 until her death in 1241.

There was a period of unrest within the first royal Plantagenet family, a rebellion that consisted of mother and sons against their father, husband and king. This rebellion is simply known as the Revolt of 1173-74. It is thought to have been started with the encouragement of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who convinced her son’s to rebel against their father and her husband. Henry the Young King was the first to turn against his father and join the court of Philip II of France, leaving in the dead of night from Chinon Castle. Some historians claim that it was Henry the Younger who encouraged Geoffrey to rebel against their father, if none of his other brothers. Unlike Henry the Young King and Richard however, little is written about Geoffrey’s role in the revolt. There is much debate as to the reasons why Geoffrey rebelled against his father, as it is said that he was ‘well endowed.’ Perhaps it was just simple as he did it out of ambition, Geoffrey was certainly the sort to have a foot in each camp. He was able to appease his father when needed, as shown when he agreed to make peace at Angers, along with his three brothers, while at the same time able to keep strong ties with France, even up until his death. This can be supported on how sources say that Philip mourned the loss of Geoffrey, who had, before his death, been made Marshal of France.

When the revolt of Henry II’s sons (all expect John who had stayed by his father’s side, eh was only aged 8 when the revolt began) came to an end, Henry began to rely upon Geoffrey in military campaigns. In one particular military operation, Geoffrey was sent to Brittany in campaign against Eudo de Porhoet, who was trying to claim the ducal title and lands of Brittany. The campaign seems successful as Geoffrey was able to recover Vannes, Ploermel, Auray and half of the county of Cornouaille.

Geoffrey received the honour of Richmond, from his father in 1177, and thus, earned the title of the Earl of Richmond and ‘£44 per annum from the farm of Chestnut’.The year after, Geoffrey was knighted by his father at Woodstock Palace. In 1181, it looked as the Plantagenet sons and their father were united again, as Henry, along with his three  sons (except John) aided Philip II of France against Count Stephen I of Sancerre, the leader of group of rebel  barons.

Henry the Young King died on 11 June 1183 of dysentery, having rebelled against his father, along with his brother’s once more. The heir to England was still in open rebellion when he died. Henry II lamented upon his eldest son and heir’s death, saying, ‘He cost me much, but I wish he had lived to cost me more.’ Upon the death of his brother, Geoffrey’s response to his death is not recorded, but he did found a chaplaincy in the Cathedral of Rouen in the Young King’s honour. In 1184, John invaded Aquitaine with Geoffrey. It is thought that John invaded Aquitaine at his older brother’s behest, due to John’s age, he only being sixteen or seventeen years old at the time. In addition, there had been some tension between the Duke of Brittany and Richard, who at this point, was Duke of Aquitaine. It had even gone so far as to Geoffrey becoming offered the ducal title of Aquitaine by some of the duchy’s people. In response to the invasion, Richard instead invaded Brittany, burning and pillaging his older brother’s lands, a further indication that the invasion of Aquitaine was likely urged by Geoffrey.

Though there is a disagreement upon the exact date that Geoffrey died, evidence states that he died in August 1186 in Paris while attending the court of Philip Augustus. There are two accounts of how he died, one claims that he died at a jousting tournament, trampled by horses. The second account, written by the French chronicler Rigord, claims that he was struck with chest pain after boasting to the King of France that he would lay waste to Normandy, and Geoffrey’s death is thought to have been God’s judgement being brought upon him. Roger of Hovedon writes that Philip reacted to Geoffrey passing by attempting to jump in Geoffrey’s coffin with him at his funeral which took place at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Sources

  1. Marc Morris, King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta (Windmill Books: London, 2015)
  2. Judith Everard, Brittany and the Angevins (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2000)
  3. Judith Everard and Michael Jones (editors), The Charters of Duchess Constance of Brittany and Her Family, 1171-1221 (Boydell Press: Suffolk)
  4. John Gillingham, Richard I (Yale University Press: London, 2002)

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