by Susan Flantzer
Credit – Wikipedia
Born on September 23, 1158, Geoffrey was the fourth of the five sons and the fifth of the eight children of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was named after Henry II’s brother Geoffrey, Count of Nantes who had died two months before his nephew’s birth.
Geoffrey’s parents, Henry II and Eleanor, holding court; Credit – Wikipedia
Geoffrey had seven siblings:
- William IX, Count of Poitiers (1153 – 1156), died in childhood
- Henry the Young King (1155 – 1183), married Marguerite of France, no issue
- Matilda, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria (1156 – 1189), married Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, had issue
- King Richard I of England (1157 – 1199), married Berengaria of Navarre, no issue
- Eleanor, Queen of Castile (1162 – 1214), married King Alfonso VIII of Castile, had issue
- Joan, Queen of Sicily (1165 – 1199), married (1) King William II of Sicily, no surviving issue (2) Raymond VI of Toulouse, had issue
- King John of England (1166 – 1216), married 1) Isabella, Countess of Gloucester, marriage annulled, no issue (2) Isabella, Countess of Angoulême; had issue
13th-century depiction of Henry and his legitimate children: (l to r) William, Young Henry, Richard, Matilda, Geoffrey, Eleanor, Joan and John; Credit – Wikipedia
Geoffrey’s father King Henry II of England was determined to expand and maintain his French territory. Henry II’s brother Geoffrey had been Count of Nantes and Nantes was one of the two traditional capitals of Brittany. Upon the death of Geoffrey in 1158, Conan IV, Duke of Brittany attempted to reclaim Nantes. However, Henry II annexed it for himself and steadily increased his power in Brittany. Henry II considered himself overlord of Brittany and Conan IV, Duke of Brittany as his vassal.
In 1166, Henry II invaded Brittany to punish a local barons’ revolt. In order to gain complete control over the duchy, Henry II forced Conan IV to abdicate in favor of his five-year-old daughter Constance and then betrothed his eight-year-old son Geoffrey to Constance. Henry never claimed the Duchy of Brittany. After Conan IV abdicated, Henry II held guardianship over Brittany for Conan’s daughter Constance, and then for his son Geoffrey to rule by the right of his wife. Henry II had now provided his three surviving sons with territory of their own: Henry would become King of England and have control of Anjou, Maine, and Normandy; Richard would inherit Aquitaine and Poitiers from his mother; and Geoffrey would become Duke of Brittany. Henry II’s youngest son John would be born later in 1166 and would have no land, hence his nickname John Lackland.
Henry’s claims over lands in France (in dark orange, orange and yellow) at their peak; Credit – By France_blank.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting – fr:Sting)derivative work: Hchc2009 (talk) – France_blank.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12603376
In May of 1169, Geoffrey was enthroned and invested as Duke of Brittany at Rennes Cathedral and received the homage of the Breton nobles at Christmas of 1169. Geoffrey and Constance were finally married in July of 1181.
Geoffrey and Constance had three children:
As the sons of King Henry II grew up, tensions over the future inheritance of the empire began to emerge, encouraged by King Louis VII of France and then his son King Philip II of France. In 1173, Henry the Young King rebelled in protest and was joined by his brothers Richard and Geoffrey and by their mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Revolt of 1173-1174). France, Scotland, Flanders and Boulogne allied themselves with the rebels. King Henry II eventually defeated the revolt and had Eleanor imprisoned for the next sixteen years for her part in inciting their sons. In 1182–83, Henry the Young King had a falling out with his brother Richard when Richard refused to pay homage to him on the orders of King Henry II, Geoffrey supported his brother Henry. As Henry the Young King was preparing to fight Richard, he became ill with dysentery (also called the bloody flux), the scourge of armies for centuries, and died.
Seal of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany; Credit – Wikipedia
With the death of his eldest son, King Henry II had to make plans for the disposition of his empire, but he kept his thoughts secret. This caused more ill feelings between him and his three remaining sons, Richard, Geoffrey, and John. King Philip II of France was determined to exploit the situation to his benefit. Geoffrey spent a lot of time at Philip’s court in Paris and the two were close friends. Dissatisfied with having just the Duchy of Brittany, Geoffrey also wanted the County of Anjou and Philip encouraged him in his plans to once again rebel against his father.
Geoffrey remained in Paris through the summer of 1186, but his plans came to naught because on August 19, 1186, Geoffrey died at the age of 27. One contemporary source says Geoffrey died of a fever. However, several other sources say he was thrown off his horse during a tournament and trampled to death. Geoffrey was buried in the choir of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. King Philip II of France was so overcome with grief for his friend that he had to be restrained from throwing himself upon Geoffrey’s coffin in the open tomb. Geoffrey’s half-sister from his mother’s first marriage to King Louis VII of France, Marie, Countess of Champagne, attended his funeral and contributed funds to pay for masses for his soul.
Geoffrey’s death left Constance a widow at the age of 25 with two young daughters (little Matilda died three years later) and pregnant with another child. On March 29, 1187 in Nantes, Brittany, Constance gave birth to Geoffrey’s posthumous son. King Henry II wanted his grandson to be named Henry, but in defiance of Henry II, the infant was named Arthur after the legendary King Arthur. King Philip II of France claimed the guardianship of Arthur, but King Henry II refused because he did not want Philip II to gain a stronghold in Brittany. Constance was to act as a regent for her son, but Henry II did not trust her. In 1188, Henry II arranged for Constance to marry Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, one of the most powerful earls in England. The marriage was an unhappy one, the couple became estranged, and there were no children.
In 1189, King Henry II died and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son King Richard I. As Richard’s marriage was childless, in 1191, he officially proclaimed his nephew Arthur as his heir. Then in 1196, Constance had nine-year-old Arthur proclaimed Duke of Brittany and her co-ruler. Because of this, King Richard I had Constance abducted and imprisoned by her estranged husband. Arthur was secretly taken away by his tutor to the French court to be brought up with the future King Louis VIII, son of King Philip II.
In 1199, Constance was released and her second marriage was annulled. That same year, Constance married Guy of Thouars and the couple had two daughters including Alix of Thouars who succeeded her half-brother Arthur as Duchess of Brittany. Constance died at the age of 40 on September 5, 1201 at Nantes. The cause of her death is suspected to be leprosy and/or childbirth complications after giving birth to twin girls who also died. Constance was buried at the Abbey of Villeneuve in Sorinières, south of Nantes, which she had founded. Her third husband Guy of Thouars and their daughter Alix are buried with her.
Geoffrey and Constance’s surviving children Arthur, Duke of Brittany and Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany had unhappy endings. In 1199, as King Richard I of England lay dying of a gangrenous arrow wound, he named his brother John his successor fearing his 12-year-old nephew Arthur was too young to be able to successfully reign. This decision bypassed the children of his deceased brother Geoffrey, both of whom had better claims to the throne based upon the laws of primogeniture.
Arthur I, Duke of Brittany paying homage to King Philip II of France; Credit – Wikipedia
Many members of the French nobility refused to recognize John upon his accession to the English throne and his French lands. They were of the opinion that Arthur had a better claim because his father was an older brother of John. In 1202, 15-year-old Arthur started a campaign against his uncle John in Normandy with the support of King Philip II of France. John’s territory of Poitou revolted in support of Arthur. Arthur besieged his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, John’s mother, in the Château de Mirebeau in Poitou. John marched on Mirebeau, taking Arthur by surprise on July 31, 1202. Arthur was captured and imprisoned in the Château de Falaise in Falaise, Normandy. By 1203, Arthur had disappeared. His fate is unknown, but presumably, he was murdered on the orders of his uncle John.
Eleanor of Brittany; Credit – Wikipedia
Arthur’s sister Eleanor was also King John’s prisoner because she and any children she had could pose a threat to John’s throne. She remained imprisoned for her entire life, into the reign of John’s son King Henry III of England, dying in 1241 at the age of 57. Her imprisonment in England made it impossible for her to claim her inheritance as Duchess of Brittany. During her 39 year imprisonment, Eleanor, who was apparently innocent of any crime, was never tried or sentenced. She was considered a state prisoner, was forbidden to marry, and guarded closely even after her child-bearing years.
Wikipedia: Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany
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