Next in our series on the Angevins we’re going to be looking at Geoffrey Plantagenet and his family.
Born in 1158, Geoffrey is often overlooked by history in favour of his kingly brothers Henry the Young King, Richard the Lionheart and John. With so many brothers, his father Henry II would have had a difficult task ahead divvying up his vast and diverse domains. Arranged marriages had long been used to secure alliances and bring new territory into pre-existing empires. Henry planned to provide Brittany for Geoffrey, through an arranged marriage with Constance of Brittany. The Duke of Brittany Conan IV had been forced to abdicate in favour of his young daughter Constance, making her a noteworthy heiress. The young couple were betrothed and later married in 1181 going on to have three children: Eleanor, Matilda and Arthur. Tragically Matilda died in early childhood.
Geoffrey joined his brothers in the infamous 1173 rebellion against their father Henry who “would later liken the war to the experience of an eagle, pecked and destroyed by its own chicks”. This isn’t the last time Geoffrey would cause issues, and he developed a strong relationship with the French King Philip II which caused some controversy. A contemporary chronicler Gerald of Wales described Geoffrey as “overflowing with words, soft as oil…able to corrupt two kingdoms with his tongue; of tireless endeavour, a hypocrite in everything, a deceiver and a dissembler”. So, although now largely forgotten, Geoffrey did make an impression on his contemporaries just not in a good way!
He died in 1186 at the age of 27 in Paris, due to injuries sustained in a tournament. His premature death is a big reason why he is not remembered in the same way as his brothers. Geoffrey’s wife and children were left in an incredibly vulnerable position. Constance had worked with Geoffrey in the management of their duchy, and although she continued to be involved, was subject to supervision from her father-in-law. As a widow with young children whose rights she sought to defend, Constance was in a precarious position. Forced to marry Ranulf of Chester in 1189, the marriage was a disaster and the couple were divorced in 1199. She then married Gui de Thouars with whom she had three daughters. Constance died in 1201, thankfully before seeing the fate of her children by Geoffrey.
When Richard died in 1199 both Geoffrey’s brother John and his son Arthur had strong claims to the throne. Things escalated rapidly, and the two faced off at Mirebeau where Arthur was laying siege to his grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine (not a great move, but are we really surprised at the actions of Plantagenets at this point?). John won the day, lifting the siege and capturing his nephew and niece. This is where things get dark. John has a reputation as an evil king, and you can begin to see why here as Arthur is never seen again. He was widely assumed to have been murdered by John. Eleanor, like her grandmother before her, was imprisoned but it was for life and she was never freed.
Geoffrey and his children are often forgotten, as they lost within the brutal family in-fighting.
What do you think of the forgotten brother and his family? Let me know in the comments section below.
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ODNB: Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany by Michael Jones
ODNB: Constance, duchess of Brittany by Michael Jones
ODNB: Arthur, duke of Brittany by Michael Jones
The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam
The Plantagenets by Dan Jones