I’ve blogged about John’s brother Geoffrey in a much earlier post. However, as I’m looking at John I thought it would be useful to reappraise myself of his siblings. Geoffrey Plantagenet was the fourth son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (third surviving son). Henry’s problem was that he had too many sons to provide for when they grew to maturity. Geoffrey’s oldest surviving brother Henry was to have the lands that belonged to Henry – the patrimony- so Anjou, Maine, Normandy and England. Richard, the second surviving son, was to have his mother’s inheritance – Aquitaine. Henry also had plans for Geoffrey.
Henry, being an astute sort of monarch and land-grabber, arranged a marriage between Geoffrey and Constance of Brittany. Constance was, conveniently for Henry, the only child of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. Her mother Margaret of Huntingdon was William the Lion’s sister. The problem for Conan was that he was also the Earl of Richmond and the Britons were a pretty bolshie lot so needed a firm hand. In short, Conan needed Henry more than Henry needed him. Henry claimed to be Brittany’s overlord and Conan was required to make his vassals see sense. The Bretons disagreed. Henry simply went to war and won in 1169 forcing Conan to abdicate and the Bretons to accept eight-year-old Geoffrey as the new Count by virtue of being Constance’s spouse. They ultimately married in 1181 when she was twenty-one.
Hapless Conan died in 1171. Geoffrey, aged all of eleven-years-old, became not only Count of Brittany but also Earl of Richmond. Henry, naturally, wielded all the power until his son came of age. The problem was that Henry II was not good at giving up power once it was in his grasp.
This fermented resentment as Young Henry, Richard and Geoffrey grew older. It was all very well having titles but they wanted power as well. In 1173 when Geoffrey had reached the ripe old age of fifteen he rebelled against his father along with his brothers. Ironically it was little brother John who triggered the family row. Henry sought to provide territory for his youngest son and granted John three castles in Young Henry’s territory to demonstrate that John had property to bring to a proposed marriage. Young Henry was furious, refused to yield the castles, demanded to be allowed to rule one of the territories that he would one day inherit and took himself off to the French court where his brothers joined him. Eleanor attempted to join her sons but was caught and found herself locked up for many years- though she was allowed to come to court for Christmas more often than not.
The following year,1174, Geoffrey and his father were reconciled, only for him to fall out in 1183 with his brother Richard over who should control Aquitaine. The Young King having died. Henry rearranged the family assets moving Richard up the pecking order to receive the patrimony and young John to receive Aquitaine. Presumably Geoffrey was left out of the equation because Brittany was his through marriage – to give Geoffrey any of the other lands would have left John as ‘Lackland’ still. Richard wasn’t keen on handing over Aquitaine having won over his vassals by an uncompromising mix of determined presence in the duchy and brute force. Geoffrey for reasons best known to himself sided with teen-age John and provided an army to try and take Aquitaine from Richard by force. The next thing that he knew Richard was invading Brittany rather effectively. Peace was eventually re-established with a public kiss of peace and Geoffrey briefly found himself in his father’s good books being left in charge of Normandy for a while both that it lasted. Henry II didn’t let any of his sons step into the Young King’s shoes. After that Geoffrey allied himself with the King of France against his father and his brother – the Plantagenets were not a model for a happy family at this time.
Geoffrey’s relationship with his father was not a good one but he wasn’t overly popular with anyone else for that matter – Roger of Howden described him as a “son of perdition.” Roger was one of Henry II’s clerks and he was also one of the king’s Justices of the Forest – so not altogether unbiased in his approach. Gerald of Wales commented on Geoffrey’s ‘readiness to deceive others.’ And then proceeded with a rather complete character assassination:
“He has more aloes than honey in him; his tongue is smoother than oil; his sweet and persuasive eloquence has enabled him to dissolve the firmest alliances and his powers of language to throw two kingdoms into confusion.”
It has been suggested that one of the reasons for Geoffrey’s increasing animosity towards his father and Richard was that Henry II didn’t identify Geoffrey as his heir. The French king, Philip Augustus, made him a senschal of France, encouraged Geoffrey in his discontent – he’d gone to Paris in 1179 to witness Phillip’s coronation and to give homage to the French king.
On 19th August 1186 Geoffrey was in Paris for a tournament – and possibly some heavy duty plotting against his family- when there was a tragic accident and he was trampled to death although some chroniclers also mention a stomach ailment and one chronicler had Geoffrey being struck down by heart failure after daring to conspire against his father.
Geoffrey and Constance had three children. Eleanor who became known as the Fair Maid of Brittany; Matilda who died before the age of five and an heir called Arthur who was born posthumously in 1187. Arthur, being the son of John’s older brother, had a better claim to the throne than John did. England did not have a salic law so in theory Eleanor also had a strong claim to the throne. It was for this reason that John held her captive throughout his reign as any marriage would have created a contender to his throne.