Geoffrey of Brittany

Geoffrey2Gerald of Wales described Geoffrey as a “deceiver and a dissembler.”  Roger of Howden described him as a “son of perdition”. However, given that none of Henry II’s legitimate surviving sons could be described as loyal to their father it is perhaps not surprising that Geoffrey as son number three should have been untrustworthy.  He joined the Young King and Prince Richard in their rebellion against their father in 1173.

Nor is it surprising that Henry II used Geoffrey as a political pawn in his empire building strategies.  Henry had supported the subjects of Conan IV of Brittany when they rebelled against him.   Finally Henry was victorious, peace required that Conan was forced to abdicate and his daughter Constance was betrothed to Geoffrey – Geoffrey taking on the title Duke of Brittany (in 1166) which Henry ruled personally, in theory, until Geoffrey came of age.  Geoffrey was required to give homage to the French king, just as Richard was required to give homage for Aquitaine.  It was a neat device that allowed Henry to continue to build his empire without public recognition that Henry was the French king’s vassal.

Part of the problem between father and son in later years was Henry’s inability to relinquish power from his own hands.  In response to the rebellion of 1173 Henry did concede that Geoffrey should marry Constance and have half of the revenues of the duchy, along with the task of quelling the rebellion that he had stirred in Brittany. In November 1179 Geoffrey was in Paris to witness the coronation of King Philip. Geoffrey and Constance married in 1181.

By 1184 unrest stirred again.  The Young King’s death during his rebellion against Henry in 1183 elevated Richard to the role of Henry’s heir.  Henry envisioned a land redistribution with Richard’s duchy of Aquitaine being handed to Prince John.  Richard having been raised in Eleanor’s court and having subdued the region by force was not prepared to hand his territory over so easily.   In the end Richard was obliged to hand the duchy back to his mother who was removed from prison in England and bought to France for the occasion.  In effect this meant that once again Aquitaine was in Henry’s hands.  Geoffrey and Richard remained at loggerheads  about land and position as Henry did not establish any of his sons as heir apparent.

Geoffrey, perhaps recognising the importance of strong allies, became friends with the French King Philip Augustus (Louis VII’s son).  Philip made him a senschal of France.  He died on the 19th August in Paris as the result of an accident that occurred during a tournament.  Chroniclers record that Philip was so distressed that he attempted to climb into Geoffrey’s grave.

Geoffrey’s son, Arthur, was born the following year in 1187.  He also left two young daughters; Eleanor, who was born in 1184 and Matilda, born 1184. Matilda died before she reached her fifth birthday while Eleanor and young Arthur faced uncertain futures in the hands of their Uncle John.