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Geoffrey of Brittany

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Geoffrey of Brittany

Geoffrey II
Duke of Brittany
Reign July 1181 – 19 August 1186
Predecessor Constance
Successor Constance
Spouse Constance, Duchess of Brittany
Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany
Arthur I, Duke of Brittany
House House of Plantagenet
Father Henry II of England
Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine
Born (1158-09-23)23 September 1158
Died 19 August 1186(1186-08-19) (aged 27)
Paris, France
Burial Notre Dame de Paris
Religion Roman Catholicism

Geoffrey II (23 September 1158 – 19 August 1186) was Duke of Brittany between 1181 and 1186, through his marriage with the heiress Constance. Geoffrey was the fourth son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine.[1]


He was a younger maternal half-brother of Marie de Champagne and Alix of France. He was a younger brother of William IX, Count of Poitiers, Henry the Young King, Matilda, Duchess of Saxony, and Richard I of England. He was also an older brother of Queen Eleanor of Castile, Queen Joan of Sicily and John of England. He was also the half-brother of his father's illegitimate sons Geoffrey, archbishop of York, William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, and Morgan, provost of Beverley. He was named after his grandfather, Geoffrey V of Anjou.

King Henry arranged for Geoffrey to marry Constance, the heiress of Brittany as part of a diplomatic agreement to end his attacks on Constance's father, Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. Geoffrey was invested with the duchy, and he and Constance were married in July 1181.[2]

Geoffrey's father Henry had begun to alter his policy of indirect rule in Brittany and started to exert more direct control.[3] Henry had been at war with Conan IV until they reached a settlement. Local Breton nobles rebelled against Conan, who now sought Henry II's help. In 1164 Henry intervened to seize lands along the border of Brittany and Normandy, and in 1166 invaded Brittany to punish the local barons.[4] Henry then forced Conan to abdicate as duke and to give Brittany to his daughter Constance; Constance was handed over and betrothed to Henry's son Geoffrey.[4] This arrangement was quite unusual in terms of medieval law, as Conan might have had sons who could have legitimately inherited the duchy.[5] [6]

These growing tensions between Henry and Louis finally spilled over into open war in 1167, triggered by a trivial argument over how money destined for the Crusader states of the Levant should be collected.[7] Louis allied himself with the Welsh, Scots and Bretons and the French king attacked Normandy.[8] Henry responded by attacking Chaumont-sur-Epte, where Louis kept his main military arsenal, burning the town to the ground and forcing Louis to abandon his allies and make a private truce.[9] Henry was then free to move against the rebel barons in Brittany, where feelings about his seizure of the duchy were still running high.[10]

Geoffrey was fifteen years old when he joined the first revolt against his father. He later reconciled to Henry in 1174 when he participated in the truce at Gisors Geoffrey prominently figured in the second revolt of 1183, fighting against Richard, on behalf of Henry the Young King.

Geoffrey was a good friend of Prince Philip of France, and the two statesmen were frequently in alliance against King Henry. Geoffrey spent much time at Philip's court in Paris, and Philip made him his seneschal. There is evidence to suggest that Geoffrey was planning another rebellion with Philip's help during his final period in Paris in the summer of 1186. As a participant in so many rebellions against his father, Geoffrey acquired a reputation for treachery. Gerald of Wales said the following of him: 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.

Geoffrey also was known to attack monasteries and churches in order to raise funds for his campaigns. This lack of reverence for religion earned him the displeasure of the Church and also of the majority of chroniclers who were to write the definitive accounts of his life.


Geoffrey and Constance had three children, one born after Geoffrey's death:


Geoffrey died on 19 August 1186, at the age of twenty-seven, in Paris. There is also evidence that supports a death date of 21 August 1186.[11] There are two alternative accounts of his death. The more common first version holds that he was trampled to death in a jousting tournament. At his funeral, a grief-stricken Philip was said to have attempted jumping into the coffin. Roger of Hoveden's chronicle[12] is the source of this version; the detail of Philip's hysterical grief is from Gerald of Wales.

In the second version, in the chronicle of the French Royal clerk Rigord, Geoffrey died of sudden acute chest pain, which reportedly struck immediately after his speech to Philip, boasting his intention to lay Normandy to waste. Possibly, this version was an invention of its chronicler; sudden illness being God's judgment of an ungrateful son plotting rebellion against his father, and for his irreligiosity. Alternatively, the tournament story may be an invention of Philip's to prevent Henry II's discovery of a plot; inventing a social reason, a tournament, for Geoffrey's being in Paris, Philip obscured their meeting's true purpose.

Marie of Champagne, with whom Geoffrey had gotten on well, was present at the requiem for her half-brother and established a mass for the repose of his soul.[13]

Geoffrey was buried at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedrale, but his tombstone was destroyed in the 18th century before the French revolution.[14]


At Geoffrey's death, Henry II arranged for Constance, Geoffrey's widow, to marry Ranulph, the Earl of Chester. Ranulph would become Duke of Brittany, jure uxoris, for a short time before this marriage was annulled.

Fictional portrayals

With a character closely resembling that given by Gerald of Wales above, Geoffrey appears as a major character in the James Goldman play The Lion in Winter. In the 1968 film version of the play, Geoffrey was played by John Castle and in the 2003 TV film version by John Light. He was also portrayed by Austin Somervell (as a teenager) and Martin Neil (as an adult) in the BBC TV series The Devil's Crown (1978), which dramatised the reigns of his father and brothers.

He appears as an ally of his brother Richard the Lionheart in the game Empires: Dawn of the Modern World.


See also




  • Costain, Thomas B. The Conquering Family, 1962
  • Everard, Judith. Charters of Duchess Constance of Brittany and her Family, 1171–1221, 1999
  • Everard, Judith. Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire, 1158–1203, 2000
  • Gillingham, John. The Life and Times of Richard I, 1973
  • Gillingham, John. Richard the Lionheart, 1978
  • Gillihgham, John. Richard I, 1999
  • Reston, James. Warriors of God: Richard the Lion-Heart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, 2001
  • Warren, W. L. Henry II, 2000

External links

  • The Medieval Sourcebook contains many primary sources including Hoveden and Gerald of Wales, some of which pertains to Geoffrey
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Duke of Brittany jure uxoris
with Constance
Succeeded by
Constance and Ranulph
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Richmond
with Constance
Succeeded by
Arthur I
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