Arthur I, Duke of Brittany

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Arthur I
Artur of Brittany.jpg
Arthur of Brittany as portrayed in a
genealogical roll in the British Library
Duke of Brittany
Predecessor Constance
Successor Alix
Co-ruler Constance (1196–1201)
Count of Anjou
Predecessor Richard I of England
Successor John Tristan
Born29 March 1187
Nantes, Brittany
Diedc. 1203 (aged 15-16)
House Plantagenet
Father Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany
Mother Constance, Duchess of Brittany

Arthur I (Breton : Arzhur Iañ; French: Arthur Ier de Bretagne) (29 March 1187 – probably 1203) was 4th Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany between 1196 and 1203. He was the posthumous son of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, and Constance, Duchess of Brittany. His father, Geoffrey, was the son of Henry II, King of England.


In 1190 Arthur was designated heir to the throne of England and its French territory by his uncle, Richard I, the intent being that Arthur would succeed Richard in preference to Richard's younger brother John. Nothing is recorded of Arthur after his incarceration in Rouen Castle in 1203, and while his precise fate is unknown, it is generally believed he was killed by John.

Early life

Arthur was born in 1187, the son of Duchess Constance and Duke Geoffrey II of Brittany, who died before he was born. As an infant, Arthur was second in line to the succession of his paternal grandfather King Henry II of England, after his uncle Richard. King Henry died when Arthur was 2 years old, and Richard I became the new king in his place.

While Richard was away on the Third Crusade, Arthur's mother Constance sought to make the Duchy of Brittany more independent. On 11 November 1190, Arthur was named as Richard's heir presumptive [1] and was betrothed to a daughter of King Tancred of Sicily as part of their treaty. [2] However, Emperor Henry VI conquered the Kingdom of Sicily in 1194, so the betrothal of Arthur came to nothing.

A marriage plan, originally aiming to establish an alliance between King Richard and King Philip II of France to marry Arthur's elder sister Eleanor to Philip's son Louis also failed. In 1196, Constance had the young Arthur proclaimed Duke of Brittany and her co-ruler as a child of nine years. The same year, Richard summoned Arthur, as well as Arthur's mother, Constance, [3] to Normandy, but Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, stepfather of Arthur, abducted Constance. Richard marched to Brittany to rescue Arthur, who was then secretly carried to France to be brought up with Louis.

Arthur paying homage to Philip II of France. Chroniques de St Denis, British Library. Philippe2+Arthur.jpg
Arthur paying homage to Philip II of France. Chroniques de St Denis, British Library.

When Richard died on 6 April 1199, on his deathbed he proclaimed his brother John as his heir, fearing Arthur was too young to look after the throne. Arthur was only twelve years old at the time and under the influence of the French king. John immediately claimed the throne of England, but much of the French nobility were resentful at recognising him as their overlord. They preferred Arthur, who declared himself vassal of Philip. Philip recognised Arthur's right to Anjou, Maine, and Poitou. Upon Richard's death Arthur led a force to Anjou and Maine. [4] From 18 April, he styled himself as Duke of Brittany, Count of Anjou and Earl of Richmond.

On 18 September, John persuaded the seneschal of Anjou, William des Roches, to defect, claiming Arthur would be a Capetian puppet. Four days later William took Arthur and Constance prisoners to Le Mans. Viscount Aimery, the seneschal appointed by John, took Arthur and Constance and fled the court to Angers, and later the court of Philip II. [5]

Treaty of Le Goulet

The Treaty of Le Goulet was signed by the kings John of England and Philip II of France in May 1200 and meant to settle once and for all the claims the Norman kings of England had as Norman dukes on French lands, including, at least for a time, Brittany. Under the terms of the treaty, Philip recognised John as King of England as heir of his brother Richard I and thus formally abandoned any support for Arthur. John, meanwhile, recognised Philip as the suzerain of continental possessions of the Angevin Empire.

Philip had previously recognised John as suzerain of Anjou and the Duchy of Brittany, but with this he extorted 20,000 marks sterling in payment for recognition of John's sovereignty of Brittany. [lower-alpha 1]

Battle against John of England

The Chateau de Falaise, where Arthur was imprisoned by King John Falaise chateau guillaume conquerant 2.jpg
The Château de Falaise, where Arthur was imprisoned by King John

After the signing of the Treaty of Le Goulet, and feeling offended by Philip, Arthur fled to John, his uncle, and was treated kindly, at least initially. However, he later became suspicious of John and fled back to Angers. Some unidentified source said that in April 1202, Arthur was again betrothed, this time to Marie of France, a daughter of Philip II and Agnes of Andechs-Merania. [6]

After his return to France, and with the support of Philip II, Arthur embarked on a campaign in Normandy against John in 1202. Poitou revolted in support of Arthur. The Duke of Brittany besieged his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, John's mother, in the Château de Mirebeau. John marched on Mirebeau, taking Arthur by surprise on 31 July 1202. [7] Arthur was captured by John's barons on 1 August, and imprisoned in the Château de Falaise in Falaise, Normandy.

Imprisonment and disappearance

At the Chateau de Falaise, Arthur was guarded by Hubert de Burgh. According to contemporaneous chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, John ordered two of his servants to blind and castrate the duke. De Burgh could not bring himself to let Arthur be mutilated. Fearful of John, de Burgh leaked news that Arthur had died of natural causes. This news infuriated Brittany, who suspected that Arthur had been murdered. [8] The following year Arthur was transferred to Rouen, under the charge of William de Braose. [9] Arthur vanished in April 1203, in the background of several military victories by Philip II of France against King John. [9]

Arthur's disappearance gave rise to various stories. One account was that Arthur's gaolers feared to harm him, and so he was murdered by John directly and his body dumped in the Seine. The Margam Annals provide the following account of Arthur's death:

After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was drunk and possessed by the devil ['ebrius et daemonio plenus'], he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognized, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant, to the priory of Bec called Notre Dame de Pres. [10]

William de Braose was rumoured to have committed Arthur's alleged assassination. He rose high in John's favour after Arthur's disappearance, receiving new lands and titles in the Welsh Marches. Many years after Arthur's disappearance, and just prior to a conflict with King John, de Braose's wife Maud de Braose accused the king of murdering Arthur. [11] Not only the Bretons, but even Philip II, were ignorant of what actually happened, and whether Arthur was alive or dead. Whatever his fate, Arthur left no known issue.

William promised to direct the attack of Mirebeau on condition he was consulted on the fate of Arthur, [12] but John broke the promise, [13] causing him to leave John along with Aimeri of Thouars and siege Angers. [14]


The mystery surrounding Arthur's death complicated his succession. This succession was presumably influenced by both King John and King Philip II. [lower-alpha 2] There were no male heirs to the ducal crown and so his succession as duke was constrained to several choices among his sisters.

His sister Eleanor, the 'Fair Maid of Brittany', was also King John's prisoner. Eleanor also presented a complicating factor, if not a threat, to John's succession plans as King of England. She remained imprisoned for her entire life, through the reign of John's actual successor, his son Henry III of England. While imprisoned, she never married and had no issue. Her imprisonment and the fact that she was located in England made it impossible for her to reign as hereditary Duchess of Brittany.

Arthur I was succeeded by his half-sister, Alix of Thouars, the daughter of Constance and her third husband Guy of Thouars. [lower-alpha 3]


Murder of Prince Arthur by Thomas Welly, 1754. Engraving after The Death of Arthur painted by William Hamilton, National Galleries of Scotland. Murder of Prince Arthur.jpg
Murder of Prince Arthur by Thomas Welly, 1754. Engraving after The Death of Arthur painted by William Hamilton, National Galleries of Scotland.

In literature

The death of Arthur is a vital ingredient in Shakespeare's history play The Life and Death of King John , in which Arthur is portrayed as a child whose innocence dissuades Hubert de Burgh from committing the murder demanded by King John. However, Arthur soon dies after jumping from his place of confinement in an escape attempt.

In the 19th century, the Breton poet Auguste Brizeux wrote of Arthur in La chasse du Prince Arthur.

In the novel Saving Grace by Julie Garwood, the heroine finds documents relating to Arthur's murder, committed under the orders of King John, by two of King John's barons. She is married to a Scottish Laird, Gabriel MacBain, to escape England, but is harassed by both King John's barons and the English faction hoping to take down King John, each party unsure of how much she knows.

In Randall Garrett's alternative-history fantasy stories, the Lord Darcy series, Richard does not "succumb to his illness", but survives it. John Lackland never becomes king, and the Plantagenet line, descending from Arthur, continues down to the present day.

In The Devil and King John by the Australian novelist Philip Lindsay, Arthur is killed by John in a fit of temper, but he is shown as a rebellious adolescent who did provoke John to some extent, rather than the innocent child in some versions. In his introduction, Lindsay acknowledged that he had no evidence that this is what happened to Arthur, but he considered it to be as good a guess as any.

Other literary works featuring Arthur include: [15]

In music

In 1912 the Breton composer Joseph-Guy Ropartz composed a symphonic poem, La Chasse du Prince Arthur (Prince Arthur's Hunt) after the poem by Brizeux. The Breton folk-rock band Tri Yann's 1995 album Portraits includes a song about Arthur. [16]

On television

Arthur and his mother Constance appear as characters in a number of episodes of the 1950s British TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood . Arthur is portrayed by actors Peter Asher (three episodes, seasons one and two), Richard O'Sullivan (one episode, season three) and Jonathan Bailey (one episode, season four). Simon Gipps-Kent portrayed Arthur's life and torturous death in the 1978 BBC series The Devil's Crown .

Genealogical table

Arthur's position within the English royal family [17]
William the Conqueror
Robert Curthose Fulk V of Anjou Eremburga of Maine William II of England Henry I of England
William Clito Geoffrey V of Anjou Matilda William Adelin
Henry II of England Eleanor of Aquitaine Geoffrey VI of Anjou William FitzEmpress
Henry the Young King Matilda Richard I of England Geoffrey II of Brittany Constance of Brittany Guy of Thouars Eleanor Alfonso VIII of Castile Joan Raymond VI of Toulouse John of England
Otto IV of Germany Eleanor Arthur I of Brittany Alix of Brittany Blanche of Castile Louis VIII of France Raymond VII of Toulouse


  1. The king of England bound himself in all ways as a vassal to his lord. He was required to obey summons, support his lord in war with troops or money, and to make payments of special feudal dues never before exacted from his lands.
  2. While John remained suzerain over Brittany, he was also vassal to Philip II of France, and so the succession of Brittany relied as much on John's preferences, as on Philip's agreement.
  3. This succession was agreed by Philip II of France. Philip replaced Guy as Alix's regent and then arranged her marriage to Pierre Mauclerc of the House of Dreux. The House of Dreux was a junior branch within the Capetian dynasty.

Related Research Articles

Anjou Province

Anjou was a French province straddling the lower Loire River. Its capital was Angers and it was roughly coextensive with the diocese of Angers. Anjou was bordered by Brittany to the west, Maine to the north, Touraine to the east and Poitou to the south. The adjectival form is Angevin, and inhabitants of Anjou are known as Angevins. During the Middle Ages, the County of Anjou, ruled by the Counts of Anjou, was a prominent fief of the French crown.

Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany 12th-century Duke of Brittany and son of King Henry II of England

Geoffrey II was Duke of Brittany and 3rd Earl of Richmond between 1181 and 1186, through his marriage with the heiress Constance. Geoffrey was the fourth of five sons of Henry II, King of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine.

Duchy of Brittany Medieval duchy in northwestern France

The Duchy of Brittany was a medieval feudal state that existed between approximately 939 and 1547. Its territory covered the northwestern peninsula of Europe, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the English Channel to the north. It was less definitively bordered by the Loire River to the south, and Normandy and other French provinces to the east. The Duchy was established after the expulsion of Viking armies from the region around 939. The Duchy, in the 10th and 11th centuries, was politically unstable, with the dukes holding only limited power outside their own personal lands. The Duchy had mixed relationships with the neighbouring Duchy of Normandy, sometimes allying itself with Normandy, and at other times, such as the Breton-Norman War, entering into open conflict.

Constance was Duchess of Brittany from 1166 to her death in 1201 and Countess of Richmond from 1171 to 1201. Constance was the daughter of Duke Conan IV by his wife, Margaret of Huntingdon, a sister of the Scottish kings Malcolm IV and William I.

Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany

Eleanor Fair Maid of Brittany, also known as Damsel of Brittany, Pearl of Brittany, or Beauty of Brittany, was the eldest daughter of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany, the fourth son of King Henry II of England, and Constance, Duchess of Brittany. After the presumed death in 1203 of her imprisoned younger brother, Arthur, she was heiress to vast lands including England, Anjou, and Aquitaine as well as Brittany, realms where the Salic Law barring the accession of females did not apply. Her uncle John, King of England was the fifth son of Henry II, and Eleanor inherited Arthur's claim to the throne as child of John's elder brother Geoffrey. Thus she posed a potential threat to John, and following his death in 1216, equally to her cousin, Henry III of England; thus, having been put in prison in 1202, she was never released. As a prisoner she was also unable to press her claim to the Duchy of Brittany as her mother's heiress.

Conan IV, Duke of Brittany Duke of Brittany

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Guy of Thouars

Guy of Thouars was the third husband of Constance, Duchess of Brittany, whom he married in Angers, County of Anjou between August and October 1199 after her son Arthur of Brittany entered Angers to be recognized as count of the three countships of Anjou, Maine and Touraine. He was an Occitan noble, a member of the House of Thouars. He is counted as a duke of Brittany, jure uxoris, from 1199 to 1201.

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John of Montfort, sometimes known as John IV of Brittany, and 6th Earl of Richmond from 1341 to his death. He was the son of Arthur II, Duke of Brittany and his second wife, Yolande de Dreux. He contested the inheritance of the Duchy of Brittany by his niece, Joan of Penthièvre, which led to the War of the Breton Succession, which in turn evolved into being part of the Hundred Years' War between England and France. John's patron in his quest was King Edward III of England. He died in 1345, 19 years before the end of the war, and the victory of his son John IV over Joan of Penthièvre and her husband, Charles of Blois.

Earl of Richmond

The now-extinct title of Earl of Richmond was created many times in the Peerage of England. The earldom of Richmond was initially held by various Breton nobles associated with the Ducal crown of Brittany; sometimes the holder was the Breton Duke himself, including one member of the cadet branch of the French Capetian dynasty. The historical ties between the Ducal crown of Brittany and this English Earldom were maintained ceremonially by the Breton dukes even after England ceased to recognize the Breton Dukes as Earls of England and those dukes rendered homage to the King of France, rather than the English crown. It was then held either by members of the English royal families of Plantagenet and Tudor, or English nobles closely associated with the English crown. It was eventually merged into the English crown during the reign of Henry VII and has been recreated as a Dukedom.

Angevin Empire Medieval dynastic union of states in present-day England, France and Ireland

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Montfort of Brittany

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Château de Falaise Castle in Normandy

The Château de Falaise is a castle from the 12th-13th century, located in the south of the commune of Falaise in the département of Calvados, in the region of Normandy, France. William the Conqueror, the son of Duke Robert of Normandy, was born at an earlier castle on the same site in about 1028. William went on to conquer England and become king, and possession of the castle descended through his heirs until the 13th century when it was captured by King Philip II of France.

William FitzEmpress was the youngest of the three sons of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. His brothers were Henry II of England and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes.

William des Roches was a French knight and crusader who acted as Seneschal of Anjou, of Maine and of Touraine. After serving the Angevin kings of England, in 1202 he changed his loyalty to King Philip II of France and became a leading member of his government.

The Devil's Crown is a BBC television series which dramatised the reigns of three medieval Kings of England: Henry II and his sons Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. It is also known as La couronne du Diable in French.

Mirebeau Commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Mirebeau is a commune in the Vienne department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in western France.

French invasion of Normandy (1202–1204)

The Normandy Campaigns were wars in Normandy from 1202 to 1204. The Kingdom of England fought the Kingdom of France as well as fighting off rebellions from nobles. Philip II of France conquered the Anglo-Angevin territories in Normandy, resulting in the Siege of Château Gaillard. The Normandy Campaigns ended in a victory for France when the Anglo-Angevin territory was greatly diminished.

Battle of Mirebeau

The Battle of Mirebeau was a battle in 1202 between the House of Lusignan-Breton alliance and the Kingdom of England. King John of England successfully smashed the Lusignan army by surprise.


  1. Carley & Riddy 1998, p. 28.
  2. McAuliffe 2012, p. 74.
  3. Everard 2004, p. 146.
  4. Everard 2004, p. 167.
  5. Gillingham 1984, p. 88.
  6. McDougall 2017, p. 226.
  7. Seel 2012, p. 47.
  8. Jones 2014, p. 164.
  9. 1 2 Jones 2014, p. 166.
  10. Jones 2014, p. 166-167.
  11. Jones 2014, p. 192.
  12. Warren 1961, p. 77.
  13. Carpenter 2003, p. 265.
  14. Warren 1961, p. 80.
  15. Eric Borgnis-Desbordes, Arthur de Bretagne (1187-1203), L'espor breton assassiné, (Yorann Embanner, 2012), 305-327.
  16. "Portraits (1995)". Tri Yann Site Officiel.
  17. Seel 2012, Figure 1.


Arthur I, Duke of Brittany
Born: 29 March 1187 Died: 1203
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Duke of Brittany
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Count of Anjou
Seized by France
Title next held by
John Tristan
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Richmond
Succeeded by