Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany

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Geoffrey II
Duke of Brittany
ReignJuly 1181 – 19 August 1186
Predecessor Constance
Born23 September 1158
Died19 August 1186 (aged 27)
Paris, Kingdom of France
Spouse Constance, Duchess of Brittany
Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany
Arthur I, Duke of Brittany
House Plantagenet / Angevin [lower-alpha 1]
Father Henry II, King of England
Mother Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine

Geoffrey II (Breton : Jafrez; Latin : Galfridus, Anglo-Norman : Geoffroy; 23 September 1158 – 19 August 1186) was Duke of Brittany and 3rd Earl of Richmond between 1181 and 1186, through his marriage to Constance, Duchess of Brittany. Geoffrey was the fourth of five sons of Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine. [1]



In the 1160s, Henry II began to alter his policy of indirect rule in Brittany and to exert more direct control. [2] Henry had been at war with Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. Local Breton nobles rebelled against Conan, so Conan sought Henry II's help. In 1164, Henry intervened to seize lands along the border of Brittany and Normandy and, in 1166, he invaded Brittany to punish the local barons. [3] Henry then forced Conan to abdicate as duke and to give Brittany to his five-year-old daughter, Constance, who was handed over and betrothed to Henry's son Geoffrey. [3] This arrangement was quite unusual in terms of medieval law, as Conan might have had sons who could have legitimately inherited the duchy. [4] [lower-alpha 2] Geoffrey and Constance eventually married, in July 1181. [5]

Growing tensions between Henry and Louis VII of France 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. [6] Louis allied himself with the Welsh, Scots and Bretons and attacked Normandy. [7] 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. [8] [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. [lower-alpha 3] [lower-alpha 4] 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 Louis VII's son Philip, and the two men 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 wrote 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 by his powers of language able to corrupt two kingdoms; of tireless endeavour, a hypocrite in everything, a deceiver and a dissembler." [11]

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, as a consequence, of the majority of chroniclers who wrote about his life.


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


Geoffrey died on 19 August 1186, at the age of 27, in Paris. There is also evidence that supports a death date of 21 August 1186. [12] 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 is said to have tried to jump into the coffin. Roger of Hoveden's chronicle [13] 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; by 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 was on good terms, was present at the requiem for her half-brother and established a mass chantry for the repose of his soul. [14]

Geoffrey was buried in the choir of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, [15] but his tombstone was destroyed in the 18th century before the French Revolution. [16] His body was exhumed in 1797 and measured at 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m). [17]


After Geoffrey's death, Henry II arranged for Constance, Geoffrey's widow, to marry Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester. Ranulf would become Duke of Brittany, jure uxoris, for a short time before this marriage was annulled.


In literature

Geoffrey II of Brittany is a major character in the play The Lion in Winter (1966) by James Goldman where his portrayal is reminiscent of that made by Gerald of Wales, and in the novel Devil's Brood (2008) by Sharon Kay Penman. He is also mentioned in the tragedies The Troublesome Reign of King John (anonymous, c.1589), King John (1593–1596) by William Shakespeare and King John by Richard Valpy, the poem Le petit Arthur de Bretagne à la tour de Rouen (1822) by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, the drama Arthur de Bretagne (1885) by Louis Tiercelin and the novels Lionheart (2011) and A King's Ransom (2014) by Sharon Kay Penman, as well as in the second volume of the trilogy Le Château des Poulfenc (2009) by Brigitte Coppin.

In theatre and television

Geoffrey has been portrayed by John Castle in the movie The Lion in Winter (1968) and by John Light in the 2003 made-for-TV remake. He has also been portrayed by Austin Somervell (as a boy) and Martin Neil (as an adult) in the BBC TV drama series The Devil's Crown (1978).

Genealogical table

Geoffrey's position within the English royal family [18]
Fulk V of Anjou Eremburga of Maine Matilda of Scotland Henry I of England
Geoffrey V of Anjou Matilda William Adelin Matilda
Henry II of England Eleanor of Aquitaine Geoffrey VI of Anjou William FitzEmpress Bertha of Brittany
Henry the Young King Matilda Richard I of England Eleanor Joan John I of England Conan IV of Brittany
Geoffrey II of Brittany Constance of Brittany
Arthur I of Brittany Eleanor

See also


  1. Historians are divided in their use of the terms "Plantagenet" and "Angevin" in regards to Henry II and his sons. Some class Henry II to be the first Plantagenet King of England; others refer to Henry, Richard and John as the Angevin dynasty, and consider Henry III to be the first Plantagenet ruler.
  2. Henry never formally became Duke of Brittany as he was only holding the duchy on behalf of Geoffrey and Constance.
  3. The meetings leading to the Truce of Gisors probably occurred at the Château de Gisors which had been built by Henry I of England.
  4. Richard was absent from Gisors and would reconcile with Henry II later at a place between Tours and Amboise.

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    1. Britannica Online
    2. Everard (2000), pp. 41–42.
    3. 1 2 Everard (2000), p. 42.
    4. Everard 1999, pp. 43–44.
    5. Warren, Wilfred Lewis, King John, (University of California Press, 1973), 574.
    6. Warren 2000, p. 105.
    7. Dunbabin, p. 59.
    8. Dunbabin, p. 59
    9. Warren 2000, p. 106.
    10. Everard (2000), pp. 45–46.
    11. Dan Jones, "The Plantagenets", p. 102
    12. Marie-Aline de Mascureau, Chronologie, published originally in Aliénor d’Aquitaine. Revue 303, hors-série no 81, pp. 218–223, Nantes 2004, in Edmond-René Labande, Pour une image véridique d’Aliénor d’Aquitaine, edited with a preface by Martin Aurell of la Société des antiquaires de l'Ouest-Geste edition of 2005. ISBN   2-84561-224-9, p. 142
    13. Hoveden on The 1183 Revolt
    14. Kelly, Amy (1950). Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. p. 226.
    15. Everard, Judith (2000). Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire, 1158–1203. p. 144 and 144n87.
    16. Destroyed tombs at Notre-Dame de Paris
    17. As related by Valentine Green in The Gentleman's Magazine, 67, pt 2, 1797
    18. Turner & Heiser 2000, pp. 256–257


    Regnal titles
    Preceded by Duke of Brittany jure uxoris
    with Constance
    Succeeded by
    Peerage of England
    Preceded by Earl of Richmond
    with Constance
    Succeeded by