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centuries: Some new charter evidence', in K. Borchardt and E. Bunz (eds.), Forschungen zur
Reichs-, Papst- und Landesgeschichte, Stuttgart, 1998, 161±73 at 170.

Ducal Brittany, 1066±1166
landed in Brittany and proceeded to take the county of Rennes by
Conan was strongly supported by the baronage of north-eastern
Brittany, including Ralph de Fougeres and Rolland de Dinan. The only
Breton magnate known to have opposed Conan's lordship (outside
Eudo's personal mouvance) was John de Dol, lord of Combour. The
outcome, at the end of 1156, was that Conan IV was generally
acknowledged as duke of Brittany, but the county of Nantes remained
completely independent of the duchy and was ruled by Geoffrey of
Thus for nearly ten years in the mid-twelfth century Brittany was in
state of civil war. The consequences were disastrous from the point-of-
view of Breton independence. The advances in ducal authority achieved
by Alan IV and Conan III were checked as barons took advantage of
the near-anarchy to usurp ducal and ecclesiastical possessions. The
ancient divisions of Brittany again came to the fore. In the succession
crisis, the counties of Nantes and Cornouaille chose to support one
ruler, Rennes, and the Broerec another, and the baronies of Penthievre

and Leon remained aloof from ducal affairs as usual. These divisions
had, of course, been alive all the time, especially in the case of the
county of Nantes. The loss of the county of Nantes to the duchy would
prove the most damaging long-term consequence, enabling Henry II to
gain his ®rst foothold in Brittany. The fact that Nantes was already
under Angevin control explains why this county was the ®rst part of
Brittany to be acquired by Henry II in 1158. The tradition of
severability of the county, furthermore, would enable Henry II to retain
it in his own hand even after his son Geoffrey had become duke of
Brittany in 1181.



Brittany was the only one of Henry II's continental dominions to be
acquired by his own efforts, rather than by inheritance or marriage. The
fact that Henry II had to acquire Brittany by his own efforts explains the
disproportionately large amount of his own time and resources the king
invested in this province.
Henry II did not, initially, plan to conquer Brittany. He would have
been satis®ed with recognition of his sovereignty by the native ruler. At
the beginning of his reign, the king adopted the same policy towards
Brittany as he did towards Wales, Scotland and later Ireland. That is, a
native ruler was allowed to rule the province, subject only to his loyalty
and possibly the payment of some form of tribute.1 In the case of
Brittany, Henry II sponsored the young Duke Conan IV from as early
as 1153. Even after the king seized the county of Nantes in 1158, his
policy towards Conan as native ruler of the rest of Brittany remained
From 1156, Angevin possession of the county of Nantes secured the
borders of Brittany with the neighbouring provinces of Anjou and
Poitou, which were already under Henry II's lordship. Further north,
the king also pursued a policy of neutralising the potential threat to his
lordship in Maine and Normandy posed by the marcher baronies of
‚ Á
Vitre, Fougeres and Combour. On these terms, Henry II was prepared
to allow Conan IV to rule as duke of Brittany.
Henry II's policy changed completely in the next few years,
however, when it became apparent that his client-duke was unable to
maintain order in Brittany. In 1166, Conan was forced to abdicate,
having agreed to the marriage of his heiress, Constance, to Henry II's

W. L. Warren, Henry II, London, 1973, ch. 4; R. Frame, The political development of the British Isles

1100±1400, Oxford, 1990, part i, chs. 1±3; R. R. Davies, The age of conquest: Wales 1063±1415,
Oxford, 1991, p. 52.

Henry II and Brittany
then youngest son, Geoffrey. As guardian of Constance and her
inheritance, Henry II became de facto duke of Brittany.
I have deliberately avoided describing Henry II's acquisition of
Brittany as a `conquest'. The king's several military campaigns in
Brittany, undertaken in person or by Geoffrey as his lieutenant, were
not campaigns of conquest followed by redistribution of land to the
king's followers, but campaigns against certain individual barons, who at
particular times and for particular reasons, rebelled against Henry II's
authority. The king also employed diplomatic and (arguably, at least)
lawful methods, such as the exercise of his feudal rights of wardship and
marriage of heiresses, to control the duchy. In fact, the population of
Brittany seems to have accepted Angevin rule.
Henry II's interest in Brittany was derived from three principal
factors. First, there was the strategic consideration that Brittany should
not be a threat to the security of the other Angevin dominions, second,
the king's policy of restoring the rights enjoyed by his grandfather
Henry I, king of England and duke of Normandy, and third, the need
to acquire territory to provide for a younger son.
It may seem to the modern observer that Brittany's maritime situation
would have been signi®cant to Henry II. The Armorican peninsula
intersected the shipping routes between the northern and southern
provinces of the Angevin empire, and approached the British Isles to
the north-west. In fact, this was of secondary importance in the twelfth
century. Brittany's strategic importance lay primarily in its common
borders with nearly all the continental provinces of the Angevin empire
± Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou.
Henry II probably perceived Brittany as having most in common
with Wales, and with Scotland and Ireland to a lesser extent. That is, it
was a province in an isolated position on the western fringes of his
`empire', and of interest only insofar as its common, and inconveniently
long and ill-de®ned, borders with his continental dominions posed a
threat to the security and order of these regions. Hence, like Wales,
Scotland and Ireland, it was suf®cient for Henry II's purposes that
Brittany should be ruled by a trustworthy native ruler, provided the
frontiers were secure. If not, it would represent a haven for rebellious
subjects of the adjacent provinces, who might easily slip across into
Brittany to escape royal authority. The importance of this consideration
is demonstrated by the incidence of rebellion among Breton barons in
1173±4, and Henry II's strategy against them, which concentrated on
securing the frontiers of Brittany with Normandy, Maine and Anjou.
At its southern borders, the county of Nantes marched with Poitou,
another region of independent barons whose loyalty to Henry II could
Brittany and the Angevins
not be relied upon. The strategic factor was probably the single
consideration which determined Henry's policy towards Brittany from
the very beginning of his reign.2
Secondly, Henry II's passion for restoring and enjoying the rights of
his royal grandfather motivated him to seek to exercise sovereignty over
Brittany from an early stage in his political career.3 There was ample
precedent for the duke of Normandy to assert sovereignty over the
duke of Brittany. Duke Alan IV (1084±1112) rendered homage to
Henry I as duke of Normandy. In 1113, King Louis VI of France
acknowledged that Brittany was held of the dukes of Normandy.4
Brittany again bears comparison with Wales in this respect. In Wales,
Henry I had made real acquisitions, in terms of territory brought under
royal control and administration, which were lost after his death.5
Although Henry I never invaded Brittany and never directly intervened
in its internal politics, he had the dukes' active loyalty. During the civil
war following Henry I's death, Anglo-Norman control in both Wales
and Brittany dissolved.6 At least some of the Bretons had actively
supported the Angevin cause in Normandy. In 1140, a contingent of
Bretons including Henry de Fougeres aided Geoffrey Plantagenet in his
conquest of Normandy, and in 1151 Bretons also campaigned with his
son, the future Henry II, in Normandy against a coalition of King Louis
VII and Eustace, son of King Stephen.7
In particular, interference in the contest between the archbishops of
Dol and Tours over metropolitan status was something of a tradition of
the Anglo-Norman kings of England. In the eleventh and twelfth
centuries, the diocese of Dol and the barony of Combour were subject
to Norman in¯uence, at the expense of the authority of the duke of
Brittany in the region. It is no coincidence that Henry II's ®rst action in
relation to Brittany, as early as 1155, was to intervene on behalf of the
archbishop of Dol in this matter.8
Henry II was certainly aware of the tradition of Norman suzerainty
over Brittany, since in 1169 he arranged for his eldest son, the young
Warren, Henry II, pp. 71±2, and 203±4; J. Le Patourel, `Henri II Plantagenet et la Bretagne',

MSHAB 58 (1981), 99±116 at 100; J.-C. Meuret, Peuplement, pouvoir et paysage sur la marche
‚ ‚
Anjou-Bretagne (des origines au Moyen-Age), Laval, 1993; E. Chenon, `Les marches separantes
d'Anjou, Bretagne et Poitou', RHD 16 (1892), 18±62, 165±211 and 21 (1897), 62±80.
Warren, Henry II, pp. 219±20; Le Patourel, `Henri II', pp. 99±100.

P. Jeulin, `L'hommage de la Bretagne en droit et dans les faits', AB 41 (1934), 380±473 at 411±8;

Á ‚
J.-F. Lemarignier, Recherches sur l'hommage en marche et les frontieres feodales, Lille, 1945,
pp. 115±22; D. Bates, Normandy before 1066, London, 1982, pp. 66, 70, 83.
Warren, Henry II, pp. 68±9; Frame, British Isles, pp. 25±6; Davies, Wales, pp. 36±52.

Frame, British Isles, pp. 28±9; Davies, Wales, pp. 45±51.

P. Marchegay and A. Salmon (eds.), Chroniques d'Anjou, i, Paris, 1856, pp. 296±8; RT, i, p. 254.

See below, pp. 69±75.

Henry II and Brittany
King Henry, as duke of Normandy, to do homage to King Louis VII
for Brittany, and thence for Geoffrey to do homage to his brother.
Henry II had also inherited from his Angevin ancestors a tradition of
close interest, if not outright claims to sovereignty, in the county of
Nantes.9 Henry II thus inherited two historic claims to sovereignty over
Brittany. As can be seen from the different policies he implemented
regarding the county of Nantes and the rest of Brittany, he pursued
both. Henry II's acquisition of Brittany was, therefore, the ful®lment of
ambitions long held by both the dukes of Normandy and the counts of
The third factor, the acquisition of lands for a younger son, would
not have been an issue until 1158. Until then, Henry had not had more
than two surviving sons. With two sons, succession would have been a
simple matter of the elder inheriting the patrimony of England,
Normandy, Maine and Anjou, and the younger the lands acquired by
marriage, the duchy of Aquitaine. To provide for more sons without
dividing these estates required further acquisitions. A third son, Geof-
frey, was born in September 1158, the same month that Henry II laid
claim to the county of Nantes.
Henry's changing policy towards Ireland is analogous in this respect.
Whatever his original motives in intervening in Ireland, by as early as
1177, Henry had designated it as the inheritance of his youngest son
John, then aged nine. This conveniently made provision for a younger
son and ensured (in theory) a stable and loyal Angevin government in
that province.10 Similarly, in 1158, the vacant county of Nantes
represented suitable provision for a younger son, and, from Henry II's
point-of-view, needed to be under Angevin control. Further evidence
is afforded by Geoffrey's name. Since he was born only weeks after the
death of his younger brother had provided Henry II with his opportu-
nity to claim Nantes, it is probable that the infant Geoffrey was named
after his uncle, and that the county of Nantes was designated as his
inheritance from birth. Provision for a younger son was not a concern
of Henry II before September 1158, but would have become relevant to
his policy towards Brittany thereafter.
The ®rst two considerations discussed here were perfectly consistent
with Henry II's initial policy of allowing Brittany to be ruled by its
native duke, provided he acted in accordance with Angevin interests.

J. Dunbabin, France in the making: 843±1180, Oxford, 1985, pp. 184 -5; A. Chedeville and

‚ Á
N. Tonnerre, La Bretagne feodale XIe-XIIIe siecle, Rennes, 1987, pp. 34±5, 39, 67±8; see also

J. Boussard, Le comte d'Anjou sous Henri II Plantagenet et ses ®ls (1151±1204), Paris, 1938,
pp. 73±4; P. Galliou and M. Jones, The Bretons, Oxford, 1991, pp. 187±90.
Warren, Henry II, pp. 203±4.

Brittany and the Angevins
Even the third, the need to provide for a younger son, could have been
met by the county of Nantes alone. In the years between 1158 and
1166, it appears that there was a convergence of circumstances in
which, on the one hand, Duke Conan IV proved unsatisfactory, and on
the other, Henry II had a healthy younger son to provide for. The fact
that Conan IV's only child was a daughter, who could be married to
Geoffrey in order to reinforce his title to the duchy, may have further
commended to Henry the policy he made public in 1166.
A further relevant factor is that Henry II could in¯uence the political
situation in Brittany because some Breton barons held substantial estates
in England. The king thus had a powerful means of coercing them by
threatening direct action against their English lands.11 The most
substantial English estate in Breton hands was the honour of Richmond,
held by the lords of Penthievre, latterly by Alan the Black, who died in
1146. When Henry II became king of England it happened that Alan's
son Conan, the heir to the honour of Richmond, was also heir to the
duchy of Brittany through his mother, Bertha. The union of tenure of
the honour of Richmond and the duchy of Brittany in one individual


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