arrond. Quimper), and 273 (Rennes).
Duke Geoffrey and Brittany, 1166┬±1186
The `Assize of Count Geoffrey'
Similarly innovative is the `Assize of Count Geoffrey', a ducal act which
deserves close examination, as to both its form and its substance.71 Here,
I wish to discuss it solely in the context of Geoffrey's ducal policy. My
interpretation of the Assize in this context is that, as a ducal act, it was
intended to appease the Breton barons and to demonstrate Geoffrey's
solidarity with them.
The Assize appears to have been promulgated at a session of the ducal
curia at Rennes which occurred between Easter 1185 and Easter 1186.
The principal provision of the Assize is that baronies and knights' fees
are to pass undivided to the tenant's eldest son. Subsidiary provisions
provide for succession in the event of default of sons, or a minority, and
for arrangements between heirs and their cadets.
Discussion of the Assize has focused on the question of whether it is
legislative in character, that is, mandatory and compulsive, or contrac-
tual and consensual. On the `legislative' side of the argument, there is
the very form of the Assize, a ducal act, in which Geoffrey declares,
`assisiam feci, tempore meo et successorum meorum permansuram . . .'.
By his simple declaration, Duke Geoffrey purports to regulate succes-
sion to baronies and knights' fees henceforth. It is intended that the
provisions of the Assize will have the force of law. In this sense, the
Assize represents ducal legislation.
This interpretation of the Assize depends upon the form of the act
rather than its substance. On its face, as a legislative act of Duke
Geoffrey, the Assize demonstrates the extent of his ducal authority, and
the ef┬®cacy of Angevin administrative ef┬®ciency (or the yoke of
Angevin tyranny). Since the Assize must then be seen as forming part of
a legislative programme, and as having the highest priority, since it was
the ┬®rst piece of ducal `legislation' to be made, it becomes necessary to
assert that the subject-matter of the Assize was extremely important to
Those who have thus interpreted the Assize have found its raison-
d'etre in the duke's alleged concern as to the ability of barons and
knights to ful┬®l their obligations to perform military service.72 There is,
however, no other evidence to suggest that this was a particular concern
of Duke Geoffrey. As discussed above, there is scant evidence that
military service was strictly regulated in Brittany before 1185, and
M. Planiol, `L'Assise au Comte Geffroi: Etude sur les successions feodales en Bretagne', RHD
11 (1887), 117┬±162, and 652┬±708 remains the best work in print on the Assize. For another
edition of the `Assize' and discussion of its substantive provisions, see Appendix 1.
Most recently, Tonnerre, Naissance de la Bretagne, p. 404.
Brittany and the Angevins
Geoffrey never had any dif┬®culty in mustering suf┬®cient armed forces
when he required them. Further, it is probable that Geoffrey would not
have seen division of baronies as inherently a bad thing. In Brittany the
Angevins used division as an instrument of policy to diminish the power
of certain barons, notably the lords of Dinan and Leon.
On the contrary, Marcel Planiol was right in concluding that the
Assize is, in fact, contractual in nature.73 It is as much an act of baronial
as of ducal will, involving the balancing of ducal and baronial interests.
Compared with the phrase quoted above, more of the text of the Assize
indicates the central role of the barons' counsel and consent. Duke
Geoffrey states that he has made the Assize, `petitioni episcoporum et
baronum omnium Britannie satisfaciens, communi assensu eorum'.
Arguably, it is unsafe to interpret such a phrase completely literally, but
why should it be any more of a ┬®ction than the `legislative' language
The repeated use of the verb `concedo' is signi┬®cant in this regard.
Usage of this verb in Duke Geoffrey's charters is `to give', and more
speci┬®cally, `to grant in response to a request'.74 The use of the verb
`concedo' therefore suggests that Geoffrey `gave' or `granted' the
provisions of the Assize to the barons. There is no implication of
compulsion in this language.
There is also the institution of the oath to keep the Assize. In the text
of the Assize itself, Geoffrey declares that he and Duchess Constance
and all the barons of Brittany swear to uphold this `assisia'. The
importance of the individual swearing to uphold the Assize is apparent
from the next clause, which states that all future heirs and their cadets
must also swear to uphold the Assize. A sanction is prescribed for any
cadets who refuse to take the oath. If the Assize represented an act of
sovereign power, then it would apply to all the lands described, that is,
to all the baronies and knights' fees of Brittany. Individuals would not
be required to swear to uphold a ducal act which was mandatory in
character in order to be bound by it. Nor would the duke himself be
required to swear to keep the terms he had just ordered. In fact, the
Assize only applied to those barons and knights who agreed to it, and
these had to swear that they and their heirs would henceforth abide by
the provisions of the Assize. In return, the duke had to swear to do the
same. To fail to so swear was to cease to be bound, hence the emphasis
on ensuring that the cadets in each generation should take the oath.
M. Planiol, `L'Assise au Comte Geffroi: Etude sur les successions feodales en Bretagne', RHD ii
├‚ ├ü ├‚
(1887), 117┬±62, 652┬±708. See also B.-A. Pocquet du Haut-Jusse, `La genese du legislatif dans le
duche de Bretagne', RHD 4th ser., 40 (1962), 351┬±72 at 355┬±6.
Charters, nos. Ge 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 22, 28, 29, 30.
Duke Geoffrey and Brittany, 1166┬±1186
The same reasoning applies to the original manuscripts of the Assize.
Our record of the Assize is derived from seven texts, each addressed to a
different baron. No text has survived which might be interpreted as an
original, `of┬®cial' text, that is, one not addressed to any particular baron.
It would seem that only those barons who agreed to the terms of the
Assize were bound by it, and only they acquired written records of the
If the Assize was contractual, it must have conveyed a bene┬®t to both
parties, the barons and the duke. As to the bene┬®t derived by the
barons, a clue lies in the substantive provisions of the Assize. Succession
by male primogeniture, and by female primogeniture in default of male
heirs, was in fact the custom for baronies in Brittany long before 1185.
The Assize did not, therefore, represent an innovation, but the
con┬®rmation of Breton customary law. By formally declaring and
sanctioning their customary law, Geoffrey reassured the barons that he
did not intend to impose any con┬»icting Anglo-Norman or Angevin
The Assize was in the interests of the barons in other respects. First,
although the principle of primogeniture, at least in succession to
baronial estates, was well established, there were probably dif┬®culties
with its practical operation. A principle which dictates that the eldest
son (or daughter) shall inherit all of the patrimonial estate does not
inherently provide any rules governing provision for younger sons and
for daughters, or for procedure in the event of a minority. This is
demonstrated by the statements of the customary law of neighbouring
provinces: the `Coutume de Normandie' and the `Coutume de Tour-
aine-Anjou', and `Glanvill' for England, all of which give extremely
detailed provisions for the different circumstances which might befall an
inheritance. These matters needed to be resolved for the sake of baronial
family harmony, and the Assize was the vehicle for this. Possibly the
barons who did not swear to keep the Assize were those who felt that
their own familial customs as to these `subsidiary' issues were satisfactory
and did not need clarifying or altering.
The other respect in which the Assize favoured the barons was in
curbing the arbitrary exercise of ducal power. In declaring that, `ulterius
non ┬®erent divisiones sed major natu integre obtineret dominatum', it
may be argued that the duke was binding himself to refrain from
interfering in succession to baronies and knights' fees in the future.
Thus, by obtaining the Assize, the barons hoped to avoid repetition of
the recent Angevin intervention in baronial succession. In 1179, Duke
Geoffrey had taken the barony of Leon into his own hands and
permitted the heir an inheritance of only eleven parishes, but at least
Brittany and the Angevins
such interference could be justi┬®ed by the need to suppress revolt.
Around 1182, however, Geoffrey took Treguier into his own hands on
the death of comes Henry, permitting Henry's son Alan to enter only a
portion of his inheritance, the south-eastern region known as the
Goello. This was a good strategic move, but it had no apparent
justi┬®cation in law. It is no coincidence that Guihomar de Leon
obtained a copy of the Assize, and that Alan, son of comes Henry was a
Duke Geoffrey was not, of course, at the mercy of the Breton
barons.75 His position was not so weak that the barons could force him
into making the Assize against his will. Arguably, the Assize conveyed
some bene┬®t to the duke as well. In general terms, the bene┬®t Geoffrey
derived from the Assize was in ducal prestige. No previous duke had
purported to make a pronouncement upon customary law which
applied outside the ducal domains. The Assize was acknowledged by
bishops and barons from all over Brittany. It is signi┬®cant that now
magnates of Brittany felt that the best way to ensure that the provisions
set out in the Assize had legal effect was to give them the ducal
imprimatur. In other words, they recognised that the duke had some
authority, that rules promulgated in the duke's name could not be
ignored lightly. In return for the impressive demonstration of respect for
his ducal authority which the Assize represented by its form and nature,
Duke Geoffrey conceded to the barons the right of succession to their
estates without ducal interference, provided they respected the terms of
the Assize, which were more or less existing custom in any event.
More speci┬®cally, the Assize gave the duke the right to interfere in
the appointment of a guardian where the deceased left no brothers. The
Assize provides that, if the eldest son is an infant, and the deceased left
no brother to act as guardian, his lord has the right to veto any chosen
guardian. In practice, this meant the lord could impose his own
guardianship or extract whatever terms he wished for his consent to the
chosen guardian. Thus the duke had acquired, with the consent of the
barons, the right to intervene in the succession to baronies, and to
knights' fees held directly of the duke, in certain instances of minority.
In spite of the testimony of most of the witnesses to the `Communes
petitiones Britonum', that the duke had never had the right of
`baillium', this clause of the Assize makes it quite clear that the duke
could choose to appoint himself guardian of an infant heir who had no
paternal uncles. One witness did, in fact, recall that Duchess Constance
had had `baillium' of Hervey, prepositus of Lamballe.76 The barons, no
Planiol, `Assise', p. 670. `Communes petitiones Britonum', p. 101.
Duke Geoffrey and Brittany, 1166┬±1186
doubt, agreed to this rule because they too sought the right to intervene
in the succession of their own vassals. The seignorial right of `baillium'
was so abused by dukes and barons in the next few generations that in
1275/6 Duke Jean I commuted it into a right to receive only a relief
equivalent to one year's revenue of the estate in the case of all
successions, and individual barons made similar arrangements with their
own vassals.77 The Assize thus met the interests of both the duke and
It may generally be said that Duke Geoffrey's lordship lay relatively
lightly upon the Breton barons (with the obvious exceptions of
Guihomar de Leon and Alan, son of comes Henry of Treguier). This can
be the only reason for the troubadour Bertrand de Born to have wished
that Geoffrey could be duke of Aquitaine.78 Bertrand knew Geoffrey
personally and would certainly not have felt this sentiment if Geoffrey
had been autocratic in his dealings with the Bretons.
Duke Geoffrey and the church
In contrast with Duke Geoffrey's clear policy regarding the government
of Brittany and his relations with the Breton laity, the evidence available
does not indicate any such policy regarding the church.
The regular church
Duke Geoffrey's acts indicate his patronage of numerous monasteries
throughout eastern Brittany. Few, however, represent grants of prop-
erty; the majority are con┬®rmations of grants made by others, or of the
determination of legal disputes in favour of monasteries.
Geoffrey was unusual, as a duke of Brittany, in not founding any
monastic establishment himself. He was content to make modest grants
to existing houses. Geoffrey gave greater priority to the extension and
consolidation of ducal domain than to whatever bene┬®ts might accrue
from alienating large portions of it to monasteries. The few benefactions
actually initiated by Geoffrey were of cash revenues derived from the
pro┬®ts of ducal mills or rents, of rights of pasture in ducal forests and
exemption from payment of tolls and other dues.79 Such grants avoided
any alienation of ducal land or capital. Conversely, Duke Geoffrey was
ready to authorise the substantial dispositions of their property made by
TAC, pp. 335┬±8; Planiol, `Assise', pp. 675┬±80.
G. Gouiran, `Bertran de Born et le comte Geoffroy de Bretagne', in P. T. Ricketts (ed.), Actes
du premier congres international de l'association internationale d'etudes occitanes, London, 1987,
pp. 229┬±241 at 233, and 236.
Charters, no. Ge 7, and 30 (mills), 28 (rents), 20 (forest).
Brittany and the Angevins
barons when they founded monasteries. Such con┬®rmations were both
a source of ducal prestige, and advantageous because the baronies were
diminished, in relation to the ducal domain, by such dispositions. That
this was a matter of policy, and not a lack of piety, is indicated by
Geoffrey's grant to the cathedral of Rouen to celebrate mass for the soul
of his deceased brother Henry.80
It is also possible that Geoffrey would have founded a monastery if he
had reigned for longer. Duchess Constance, for instance, did not found
the abbey of Villeneuve until 1201, when she had been duchess for
twenty years, and this foundation was no more than the erection of an
existing grange of Buzay into an abbey. Duke Conan IV, similarly, did
not found his abbey of Carnoet until after 1167, when his enforced
`retirement' allowed him more time to devote to the project.81