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Duke Geoffrey and Brittany, 1166±1186
(these being the only locations in Brittany where charters of Duke
Geoffrey are known to have been made).
The absence of the bishop of Quimper from the ducal curia is the
most surprising, since the diocese had long been under ducal control.
Bishop Geoffrey, who may have been elected under the auspices of
either Conan IV or Henry II, died in 1184 or 1185. The absence of a
bishop of Quimper in the `Assize of Count Geoffrey' may therefore be
due to Bishop Geoffrey's ill-health or recent death and vacancy of the
see. That his successor, Theobald, was still not consecrated in 1187
suggests there was some dispute over his election, which would have
prevented Bishop Geoffrey's immediate successor from attesting ducal
acts before the duke's death in August 1186.
As to the remaining three dioceses, occupying the north-west of
Brittany, the absence of the bishops from the ducal curia may be

explained by hostility to ducal authority. Ivo, bishop of Leon, could
have been appointed by Duke Geoffrey, since his predecessor, Guy, was

alive in 1179, the year Geoffrey took Leon into his own hand.
However, the only known act of Bishop Ivo is a charter recording, with
a note of satisfaction, the determination of a dispute which went against
Duke Geoffrey's of®cers in Morlaix.101 Furthermore, despite the close

control previously exercised by the lords of Leon, after the death of
bishop Hamo in 1171 it appears that elections were conducted canoni-
cally (notwithstanding Robert de Torigni's allegations of simony against

Bishop Guy). Geoffrey, bishop of Treguier, had been a courtier of
Conan IV, and must have been elected under the lordship of comes
Henry, whose son Duke Geoffrey disinherited in 1182/3. Geoffrey,
bishop of Saint-Brieuc, must also have been a seignorial candidate, since
the regalian right was still held by the lord of Lamballe.103
Finally, it should be noted that Duke Geoffrey's accession to the
county of Nantes in 1185/6 had profound effects upon the church
there, the county being effectively coterminous with the diocese.104
The county had experienced considerable political instability ever since
the death of Conan III in 1148. Conan's death had a more profound
effect here than elsewhere in Brittany, since Nantes seems to have been
the duke's principal and preferred place of residence. The decade
following Conan III's death saw a rapid succession of lords: Count
Hoel, who had to defend his position against Eudo de Porhoet,

See note 64.

As Geoffrey son of Loes, a burgess of Guingamp (RT, ii, p. 79), he attested several charters of

Conan IV at Guingamp (EYC, iv, nos. 58, 61, 63, 64, and 70).
`Inquisitio . . . de Avaugour', pp.107, 108, 112, 113, 115, 118.

`Actes de Buzay', `Introduction', pp. lviii±lix.

Brittany and the Angevins
Geoffrey the younger brother of Henry II, Conan IV brie¯y in 1158,
and ®nally Henry II. Henry II, as has been discussed above, ruled the
county as an absentee, represented by professional ministers who
originated in and served him in other provinces as well.
The abbey of Buzay, at least, consistently sought the patronage of the
bishops of Nantes rather than the secular authority throughout this
period.105 This period of instability and `foreign' domination, or at least
remote royal authority, coincided precisely with the long and stable
episcopates of Bernard d'Escoublac (c. 1148±69) and his nephew Robert
(1170±1184 or 1185), who were popular, respected, and natives of the
county of Nantes. The government of the church of Nantes was thus in
complete contrast with the secular government, and Buzay, at least, put
its faith in the former.
With the death of Bishop Robert at the end of 1184 and the arrival of
Duke Geoffrey in 1185, the situation was reversed. The see remained
vacant for some months before the election of Maurice de Blason, a
Poitevin. In contrast, Duke Geoffrey represented a return to stable and
local secular government, his premature death the next year not then
being foreseeable. In these circumstances, the abbey of Buzay obtained
Duke Geoffrey's con®rmation of a grant by a tenant of ducal domain at
Nantes.106 It was the ®rst time Buzay had obtained con®rmation of a
grant other than from the bishop since the death of Conan III.
In his government of Brittany, Duke Geoffrey maintained a consis-
tent policy of harmony with the Breton barons. Whether individual
barons were personally loyal to Constance as heiress of the native ducal
dynasty, rather than to Geoffrey, was never put to the test. Duke
Geoffrey did not attempt to impose ®nancial or military obligations
upon the barons, he agreed to preserve their customary law of succes-
sion, he took their counsel in his court and appointed them to high
of®ce in his administration. Similarly, Geoffrey did not interfere to any
great extent with the church, and the bishops of at least the four eastern
dioceses attended his court. This state of harmony was conducive to
Geoffrey pursuing his wider ambitions, with the co-operation and
support of the Breton magnates, lay and ecclesiastical.
`Actes de Buzay', `Introduction', pp. lviii±lix. Charters, no. Ge 29.
105 106



The previous chapter demonstrated Duke Geoffrey's able performance
as Henry II's lieutenant in Brittany from 1175 to 1181, and his
competent government of the duchy from 1181 to 1186. This aspect of
Geoffrey's career has been overlooked by contemporary chroniclers and
modern historians alike, their only interest in Geoffrey arising from his
role in Angevin politics and hence his activities outside Brittany. Failure
to have regard to Geoffrey's reign as duke of Brittany, or to attempt to
interpret the events of c. 1173 to 1186 from Geoffrey's own perspective,
inevitably leads to misconceptions.
In assessing Geoffrey's career, modern writers have been over-
in¯uenced by two contemporary authors, Roger of Howden and
Gerald of Wales, accepting certain statements made by them at face-
value as the principal evidence for Geoffrey's character and motiva-
tions.1 This acceptance has been possible because no study to date has
focused on Geoffrey himself. Works on the Angevin empire are either
general, in which case Geoffrey and Brittany are relegated to a minor
role, included for the sake of comprehensiveness, or about particular
members of the Angevin royal family, Henry II, Richard or John, in
which case Geoffrey's role is as a supporting character, mentioned only
when his conduct impinges on the career of the central character.
To be fair to historians, this is the context in which Geoffrey appears
in the available contemporary literary sources. This is due to the fact
that there are no Breton chronicles for the second half of the twelfth
century, and chroniclers writing outside Brittany were not interested in
recording the duchy's internal politics. The opinions expressed by

RH, ii, pp. 276±7; Gesta, i, pp. 297±8; Gerald of Wales, `Topographia Hibernica', distinctio III,

cap. LII ( J. F. Dimock (ed.), Giraldi Cambrensis, Topographia Hibernica et Expugnatio Hibernica.
Rolls Series. London, 1867, pp. 199±201). This passage was reused by Gerald of Wales in `De
principis instructione', distinctio ii, cap. xi (G. F. Werner (ed.), Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, VIII, De
principis instructione liber, Rolls Series, London, 1891, pp. 177±9).

Brittany and the Angevins
Roger of Howden and Gerald of Wales are so credible because they
harmonize with other literary sources, which only mention Geoffrey in
the context of Angevin family politics. Rebellions, with their battles,
negotiations and treaties, were the sorts of matters recorded by
contemporary chroniclers. The greater part of Geoffrey's political
career, which was spent furthering Henry II's interests, and his own, in
Brittany, is largely unrecorded. The evidence for Geoffrey's loyalty to
Henry II can only be deduced from his pursuit of military campaigns in
Brittany on Henry II's orders and his attestations of Henry II's charters.
It is necessary, then, to review the sources which have had such a
misleading in¯uence. Roger of Howden's chronicles are one of the
principal literary sources for Geoffrey's career, and the majority of
Howden's references to Geoffrey's activities are quite neutral. Howden
could even be positive about Geoffrey, as for instance in the account of
his journey with Richard to attend Henry II's Easter court at Win-
chester in 1176. Howden records approvingly that Richard and Geof-
frey declined to travel on Good Friday, and that on their arrival at
Winchester they were met by Henry II and his court with great
rejoicing.2 What has so damned Geoffrey in the eyes of historians is
Howden's use of the epithets `®lius iniquitatis' and `®lius perditionis'.3
Howden applies these to Geoffrey only in the context of the 1183
rebellion, and nowhere else. In defying Henry II, Geoffrey was in
fundamental breach of his obligations both as a son and as a vassal. In
the course of the rebellion, men under Geoffrey's command ®red
arrows at the king's person, attacked messengers under truce and
plundered churches. Roger of Howden, as a royal courtier and a cleric,
could not but condemn such conduct, but this is the only instance in
which he expressly criticises Geoffrey.
In his `Topographia Hibernica', Gerald of Wales composed a
character-portrait of Geoffrey so detailed as to be the envy of anyone
attempting the biography of a twelfth-century ®gure. Gerald tells us that
Geoffrey was moderately attractive, although rather short in stature. He
was exceptionally eloquent, intelligent and not easily deceived.4 Else-
where, Gerald reports a speech supposedly made by Geoffrey to an
emissary sent by Henry II during the 1173 revolt, in which Geoffrey
conjures with the word `hereditarius' to make the point that familial
discord is an inherited Angevin family trait.5 Although the story is no
doubt apocryphal, it is signi®cant that Gerald chose Geoffrey, out of
Henry II's four sons, to deliver such an eloquent speech. Gerald's

Gesta, p. 114±5. RH, ii, pp. 276±7; Gesta, pp. 297 (`®lius proditionis') and 298.
2 3

See above, note 1. Werner (ed.), `De principis instructione', p. 302.
4 5

Duke Geoffrey, Henry II and the Angevin empire
emphasis on Geoffrey's eloquence is also consistent with the fact that
Geoffrey was a keen patron of poetry, in both the langue d'oc and the
langue d'oµl, and may have composed lyrics himself.6
Gerald credits Geoffrey with both cunning and bravery in warfare.7
Gerald also describes Geoffrey as `plene instructus' in military matters,
but this is in comparison with John, who was still under instruction.
Elsewhere, Gerald describes Geoffrey as a `miles egregius'. Geoffrey's
dedication to perfecting his military skills was also noted by Roger of
On the negative side, Geoffrey used his eloquence to destructive
ends. According to Gerald, it was by his eloquence and persuasive
words that Geoffrey had roused Philip Augustus and his people into
military action against Henry II and Richard in 1186.9 Geoffrey was
remarkably diligent in deceit and pretence. He was a bitter and
ungrateful son, overly in¯uenced by the Young King, although else-
where Gerald alleged Geoffrey himself was responsible for the rebellion
of 1183.10
It is tempting to treat the description of Geoffrey in `Topographia
Hibernica' as a true portrait. The description, however, belongs in a
particular literary context. It is not a portrait of Geoffrey alone, but a
comparison between Geoffrey and John. Gerald has, therefore, focused
on the similarities and differences between Henry II's two youngest
sons, rather than upon them as individuals, and the similarities and
differences have been exaggerated for effect. Furthermore, the chapter
on Geoffrey and John forms part of a longer section describing all four
of Henry II's sons.11
The principal consideration which dictates against a literal reading of
the passage, though, is the author's moral purpose, set out most clearly
in his `De principis instructione'. This does not purport to be a work of
history but a literary work on the theme of hubris, on the rise and fall of
princes and speci®cally of Henry II. In this literary scheme, the king's

Duke Geoffrey's role as literary patron, inspiration and composer is comprehensively treated in

the unpublished doctoral thesis of K.P. Carter, `Arthur I, duke of Brittany, in history and
literature' (Florida State University, 1996), pp. 350±63. See also 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, 229±41.
In Gerald's classical metaphor, the qualities of Ulysses as much as those of Achilles (`Topographia

Hibernica', p. 200; Werner (ed.), `De principis instructione', p. 178).
Werner (ed.), `De principis instructione', p. 172; RH, ii, p. 166; Gesta, p. 207.

`Topographia Hibernica', p. 200; Werner (ed.), `De principis instructione', pp. 176, 178.

Werner (ed.), `De principis instructione', p. 172.

`Topographia Hibernica', distinctio iii, cap. xlix-lii. In Werner (ed.), `De principis instructione',

distinctio ii, cap. viii-xi, the same passages are reused, in a different order, but with a particular
moral theme, which is expressed at the end of cap. xi.

Brittany and the Angevins
sons do not act with free will, but are merely the agents of the `Divine
judgment' to which Henry II is subject.12 Gerald's literary purpose is to
set up Geoffrey and John as noble princes, of exceptional promise and
talent, then to expose the serious ¯aws in their characters. The moral,
dramatically expressed in the conclusion to this passage, is that Henry II
and his sons should have been a formidable team but, for his sins, the
sons betrayed him and were cut down in their prime and Henry II was
Neither Roger of Howden nor Gerald of Wales, therefore, purports
to give an account of Geoffrey's personal motivations. Both are
interested only in Geoffrey's interactions with the principal subject of


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