The Devil's Brood: The Siblings of Duke Geoffrey II of Brittany

Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany According to Gerald of Wales, the counts of Anjou were descendants of the devil. In some distant time a count of Anjou married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Melusine. Many years later, after realising that his wife never attended mass, he forced her to remain in church during the Eucharist. As she could not bear the holy ceremony she flew screaming out of the window, revealing her demonic origin.1 Notorious for their violent disputes - often among themselves - the legend was an explanation for this 'unnatural' behaviour. The story also inspired Alfred Duggan to call his - not particularly good - book about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and their offspring Devil's Brood.2

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis of France

'Good, good Louis; if I'd managed sons instead of all those little girls, I'd still be stuck with being Queen of France and we should not have known each other. Such, my angels, is the role of sex in history.'
Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter

Eleanor's marriage to Louis VII of France, which lasted from from 1137 to 1152, produced not many but only two daughters:

Marie de Champagne (1145-1198)
Alice de Blois (1150-1198)

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II

'Yes, if I'd been sterile, darling, I'd be happier today.'
Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter

Eleanor married Henry II, who was approximately eleven years her junior, in May 1152 in Poitiers. The marriage was very fertile, no less than five sons and three daughters who grew to adulthood were born between 1153 and 1166.

William (1153-1156)
Henry the 'Young King' (1155-1183)
Matilda (1156-1189)
Richard (1157-1199)
Geoffrey (1158-1183) 
Eleanor (1162-1214)
Joan (1165-1199)
John (1166-1216)

Louis VII's children with Constance of Castile and Adèle of Champagne

To complement the list of siblings, though they were obviously not really siblings to Geoffrey and his brothers and sisters.

Marguerite of France (1158-1197)
Alys, countess of the Vexin (1160-c.1220)

Philip 'Augustus' (1165-1223)
Agnes of France (1166-after 1204)


Marie de Champagne (1145-1198)

Marie, the eldest child of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France, was probably born in 1145. The long period between her parents marriage and her birth caused Eleanor's fertility to be questioned and gives some credence to her statement that being married to Louis was like being married to a monk. According to one account it was only after the intercession of Bernard of Clairvaux that Eleanor finally gave birth, though only to a girl.3

In 1147 her father betrothed her to Henri, Count of Champagne (1127-1181), whom Louis had befriended on crusade.4 She remained with her father, after her parents' marriage was annulled. Louis VII married, as his third wife, Adèle de Champagne, Henri's sister. Her step-mother was therefore also her sister-in-law. Marie and Henri had four children. Marie was regent first during her husband's absence on Crusade and after his death in 1181 until her son, Henri, came of age in 1187. Marie became regent once more when her son went on crusade. She died in 1198 after having become a nun at Fontaines-les-Nones.5 

Alice de Blois (1150-1198)

Alice, the second daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII was born in about 1150, after her parents' return from the second crusade. Like her elder sister Marie she remained with her father after their parents' marriage was annulled. In 1164, she was married to Theobald of Blois, brother of Henri de Champagne, who was married to her sister Marie, and Adèle de Champagne, the third wife of her father. Alice and Theobald had seven children. After Theobald's death during the siege of Acre, Alice became regent for her young son Theobald who died young. She died in about 1197/8.

William (1153-1156)

While the first child of Eleanor and Louis VII was born only after about eight years of marriage, and another five years passed before the birth of a second child, Eleanor's marriage to Henry II produced their first offspring very quickly: Their son William was born in August 1153. The choice of name for their firstborn son can be regarded as a link both to the Norman ancestors of Henry II and to Eleanor's family. William died in December 1156 and was buried in Reading Abbey, the burial place of Henry II's grandfather Henry I.6

Henry, the 'Young King' (1155-1183)

After the early death of his elder brother William, Henry became the heir to the throne. Already in 1160 he was married to Marguarite of France. In 1170 he was crowned king, one of the only two occasions in English history that this happened. It may have been the fact that young Henry participated in the rebellions of his mother and siblings against their father that discouraged Henry II from formally installing Richard (or one of his other sons) as his successor after Henry's death in 1183.

While popular in his own time being a social person and celebrated participant of tournaments, his life's achievements are not very impressive.7 Whose fault this was, his own flawed character, his father's unwillingness to share the government or Eleanor of Aquitaine's alleged inadequacies as a mother, have been widely discussed.

William, his only son with Marguarite of France, was born prematurely and died after only a few days in 1177. It would be interesting, though of course futile, to speculate what would have happened if William had survived. At the time of his grandfather's death in 1189 he would have been just twelve years old, almost exactly the same age his cousin Arthur was at the time of Richard's death ten years later. Taking Richard's character into account it seems highly unlikely that he'd stepped back in favour of a child, who like Arthur ten years later would have had the backing of the French king. History would have certainly gone down a different route then…

Matilda (1156-1189)

Matilda, the eldest daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was born in June 1156 at Windsor Castle. In the spring of 1165, when she was not even nine years old, a double marriage was planned to cement the alliance between the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa and Henry II. Matilda was to marry Henry the Lion, the Emperor's cousin and Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, and her younger sister Eleanor the Emperor's infant son Frederick. While the latter marriage never took place, Matilda and the considerably older Duke Henry married on 1 February 1168 at Minden Cathedral. Henry, who was born between 1129 and 1135, had previously been married to Clementia of Zähringen, but the marriage had been annulled in 1162 when the marriage had still produced no surviving sons. [Their only son had died in infancy when he fell off a table.]

Matilda and Henry first child, a daughter who was named after the duke's grandmother Richenza, was born in 1172. More children followed. However, Henry and his cousin Frederick I had a falling out. In the power struggle that followed, Henry was deprived of his two duchies and most of his other estates. Henry and his wife were forced to go into exile. They spent three years, from 1182-1185, at her father's court. While Henry had for a long time had the problem that he had immense estates but no son to inherit them, he now had the opposite problem: he had not much land left and too many children. Henry II, his wife's father, and later her brother Richard, were willing to help out. Whether Henry was happy about this is a different question. Their eldest daughter Richenza, who was now renamed Matilda, and the two younger sons, Otto and William, were left behind when their parents returned to Germany in 1185.8 While Otto and William eventually returned to Germany, Matilda stayed and played her part in the family's marriage strategies. She first married Geoffrey III, Count of Perche, and after his death, Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy. Matilda died in 1210.9

During her stay at her father's court, Matilda also met Bertran de Born, who wrote two minnesongs about her in which he refers to her as Helen as her exceptional beauty made her superior to all other women.10

When her husband was exiled a second time in 1189 - having refused to accompany Frederick I on the third crusade - Matilda remained behind in Braunschweig, where she died on 28 June 1189. She was buried in St Blasius cathedral there.

There is little we know of Matilda personally, but there is no doubt that she influenced her husband's court significantly. The cult of Thomas Becket was introduced to Germany by her, and she also brought French literature to her husband's court. The first translations of the Song of Roland was most likely written on order of Henry the Lion and Matilda. It has been argued that it was Matilda who introduced the story of Tristan and Iseult to northern Germany, but whether the duke and duchess can be identified as the patrons of the first German version by Eilhardt of Oberg has been questioned.11

The beautiful tomb of Matilda and Henry in St Blasius Cathedral was built only decades after their death. Though the two figures depicting the duke and duchess were of course not intended to be portraits, they are regarded as among the finest examples of Gothic sculpture in Germany.12 In 1935, an excavation in the church attempted to find the graves of Matilda and Henry. The body first identified as Henry has since been found to be in fact that of a woman. A newer study of the results has proposed that the remains were those of Matilda.13

Richard (1157-1199)

Richard is without a doubt not only the most famous of his siblings, but probably also one of the most famous kings of medieval England. As a crusader and warrior he gathered fame already during his lifetime and soon was turned into the stuff of legend. A part of his popularity is no doubt due to the fact that he is, since Sir Walter Scott first introduced him to the legend, part of the Robin Hood myth. However, the quality of his kingship is a matter of debate and while there are some modern historians who regard him as one of the best kings England ever had (Nigel Saul and John Gillingham readily spring to mind) he also has his detractors who think that his obsession with war prove him to be a less formidable king than his father was. It has been argued that many of his younger brother's problems, both in Normandy and with the English barons, were in fact inherited from Richard.

Information about Richard is readily available (online and in any decent bookshop or library) and need not be repeated here.14 

Geoffrey (1158-1183)

See Main Page.


Eleanor was the second daughter and fifth child of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Born in 1162 she was married to Alfonso VIII, King of Castile in 1176 (or 1177). Eleanor received a large dower settlement from her husband, and, controversially, Gascony as her dowry from her father. The grant was to come into effect only after the death of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alfonso tried to establish his rule over Gascony in 1206, but abandoned his efforts, when he came to the conclusion that it was too troublesome a region to be worth the effort. He preferred to spent his time and energy rather on the Reconquista. By all evidence, Eleanor and Alfonso's marriage was a success, and Eleanor had considerable influence on her husband as well as in her own right. They died within two weeks of each other in 1214.

Like her mother, Eleanor had a large number of children. Several of her children died young. Only her youngest son Enrique survived his parents and he died only three years after his parents' at the age only thirteen. His eldest sister, Berengaria, who had married Alfonso IX of Leon, succeeded as Queen of Castile.

As so often with dynastic marriages, Eleanor's was both the source of advantages and disadvantages for her natal family. When Louis, the son and heir of Philip Augustus, invaded England in 1216, he claimed the crown as husband of Eleanor's daughter Blanche. The question of her dowry became a bone of contention again later in the thirteenth century, when the Kings of Castile renewed the claim to Gascony and caused Henry III already troubled reign additional problems.15


Joan, the youngest daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, was born in 1165 in Angers. Her life is marked by tragedies. She was married to William II, king of Sicily at the age of twelve. In 1189, William II died unexpectedly at the age of 36. If William and Joan had a child, Bohemund, he had died soon after birth [he is only mentioned by Robert of Torigni]. After William's death the succession to the throne was contested between Tancred of Lecce, the illegitimate son of count Roger of Lecce and therefore grandson of King Roger II of Sicily, and Constance of Sicily, wife of Emperor Henry VI and William II's aunt. Tancred of Lecce succeeded at first in establishing himself king in 1190. He confiscated her dower and took Joan into custody.

On his way to the crusade Richard I made a stop in Sicily demanding the release of his sister and her dowry. Depending on your point-of-view, Richard's activities on Sicily either show he was a great king, liberating his sister, retrieving her dowry, and sorting out the Sicilian question, or his actions are a show-piece of Richard's heavy-handed methods, including the burning and looting Messina, his disregard for other people and their rights as well as his failure to see long-term consequences of his actions, since he not only managed to alienate King Philip of France, he also antagonised the Roman Emperor Henry VI [Richard's meddling in what Henry VI considered his domain as well as Richard's financial support of the opposing nobles in the lower Rhine region were the reasons why Henry VI was delighted when Richard I was captured by Leopold of Austria in 1192]. Richard spent the money he received in compensation for Joan's dower on the crusade, leaving Joan without security.

Joan accompanied her brother on crusade. A curious story alleges that Richard proposed that Joan marry Saladin's brother, Saphadin, and the two become joint rulers of Jerusalem. There are some doubts whether this proposal was ever made, and if it was it is highly unlikely Richard was serious about it. After their return Joan stayed in the household Richard's wife Berengaria for four years, until a new marriage was arranged for her. In 1196, she was married to Raymond VI, count of Toulouse, as part of the peace settlement that ended the 'Forty Years War' between the counts of Toulouse and Henry II and Richard I. She became Raymond VI's fourth wife, and the marriage seems not seem to have been very happy. She quarreled with her husband and, fleeing the siege of Toulouse in 1199, sought refuge with her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine at Fontevrault, where she insisting to be ordained a nun, which was highly unusual as she was not only pregnant but still married. Nonetheless, her wish was granted. She died in childbirth and was also buried in Fontevrault. Her son died soon after birth and was buried in Rouen. Interestingly, her elder son Raymond VII, even though he was only two years old when his mother died, decided to be buried in Fontevrault as well. Unfortunately, both his and Joan's monuments there were destroyed during the French Revolution.16


Coming not very far behind Richard in a chart of most well-known English kings, John has a very different reputation from his elder brother. It is not only in Robin Hood that he plays the villain to Richard's hero. In 2006 he was elected "worst Briton of the thirteenth century" by the BBC History Magazine and John Gillingham called him "the most overrated English monarch" (though I admit I am wondering what he read to come to this conclusion).

There is no doubt that his infamy is to a large part deserved, though, as mentioned above, some historians point out that he
inherited some of the difficulties that plagued the Angevin Empire. However that may be, John certainly had a knack of creating new problems. Some of his cunning plans to improve the situation only made them worse, like his marriage to Isabelle d'Angoulême. His gravest mistake was, however, that he alienated a large section of barons and knights, which led eventually not only to the signing of Magna Carta, but to a full-blown civil war and an invasion by the French. On the plus side, under his reign administration developed as did the institutions of the law (and not only in the shape of Magna Carta).

It has been said more than one that the greatest service John did his country was to die in the night of 18 to 19 October 1216. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral, but not because (as I have read somewhere) he was a disgraced king and not fit to be buried in Westminster. [No English King since the Norman Conquest had been buried in Westminster.] Worcester was his own choice as he was particularly fond of St Oswald, and because his own foundation, Beaulieu, was at this time occupied by the French.17

1 Elizabeth Hallam (ed.), The Plantagenet Encyclopedia (Godalming, 1996), p. 134. The legendary origins of the Lusignan family are virtually the same.
2 Alfred Duggan, Devil's Brood. The Angevin Family (London, 1957). See also pp. 9-10 for his version of the legend.
Jane Martindale, 'Eleanor, suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122-1204)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Theodore Evergates 'Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne', in T. Evergates, Aristocratic Women in Medieval France (Philadephia, 1999), p. 77.
Elizabeth A. R. Brown, 'Eleanor of Aquitaine Reconsidered: The Woman and Her Seasons', in Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons (eds.), Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady (New York, 2002), p. 16.
Jane Martindale, 'Eleanor , suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122-1204)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Alison Weir, Britain's Royal Families - The Complete Genealogy (London, 1989)p. 59.
7 For a more sympathetic view and interesting discussions on Henry see this Blog hosted by Kasia Ogrodnik Fujcik: "Henry the Young King"
8 Jens Ahlers, Die Welfen und die englischen Könige, 1165-1235 (Hildesheim, 1987), p. 22.
9 Weir, p. 60.
10 Karl Jordan, Heinrich der Löwe. Eine Biographie, (München, 1980) p. 215. I have read elsewhere that it seems unlikely these songs are really about Matilda since one refers to her being naked, and her husband would have hardly find this particularly amusing. (Cannot now remember where…)
11 Have to find reference!
Jochen Luckhardt, 'Grabmal und Totengedenken Heinrichs des Löwen', in: Jochen Luckhardt und Franz Niehoff (eds.), Heinrich der Löwe und seine Zeit. Herrschaft und Repräsentation der Welfen 1125-1235. Katalog der Ausstellung, Braunschweig 1995, vol. 2 (München, 1995), pp. 283-91.
13 Tilmann Schmidt, 'Nachuntersuchung der angeblichen Gebeine Heinrichs des Löwen', Anthropologischer Anzeiger 34 (1974), p. 258; For the above see also Karl Jordan's biography of Henry the Lion passim. There is also a very good more recent biography by Joachim Ehlers, Heinrich der Löwe. Eine Biography (München, 2008). For Matilda see also Collette Bowie, The Daughters of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (Turnhout, 2014).
14 See among many others: John Gillingham, Richard Coeur de Lion (London, 1992); Nigel Saul, The Three Richards: Richard I, Richard II and Richard III (2006); Ralph V.
Turner and Richard R. Heiser (eds.), The Reign of Richard Lionheart: Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189-1199 (2000). And, no, I am not a fan of Richard.
C. Bowie (s. above).
16 D. Abulafia, 'Joanna [Joan, Joanna of England], countess of Toulouse (1165–1199), queen of Sicily, consort of William II, ODBN; C. Bowie (s. above).
17 I have read so much about King John and Magna Carta I wouldn't know where to start or stop.

Return to Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany

Return Home