Arthur of Brittany Captured: August 1st, 1202. (Months Past).(Brief Article)

By Cavendish, Richard | History Today, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Arthur of Brittany Captured: August 1st, 1202. (Months Past).(Brief Article)


Cavendish, Richard, History Today


THE FIRST misfortune in Arthur of Brittany's short life was to be born without a father. He was the posthumous son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, fourth son of Henry II, by Constance, heiress of the Dukes of Brittany. Geoffrey was fatally wounded in a tournament in Paris and the baby was born afterwards, in 1187. The Plantagenets wanted him christened Henry after his grandfather, but Constance named him Arthur for the legendary King Arthur, a name to conjure with among the Bretons. Unfortunately, he had been born into a nest of hornets and he was done no favours when his uncle Richard Coeur de Lion, setting off on crusade in 1190, named Arthur as his heir. This was presumably because a child of three was not likely to be a focus of plots, but the choice was a challenge to Arthur's other uncle, Richard's younger brother John. Constance later sent Arthur to be reared in the household of the King of France, Philip II Augustus, who was keeping a shrewd and predatory eye on the situation.

As it happened, John was in Brittany with Constance and Arthur in April 1199 when the word came of the death of Richard, mortally wounded while besieging the castle of Chalus. On his deathbed he had named John his heir, but the rules of inheritance were still fluid and there were genuine doubts about who was the rightful successor. John immediately rode for Chinon, where the Angevin treasury was kept, while Constance sent a Breton army to take control of Angers, in Anjou, where a meeting of barons from Anjou and Maine duly declared for Arthur. The Breton army and a French force marched on Le Mans in Maine and almost caught John, but he got away and retreated to Normandy. There and in England he was accepted as Richard's successor, though without noticeable enthusiasm. It was of course in Philip Augustus's interest to weaken John's grip on the Plantagenet empire and when he and John met to negotiate in August, Philip demanded Anjou and Maine for Arthur. John declined, but diplomatically made peace with Constance and Arthur, and then signed an agreement with Philip, whom he acknowledged as his overlord for his French possessions. …

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