He was the heir to several important titles and properties, and he grew into a good-looking, strapping young lad as well. He was often called Geoffrey le Bel for his good looks, or Geoffrey Plantagenet, for the yellow sprig of broom blossom (genêt) that he habitually wore in his hats.
Wild broom is still abundant in the dry areas of Anjou.
John of Marmoutier described Geoffrey as being “handsome, red-headed, jovial, and a great warrior,” but Ralph of Diceto saw him very differently, claiming that Geoffrey’s “charm camouflaged a cold and selfish character.” Whatever Geoffrey’s true character, King Henry I of England heard enough good things about him to decide he was worthy of marrying the king’s only surviving legitimate child, dowager Empress Matilda, the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. Matilda was less than thrilled to be marrying a teenager who eleven years younger than herself.
Nevertheless, wed him she did on on 17 June 1128 in Le Mans. The groom was 15 years old and Matilda had turned 26 the previous February. They separated soon after, with Matilda storming off to the English territory of Normandy to live.
The next year Geoffrey’s father left for Jerusalem and declared his son the Count of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine before he went. Meanwhile, King Henry I was trying to talk his daughter into reconciling with the newly-made ginger count. Matilda finally agreed to return to Geoffrey at the very end of 1131.
Their union was not a happy one, but it WAS fruitful and productive. They had three sons who all survived. The eldest was Henry Curtmantle, the future King Henry II was born on 5 March 1133 at Le Mans.
Geoffrey and Matilda’s second son, the future Count of Nantes, was born in Rouen on 1 June 1134 and named Geoffrey after his father. Her second childbirth was extremely difficult and Matilda made her will as she hovered close to death. Happily, she recovered.
King Henry I fell ill and unexpectedly died on 1 December 1135 near Lyons-la-Forêt. Although the English Barons had sworn to support Matilda’s claim to the throne, after the king’s death they declared her cousin, Stephen of Blois, the new monarch. This threw England into a period of vicious civil war known as the Anarchy.
Once they were alerted of the king’s demise, Matilda and Geoffrey had moved to secure her inheritance, taking over several key castles in Southern Normandy, but there they had to stop for the time being. For one thing, there was minor rebellion in Anjou that Geoffrey had to put down, and for another, Matilda was pregnant again. Once the couple’s third son, William, was born on 22 July 1136 at Argentan, they could could continue their plans to regain Matilda’s inheritance by sword.
Geoffrey and Matilda were united in their determination to regain Matilda’s crown. By 1139 they had secured most of Normandy, and started planning for an invasion of England along with Matilda’s loyal sibling forn England, her illegitimate half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. Matilda’s step-mother, Henry I’s second wife Queen Adeliza of Louvain, offered Arundel as a landing site for the invasion, and on 30 September 139 Matilda landed in England with 140 knights and supporting troops.
Geoffrey remained behind to secure Normandy, which he did in admirably. By 1143, Geoffrey had subsumed all of Normandy to the west and south of the Seine. He gathered his forces and crossed the Seine on 14 January 1144, taking the main city of Rouen. That summer, Geoffrey declared himself the Duke of Normandy, making the secession secure for his son Henry.
As war dragged on in England, Geoffrey could not go to his wife’s aid because he had to hold both Normandy as well as Anjou, and he was being vexed by a baronial rebellions in Anjou from 1145 to 1151. Matilda, meanwhile, had fought Stephen to a stalemate, and returned to Normandy in 1148, where she set up court in Rouen and reunited with her husband and sons. The focus of the battle for England had now shifted to securing the throne for their eldest son, Henry.
The year that Matilda returned, Geoffrey sent the Bishop of Thérouanne to Rome to lobby for Henry’s rights to the English crown. The Bishop was very good at his job, because over time opinions within the Church “gradually shifted in Henry’s favour.” Matilda and Geoffrey also made peace with Louis VII of France, in return for that monarch’s acknowledgment that Henry was the future Duke of Normandy. In 1149 Geoffrey and Matilda conjointly ceded Normandy to their son, Henry, which was formally ratified by King Louis VII the following year.
Henry repaid the favor by stealing Louis’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. She nullified her marriage and rushed off to marry Henry on 18 May 1152. There was a rumor that Eleanor had slept with Geoffrey while he as at court, but that was probably just made up out of ill-will against Eleanor’s marriage to the younger, bolder, handsomer Henry.
Unfortunately, Geoffrey would never see his son’s eventual triumphant return to England as Henry II, due to Geoffrey’s death on 7 September 1151. He was reportedly returning from a royal council when he became ill and stopped at Château-du-Loir. There, his illness worsened, and seeing his end was near, he made gifts to loyal followers and several charities before dying in peacfully in bed. He was subsequently buried at St. Julien’s Cathedral in Le Mans France.
Geoffrey also played a part in the bloodlines of the Welsh princes as well. Geoffrey’s great-granddaughter, Joan, the illegitimate daughter of King John of England (Henry II’s son), wed Llywelyn the Great in 1205. The descendants of their daughters, Angharad ferch Llywelyn, and her husband Maelgwn Fychan, included Thomas ap Llewelyn, Lord of South Wales. One of Thomas’s daughters, Elen ferch Thomas of Isceod, was the mother of the very last Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr.
Thomas ap Llewelyn’s other daughter, Margred vercf Thomas, wed Tudor ap Gronwy Fychan, and her grandson was Sir Owen Tudor. Sir Owen Tudor famously wooed the widow of Henry VI and his grandson rose to become King Henry VII of England.
Thus Geoffrey’s Plantagenet descendants united when Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, and through their daughter Margaret, Queen of Scots, Geoffrey of Anjou’s descendant still sits on the throne to this very day.