Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Geoffrey Plantagenet – the King’s Bastard

Henry II
The Young Bastard

Geoffrey Plantagenet was born in 1152; his mother is believed to be a prostitute named Ykenai, Walter Map[i] described her as;

‘A base-born, common harlot who stooped to all uncleanness[ii].’[iii]

His father was Henry II, King of England who married Eleanor of Aquitaine on 18th May 1152. It is likely that Geoffrey was conceived before the marriage. Henry was an enthusiastic lover of women and Geoffrey was his oldest child.

Once Henry had been crowned king on 19th December 1154 Ykenia presented her son at court. Against his councillors advice Henry acknowledged Geoffrey as his child; Geoffrey was circa two years old at the time. Henry was devoted to his son; similarly Geoffrey loved his father who had him brought up in the royal household with his half-brothers and sisters. Whatever his father thought about Geoffrey, unsurprisingly Queen Eleanor showed him no affection.

The eldest of Henry’s legitimate son’s was William born in 1153[iv], followed in 1155 by Prince Henry[v], Matilda[vi] in 1156, Richard in 1157, Geoffrey of Brittany[vii] in 1158,. There was then a break until 1162 when Eleanor[viii] was born, Joan[ix] followed three years later in 1165. Henry and Eleanor’s final child was John, born in 1166.

The Cleric and War

Lincoln Cathedral
When he was older Geoffrey was sent to school in Nottingham, where he studied canon law. Geoffrey may have done some teaching at the University of Paris during the early 1170s. While a ‘mere boy’ Geoffrey entered into minor orders and was appointed Archdeacon of Lincoln in September 1171 and bishop-elect by 1173; in April Henry persuaded the canons of Lincoln cathedral to elect Geoffrey. He also held a prebendary in the diocese of London, although he does not appear have performed any of the duties normally required.

In the autumn of 1173 Pope Alexander III refused to confirm Geoffrey’s election as bishop, his main objections being Geoffrey’s youth and illegitimacy. The refusal required a visit to Rome on Geoffrey’s part. The trip was delayed by family problems.

By 1173 the relationship between Henry and Eleanor had broken down. Eleanor, now 51, may have decided to flex her muscles. Similarly her sons, kept on a leash by their father, were itching to break free from their father’s domination. Egged on by their mother the three eldest boys Henry[x] who demanded control of Normandy, England or Anjou,, Richard and Geoffrey of Brittany raced away from Henry’s court at Chinon. Henry had been forewarned by Raymond of Toulouse[xi], at Chinon to acknowledge Henry’s overlordship;

‘I advise you, King, to beware of your wife and sons.’[xii]

Louis VII denier
They arrived in Paris to join the court of their father’s arch enemy, Louis VII of France[xiii] who was only too keen to avenge any number of insults[xiv]. Eleanor, disguised as a man, was picked up as she tried to leave the court and was taken back to her husband[xv]. Four of Henry’s earls, one of them being Earl Robert de Beaumont of Leicester, backed the rebellion along with a number of other leading landowners. William the Lion, king of Scotland, declared for the rebels, so Henry was forced to fight on a number of fronts.

Supporting the King

Over the winter Henry and the loyalists were able to hold their own, but gradually the balance of control toppled in Henry’s direction. Much of the fighting took place in Normandy. In England it was the Midlands that was crucial for both rebels and loyalists alike. The king’s deputy and Justiciar Richard de Lucy was to be key in keeping control of the kingdom for Henry.

Carlisle castle
At Easter 1174 the English rebels made cause with William the Lion who invaded, besieging Carlisle castle. William of Newburgh commented that;

‘There were only a few barons at that time in England who were not wavering in their allegiance to the king and ready to defect.’’[xvi]

The rebels in the Midlands attacked and raided Northampton and took control of Nottingham and with it Richard de Lucy. Geoffrey exhorted the people of Lincoln to follow him north and crush the rebels.

Motte at Topcliffe
Geoffrey besieged one of the rebel leaders, Roger de Mowbray, at his castle of Kinardferry on the Isle of Axholme. Geoffrey captured Roger, razed the castle to the ground and marched north. There he took another of Mowbray’s castles at Kirby Malzeard and then a third castle at Thirsk was neutralised by the erection of a fort at neighbouring Topcliffe.

The rebels countered with an invasion of England, led by Count Philip of Flanders whose advance party joined up with Hugh Bigod to capture Norwich and then besieged Huntingdon. Henry was persuaded to travel across the channel. Immediately he left France Count Philip countermanded the invasion and joined with Louis of France to attack Normandy. By 22nd July 1174 the joint forces were outside Rouen.

Wrapping Up the Rebellion

William the Lion's seal
The 22 year old Geoffrey now took on the man who was to become his major enemy; the 49 year old Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham. Puiset had been conniving with the rebels, without actively joining the rebellion. Geoffrey forced Puiset to pledge his future loyalty to Henry and ordered him to stop meddling. Geoffrey then turned his attention further north to confront William the Lion who was besieging Bowes Castle.

As Geoffrey’s army approached Bowes William the Lion broke off the siege and retreated towards Alnwick. A few days later William and his men were surprised outside the castle. On 13th July 1174 William the Lion was captured by the loyalists, led by Ranulf de Glanvill, Sherriff of Yorkshire, at the battle of Alnwick.

William’s capture meant the collapse of the rebellion in England and Geoffrey joined his father in Huntingdon which surrendered upon the king’s arrival. Geoffrey was greeted with pleasure, Henry allegedly crying out;

‘Base-born indeed have my other children shown themselves; this alone is my true son.’[xvii]

Henry then travelled with his normal speed to Nottingham and all the English rebels journeyed there to surrender to their liege lord. A peace in England was patched up and Henry treated his barons with leniency.

‘So the mighty learned that to wrest the club from the hand of Hercules was no easy task’[xviii]

Henry’s treasurer crowed. Henry followed this victory up by confounding his enemies in France; he was back in Normandy by 8th August, taking Geoffrey with him, landing at Barfleur. The siege of Rouen was not proceeding with any real despatch and when Henry arrived he attacked Louis’ wagon train which, with a sortie from the city itself, was sufficient to send Louis and his army packing. Louis sued for peace in September.

A Visit to Rome

Pope Alexander III (C)
Geoffrey journeyed to Rome in October 1174 and was finally confirmed bishop by July 1175; the pope acquiescing under duress. Alexander issued a papal dispensation. On 1st August Geoffrey made a ceremonial visit to Lincoln where Adam, Bishop of St Asaph, had been covering the bishop’s duties before Geoffrey’s confirmation. Geoffrey was sent by Henry to study at the cathedral school at Tours for a period

When Geoffrey finally returned to his diocese he was more apt to attend to temporal affairs rather than the spiritual. Geoffrey acted as a royal tax collector, gaining a reputation as being ‘efficient and uncompromising’, leading one contemporary to comment;

‘He was more skilful to fleece the Lord’s sheep than to feed them.’[xix]

Geoffrey was also a benefactor to his diocese, active in recovering diocesan estates, encouraging scholars to work at the cathedral school and bestowing upon the cathedral two ‘large and fine’ bells.


King John – Stephen Church, MacMillan 2013

Early Medieval England – MT Clanchy, The Folio Society 1997

Richard the Lionheart – John Gillingham, George Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1989

The Royal Bastards of Medieval England – Chris Given- Wilson and Alice Curteis, Barnes & Noble Books 1995

The Plantagenets – Dan Jones, William Collins 2012

Henry II – WL Warren, Yale University Press 2000

King John – WL Warren, Yale University Press 1997

Eleanor of Aquitaine – Alison Weir, Jonathan Cape 1999

The Plantagenets – Derek Wilson, Quercus Editions Ltd 2014

[i] Author of the anecdotal work De Nugis Curialium, full of court gossip
[ii] There is a possibility that Ykenai or Akeny was more than a one-night stand as she may have also been the parent of William Longsword, another of Henry’s children on the wrong side of the blanket
[iii] Eleanor of Aquitaine - Weir
[iv] Who died age two
[v] Crowned as Henry’s co-king in 1170; thereafter known as the Young King
[vi] Later Duchess of Saxony
[viii] Later Queen of Castile
[ix] Later Queen of Sicily
[x] Already 18 and married to a daughter of the King of France, Henry was viewed by his father as an ‘idle, vain, charming spendthrift’.
[xi] At court to bow the knee to Henry
[xii] Eleanor of Aquitaine - Weir
[xiii] Their mother’s ex-husband
[xiv] First and foremost Henry’s sudden marriage to the heiress of Aquitaine immediately after her divorce from Louis and Plantagenet control of the Vexin
[xv] Eleanor was kept captive for the next sixteen years
[xvi] Henry II - Warren
[xvii] The Royal Bastards – Given-Wilson & Curteis
[xviii] Henry II - Warren
[xix]The Royal Bastards – Given-Wilson & Curteis


  1. Ykenia [or Ykenai, you have both] is not a name I have come across! which is not something I often say. Any idea where she's from? it doesn't sound French, unless it's Breton

    1. Given-Wilson and Curties refer to Hikenai or Ykenai as base-born (Ykenia a mis-spelling, thank you for pointing that out), with reference to information from Walter Map. Another chronicler of the time referred to her as the daughter of a knight. There seems to be no reference to where Geoffrey was born to give a clue as to where Ykenai originated.

  2. I've run the name to earth! Ikerne is a Basque female name