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Military Analysis of the Early Plantagenets - Part 1: Geoffrey d'Anjou 'Martel'

Posted May 17th, 2018 at 09:34 AM by Duke Valentino
Updated May 17th, 2018 at 06:44 PM by Duke Valentino


This is intended to be a brief collection of essays on the military careers of the first four Plantagenets: Geoffrey, Henry II, Richard I and John I. The reason for doing this is to bring to light the military achievements and prowess of these men, more so Henry and particularly John; both of whom are supremely underrated and in the case of John, named by some 'Softsword', dubbed for much of history as a coward who ran from any sign of danger. In actual fact, John was a soldier who's strategical mind lived up to the legacy of his brother, Richard the Lionheart, and his father, Henry.

The briefness of this essay is reflected in the fact that I will not be directly sourcing every single claim/fact that is mentioned. Instead, sources will be used, compared and analysed in a bibliographical method. The intent of these essays is not to be an official academic paper, but a rough overview. Therefore, there will be a Bibliography with all the source material I used and the more important books that were perused after every part.

Smail, in his book Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193 recognises the relative difficulty of writing on medieval warfare, as well as it's relative obscurity compared to the more 'popular' wars and personalities of antiquity. In brief, there were no great empires, no standing armies, no kings with close to unquestionable power within their own realms. The feudal kings of the middle ages were but one of many notable personalities in a kingdom: dukes and counts who had their own hereditary titles, lands, wealth and troops. Before Henry became king of England, he was a vassal of the King of France. Yet, he was count of Anjou, Maine and Touraine, with his newly wed wife Eleanor granting him the Duchy of Aquitaine. This made him the most powerful man in France, with lands and revenues exceeding Louis himself. These were dangerous times for kings. Even the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was little more than an enobled Duke with no real control of his 'empire', despite its massive size.

This blog/essay with begin with the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty, and in my opinion a very underrated captain of war: Geoffrey of Anjou; his main achievement being the conquest of the duchy of Normandy. It also gives a good background on England/France before Henry. These essays will ultimately end with King John, another extremely underrated captain. Therefore, the scope is from grandfather to the last grandson.

Part 1: The Count of Anjou, Geoffrey Plantagenet 'Martel' (24 August 1113 – 7 September 1151)

Duke of the Normans, Count of Anjou, Maine and Touraine

Click the image to open in full size.

Geoffrey was born the son of count Fulk V of Anjou, a crusader and reputed soldier. So much so that Baldwin II, king of Jerusalem invited Fulk to succeed him as king through marriage to his daughter. To this, Fulk accepted, abdicating the county to his eldest son Geoffrey and leaving for the Holy Land. Before this event, Geoffrey had been married to Matilda, the heir of Henry I of England. Matilda was previously married to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, before being demanded back by Henry on the grounds that there had been no children between the two, and that he had no male heir to the throne of England. Henry forced the barons to take an oath accepting Matilda as his heir, and strengthened her position by marrying her to Geoffrey, who had displayed an early proficiency as a military commander. Not of course forgetting that his father, Fulk was a veteran crusader and gifted soldier. Already, the family had a reputation in warfare.

On the 17th of June, 1128 Geoffrey and Matilda were married. The count to be was knighted before the occasion, and was just shy of 15 years old, Matilda at the time was 26. It is impressive that his military reputation had already sparked an interest from King Henry. Soon after the wedding was concluded, Fulk departed to Jerusalem, leaving Geoffrey as count of Greater Anjou (the county of Anjou along with the other territories the family had acquired). At 15 years of age, his outlook was quite bright. Geoffrey was knighted, married to the daughter and heir of the King of England, and was a powerful vassal of the King of France, notwithstanding he was, as John of Marmoutier would later describe, "unusually skilled in warfare."

Click the image to open in full size.
Count Geoffrey's rough inheritance. As count of Anjou he also nominally controlled the counties of Maine and Touraine.
Geoffrey was forced to spend the first years of his reign campaigning against rebellions. The more powerful barons of Greater Anjou and the border region north of Poitiers were involved. Geoffrey moved first to Amboise and Touraine against Sulpice of Amboise. The result seems to have been successful, and he moved on to southern Maine to siege Guy of Laval's castle at Meslay-du-Maine. This attack was made in response to a rebel offensive at an unspecified location. It was successful, however, in immediately bringing Guy to terms. Though the agreement didn't last, and hostilities continued for years. 1129 and 1330 see Geoffrey conducting sieges along the southern Anjou border. A number of successes brought him to the seat of Theobald of Blazon. He burned down the castle and its appurtenances, while Theobald fled to the count of Poitiers for help.

On the arrival of a relief force of Poitevin knights and infantry, Geoffrey devised a plan, "in the dead of night, [the Angevins] sweated over digging ditches which would prevent an attack and protect the count from being overrun." This ruse worked, and the Poitevin forces were unable to relieve the siege. Geoffrey gave Theobald forty days to surrender, then proceeded to cut the garrison's food supply. Theobald quickly came to terms. Geoffrey then, against the recommendation of his barons, asked for a truce with Poitiers. Not satisfied with the agreement, Poitevin forces proceeded to ravage Goeffrey's lands. Geoffrey campaigned for several days to fully drive them out.

There was no rest for the count however, he was obliged to march to the east of Chinon, where soldiers under the command of Poloquin, lord of Île-Bouchard, were ravaging a town. Geoffrey pushed them back. He also constructed Châteauneuf-sur-Sarthe, a fortification with the intended purpose of defending against the Manceaux barons. Geoffrey was clearly then heavily occupied at the start of his reign as count, "The evidence thus indicates that Geoffrey was constantly engaged in military activity across his territories during the first half of the 1130's" (Dutton, 37).

At the death of Henry in 1135, the succession was not as straightforward as arranged. The barons, to put it briefly, ignored the oaths they had sworn. It was unthinkable that the barons would allow a female to rule over them. Stephen of Blois rushed to England from France and was coronated king, despite the fact that Geoffrey and Matilda's toddler, Henry, had a stronger blood claim to the throne.

Stephen was a terrible ruler. He was unable to keep his barons in check, and administratively he was moving England away from the successful progress it had taken under Henry. Additionally, he was also rocked on the military front. Geoffrey was not idle during this time. He had already been in disagreement with King Henry over castles in Normandy that he had claim on as a dowry for Matilda, which were not delivered. With Henry dead, Geoffrey was energetic. He immediately sent Matilda to lay claim to her dowry castles. He then moved from his county into Normandy to establish his presence. After Stephen's coronation, Geoffrey dispersed his army through Normandy. A division led by Alexander and Engelger, Norman supporters of Geoffrey, targeted the county of Mortain, which belonged to Stephen.

Geoffrey was obliged to return to Anjou and entrust the war to his supporters, as group of barons started a civil war in his own realm. These he dealt with rapidly, and by September 1136, a year after his initial incursion was now entering Normandy with a great force that was supported by Duke William X of Aquitaine, Count Geoffrey of Vendôme (a vassal) among others. "The crossing of the Sarthe heralded a violent and comprehensive thirteen-day campaign to capture strongholds from the Angevin base near Argentan as far afield as Lisieux." (Dutton, 44) Geoffrey's preferred tactic was to send out detachments from friendly castles in order to focus on multiple objectives. Western and central Normandy had been mostly occupied by the count's forces in just 9 days.

King Stephen crossed the channel in 1137. He arrived in the Cotentin in March, besieging castles held by rebel barons in central Normandy. Stephen also bribed a group of barons for their support with money. It quickly went sour, however, when he moved to launch an attack on the Angevins at Lisieux. His army was thrown into disarray mid-march. Geoffrey heard of this and rushed to meet the king with a substantial army, forcing the king to disband his army. Despite this, Geoffrey and Stephen came to a truce, with the king paying Geoffrey 2,000 silver marks per year for 2-3 years, with the first payment being made immediately.

The truce didn't last. With the defection of the powerful Robert of Gloucester to Matilda's side, Geoffrey resumed his campaign, and with the additional aid from Robert, his progress was significantly powerful, gaining Bayeux, Caen along with a number of other strongholds. These successes were further amplified by Stephen's occupation with a rebellion in England. The ambitious Geoffrey then moved against Falaise, the location of Henry I's treasure. The siege went for 18 days, to no avail. The count withdrew - in order to advance on the area in surprise assault, wreaking destruction to the surrounding countryside for three weeks.

Geoffrey campaigned vigorously in Normandy for years. Medieval warfare of the time did not permit for quick conquest of such a large, heavily fortified and politically torn duchy; though Geoffrey's military ability was being displayed. His progress was mostly incremental, though steady. A turning point occurred in 1141 when Stephen was captured at Lincoln on the 2nd February. Geoffrey correctly demanded surrender to his authority among the Norman barons, resulting "in a wave of defections and surrenders..." (Dutton, 51). Finally, Geoffrey's newfound foothold in central and east Normandy could be seen to have ducal authority.

By Spring 1144 and after another three years of continuous campaigning, "Geoffrey's military expertise, honed against the overmighty barons of Anjou as well as the magnates and castellans of a vast area of Normandy, proved itself unstoppable and was not matched by the creeping recognition amongst the magnates and bishops of the duchy of his de facto possession of the ducal title." (Dutton, 56) Stephen now had only a minimal foothold in Normandy, and Geoffrey was invested as duke of the Normans. He was forced to counter yet another rebellion from his brother and a number of barons in Anjou, which was stamped out, along with pockets of resistance in Normandy.

He died in 1151 from illness while planning a conquest with his son Henry to press Henry's claim on England.

Overall, Geoffrey was an extremely capable general. To be successful militarily in the middle-ages, one had to know how to control the various barons, castles, finances and rules that came with a fractured and complex feudal land. Geoffrey was an exception to the rule, conquering the duchy of Normandy in just under a decade. For the times, this was quite an impressive display of military ability; his scribes and beneficiaries would award him the cognomen 'Martel', a reference to Charles Martel, the famous Frankish general who threw back the Muslim invasion at the decisive Battle of Tours.

Dutton notes in his conclusion, "His victories, particularly in siege warfare, were the result of careful study of Vegetius, and the siege of Montreuil-Bellay and the Norman campaigns of 1138 and 1142 indeed confirm his aptitude as a tactician and military leader." Notably, at one siege, Geoffrey employed unusual methods, including the use of Greek fire, and filling ditches with rubble to reduce the defense of the fortress. He also put down multiple rebellions in his own holdings against his brother over the years, Dutton points out that "Geoffrey met these challenges head-on, besieging and destroying castles, and imprisoning and humiliating rebels."

As count, he was thrust amidst greedy barons, little more than warlords, from an extremely early age. With the training he received from his father and education, he successfully countered multiple rebellions, never losing. These trained him for the conquest of Normandy. Like every general of his day, Geoffrey avoided pitched battles. However, examples of his maneuvering and operational abilities shine through. One would be of hearing king Stephen's army almost mutinying on the march, when Geoffrey quickly gathered a force and pursued the king, forcing his enemy to completely disband his army; or after failing to take Falaise after an 18 day siege, he withdrew only to come back in a surprise raid. Or when to prevent the Poitevan forces from interrupting a siege, he had his troops dig ditches during the night. Geoffrey captured an innumerable number of castles, and was the premiere siege general of his time. His use of Greek fire and filling ditches with rubble were irregular siege tactics for the period. Ultimately, count Geoffrey of Anjou set a reputation for the family that his son would have to uphold. I would go as far as to say he was the star soldier of the period before Henry's coronation as king, and is heavily underrated and dismissed despite his impressive and unceasing efforts.

Geoffrey preferred to war a sprig of bright yellow broom blossom, earning him the nickname: Geoffrey Plantagenet. And so is the beginning of the Plantagenet dynasty.

"Twelfth-century French politics was violent, changeable and rough, and Geoffrey was an adept player. The land was divided into loose and shifting territories that owed little or no allegiance to any central authority, ruled across large swathes by noblemen who were little more than warlords."

Jones, Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings Who Made England.


Barber, Richard. 2015. Henry II (Penguin Monarchs): A Prince Among Princes. Penguin UK.

Dutton, Kathryn Ann. 2011. Geoffrey, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy, 1129-51. PhD Thesis, Glasgow: University of Glasgow.

Jones, Dan. 2012. The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England. Harper Collins.

Keefe, Thomas K. 2008. "England and the Angevin Dominions, 1137-1204." In The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume IV c. 1024-1198 Part II, by David Luscombe and Jonathan Riley-Smith, 549-580. New York: Cambridge University Press.


The lack of sources come from the extremely scarce source material on Geoffrey. The main volumes referenced were the Cambridge Medieval History and Dutton's PhD thesis, which use the original contemporary sources.
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Total Comments 4


  1. Old Comment
    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar
    This is a lot information about an individual I had never heard about. This is excellent work and I very much want to keep reading your articles. I would also read the books in your bibliography just because this has made me so curious about the topic.
    Posted May 17th, 2018 at 05:30 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga Lord Oda Nobunaga is online now
  2. Old Comment
    Duke Valentino's Avatar
    Originally Posted by Lord Oda Nobunaga View Comment
    This is a lot information about an individual I had never heard about. This is excellent work and I very much want to keep reading your articles. I would also read the books in your bibliography just because this has made me so curious about the topic.
    Thank you very much!

    The bibliography has been updated. Feel free to ask any questions.
    Posted May 17th, 2018 at 06:45 PM by Duke Valentino Duke Valentino is offline
    Updated May 17th, 2018 at 08:32 PM by Duke Valentino
  3. Old Comment
    Ah, the climax of this history should indeed be 2nd Feb 1141 with King Stephen's capture, it finally brought some peace .
    Geoffreys story is indeed rags to riches.

    I am excited to see what his son would do .

    As for Henry I, he was good, but then i like some English dynasties and i dislike others .

    The Plantagenets are one of those that i hate, so seeing them burn is good !

    I would like to ask though, what happened to Stephen after all, how was the rest of his regime after his last battles
    Posted June 19th, 2018 at 09:44 AM by mad orc mad orc is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Duke Valentino's Avatar
    Originally Posted by mad orc View Comment
    Ah, the climax of this history should indeed be 2nd Feb 1141 with King Stephen's capture, it finally brought some peace .
    Geoffreys story is indeed rags to riches.

    I am excited to see what his son would do .

    As for Henry I, he was good, but then i like some English dynasties and i dislike others .

    The Plantagenets are one of those that i hate, so seeing them burn is good !

    I would like to ask though, what happened to Stephen after all, how was the rest of his regime after his last battles
    I believe that the early Plantagenets were quite superior, i.e. Geoffrey, Henry II, Richard and John. After that? Not really imo.

    As for Stephen, Henry landed in England after his father died, basically winning over the barons and eventually signing an agreement with Stephen after Stephen's heir died. Henry would become his heir. Mere months after this arrangement, Stephen died.

    Now Henry, who before invading England had married Eleanor of Aquitaine, now was not only the strongest man in France, but also king of Engand. This massive empire was to be known as the "Angevin Empire", though technically it wasn't an empire.
    Posted June 19th, 2018 at 09:50 AM by Duke Valentino Duke Valentino is offline

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