Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Geoffrey the Bastard

It was perfectly acceptable in the Middle Ages for kings to father children outside of wedlock. Although these illegitimate children were unable to be considered in the line of succession, they were not neglected by their noble parents. One example is how Henry II of England treated his bastard son Geoffrey, who was raised along with his legitimate children.

Geoffrey is assumed to be Henry's eldest son, born about 1152 (the same year Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine and started having legitimate heirs). Geoffrey's mother is unknown. One chronicler hostile to Henry, Walter Map, says she was a whore name Ykenai. Other sources claim the mother was likely Rosamund, but there is no evidence for that.

Geoffrey was named Archdeacon of Lincoln by September 1171. This would have been a remarkable appointment for one so young: Gerald of Wales says he was barely 20 when he was made bishop in May 1173! He had come from land owned by a cathedral in the diocese of London, and a prebend, both of which generated income for him. Pope Alexander III objected to his appointment as bishop—it seems that he did not execute the duties of the positions he held previously—and Geoffrey traveled to Rome in October 1174 to meet with Alexander and receive a dispensation (he was very young, and had never been properly ordained a priest to our knowledge) so his appointment could be confirmed.

Note that, if you look at yesterday's post regarding the revolt by Henry's oldest legitimate son, Henry appointed Geoffrey bishop two months after three of his sons were rebelling against him, and Geoffrey's journey across the continent did not take place until the rebellion had been put down and it was safe for Geoffrey to travel through territory over which Henry had re-asserted control. In fact, the "loyalists in northern England [that] captured the Scottish forces" mentioned in that post were led by Geoffrey! Henry rewarded loyal service.

Henry's rewards to his son were only related to the church, however, which had a few results: it offered him financial support, it took him further away from ambitions of inheritance, and it precluded the desire to find him a suitable marriage.

Geoffrey, however, did not seem much inclined to remain in the religious life: he refused to be ordained, even though he remained in the position of bishop-elect. Ultimately, Pope Lucius III ordered Geoffrey to fish or cut bait: either be ordained and act properly like a bishop, or resign. Geoffrey chose resignation and became Henry's chancellor.

That was not the end of his religious life, however. After his father died—and Geoffrey was the only one of Henry's sons to be at his side when he died—the next king had plans for him. I'll go into that next.

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