Father of the Plantagenets: Geoffrey of Anjou

It’s time to discover where the Plantagenet name began and who was the man behind the name. If you follow us on Facebook you may have already seen the explanation, but for those of you who didn’t we’ll explain it here…in a place where you can find it whenever you like.


The Origin of the Plantagenets:

Geoffrey of Anjou, Matilda’s second husband, was nicknamed Plantagenet, from the sprig of broom (plante genet in French) that he wore in his hat. Thus Plantagenet became the name of the royal house descended from the union of Geoffrey and Matilda, a dynasty that was to rule England for three centuries. Their more immediate descendants were also known as Angevins (“People from Anjou”). – The Kings & Queens of England by Ian Crofton

Who Was Geoffrey of Anjou?

Geoffrey was born 24 August 1113, the eldest son of Foulques V d’Anjou and Eremburga de La Flèche and was known as, “the Handsome.” Geoffrey was named after his great-grandfather Geoffrey II, Count of Gâtinais.

King Henry I of England had two children, a son named William and a daughter Matilda. William died 25 November 1120, in the White Ship tragedy which left Matilda as Henry’s only surviving heir. It is also possible that there was a third child,a son Richard, however it is very likely that Richard died young as there is no evidence of him.
In 1125, Matilda’s first husband Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor died and left the young Empress as a widow. After the death of her first husband, Matilda was often referred to as, the Empress.


Having heard good reports about Geoffrey, the King sent his royal legates to Anjou to negotiate a marriage of his widowed daughter Matilda (26 years old) and the teenage Geoffrey (15 years old). Consent was obtained from both parties and on 17 June 1128, the couple were married. A week before the wedding, the young Geoffrey was knighted by Matilda’s father, King Henry I. The King granted Geoffrey a badge of gold lions on a blue background. [1]

John of Marmoutier recorded this about the wedding: “it was celebrated for 3 weeks without a break, and when it was over no one left without a gift.”

The marriage was not a joyous union and it was clear from the onset that the two did not approve of their match. There were periods of long separation during the earlier years of their marriage, but after some urging from the King the couple reunited. They performed their royal duty and produced an heir, and a couple of spares. Since Matilda was the only remaining heir of Henry I it was imperative that they have children…especially boys, to carry on the royal line.

The chronicler John of Marmoutier describes Geoffrey as handsome, red-haired, jovial, and a great warrior and that he was admirable and likable; however, Ralph of Diceto stated his charms were shallow and concealed a cold and selfish character.

The King is Dead

King Henry I of England

During the last week of November 1135, Henry and his group arrived at Lyons-la-Foret in upper Normandy. He arrived late on a Monday evening with the intentions of hunting the following day. He fell ill during the night and his condition worsened quickly. By the end of the week it was evident that he was seriously ill. A letter from the Archbishop of Rouen stated: “Henry confessed his sins…beat his breast and set aside his animosities. On 1 December 1135, King Henry I of England died. [1]


Another version of what happened to Henry I is told on Wikipedia that sources: Hollister, C. Warren (2003). Frost, Amanda Clark, ed. Henry I. New Haven, US and London, UK: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09829-7. It states that Henry had been hunting and returned with a large appetite and ate an excessive amount of lampreys against his physicians orders. A Lamprey is a jawless fish that resembles an eel. The King immediately suffered ‘a most destructive humour’ and ‘a sudden and extreme convulsion’. Not long after the King was dead.

I’m pretty confident that the first statement, which was taken from Historian Dan Jones’ book, The Plantagenets is the correct version, but I wanted to share the lamprey version because it was so sensational.

The throne of England was promised to his daughter, Matilda, however her cousin Stephen (who had previously agreed to Matilda as the successor) grasped the opportunity to make himself King. England had never had a female ruler and it’s evident that had something to do with it. [2]

Stolen Throne

King Stephen

Stephen of Blois insisted that on his deathbed, Henry I named him as his successor. Stephen had many powerful supporters to back his claim, including: Bishop Roger Salisbury, who was Stephen’s younger brother and Henry of Blois – Bishop of Winchester, who was the one responsible for convincing the Archbishop of Canterbury to crown Stephen as King on 22 December 1135.


This was by no means the end of it. Matilda and Geoffrey would not go down without a fight – after all, she was named successor by her father and wanted to be sure she got what was rightfully hers.

At the time of the death of Henry I, Matilda and Geoffrey were in Anjou. This is the reason it was so easy for Stephen to usurp the throne from her. In 1139, Matilda invaded England to claim her inheritance, but she was overwhelmed at Arundel Castle by Stephen. In February 1141, Stephen was captured and imprisoned at Bristol. A council of the English church (held at Winchester) declared Stephen deposed in April 1141, they proclaimed Matilda “Lady of the English” and all seemed as it should.

Empress Matilda

However, her perceived arrogance alienated many of her supporters and she was never crowned. Stephen was released in exchange for Robert of Gloucester. Civil war continued but in 1147, Matilda’s greatest supporter, Robert of Gloucester, died. Disheartened, she retired to France the following year. She never returned. The struggle was taken up by Matilda’s son, Henry, but he did not have the resources to defeat Stephen, and returned to Normandy himself.

Geoffrey of Anjou died suddenly on 7 September 1151, at the Chateau Eure-et-Loire, France. He was 38 years old. It was recorded by John of Marmoutier that he was returning from a royal council when he was stricken with fever. He arrived at Château-du-Loir, collapsed on a couch, made bequests of gifts and charities, and died. He was buried at St. Julien’s Cathedral in Le Mans France. [3] He was buried at St. Julien’s Cathedral in Le Mans, France.


In 1153, King Stephen’s son, Eustace died and in the Treaty of Wallingford, Stephen agreed that Matilda and Geoffrey’s son, Henry should succeed him. He became Henry II in 1154. Matilda spent the remainder of her life in Normandy and died 10 September 1167. Upon her death, all of her remaining wealth was given to the church. Her tomb epitath read: “Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring: here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry”.

Geoffrey and Matilda had three sons: Henry II of England, Geoffrey, Count of Nantes and William FitzEmpress.

Henry II was the first Plantagenet King and father of a dynasty.

*Note: “It is much to be wished that the surname “Plantagenet,” which since the time of Charles II, has been freely given to all descendants of Geoffrey of Anjou, had some historical basis which would justify its use, for it forms a most convenient method of referring to the Edwardian kings and their numerous descendants. The fact is, however, as has been pointed out by Sir James Ramsay and other writers of our day, that the name, although a personal emblem of the aforesaid Geoffrey, was never borne by any of his descendants before Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (father of Edward IV), who assumed it, apparently about 1448. V.G.”[2] To simplify the above quote by Vicary Gibbs, the Editor of the Complete Peerage, Plantagenet was not a surname until about 1448. It was a personal nickname and also the name given to the dynasty of Angevin (descended from the Counts of Anjou) kings of England. [4]

[1] Jones, Dan, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England
[2] Crouch, David (2002), The Normans: The History of a Dynasty, London, UK: Hambledon Continuum, ISBN 978-1-85285-595-6
[3] Haskins, Charles H. 1912. “Normandy Under Geoffrey Plantagenet”, The English Historical Review, volume 27 (July): 417–444.
[4] J. S. Hamilton, The Plantagenets: History of a Dynasty (London; New York: Continuum, 2010), p. 1
Crofton, Ian, The Kings & Queens of England
Phillip, Charles, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain


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