Château de Falaise, Duke Arthur I of Brittany, Eleanor of Aquitaine, King John of England and Lord of Ireland, King Philippe II Auguste of France, King Richard I of England, Male Preferred Primogeniture, Treaty of Le Goulet, Usurper
Conquest of Cyprus
In April 1191 Richard left Messina for Acre, but a storm dispersed his large fleet. After some searching, it was discovered that the ship carrying his sister Joan and his new fiancée, Berengaria of Navarre, was anchored on the south coast of Cyprus, along with the wrecks of several other vessels, including the treasure ship. Survivors of the wrecks had been taken prisoner by the island’s ruler, Isaac Komnenos.
Before leaving Cyprus on crusade, Richard married Berengaria, the first-born daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. Richard first grew close to her at a tournament held in her native Navarre. The wedding was held in Limassol on May 12, 1191 at the Chapel of St George and was attended by Richard’s sister Joan, whom he had brought from Sicily. The marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendour, many feasts and entertainments, and public parades and celebrations followed commemorating the event.
When Richard married Berengaria he was still officially betrothed to Alys, and he pushed for the match in order to obtain the Kingdom of Navarre as a fief, as Aquitaine had been for his father. Further, Eleanor championed the match, as Navarre bordered Aquitaine, thereby securing the southern border of her ancestral lands.
Richard took his new wife on crusade with him briefly, though they returned separately. Berengaria had almost as much difficulty in making the journey home as her husband did, and she did not see England until after his death. After his release from German captivity, Richard showed some regret for his earlier conduct, but he was not reunited with his wife. The marriage remained childless.
Death of the King
In March 1199, Richard was in Limousin suppressing a revolt by Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. Although it was Lent, he “devastated the Viscount’s land with fire and sword”. He besieged the tiny, virtually unarmed castle of Châlus-Chabrol. Some chroniclers claimed that this was because a local peasant had uncovered a treasure trove of Roman gold.
On March 26, 1199, Richard was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt, and the wound turned gangrenous. Richard asked to have the crossbowman brought before him; called alternatively Pierre (or Peter) Basile, John Sabroz, Dudo, and Bertrand de Gourdon (from the town of Gourdon) by chroniclers, the man turned out (according to some sources, but not all) to be a boy.
He said Richard had killed his father and two brothers, and that he had killed Richard in revenge. He expected to be executed, but as a final act of mercy Richard forgave him, saying “Live on, and by my bounty behold the light of day”, before he ordered the boy to be freed and sent away with 100 shillings.
Richard died on April 6, 1199 in the arms of his mother, and thus “ended his earthly day.” Because of the nature of Richard’s death, it was later referred to as “the Lion by the Ant was slain”. According to one chronicler, Richard’s last act of chivalry proved fruitless when the infamous mercenary captain Mercadier had the boy flayed alive and hanged as soon as Richard died.
Richard produced no legitimate heirs and acknowledged only one illegitimate son, Philip of Cognac. His French territories, with the exception of Rouen, initially rejected John as a successor, preferring his nephew Arthur. The lack of any direct heirs from Richard was the first step in the dissolution of the Angevin Empire.
A Game of Thrones
After Richard’s death on April 6, 1199 there were two potential claimants to the Angevin throne: John, whose claim rested on being the sole surviving son of Henry II, and young Arthur I of Brittany, who held a claim as the son of John’s elder brother Geoffrey.
Richard appears to have started to recognise John as his heir presumptive in the final years before his death, but the matter was not clear-cut and medieval law gave little guidance as to how the competing claims should be decided.
With Norman law favouring John as the only surviving son of Henry II and Angevin law favouring Arthur as the only son of Henry’s elder son, the matter rapidly became an open conflict.
John immediately claimed the throne of England, but much of the French nobility were resentful at recognising him as their overlord. They preferred Arthur, who declared himself vassal of Philippe II Auguste of France.
John was supported by the bulk of the English and Norman nobility and was crowned at Westminster Abbey, backed by his mother, Eleanor. Arthur was supported by the majority of the Breton, Maine and Anjou nobles and received the support of Philippe II Auguste, who remained committed to breaking up the Angevin territories on the continent.
With Arthur’s army pressing up the Loire Valley towards Angers and Philip’s forces moving down the valley towards Tours, John’s continental empire was in danger of being cut in two.
Philippe II Auguste recognised Arthur’s right to Anjou, Maine, and Poitou. From April 8, Arthur he styled himself as Duke of Brittany, Count of Anjou and Earl of Richmond.
Treaty of Le Goulet
The Treaty of Le Goulet was signed by the kings John of England and Philippe II Auguste of France in May 1200 and meant to settle once and for all the claims the Norman kings of England had as Norman dukes on French lands, including, at least for a time, Brittany.
Under the terms of the treaty, Philippe II Auguste recognised John as King of England as heir of his brother Richard I and thus formally abandoned any support for Arthur. John, meanwhile, recognised Philippe II Auguste as the suzerain of continental possessions of the Angevin Empire.
After the signing of the Treaty of Le Goulet, and feeling offended by Philippe II Auguste, Arthur fled to John, his uncle, and was treated kindly, at least initially. However, he later became suspicious of John and fled back to Angers. Some unidentified source said that in April 1202, Arthur was again betrothed, this time to Marie of France, a daughter of Philippe II Auguste and Agnes of Andechs-Merania.
After his return to France, and with the support of Philippe II Auguste, Arthur embarked on a campaign in Normandy against John in 1202. Poitou revolted in support of Arthur. Arthur, Duke of Brittany besieged his grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, John’s mother, in the Château de Mirebeau.
John marched on Mirebeau, taking Arthur by surprise on July 31, 1202. Arthur was captured by John’s barons on August 1, and imprisoned in the Château de Falaise in Falaise, Normandy.
Imprisonment and disappearance
Arthur was guarded by Hubert de Burgh at the Chateau de Falaise. According to contemporaneous chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, John ordered two of his servants to blind and castrate the duke. De Burgh could not bring himself to let Arthur be mutilated.
Fearful of John, de Burgh leaked news that Arthur had died of natural causes. This news infuriated Brittany, who suspected that Arthur had been murdered. The following year Arthur was transferred to Rouen, under the charge of William de Braose. Arthur vanished in April 1203, in the background of several military victories by Philippe II Auguste of France against King John.
Arthur’s disappearance gave rise to various stories. One account was that Arthur’s gaolers feared to harm him, and so he was murdered by John directly and his body dumped in the Seine.
William de Braose is also rumoured to have murdered Arthur. After the young man’s disappearance, he rose high in John’s favour receiving new lands and titles in the Welsh Marches. Many years after Arthur’s disappearance, and just prior to a conflict with King John, de Braose’s wife Maud de Braose accused the king of murdering Arthur.
Not only the Bretons, but even Philippe II Auguste were ignorant of what actually happened, and whether Arthur was alive or dead. Whatever his fate, Arthur left no known issue. William promised to direct the attack of Mirebeau on condition he was consulted on the fate of Arthur, but John broke the promise, causing him to leave John along with Aimeri of Thouars and siege Angers.
Nothing is recorded of Arthur after his incarceration in Rouen Castle in 1203, and while his precise fate is unknown, it is generally believed he was killed by John.
Assessment: I do not consider King John a usurper. Male preferred primogeniture was still developing and the fact is the monarch did have the power to name thier successor. King Richard I did at one point proclaim his nephew Arthur as his heir but in later years he changed his mind and supported his brother John as his heir. With Richard naming his brother as his heir John did become the legal King of England upon the death of his brother.