History, Medieval History

Celebrating “National Sibling Day” a Little Late

Yesterday was apparently “National Siblings Day”, and I missed it. To commemorate this rather insignificant day, I have chosen to write about a couple of my favorite siblings.

It begins with an empress, the daughter of an English king. Her name was Matilda, and her father Henry Beauclerc (Henry I) was both King of England and Duke of Normandy in the early 12th century. The path of her life was determined mostly by the early deaths of the powerful men around her.

As a child, she was married to Henry V, last of the Salian kings of the Germans. When Henry V died young, she was married to the Count of Anjou, Geoffrey the Handsome.

When her older brother and Henry’s only surviving male heir, William Adelin, died in an unfortunate shipwreck, Matilda should have inherited the rule of both England and Normandy. Instead, when her father died, Matilda’s cousin Stephen of Blois claimed the English throne. Matilda attempted to reclaim the throne three times, but each time Stephen managed to repel her.

The crown did not sit well on Stephen’s brow, and while he was busy trying to control Britain, Matilda’s husband Geoffrey conquered all of Normandy. This forced Stephen to surrended the title of Duke of Normandy to Geoffrey who than chose his eldest son, Henry Curtmantle, as his heir.

Stephen also had no heir, and Matilda managed to manipulate the situation so that Henry Curtmantle also received the kingship of England from Stephen. When Stephen died, Henry became King Henry II of England in addition to inheriting Normandy and Anjou from his father. He then married Eleanor of Aquitaine and quick succession became lord of more of France than the King of France controlled.

Of course, Henry was not Matilda and Geoffrey’s only son. Their middle son, named Geoffrey after his father, believed that Henry should have abdicated his rule of their paternal territory of Anjou when he became king of England. He believed this had been their father’s wishes. To drive home the point, Geoffrey actively supported Henry’s opponents in Britain and allied himself with the French king.

The French king, Louis VII, was none too pleased with Henry II. There could have been a lot of reasons for this, but chief among them was that Henry had married Louis’ ex-wife without his knowledge. In our world, that might not be a big deal, but when the marriage makes one of your vassals the master of 2/3 of your country, it is a big deal!

In order to answer Geoffrey’s attempts to wrest Anjou from his hands, Henry II crossed the English channel at the head of an army. Of course, Louis stayed out of this conflict between brothers, which raged on and off for a couple of years.

Then, in 1156, the Count of Nantes – the only French coastal town not controlled by Henry – died. The barons of Nantes asked Henry to name a new Count, and Henry selected his troublesome brother, Geoffrey. All at once, rivalries were forgotten. Geoffrey had really not been interested in Anjou at all. He just wanted to rule SOMETHING. Given the title of Count of Nantes, he became loyal to his brother until his sudden death two years later.

Not surprisingly, Henry then claimed Nantes and became its Count.

The lesson in all of this is simple. If your brother rules most of Britain and France, not even the King of France will be able to help you. Take what he gives you and be quiet, or he will just use you to claim more territory for himself.

I know this is a problem we face all the time today.

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