A Dynasty Born of a Demon

The Plantagenets were the longest-ruling dynasty in British history. From the founding member, Henry II, taking the throne in 1154 to the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, England witnessed this extraordinary family’s turbulent reign. Generations of shifting loyalties and infighting saw fathers falling out with sons, brothers turning on brothers and cousins plotting to usurp the crown in a protracted and very real Game of Thrones. But according to legend, none of this would be surprising, as the dynasty is said to have been spawned by a powerful French count, and a demon.

The story goes that back in the mists of early medieval France, the Count of Anjou, Geoffrey Greymantle fell in love with a mysterious woman of unknown origin. Her beguiling beauty drew the Count into a precipitous marriage, and the couple had three children. But in an age when life revolved around religion and regular worship, the Count became concerned that his wife attended mass only rarely, and even then she was restless in church and always left before the crucial Holy Communion took place. One day, the Count ordered his soldiers to restrain her, but she broke free, screaming wildly, and flew out of a window. The Countess was never seen again.

It was her line that gave rise to the Plantagenet dynasty. Fast forward a few generations to the early 12th Century, and enter Geoffrey ‘the Fair’, son of Faulk V, Count of Anjou. Said to be a tall, handsome and strong young man, it was Geoffrey that acquired the enduring name of Plantagenet, but not in any official way; instead it was a nickname that caught on because he often adorned his hat with a sprig of yellow flowers from the Broom plant, the Latin for which is planta genista.

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The only surviving image of Geoffrey ‘the Fair’, the first family member to gain the nickname Plantagenet

In 1128, at the age of 15, Geoffrey Plantagenet was married off by his father to the Empress Matilda, widowed daughter and heiress to the English Norman king Henry I. Although the couple couldn’t stand each other, they were eventually forced into reconciliation and told to get on with producing an heir. The resultant eldest son was to become the first Plantagenet king of England, Henry II. No-one in the family actually used the name, however, until the 1460’s, when Richard, Duke of York, father to Richard III, took Plantagenet as a surname to emphasise York’s superiority over the Lancastrians in the claim for the English throne.

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Henry II, the first Plantagenet King of England

Over the centuries, their story of demonic ancestry provided an explanation for the legendary ferocious tempers that ran through the Plantagenet line, as well as the almost supernatural success that some of them enjoyed on the battlefield.

Of course, the reality of the dynasty’s origins is most likely nowhere near as exciting. Geoffrey Greymantle (c.938ꟷ987) was actually married to a French noblewoman called Adele of Meaux, who we don’t know a lot about. She died in 982, but one of their sons, known as Faulk ‘the Black’, was renowned for his violent temper and savagery, and this added weight to the story of a dynasty descended from the Devil. Seen as a dangerous and ruthless family, many medieval people were convinced they had evil blood running through their veins. Some Plantagenet kings were even proud of their fiendish ancestor, as Richard I, the Lionheart, once proudly declared: “From the Devil we came, and to the Devil we shall go!”. After all, in an age of superstition and religious polarity, this could have been a useful device in the face of an enemy. Who would go into battle against a demon’s progeny without thinking about it first?

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And Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet Kings

Either way, the story of the demon Countess of Anjou and the formidable bloodline she spawned  saw the Plantagenet dynasty rule England for over 300 years, filling the Middle Ages with some of the best stories and characters our history has to offer, and some of our most notable – and notorious – kings.

 

59 thoughts on “A Dynasty Born of a Demon

  1. I didn’t know about the demon, so that’s a new one for me, but I sure did learn a lot about Matilda who was pretty demonic in her own write. For that matter, Geoffrey was no said, nor were any of the Plantagenets. My personal unfavorite is (I’m sure I’m in good company on this one) John.

    My favorite movie is “The Lion in Winter.” Actually, Garry and I can recite the dialogue. Or, as Eleanor said, “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”

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    • That’s an understatement if ever there was one! I think everyone’s unfavourite is John. He was a nightmare. I haven’t seen the Lion in Winter for years, but now I fancy watching it again. Thanks for reading, Marilyn. 🙂

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  2. Great story! I had a friend who couldn’t go into a church without being sick – I had my suspicions about her! (only joking – she was really nice). Never knew why they were called Plantagenets so thanks for that too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goodness, maybe she was related to Adele of Meaux! She sounds very interesting anyway! Glad you enjoyed it, and yes I love the story of how they got their name. It’s nice to find these things out – it makes sense of the past. Thanks for reading, Carol, it’s always great to hear from you. 🙂

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  3. Very interesting to read and learn about this history and superstition around the demon beginnings. I never thought of that either – Who would want to go to battle against a demon’s progeny? Great to read about, Alli!

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  4. You’ve given us so much information again here Alli. You’re a wealth of information and so expertly written. I certainly never realised that Henry II was conceived because his parents were told to “just get on with it”. That certainly made me chuckle 🙂

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    • Glad to be of a humorous service, Malc! That’s pretty much what happened – their marriage had a purpose, and it wasn’t to squabble and fight all the time… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have to admit I think I’m going to learn a lot more about medieval history from your wanderings than I could ever get from the library 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mike, so glad you enjoyed it and that you’ve gleaned some info too. That’s the aim of the game for me… Love the ‘holiday snaps of the Plantagenets’! Thanks for reading, and for commenting. 🙂

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  6. I didn’t know the demon story either or where the Plantagenet name came from. That was really interesting. When you read about Richard the Lionheart going off to the Crusades he sounds very a very God-fearing man so it’s odd that he’d be proud of a devilish ancestor. However, I guess the Crusades was as much about politics and gathering wealth as it was about religion.

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      • No he wasn’t, that’s absolutely right. He was obsessed with war and only spent 6 months of his 10 year reign in England. He had no loyalty to us, only using us to fund his campaigns abroad. So I don’t understand why he’s got this reputation of the great hero and king. 🙂

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      • No – especially as John tried to keep him out of the way so he could stay in power when he was caught and held in captivity on the way back from the Crusades. At least Richard was a good warrior. 🙂

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    • Indeed, Vanda. Yes it is strange in such a highly religious world for Richard to be so proud of his family legend, but they were a complex lot, and as I study them more and more nothing surprises me now! That’s why they’re so interesting. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

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  7. Yes, quite a family, though you wouldn’t want to annoy some of them. Richard III was enlightened compared to some. And I have a fondness for King John, rather than his brother Lionheart, because I always sympathise with people who get biased reporting – one of the reasons I was so kind to him in my four novels. Great blog!

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    • I’m a Ricardian too, John. Very much so. And I’ve never understood why the Lionheart got such a great press when he didn’t deserve it at all. I can’t say I extend my fondness to John, but I can see why you’d want to support the underdog, and at least he stayed here! When I’ve finished my module exam I’ll get a chance to read something I actually want to read, so looking forward to diving into your novels,

      Yes – quite, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them, especially with their legendary outbursts and rages. Thanks for reading, John, and for commenting. 🙂

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    • She certainly was. What a feisty, powerful woman. A great example that medieval women weren’t all meek and subservient. She’ll feature here in the future – probably quite a bit. 🙂

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    • He was a creature of his time and all the medieval kings did similar things, sadly. But John did reduce the hunting forests in size which meant the peasants could actually have more room to exist, and he didn’t put whole communities to the sword like his brother Richard.

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  8. I am glad that Richard 1 is mentioned in the comments as being an unsavoury character. I have read some terrible accounts of his deeds in Jerusalem.
    You certainly tell the tale of this dynasty’s beginnings very well. It was a most enjoyable read.

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    • Oh thank you Suzanne, that’s very kind and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Absolutely, Richard I wasn’t what he was cracked up to be. He wasn’t loyal to England and only used us to bank roll his beloved wars. He once even said: “I’d sell London if I could find a buyer”. Charming! Thanks for reading, and for your lovely comments. 🙂

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      • There’s probably a touch of history being written by the winners to it, as he was a very successful warrior – until he got shot. And in those days a king’s reputation was built on his prowess on the battlefield. The Crusades would have earned him brownie points as it was all about reclaiming the vital Holy Land and the pope encouraged the wars. So I expect at the time most people thought he fought a just war – and won. The fact that war was his hobby would probably have been absorbed by his victories. Now, of course, we know different. 🙂 Just a few thoughts, but I hope it helps. Thanks again, Suzanne. 🙂

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  9. another well written and interesting piece about such a violent period of our history. Many thanks for arousing my curiosity of the Plantagenets

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    • Thank you, Albert! That’s so good to know, and it means a great deal to me. Glad you get so much out of the posts, and it’s always good to hear from you. Thanks for your lovely comments. 🙂

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    • Thanks Yvette, and I’m so pleased you enjoyed the Plantagenet foundation legend. Shakespeare’s Richard III is indeed riveting, even if it is wildly inaccurate and paints a very skewed picture of the last Plantagenet king. Glad you enjoyed the play. Thanks for reading and commenting, it’s always good to hear from you. 😊

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