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Constance, Duchess of Brittany

Constance, Duchess of Brittany

Breton noble
The basics
About
A.K.A. Constance of Penthièvre
Gender female
Birth 1161 (Brittany, France)
Death September 5, 1201 (Nantes, Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire, France)
Family
Mother: Margaret of HuntingdonDuchess of Brittany
Father: Conan IVDuke of Brittany
Siblings: Henry de Bohun1st Earl of Hereford
Spouse: Geoffrey IIDuke of BrittanyRanulf de Blondeville6th Earl of ChesterGuy of Thouars
Children: EleanorFair Maid of BrittanyMatilda of BrittanyArthur IDuke of BrittanyAlixDuchess of BrittanyCatherine of Thouars
Authority ISNI id Library of congress id VIAF id
The details
Biography

Constance (Breton: Konstanza; 1161 – c. 5 September 1201) was Duchess of Brittany from 1166 to her death in 1201 and Countess of Richmond from 1171 to 1201. Constance was the daughter of Duke Conan IV by his wife, Margaret of Huntingdon, a sister of the Scottish kings Malcolm IV and William I.

Life and reign

Banner of Constance of Penthièvre

Constance's father Conan IV had reunited the Duchy of Brittany in wars with Henry II of England. After the wars with Henry II, Conan IV faced rebellions from some Breton nobles. He appealed to Henry II for assistance in putting down those rebellions.

In 1166, Henry invaded Brittany in order to punish the local barons' revolt. In order to gain complete control over the duchy, he forced Conan IV into abdicating in Constance’s favor and betrothing her to his fourth legitimate son Geoffrey. Five-year-old Constance succeeded him as Duchess of Brittany.

In February 1171, Conan IV died. Although her daughter was the heiress of the Earldom of Richmond, she did not enter her inheritance until 1183/1184.

In 1181, twenty-year-old Constance was forced into marriage with Geoffrey. On August 19, 1186, Geoffrey was trampled to death in a riding accident during a tournament in Paris. Constance thereafter became the effective ruler of Brittany.

However, on 3 February 1188, Henry II of England arranged for Constance to marry Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, one of the most powerful earls in England. Though Ranulf used, not consistently, the style Duke of Brittany, he never had the control of the duchy, and is not known to have played an important role there, and the Bretons, as well as Constance, never acknowledged him as Duke jure uxoris, and excluded him from the government of the Duchy.

In 1191, King Richard I of England officially proclaimed his nephew, Constance's son Arthur as his heir in a treaty signed with Philip II of France.

To promote her son Arthur's position and inheritance, Constance included him in the government of the Duchy in 1196. In response to this act that thwarted his projects, Richard summoned her to Bayeux and had her abducted by Ranulf in Pontorson and imprisoned in Saint-James de Beuvron. He spread the rumour that Constance had been imprisoned for matrimonial reasons. As a result, rebellions were sparked across Brittany on her behalf and Arthur was sent in Brest. Richard demanded that hostages were delivered to him in exchange for Constance's freedom. The Bretons agreed but Constance and the hostages remained imprisoned and rebellions went on. Richard eventually bowed to growing pressure and had the Duchess released in 1198. Back in Brittany, Constance had her marriage annulled.

Constance took Guy of Thouars as her next husband between August and October 1199.

Between 1198 and the time of her death delivering twin daughters, Constance ruled with her son Arthur as co-ruler. Throughout these years, Constance advised her son towards a French alliance, pursuing the policy of her late husband Geoffrey II.


Family

As a girl, Constance could not inherit the duchy at her father’s death if she had a brother. A charter by Margaret, Constance’s mother, seems to show that she and Conan had more than one child. However, two charters made by Constance and her son Arthur towards 1200 mention a brother of Constance, William "clericus". As a boy, William should have inherited the duchy after Conan. According to Everard, Henry II’s forcing Constance’s father into abdicating in 1166 was meant to prevent any son of the Duke from inheriting the duchy. Margaret of Huntingdon's charter might then be a reference to Constance and her brother.

Constance and Geoffrey had three children:

  • Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany (1182/1184-1241)
  • Matilda (c. 1185-bef 1189)
  • Arthur I, Duke of Brittany (1187-1203) - Geoffrey's posthumous son

Constance and Guy had two daughters:

  • Alix of Thouars (1200 - 1221); she married Peter Mauclerc, the first Breton ruler of the House of Dreux; and
  • Catherine of Thouars (1201 – c. 1240), Dame of Vitre; she married Andre III de Vitre who was noteworthy for rebuilding the Château de Vitré

Several sources indicate that Constance might have had third daughter by Guy:

  • Margaret of Thouars (1201 - 1216/1220); she was the first wife of Geoffrey, Viscount of Rohan


Death and Burial

Constance died, age 40, on 5 September 1201 at Nantes. She was buried at Villeneuve Abbey in Nantes.

Constance's cause of death is debated. Some historians believe she died of leprosy. Others believe she died from complications of childbirth, shortly after delivering twin daughters. Still others believe that she had leprosy, leading to a difficult delivery, and ultimately to her death shortly after the birth of the twins. Thus both leprosy and childbirth are possible causes of death.

Media

Constance is a character in the play King John by William Shakespeare, in which she has several very eloquent speeches on grief and death. On screen, she has been portrayed by Julia Neilson in the silent short King John (1899), which recreates John's death scene at the end of the play, Sonia Dresdel in the BBC Sunday Night Theatre version (1952), and Claire Bloom in the BBC Shakespeare version (1984). She was also played by Paula Williams (as a girl) and Nina Francis (as an adult) in the BBC TV drama series The Devil's Crown (1978).

Ancestry

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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