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Arthur I, Duke of Brittany

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Arthur I
Duke of Brittany
Reign 1194 – 1203
Predecessor Constance
Successor Alix
House House of Plantagenet
Father Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany
Mother Constance, Duchess of Brittany
Born 29 March 1187(1187-03-29)
Nantes, Brittany
Died April 1203 (aged 16)

Arthur I (29 March 1187 –April 1203) was Duke of Brittany between 1194 and 1202. The posthumous son of Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (d. 1186) and Constance, Duchess of Brittany. In 1191 he was designated heir to the throne of England, by Richard I; the intent being that Arthur would succeed Richard — in preference to Richard's younger brother John Lackland. Richard, Geoffrey and John were sons — third, fourth and fifth, respectively — of King Henry II of England and Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine.


[edit] Early life

While Richard I was away on the Third Crusade, Constance took more independence for Brittany, and in 1194 had the young Arthur proclaimed its duke as a child of seven years.

When Richard I died in 1199, on his deathbed he proclaimed his brother John as his heir, fearing Arthur was too young to look after the throne. Arthur was after all only about 12 at the time. John immediately claimed the throne of England, but much of the French nobility were resentful at recognizing him as their overlord. They preferred Arthur, who declared himself vassal of Philip II of France.

[edit] English invasion and Arthur's capture

Philip recognized Arthur's right to Anjou, Maine, and Poitou. But, by the Treaty of Le Goulet, May 1200, Philip had recognised John as heir of his brother Richard I and King of England, and thus had formally abandoned support for Arthur's claim to the English throne.

On 31 July 1202, Arthur was surprised by John's forces while besieging Mirebeau, where he was holding as hostage his grandmother, John's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Captured by John's barons, Arthur was imprisoned at Falaise in Normandy, guarded by Hubert de Burgh. At this time his sister Eleanor was also captured, then imprisoned at Corfe Castle in Dorset. The following year Arthur was transferred to Rouen, under the charge of William de Braose, and then vanished mysteriously in April 1203.

[edit] Disappearance

The puzzle of Arthur's disappearance gave rise to various stories. One account was that Arthur's jailers feared to harm him, and so he was murdered by John directly and his body dumped in the Seine. The Margam annals provide the following account of Arthur's death:

"After King John had captured Arthur and kept him alive in prison for some time, at length, in the castle of Rouen, after dinner on the Thursday before Easter, when he was drunk and possessed by the devil (ebrius et daemonio plenus), he slew him with his own hand, and tying a heavy stone to the body cast it into the Seine. It was discovered by a fisherman in his net, and being dragged to the bank and recognized, was taken for secret burial, in fear of the tyrant, to the priory of Bec called Notre Dame de Pres." (See Bec Abbey).

William de Braose rose high in John's favour after Arthur's disappearance, receiving new lands and titles in the Welsh Marches, so much so that he was obviously suspected of complicity. Indeed many years later, after conflict with King John, William de Braose's wife Maud de Braose personally and directly accused the King of murdering Arthur, which resulted in Maud and her eldest son, also William, being imprisoned and starved to death in Corfe Castle in Dorset. William de Braose escaped to France, where he was supposed to have published a statement on what happened to Arthur, but no copy has been found.

[edit] Legacy

[edit] In literature

The death of Arthur is a vital ingredient in Shakespeare's history play King John, in which Arthur is portrayed as a child whose innocence dissuades Hubert de Burgh from committing the murder demanded by King John. However, Arthur soon dies after jumping from his place of confinement in an escape attempt. In the 19th century the Breton poet Auguste Brizeux wrote of Arthur in La chasse du Prince Arthur.

He is also the principal character of an alternative history novel by the eccentric English writer Frederick Rolfe ('Baron Corvo'), entitled Hubert's Arthur, posthumously published by A. J. A. Symons in 1935. The novel started as a collaboration between Rolfe and Harry Pirie-Gordon, but in the event the latter only supplied the copious heraldic details pertaining to the characters. This is presented as the lengthy narrative of the aged Hubert de Burgh, who is supposed to have saved Arthur's life and accompanied him on crusade to the Holy Land, where he becomes King of Jerusalem and eventually returns to England, defeats King John and kills his son Henry Plantagenet (the historical Henry III) in single combat. The remainder of the book details the prosperous reign of King Arthur, his defeat of the Barons under Simon de Montfort, and his eventual miraculous death. Of all Rolfe's novels this one has never been reprinted, perhaps because of the strong strain of anti-semitism, which draws upon the myths of Christian boys martyred by Jews, such as St. Hugh.

In the novel Saving Grace by Julie Garwood, the heroine finds documents relating to Arthur's murder, committed under the orders of King John, by two of King John's barons. She is married to a Scottish Laird, Gabriel MacBain, to escape England, but is harassed by both King John's barons, and the English faction hoping to take down King John; each party unsure of how much she knows.

In Randall Garrett's alternate-history fantasy stories, the Lord Darcy series, Arthur does not "succumb to his illness", but survives it. John Lackland never becomes king, and the Plantagenet line, descending from Arthur, continues down to the present day.

[edit] In music

In 1912 the Breton composer Joseph-Guy Ropartz composed a symphonic poem, La Chasse du Prince Arthur (Prince Arthur's Hunt) after the poem by Brizeux. The Breton folk-rock band Tri Yann have made a song about Arthur's life.[1]

[edit] Ancestry

[edit] References

  1. ^ Lyrics (Note: the words of the song are in Middle French and seem to come from an anonymous manuscript, probably dating from the 1400s)
Arthur I, Duke of Brittany
Born: 29 March 1187 Died: April 1203
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Earl of Richmond
English royalty
Preceded by
Richard, Duke of Aquitaine
Heir to the English Throne
as heir presumptive

6 July 1189 – 6 April 1199
Succeeded by
Henry V, Count Palatine of the Rhine
French nobility
Preceded by
Duke of Brittany
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Richard I of England
Count of Anjou
Seized by France
Family information
Henry II of England
House of Plantagenet
Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany Arthur I, Duke of Brittany
Eleanor of Aquitaine
House of Poitiers
Conan IV, Duke of Brittany
House of Penthievre
Constance, Duchess of Brittany
Margaret of Huntingdon
House of MacAlpin
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