Proving Matilda

My senior thesis at Harvard (1967) was a study of the brief career of Geoffrey, duke of Brittany from 1181 to 1186.  He ruled Brittany iure uxoris, through his marriage to Duchess Constance, heiress of Duke Conan IV.  Two children of Geoffrey by Constance are well known.  Arthur, Geoffrey’s posthumous son, was captured by his uncle, King John, at Mirebeau in August 1202.  Arthur never emerged from captivity, and he was probably murdered at the beginning of April 1203, aged 16.  His sister Eleanor was also captured at Mirebeau.  She lived on in custody in England until her death in 1241.  From my work on the senior thesis, I knew that Ralph de Diceto, Opera Historica, had said that Geoffrey left two daughters and that Dom Gui Alexis Lobineau, in his Histoire de Bretagne published in 1707, had identified the second daughter as “Mathilde.”  I kept this information in the back of my mind.


In October 1973, my wife and I traveled to France, where I spent the better part of a year doing research under a French Government Fellowship.  We lived in Brittany, in the city of Rennes.  It was there, in January 1974, that I came across the charter, published by the 19th century Breton historian Arthur de la Borderie, that provided proof of the existence of the second daughter, Matilda.  This charter records a confirmation and donation by Duchess Constance to the abbey of Saint-Gildas de Rhuys in May 1189.  The donation was made for the salvation (“pro salute”) of the soul of the duchess and the souls of her father Conan, her husband Geoffrey, and her daughter Matilda.


When we visited London in February 1974, Allys and I had lunch with Pofessor and Mrs. Martin Havran near the British Museum.  I told Professor Havran, who had been on my Ph.D. orals committee at the University of Virginia, about my recent discovery.  He suggested that I write an article and submit it to the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, whose editor he knew well.  In order to substantiate the validity of my proof of the existence of the second daughter of Geoffrey and Constance, I needed to examine the original document, if it existed, or the copy or copies upon which its publication was based.  Now French friends helped me out. Francis and Anne-FranVoise Le Breton, from whom we rented our apartment in Rennes, loaned us one of their automobiles.  In early May, we drove to Vannes, and I visited the Archives du Morbihan, where there were two copies of the charter, made circa 1300 and in 1664.  The director of the Archives, Mlle FranVoise Mosser, was very helpful to me. 


There was a third (17th century) copy of the charter at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.  After an exchange of correspondence, I was invited to visit the contemporary Breton historian, Hubert Guillotel, at his parents’ country house, north of Rennes.  In late May, I drove (in a Le Breton car again) to the former abbey of la Vieuville, near the village of Épiniac.  Robert Guillotel had bought the ruined monastery in 1938 (before son Hubert was born) to save it from demolition.  M. and Mme Guillotel and their historian son were gracious hosts, and Hubert agreed to meet me at the Bibliothèque Nationale on June 12.  The Guillotels told me that writing to the B.N. would be a waste of time.  Allys and I spent two days in Paris on our way back to the States, then another day in Luxembourg before catching our flight on Air Bahamas.  Sure enough, Hubert was there to greet me and guide me through the B.N.’s less-than-friendly bureaucracy.  I worked in the manuscript room that afternoon (closed at 5 P.M.), then all day on the 13th.  Besides the third copy of the charter, I was able to examine other documents that were relevant to my research.  On the evening of the 12th, Hubert walked back to our hotel with me and met Allys, who had missed out on the trip to la Vieuville.


After working on Cape Cod in the summer of 1974, we were back at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in September.  After examining relevant published material, I wrote my draft of the article.  True to his word, Professor Havran helped me submit the draft to the BIHR, and it was accepted for publication.  Entitled “A Second Daughter of Geoffrey of Brittany,” it was finally published in 1977, in volume L, on pages 112 to 115.  By that time, we had returned to Tallahassee, where Allys had begun work on her M.F.A. in Art.  In 1999, the charter that proves the existence of Matilda of Brittany was published in a new edition by Judith Everard and Michael Jones, The Charters of Duchess Constance of Brittany and her Family, 1171-1221, charter number C20.


As a sad footnote, I have discovered through the Internet that Hubert Guillotel died in June 2004, ten days short of his 63rd birthday, much too soon.  I had corresponded with M. Guillotel into the early 1980s, when my active academic work ended with a full-time job and growing family responsibilities.     





19 Responses to “Proving Matilda”

  1. Jenny Says:

    This raises a lot of questions! Why would Constance make a donation for the salvation of her soul, her father’s, Geoffrey’s and Matilda’s, but not for Eleanor and Arthur? Would Matilda have been dead at that point? Would she have been born before or after Eleanor? Any theories on what became of her?

  2. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Besides that of her own soul, the donation was evidently made for the salvation of the souls of her deceased relations, omitting mention of her two living children. Since Conan (d. 1171) and Geoffrey (d. 1186) were both dead, it is almost certain that Matilda had died before May 1189. There is some indication that Eleanor was the elder sister, but no positive evidence. No record survives of the birth of either daughter of Constance and Geoffrey.

    NOTE: In two places above, the download of my Word file to Sharon’s blog converted the c cedilla in the female name Francoise into a capital V.

  3. Cheryl Says:

    This is absolutely fascinating. What a great illustration of the fact that “lost” knowledge lies hidden in archives, all over the world.
    I’ve often wanted to spend time searching in the Archives of the Indies from the time Spain ruled the Americas, given my interest in the Conquest and the history of Mexico and Peru.

    It must have been so exciting to lay eyes on 14th century documents. Thank you so much for this story.

  4. Elizabeth Chadwick Says:

    Thank you for the excellent post, Sharon, and for the article, Malcolm. I’ve enjoyed reading and learning from both.
    I love the description of Richard’s temper in the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal where he’s in a temper over the Bishop of Beauvais ‘Ainz boufa e fu irascuz.’ I’m sure that’s the root of ‘bouffant’ for a raised hairstyle too!
    Not exactly a ‘favourite’ ruler, but one I think who has been very much ignored in the light of more glamorous kings and queens, is Henry I of England. He had some habits and ways and various modus operandi that may be abhorrent to the modern mindset, but 35 years of peace and prosperity are not to be overlooked…even if it did go pear-shaped for a time afterwards.

  5. enelya Says:

    When I read your post I realized I didnot know a whole lot about Richard as a person ad I just have to say I am already looking forward to your book.
    Currently I am rereading your Welsh trilogy and find myself fascinated once again by Simon de Montfort and the Welsh dynast and histories. Simons passion just flows from the pages, and I wonder about that man. he was obviously very dedicated and opinionated. I will go and do some more research on him and his family

  6. April Says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Malcolm! How exhilarating to be able to delve into such documents, discover fascinating bits of truth and piece together a more complete picture of the past. Like Cheryl, I too love the idea that “lost” history is really just waiting to be found!

  7. Mitchel Loth Says:

    There is definately a lot to learn about this topic. I love all the points you have made.

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  19. L M Says:

    I have been looking for evidence of the existence of Matilda and Margaret (another daughter of Constance and her third husband Guy de Thouars, only mentioned by Dom Morice and Arthur de La Borderie).

    Thanks to you, I know that Matilda really existed. Thank you so much!