Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex

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Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex (d. 1144) was one of the prominent players during the Anarchy of the reign of King Stephen of England. His biographer, the historian J. H. Round, called him "the most perfect and typical presentment of the feudal and anarchic spirit that stamps the reign of Stephen."

He succeeded his father, William sometime before 1130. A key portion of the family patrimony was in the king's hands, as William had incurred Henry I's displeasure and lost them, along with his office as constable of the Tower of London. The king also held the substantial estate of Geoffrey's maternal grandfather Eudo Dapifer.

Geoffrey's goal in the early years of strife between Stephen and Maud seems to have to recover these losts lands. He succeeded in this, during the shifting tides of fortunes of the two competitors for the English throne, by bidding his support to first one, then the other.

He started out supporting Stephen, who sometime in 1140 (or perhaps December 1139) made him Earl of Essex in reward for his services against Maud. In 1140 or 1141 Stephen returned to him the seized estates in Essex. In 1141 he was also appointed custodian of the Tower of London.

After the defeat and capture of Stephen at Lincoln (1141) the earl deserted to Maud. She confirmed his custody of the Tower, forgave the large debts his father had incurred to the crown, granted him the Norman lands of Eduo Dapifer, and appointed him sheriff of Essex, Middlesex and London, and Hertfordshire. But before the end of the year, learning that Stephen's release was imminent, he returned to his original allegiance. In 1142 he was again intriguing with the empress; but before he could openly join her cause he was detected and deprived of his castles by the king.

In 1143-1144 Geoffrey maintained himself as a rebel and a bandit in the fen-country, using the Isle of Ely and Ramsey Abbey as his headquarters. He was besieged by Stephen in the fens, and met his death in September 1144 in consequence of a wound received in a skirmish.

His career is interesting for two reasons. The charters which he extorted from Stephen and Matilda illustrate the peculiar form taken by the ambitions of English feudatories. The most important concessions are grants of offices and jurisdictions which had the effect of making Mandeville a viceroy with full powers in Essex, Middlesex and London, and Hertfordshire. His career as an outlaw exemplifies the worst excesses of the anarchy which prevailed in some parts of England during the civil wars of 1140-1147, and it is probable that the deeds of Mandeville inspired the rhetorical description, in the Peterborough Chronicle of this period, when "men said openly that Christ and his saints were asleep."

Geoffrey married Rohese de Vere, daughter of Aubrey de Vere. They had three sons:

Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Essex Followed by:
Geoffrey de Mandeville



References

  • C. Warren Hollister, "The Misfortunes of the Mandevilles", History, vol. 58, pp. 18-28, 1973
  • J. H. Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, a Study of the Anarchy (London, 1892).
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