Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex

Geoffrey de Mandeville II, 1st Earl of Essex (1st Creation) (died September 1144) was one of the prominent players during the reign of King Stephen of England. His biographer, the 19th-century historian J. H. Round, called him "the most perfect and typical presentment of the feudal and anarchic spirit that stamps the reign of Stephen." That characterization was disputed in the later twentieth century.

He succeeded his father, William, sometime before 1129, possibly as early as 1116. A key portion of the family patrimony was in the King's hands. William had incurred a debt to the crown, perhaps in part a large fine due to Henry I's displeasure at the escape of an important political prisoner when he was in charge of the Tower of London. The King also held the substantial estate of Geoffrey's maternal grandfather Eudo le Dapifer to which Geoffrey laid claim.

Geoffrey's goal in the early years of strife between Stephen and Empress Matilda seems to have been to recover these lost lands and his father's offices. He succeeded in this during the shifting tides of fortunes of the two competitors for the English throne. He started out supporting Stephen, who sometime in 1140 (most likely May of that year) made him Earl of Essex. By 1140 or 1141 Stephen had returned to him the seized estates in Essex. In 1141 he was also appointed Constable of the Tower of London by Empress Matilda.

After the defeat and capture of Stephen at Lincoln in 1141, the Earl, like many barons, acknowledged Matilda as his sovereign lady. She confirmed his custody of the Tower, forgave the large debts his father had incurred to the crown, granted him the Norman lands of Eudo Dapifer, and appointed him Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire, Middlesex and London. But before the end of the year, learning that Stephen's release was imminent, he returned to his original allegiance. In 1142 he may have been intriguing with the Empress. There has been a scholarly debate over the dating of the charters he received from Stephen and Matilda; depending on the order and timing of those documents, Geoffrey appears to have either been playing off one against the other to get what he wanted or was courted by the rival claimants to the throne for his support. The earl was arrested by the King in 1143 and threatened by execution, Geoffrey surrendered his castles to Stephen, then launched a rebellion.


Outlaw activity and death

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 King Stephen and met his death in September 1144 in consequence of an arrow wound received in a skirmish. Denied burial because he died excommunicate, his body was wrapped in lead. Eventually it was taken to the Templar community in London. He was buried in the Temple Church in London. His son arranged for an effigy to be placed on the floor, where it still can be seen today.


His career is interesting for two reasons. The charters which he received from King Stephen and Empress Matilda illustrate the ambitions of English barons. The most important concessions are grants of offices and jurisdictions which had the effect of making Mandeville almost a viceroy with full powers in Essex, Middlesex and London, and Hertfordshire—but these were based on offices and jurisdictions his ancestors had held. His career as an outlaw exemplifies the worst excesses of the civil wars of 1140-1147, and it is possible 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." He had seized Ramsey Abbey (near Peterborough) in 1143, expelling the monks and using Ramsey as a base for forays into the surrounding region.

Marriage and offspring

Geoffrey married Rohese de Vere, daughter of Aubrey de Vere II and sister of the first earl of Oxford. He had four sons:

Historical Fiction

An accounting of Geoffrey's outlaw actions and the taking of the Ramsey abbey provides for elements of the backstory for Ellis Peter's "Brother Cadfael" book, 'The Potter's Field'.


  • C. Warren Hollister, "The Misfortunes of the Mandevilles", History, vol. 58, pp. 18–28, 1973
  • R. H. C. Davis, J. O. Prestwich, "The Treason of Geoffrey de Mandeville", The English Historical Review, vol. 103, no. 407, pp. 283–317, 1988; Prestwich, "Geoffrey de Mandeville: A Further Comment", EHR, vol. 103, no. 409, pp. 960–966; Prestwich, Davis, "Last Words on Geoffrey de Mandeville", EHR, vol. 105, no. 416, pp. 670–672, 1990.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Mandeville, Geoffrey de". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • J. H. Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, a Study of the Anarchy (London, 1892)
  • George Shipway Knight in Anarchy (Cox & Wyman Ltd., London, 1969)
Peerage of England
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Essex
Succeeded by
Geoffrey de Mandeville, 2nd Earl of Essex

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