The Angevin Empire

The 'Angevin Empire' is the name given to a large body of land held at one time in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by rulers who included among their titles King of England. The land never had an emperor, and there is some argument over whether to use the term ‘empire’ at all, but conquest and marriage had aggregated a large block of land in Britain and the continent under one ruler, comprised of multiple smaller units, like duchies.

Rise of the Angevin Empire

In 1066, William Duke of Normandy conquered England, creating a channel straddling state with a large amount of lords holding land in both. Over the next century English kings would fight to hold and extend this land. In 1125 King Henry I of England made his only surviving legitimate child heir. She was Matilda, widow of the German Emperor. She was soon married to Geoffrey Plantagenet, the heir to Anjou. Together, their marriage and succession would have increased the holdings of the English king, but things didn’t go as simply as that.

When Henry died Matilda and Geoffrey were quarrelling with him, and the latter’s nephew - Stephen of Blois - was able to seize the English throne, in no small part due to getting there first. Civil war followed between supporters of Stephen and English lords who remained loyal to the oath they’d sworn to Matilda, and while Matilda fought in England Geoffrey – now Geoffrey of Anjou – stayed on the continent to fight over their lands there.

In 1150 Geoffrey gave his son Henry power, an act which was soon followed by King Louis VII of France - the theoretical overlord of all the counties and dukedoms the rivals to the English throne held on the continent – recognising Henry as Duke.

When Geoffrey died, Henry inherited Anjou and a claim to England and Normandy.

In 1152 Louis VII divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine, ruler of a vast duchy, and within eight weeks Henry had married her. In 1153 Henry and Stephen agreed to terms, and when Stephen died a year later Henry became King of England as Henry II. Within a short space of time Henry had acquired a vast area of Britain and France, ruling some regions, such as England and Normandy, through himself, and Aquitaine through his wife. This large aggregation of land has been called the Angevin Empire, although there was never anyone called an emperor. It made Henry one of the most powerful men in Europe.

The Empire Ebbs and Flows

Henry now fought to extend his lands, taking regions which included Brittany and some of Ireland. Henry decided he would divide his lands between his four sons – Anjou, Normandy and England for Henry, Aquitaine for Richard, Brittany for Geoffrey and Ireland for John, but the sons argued. Henry and Geoffrey would die before Henry II, but Richard and John came to an agreement and opposed their father, breaking him. Richard inherited much of the Angevin Empire, and ruled still more through his mother, but then went on crusade. When Richard was captured on the return journey, enemies on the continent attacked the empire’s lands, led by Philip II of France. When Richard was finally released he fought and reconquered most of the Angevin lands, but was killed while on campaign.

The Empire is Lost

King John took over in England following Richard’s death, but other claimants surfaced on the continent. John had to fight to regain the land, giving territorial concessions while he did so. John now married Isabella of Angouleme, who had been betrothed to Hugh of Lusignan. The latter felt snubbed by John and appealed to the French king, leading to a power struggle between the thrones of England and France which saw Philip II declare all John’s continental lands forfeit in 1202. John again fought to keep his land, but he was beaten and by 1204 the Angevin Empire was overrun. The struggle continued, but by 1259 Henry III of England had to renounce his claim to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou.

The Angevin Empire probably wouldn’t have remained a unit had John been able to defend it (or, as people often wonder, whether Richard would have lived).

It was a loose set of lands, and a partition between royal children was the most likely fate.