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Formation of the Angevin Empire

Background

The Counts of Anjou had been vying for power in northwestern France since the 10th century. The counts were recurrent enemies of the dukes of Normandy and of Brittany and often the French king. Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, claimed rule over Touraine, Maine and Nantes; however, of these only Touraine proved to be effectively ruled, as the construction of the castles of Chinon, Loches and Loudun exemplify.

Fulk IV married his son and namesake, called “Fulk the Younger” (who would later become King of Jerusalem), to Ermengarde, heiress of the province of Maine, thus unifying it with Anjou through personal union. While the dynasty of the Angevins was successfully consolidating their power in France, their rivals, the Normans, had conquered England in the 11th century. Meanwhile, in the rest of France, the Poitevin Ramnulfids had become Dukes of Aquitaine and of Gascony, and the Count of Blois, Stephen, the father of the next king of England, Stephen, became the Count of Champagne. France was being split between only a few noble families.

The Anarchy and the question of the Norman succession

In 1106, Henry I of England had defeated his brother Robert Curthose and angered Robert’s son, William Clito, who was Count of Flanders from 1127. Henry used his paternal inheritance to take the Duchy of Normandy and the Kingdom of England and then tried to establish an alliance with Anjou by marrying his only legitimate son, William, to Fulk the Younger’s daughter, Matilda. However, William Adelin died in the White Ship disaster in 1120. This lead to a period of time known as The Anarchy.

The Anarchy was a civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153, which resulted in a widespread breakdown in law and order. The conflict was a succession crisis precipitated by the accidental death by drowning of William Adelin, the only legitimate son of Henry I, in the sinking of the White Ship in 1120.

Henry I’s attempts to install his daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his successor were unsuccessful and on Henry’s death in 1135, his nephew Stephen of Blois seized the throne with the help of Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester. Stephen’s early reign was marked by fierce fighting with English barons, rebellious Welsh leaders and Scottish invaders. Following a major rebellion in the south-west of England, Matilda invaded in 1139 with the help of her half-brother Robert of Gloucester.

Neither side was able to achieve a decisive advantage during the first years of the war; the Empress came to control the south-west of England and much of the Thames Valley, while Stephen remained in control of the south-east.

The war dragged on for many more years. Empress Matilda’s husband, Geoffrey V of Anjou, conquered Normandy, but in England neither side could achieve victory. Rebel barons began to acquire ever greater power in northern England and in East Anglia, with widespread devastation in the regions of major fighting. In 1148 the Empress returned to Normandy, leaving the campaigning in England to her young son Henry FitzEmpress. In 1152 Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne, queen consort and Stephen’s wife, unsuccessfully attempted to have their eldest son, Eustace, recognised by the Catholic Church as the next king of England. By the early 1150s the barons and the Church mostly wanted a long-term peace.

When Henry FitzEmpress re-invaded England in 1153, neither faction’s forces were keen to fight. After limited campaigning and the siege of Wallingford, Stephen and Henry agreed a negotiated peace, the Treaty of Wallingford, in which Stephen recognised Henry as his heir.

Chroniclers described the period as one in which “Christ and his saints were asleep” while the term “the Anarchy” was coined by Victorian historians because of the widespread chaos, although modern historians have questioned the accuracy of the term and of some contemporary accounts.

Upon Stephen’s death on October 25, 1154, Henry FitzEmpress became King Henry II of England, the first Angevin king of England, beginning a long period of reconstruction. Subsequently, the question was again raised of Henry’s oath to cede Anjou to his brother Geoffrey. Henry received a dispensation from Pope Adrian IV under the pretext the oath had been forced upon him, and he proposed compensations to Geoffrey at Rouen in 1156. Geoffrey refused and returned to Anjou to rebel against his brother. Geoffrey may have had a strong claim, but his position was weak. Louis VII would not interfere since Henry paid homage to him for his continental possessions. Henry crushed Geoffrey’s revolt, and Geoffrey had to be satisfied with an annual pension. The Angevin Empire had now been formed.