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All About the Angevin Empire

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The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.

The Anglo-French Conflict

One of the longest-running historical conflicts in Europe was the fight to dominate the North Atlantic between France and England. Wars were fought across Europe, India, and North America between the English and French as they clashed over world domination.

While the Anglo-French story began when William the Conqueror invaded Saxon England, it was the rise of the Angevin Empire that would lock France and England into a centuries-long conflict.

Henry II

Henry II

Birth of the Angevin Empire

The Angevin Empire was born out of a series of hereditary titles and marriage alliances. Henry II was made Duke of Normandy after a brief civil war between the supporters of his claim and those of his opponents. Henry later asserted his rights as count of Anjou and then married the duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor. This made his holdings in France greater than that of the king of France.

As Henry was consolidating his personal fiefs he also made client states of his neighbors. Henry created a series of marriages that dominated Brittany and various truces with Flanders. His goal in doing this was to strip away potential enemies for his wars with the king of France.

Louis VII

Louis VII

Angevin France

In France Henry II was a recognized vassal of the French king Louis VII. He continued to have agreements with Louis that gave him land in exchange for homage. Henry would have his allies in Brittany recognized by Louis as well. This meant that Louis could nominally give or take away land from Henry II.

Henry's territory in France was clearly French. They were French barons, the people were French and they followed French laws. Henry may have been the king of England, but in his French territories, he was just a duke or count. More importantly, his French territories were not the territory of the English king, they were Henry's territories. He held them in personal union, which means that each of his territories was ruled as an individual state with one foreign policy, but each state had its own domestic laws.

Lands directly administered by Henry in yellow; dotted lands are vassals

Lands directly administered by Henry in yellow; dotted lands are vassals

Angevin Britain

In England, Henry had to fight to establish his claim. He forced his predecessor to recognize him as the heir to the crown, and then waited for him to die. This made Henry king of England, and master of France.

Some of Henry's vassals tried to conquer parts of Ireland to increase their own power, but they became embroiled. When they asked for Henry's assistance he went and took over Ireland for himself, and was named Lord of Ireland. He further consolidated his hold over Wales during this time.

During one of Henry's wars with Louis, king of France, the king of Scotland invaded England in support of the French offensive. King William of Scotland was captured by the English forces and forced to submit to Henry. This created a situation in which Henry had no enemies left in the British isles, and he was able to dominate France.

Richard the Lion-Hearted

Richard the Lion-Hearted


Henry made himself the most powerful man in Europe. His empire stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland, but it was all invested in his person. As Henry grew older his eyes turned to what he would leave behind, and the crisis of succession methods shattered his kingdom.

During this time period, there were several ways to pass an inheritance on to your heirs where the lands held by a father were partitioned among the sons in some sort of variation. For the Angevin kings, this meant that each of Henry's sons would have received some portion of his lands and treasury. Henry however had four sons of varying ages, a fifth had died at the age of two, and his attempts to organize them caused a great deal of quarreling.

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Henry II controlled the lives of his sons and his collection of territories with single-minded passion. He had hoped to encourage a coalition of his sons to work together to bring about dynastic control of their disparate lands. In attempting to force them to work together, he pushed them away and they, supported by the Capetian kings of France, revolted against their father and fought a long war for control of his territories.

While Henry had intended to split his empire between his four sons, two had died prior to Henry's own death during the Great Revolt against him. John was given Ireland, and the rest went to Richard the Lion-Hearted. Richard freed Scotland from its vassalage in exchange for money to go crusading. Richard then left the empire in the hands of regents and left for the Holy Land.


Richard's crusade greatly cost the empire and left the country without a present ruler for many years. His lack of experience in dealing with the Anglo-Norman lordship led him to view England as a source of income and not care for ruling the country. Ultimately Richard allowed the feudal bonds between the local lords and their liege to slacken, and it weakened the ability of the central authority to hold together.

When John revolted against Richard and took over the empire it further strained the bonds of the lord to vassal, and allowed the Capetian monarchy to strengthen its hold on the French lords. Richard's greatest failure was then in failing to produce an heir. John became the sole heir to the Angevin lands and when John failed to pay homage to Philip Augustus, his military incompetence allowed Philip to invade Angevin territory with local support.

Most of France fell to the control of the king of France, and this was to set the stage for the Hundred Years War. English kings would continue to rule parts of France up until 1558 when Calais fell to the French.

Further Research

Bachrach, Bernard S. "The Idea of the Angevin Empire." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 10, no. 4 (1978): 293-99. Accessed July 10, 2021. doi:10.2307/4048161

Hollister, C. Warren, and Thomas K. Keefe. "The Making of the Angevin Empire." Journal of British Studies 12, no. 2 (1973): 1-25. Accessed July 10, 2021.

Huneycutt, Lois L. Speculum 78, no. 3 (2003): 1009-010. Accessed July 10, 2021.

Turner, Ralph V. "The Problem of Survival for the Angevin "Empire": Henry II's and His Sons' Vision versus Late Twelfth-Century Realities." The American Historical Review 100, no. 1 (1995): 78-96. Accessed July 10, 2021. doi:10.2307/2167984

Veach, Colin. "IRELAND IN THE ANGEVIN EMPIRE." History Ireland 27, no. 3 (2019): 40-43. Accessed July 10, 2021.


A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on May 07, 2012:

The Angevin Empire is a historical term used to describe the collection of territories, not a contemporary term.

As for the revenue, it would have been spread around. Barons and nobles in each territory would take a piece, the Church took a piece, some would then have gone in to the kings treasury, while some would have had to gone to the French king when they were not at war with each other.

Even by the High Medieval Period feudalism was still struggling with the issue of vassalage. Many barons would have territories held in fief to both the king of France, and Henry II, so they could have gone either way. Given the military success of Henry II and the fact that many of Louis's advances were repelled we can assume that the vast majority of the Angevin barons stood by Henry II.

Jason from Vilonia , Arkansas on May 07, 2012:

The term “Angevin Empire” was not a contemporary term?

The revenue, goods and resources from the French lands, went to France or England, or the personal holdings of the king? And who did they support during war?

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on May 07, 2012:


It was not until after John that the English kings really became English. Thanks for the comment!


Thanks for the kind words and vote up!

Jason from Vilonia , Arkansas on May 07, 2012:

I go and ask a simple question and Ata goes out and writes an article on the subject like its nothing. You have very detailed knowledge on some intellectual subjects and your articles are always very well written. It will be interesting to see where you are ten years from now. Voted up!

James Kenny from Birmingham, England on May 06, 2012:

Great article, I was aware that the likes of Henry II had lands in France, but not to the extent shown here. In a way it kind of makes sense. As the Kings of England at this time were effectively French (Norman).

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on May 05, 2012:


Thanks for the comment, I'll have to look in to writing about the Hundred Years War!

Claire on May 05, 2012:

Good overview and good historical facts. Its not a period I followed too closely. However the Hundred years War is a subject I am revamping my knowledge on at the moment. Hope you do one on that as well, or maybe more.

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