Angevin Empire Is Established Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The establishment of the Angevin Empire under the three Plantagenet kings expanded English holdings to their widest extent, until Normandy was annexed in 1204 by the king of France.

Summary of Event

Geographically, the Angevin Empire of the twelfth century was made up of England, Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine. The first two domains had been united by William the Conqueror and consolidated under his son, Henry I Henry I (king of England) (1100-1135). Anjou was added by the marriage of Henry’s daughter, Matilda Matilda (English princess) , to Geoffrey Geoffrey IV (count of Anjou) Plantagenet, count of Anjou. Their son, Henry II Henry II (king of England) , further enlarged the empire by his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine Eleanor of Aquitaine . Marriage as a political tool;Angevin Empire The beginning of the Angevin Empire can therefore be placed at the beginning of his reign, 1154. [kw]Angevin Empire Is Established (1154-1204) [kw]Angevin Empire Is Established (1154-1204) Angevin Empire France;1154-1204: Angevin Empire Is Established[1980] England;1154-1204: Angevin Empire Is Established[1980] Government and politics;1154-1204: Angevin Empire Is Established[1980] Expansion and land acquisition;1154-1204: Angevin Empire Is Established[1980] Matilda Henry II (1133-1189) Eleanor of Aquitaine Richard I John, King Philip II (1165-1223)

The empire was unified in the person of the king rather than by its subjects’s loyalty to a common tradition or territory. Like his grandfather Henry and his great-grandfather William the Conqueror, Henry II enjoyed the fealty of powerful lords. These barons and earls found it to their advantage to do homage to the king because only he could prevent their destructive quarrels and give them justice. Under feudalism Feudalism;Norman in its crude form, the warrior caste, while protecting those who worked their manors, had constantly challenged one another’s holdings. Under Norman feudalism, the warrior lords waived their rights of ownership and instead held their lands “in fee” (feod, related to the word for cattle) from the king, who was recognized as the sole legal owner (especially since William owned the England he had conquered). In return for these fiefs, the king’s feudal tenants-in-chief, including bishops and abbots as well as barons, promised to pay certain taxes or dues, to attend the royal councils, and to support the king with a fixed number of armed and mounted knights.

Besides superseding the manorial courts of the feudal barons, the king’s justice in England absorbed the old shire courts presided over by a sheriff (“shire reeve”). Henry II revived his grandfather’s practice of sending out his royal officers on circuit to sit beside the sheriffs and enforce his rights to taxes. These officers gradually expanded their jurisdiction, giving judgment in trials for murder, rape, arson, robbery, forgery, and harboring criminals. In this way, the “king’s peace” was extended to the whole nation, and the king was able to fulfill his coronation oath, which bound him to see justice done and to guarantee everyone’s right of appeal to his courts. For a modest fee, any freeman forcibly dispossessed of his land could get a writ, or royal command, restoring immediate possession pending a full trial. To determine property disputes, William the Conqueror had ordered juries of twelve “free and lawful men” of the neighborhood to look into the facts of the case. Henry II extended this jury inquest to cover judicial processes of every kind. Laws and law codes;England

Henry claimed not to be innovating, but merely to be restoring the good old laws. He was actually depriving the feudal aristocracy of their ancient right to decide all matters either by an oath or by appealing to force (trial by combat). Henry drove the barons and their manorial courts out of business, for most of his subjects wanted to have their cases tried in the king’s courts. At the same time, Henry and his sons were developing a legal system. Their writs were recorded, and they became the first body of written law since late Roman times. Royal officials had to know this written law as well as local customs; hence was born, around 1200, the profession of judge. Next came the lawyers—men trained in precedents and cases—who were hired as professional advocates by either side, recalling the professional fighters whom the parties had formerly retained for trials by combat. The fascinating evolution of English courts and law in the thirteenth century is compelling proof that the Norman/Angevin genius shaped the culture inherited by all modern English-speaking citizens.

Another innovation characteristic of the Norsemen enabled the Angevin kings to gain the upper hand over the feudal lords. This innovation was the institution of wardship, whereby the king asserted his right to take the heir of the greatest vassal into custody until the heir was of age. This right went back to the practice of Viking seafaring tribes, whose ethnic traditions were able to survive even after the ties of family had become weakened. In effect, the leader of a band of pirates held together primarily by their northern origin was transformed into the model of a feudal monarch. The model figures prominently in British history. From the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare to the eighteenth century novel, it can be observed in the custom of gentry who send their children away from home at a tender age to be reared in another, aristocratic household.





The Angevin kings could develop government in such a logical and systematic way because feudal relations were considered the material out of which the state had to be formed. Especially in England, these feudal materials were molded into an original polity, in contrast to conservative Normandy, where the lords’s rights were strengthened at the expense of any state, and in equal contrast to France, where the king worked with the Church to suppress feudalism in favor of an autocracy like that of Charlemagne and his Frankish forebears.

Having established the Angevin empire, Henry II was faced with the problem of bequeathing it whole to his successor. He wanted to provide for all of his sons while ensuring that the younger brothers paid homage for their provinces to the eldest. Henry’s first son had died as a child, and his second son (also named Henry) died in 1183, leaving Richard I (the Lion-Hearted) Richard I next in line. When Richard I succeeded to the throne in 1189, he won great fame in Europe and the Holy Lands, and he was a reassuring presence to his Norman and Angevin vassals. Nevertheless, he spent a scant total of five months of his ten-year reign governing his inheritance in England. When Richard died unexpectedly in 1199, John John (king of England) , his youngest brother, took over the Crown. Although he was known to be Henry’s favorite son, John was unable to command the fealty of the Norman and Angevin lords, who deserted him to pay their homage instead to the French king, Philip II Philip II (king of France) .

Philip II at his coronation in 1179, based on a fourteenth century manuscript in the Burgundian Library, Brussels. The Norman and Angevin lords would eventually desert Henry II’s weak son, King John, to pay homage to Philip.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

In the empire’s final phase, which saw the loss of Normandy, the Catholic Church played a major role. First, the Norman bishops, not wanting the Church to be torn apart by divided loyalty to two overlords, fell back on their original homage to the Frankish kings and their latest descendant, Philip II. For ten years after losing Normandy and Anjou, John abused his rights over his English vassals. Stephen Langton, Langton, Stephen archbishop of Canterbury, acted to preserve the monarchy painstakingly built up by Henry I and Henry II. The nobility was threatening to get rid of John as a tyrant. Rather than allow them to throw off kingly rule and plunge England back into feudal chaos, Langton announced that he had found a charter of Henry I by means of which the nobles might regain their lost liberty. He urged them not to destroy the Crown but to demand that the king restore old customs. Although the Magna Carta Magna Carta that John’s vassals forced on him in 1215 insists on their feudal rights as tenants- in-chief, fully thirty-two of the document’s sixty-one clauses deal with the relations between the king and his subjects—that is, with the liberties of freemen and small-property owners that have become accepted by all those living under the common law.


As summarized by historian John Gillingham, the four-part Angevin Empire became, under Henry and his sons Richard and John, “the dominant polity in western Europe.” Contemporaries did not speak of an “Angevin Empire,” however, nor does the term indicate a nation aware of its cultural identity. The Angevin kings did not create a political structure that might be perpetuated or conquered. Their achievement was to subordinate the feudal aristocracy, who, in spite of their diverse regions and dialects, all paid homage to their Angevin overlord.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barber, Richard. The Devil’s Crown: Henry II, Richard I, John. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1978. This volume is an extremely informative and popularly styled history of the Angevin period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryant, Arthur. The Medieval Foundation of England. New York: Collier Books, 1968. A very readable account of the growth of British legal and parliamentary systems.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Church, S. D., ed. King John: New Interpretations. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1999. Discusses topics and persons such as King John and the English economy, the Church in Rome, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Philip II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gillingham, John. The Angevin Empire. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. A complete modern political account of the Angevin kings and their holdings. Includes maps, genealogical table, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gillingham, John. Richard the Lionheart. 2d ed. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989. A sympathetic biography that portrays Richard as both a distinguished warrior and a capable ruler of the duchy of Aquitaine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mortimer, Richard. Angevin England, 1154-1258. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994. An account of the social history and customs that flourished under the Angevins. Complements Gillingham’s political history of the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Painter, Sidney. The Reign of King John. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1949. An enduring, respected study that provides a good history of John’s reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Powicke, F. M. The Loss of Normandy, 1189-1204: Studies in the History of the Angevin Empire. 2d ed. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1961. Provides a fine history of the triumph and eventual supersession of Norman institutions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Turner, Ralph V., and Richard R. Heiser. The Reign of Richard Lionheart: Ruler of the Angevin Empire, 1189-1199. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, 2000. A survey of Richard’s achievements as a military leader and administrator.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wheeler, Bonnie, and John Carmi Parsons, eds. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A study of more than five hundred pages (with a sixty-page bibliography), discussing topics such as Eleanor’s positions in the government of her reigning sons and a comparison of Eleanor with other noblewomen of the time.

Categories: History