Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Angevins

The Angevins were named after their territory of Anjou in France. In the 12th century they became rulers also of the kingdom of Jerusalem. When Fulk the Younger went to Jerusalem, his son Geoffrey Plantagenet succeeded him as ruler of Anjou.

Enamel effigy on Geoffrey's tomb
Henry I's daughter Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet, and after a long period of conflict over the English throne following Henry's death, it was finally agreed that their son Henry would be the next king. Henry II came to the throne ruling over not only England, but extensive lands in France. The Angevin empire included more land in France than ruled by the King of France! The lands stretched from the borders of Scotland to the Pyrenees, and included Ireland, given to him by Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope). He was possibly the most powerful monarch in Europe at the time. 

His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and relationship with their children was immortalised in the film The Lion in Winter, starring Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

Martyrdom of Thomas Becket
Henry II spent much of his time away from England fighting abroad, and living in his French lands. The most memorable event of his reign was the murder of Thomas à Becket by over-enthusiastic knights, for which he was forced to do public penance. He hoped to prevent disputes between his four sons by crowning his eldest son, Henry, as king during his own lifetime, and giving substantial lands to his other sons. 

Unfortunately this only made his sons want power sooner, and they attempted to oust him from the throne. Henry, the eldest son, died of a fever and Geoffrey died in a tournament accident, so when Henry II died he was succeeded by Richard. Richard may have earned the name Lionheart, but he spent nearly all his reign outside England and never learned English. His reign was only a success because he appointed capable men to run the government while he went on Crusade. 

The last of the Angevin kings was John, who was not trained or equipped for the job. Recent study has suggested he may have been autistic and/or bipolar, which would go a long way towards explaining his erratic behaviour. Time after time, he mishandled and misread situations and lost many battles. By 1205, six years into his reign, only a fragment of the vast Angevin empire acquired by Henry II remained.

He was also forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, which restated the rights of the church, the barons and all in the land. John died in ignominy, having broken the contract, leading the nobles to summon aid from France and creating a precarious position for his young son and heir, Henry III.

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