The lands of the Kings of England be considered and empire in the period 1154-1204
The term “empire” being used for the lands of the Angevian kings all begins with a man named Henry, who became known as Henry II of England, when he was crowned king at the age of 21 in December 1154; by 1166, he had 6 territories to his name, all of which he had gained in different ways. Henry had been granted Normandy by his farther, and had inherited Anjou and Maine upon his father’s death. Aquitaine had been gained through marriage to the Eleanor, the duchess of Aquitaine and Brittany came to Henry’s name when his son was betrothed to heiress of Brittany.
For a group of countries being held together under one person in the medieval period, geographical unity is essential, which the Angevian lands had. On the map, the lands of Henry can be seen all very close together, stretching from Northumberland to the Pyrenees, focused around important towns and cities and the English Channel (which were very important for trading), bordered by natural defenses, such as the Pyrenees hills and large areas of uncultivated land. Trading is seen as very important within an empire, as it suggests unity, where the lands are working to provide each other with what they need in order prosper.
Anjou had acted as a centre of communication for Henry’s lands, as it was geographically convenient. These characteristics of unity suggest that these lands were an empire. Another factor which suggests that the Angevian lands were an empire, is that most of the lands, especially England and Normandy were very similar in terms of law, administrative systems, justice and culture. This was due to the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Within 45 years the Angevian lands were ruled by 3 kings. Henry passed on these lands to his son Richard, who in turn passed them on to his younger brother John.
These lands had always been unified under one man only. The fact that Richard had claimed all of Henry’s lands, instead of dividing them between him and his brothers, as Henry has wanted, suggests that Richard saw all the lands as one. Upon Richard’s death, John had also inherited all the lands; this suggests that the intactness of these lands, means that they should be viewed as a whole, as an empire. However there are reasons conveying the idea that the Angevian lands should not be viewed as an empire.
For example Henry had never wanted Richard to inherit his whole empire; he had always wanted it to be shared between all his sons, he wanted to give Normandy, Anjou and England to young Henry, Aquitaine to Richard and Brittany to Geoffrey. The fact that Henry had not planned his lands to remain as one, means that he also did not view is lands as an empire. The fact that Richard had claimed the whole of Henry’s lands upon his death, suggest that Richard may have been greedy for wealth and power. Henry, Richard and John, never classed themselves as emperors and were never known by the title of “emperor”.
However, Henry, Richard and John were known as Dukes of Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou. This shows that Angevian family were not all powerful and had had complete control over their lands, because as dukes, they would have been required to obey the higher in authority, such as the French King. Also even though England and Normandy were similar in cultures and customs, the rest of the lands weren’t, especially in Aquitaine, which was very hard to rule, and in Anjou. The fact that the Angevian’s had struggled to make changes in laws and customs in these areas suggests that the Angevian’s didn’t rule these lands, they just were under their names.
The dictionary definition of the term “empire” is “An extensive group of united states or countries under a single supreme authority formally known under the title of an emperor or empress. ” The fact that rifts had begun to arise between the Angevian lands, especially in the 1180’s and 1190’s, which manifested between the English and Norman diverging laws and inheritance customs and that neither Henry, Richard or Jon referred to themselves as Emperors, means that neither the rulers nor the people saw these lands as an empire.