38 Born of the Devil – the Angevins

Geniuses, devils, spoilt brats, villains, heroes; war, sex, violence, bravery, treachery, peace, reform… the Angevins that founded the Plantagenet dynasty have it all, in spades. Not so much history, as soap opera. This week we kick things off with the arrival of Henry II and Eleanor on the English throne.

38 Born of the Devil – The Angevins


The marriage of the millennium

Eleanor of AquitaineIn 1152, Henry of Anjou and Eleanor of Aquitaine married at the Cathedral of St Henry II Peter in Poitiers. The church you see there is not the one – Henry started a new church in 1162.

Eleanor of Aquitaine split opinion across Christendom. One half of them saw the queen of culture and sophistication ; the other saw her as irresponsible, wild and undisciplined. Gervase of Canterbury described her as 'an exceedingly shrewd woman… but fickle'. So maybe  both sides were right. 

Eleanor was married to Louis VII of France in 1137. Louis was wild for her, but he was something of an odd fish. Nice enough you understand, but very affected by the burning by his troops of a church full of women and children – which isn't so very odd. But as he had his head shaved to make him look like a monk and became increasingly devout, Eleanor began to tire. She behaved badly on crusade – taking a gaggle of noble ladies and then suspected of having an affair with her uncle. Plus, the ultimate crime, she only gave Louis 2 girls as children. Louis needed a male heir and to his pain and distress had the marriage annulled by the Pope. 

8 weeks later she was married to Henry. She met him in Paris once; she needed a protector to keep all those eager suitors away from her door; and if you were going to jump ship from the King of France and stay at the same level, your options were limited anyway. 

The political map transformed

The Angevin EmpireThe marriage transformed the political map. In 1150, Louis was the dominant power in western europe. Look at the map here based on the situation after the marriage. Add back all the lands of Aquitaine to the French lands – i.e. everything south of Anjou and Tourraine except Toulouse and you'll see what I mean. 

The New Kingdom

Henry was crowned king of England in 1154. He then spent the first few years of his life establishing his new kingdom. This meant this thing really: 

  1. Getting the English barons back into line – down within a few years
  2. Sorting out his brothers Geoffrey and William – likewise
  3. Getting even more territory if he could

Coronation Charter

However, that's not what he said on his coronation. Henry was in a strong position when he came to the throne – so he didn't have to give too much away…

Download Charter of Liberties of Henry II 1154

A scandalous marriage

Henry and Louis tried to play nice, and Henry's eldest son Henry was betrothed to Marguerite, daughter of Louis. Oh, Henry was 3, Marguerite 6 months old. The dowry was significant – the all-important Vexin, key to Normandy, given away by Geoffrey Plantagenet. But Louis wasn't worried – hey, it was years away. But Henry tricked him – in 1160 he had the Pope allow him to go ahead with the marriage, and took the castles back. Now Henry's empire looked secure and complete. 


12th Century clothing.jpegLot's of rather formless material is the super-summary. Women, long dresses down to the floor, hung from the shoulders, lots of sashes and ties to keep it all together. Hanky (wimple rather) on the head. Blokes, very much the same – soft leather slipper, long tunic covering everything up. Plus fashions didn't change quickly in the way the y do today – so it'll take us some time before things get more exciting. 

4 thoughts on “38 Born of the Devil – the Angevins

  1. Very good episode but I presume you took a bang on the head part way through the podcast when mentioned something about derby have a good football team 🙂

  2. Finally we get to hear about my favorite character in history – Eleanor of Aquitaine. I lobbied vigorously to name my daughter after her, but my husband would have none of that. Thank you for your very entertaining work.

    1. I must do an episode about her specifically for the Members only feed – she’s a character so many people are interested in.

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