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House of Anjou

Their duchy of France had since its foundation been cut short by the great grant of Normandy, and by the practical independence which had been won by the counts of Anjou, Maine, and Chartres. By their election to the kingdom, the Dukes of the French added to their duchy the small territory which up to that time had still been in the immediate possession of the West-Frankish Kings at Laon. And, with the crown and the immediate territory of those kings, the French kings at Paris also inherited their claim to superiority over all the states which had arisen within the bounds of the Western Kingdom. But the name France, as it was used in those times, meant only the immediate territory of the King.

Among the fiefs which were gradually annexed a various distinction must be drawn between the great princes gradations, who were really national chiefs owing an external homage to the French crown, and the lesser counts whose dominions had been cut off from the original duchy of France. And a distinction must be again drawn between these last and the immediate tenants of the Crown within its own domains, vassals of the Duke as well as of the King. To the first class belong the Dukes and Counts of Burgundy, Aquitaine, Toulouse, and Flanders ; to the second the Counts of Anjou, Chartres, and Champagne.

In the course of the twelfth century a power grew up within the bounds of the Western Kingdom which in extent of territory threw the dominions of the French King into insignificance. The two great powers of northern and southern Gaul, Normandy and Aquitaine, each carrying with it a crowd of smaller states, were united in the hands of a single prince, and that a prince who was also the king of a powerful foreign kingdom. The Aquitanian duchy contained, besides the county of Poitou, a number of fiefs, of which the most important were those of Perigueiw, Limoges, the dauphiny of Auvergne, and the county of Marche which gave kings to Jerusalem and Cyprus. To these, in the eleventh century, the duchy of Gascony, union of with its subordinate fiefs, was added, and the dominions of the lord of Poitiers stretched to the Pyrenees. Meanwhile Duke William of Normandy, before his conquest of England, had increased his continental dominions.

The union in 1110 of several lines in descent in the same person united England, Normandy, Anjou, and Maine in Henry the Second. For a moment it seemed as if, instead of the northern and southern powers being united in opposition to the crown, one of them was to be itself incorporated with the crown. The marriage of Louis the Seventh with Eleanor of Aquitaine united his kingdom and her duchy in 1137. A king of Paris for the first time reigned on the Garonne and at the foot of the Pyrenees. But the divorce of Lewis and Eleanor in 1152 and her immediate re-marriage with the Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou again severed the southern duchy from the kingdom, and united the great powers of northern and southern Gaul. Then their common lord won a crown beyond the sea and became the first Angevin king of England. Another marriage brought Britanny, long the nominal fief of Normandy, under the practical dominion of its Duke in 1169.

The House of Anjou thus suddenly rose to a dominion on Gaulish soil equal to that of the French king and his other vassals put together, a dominion which held the mouths of the three great rivers, and which was further strengthened by the possession of the English kingdom. But a favorable moment soon came which enabled the King to add to his own dominions the greater part of the estates of his dangerous vassal. On the death of Richard, first of England and fourth of Normandy, Normandy and England passed to his brother John, while in the other continental dominions of the Angevin princes the claims of his nephew Arthur, the heir of Britanny, were asserted. The success of Arthur would have given the geography of Gaul altogether a new shape.

The Angevin possessions on the continent, instead of being held by a king of England, would have been held by a Duke of Britanny, the prince of a state which, though not geographically cut off like England, was even more foreign to France. On the fall of Arthur, Philip, by the help of a jurisprudence devised for the purpose, was able to declare all the fiefs which John held of the French crown to be forfeited to that crown, a sentence which did not apply to the fiefs of his mother Eleanor. In the space of a few years [1202-1205] Philip was able to carry that sentence into effect everywhere on the mainland. Continental Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Touraine, were joined to the dominions of the French crown, and by a later treaty they were formally surrendered in 1258 by John's son Henry. Poitou went with them, and all these lands may from this time be looked on as forming part of France.

The Duke of Anjou, as holding in addition Lorraine, Provence, the titular crown of Naples, and the family appanage of Maine, was another powerful rival to the King. But Charles VII had married an Angevin wife, and was in intimate alliance with the House of Anjou. Throughout his long reign the Duke Rene (1431-81), more interested in literature and art and other peaceful pastimes than in political intrigue, gave little trouble to France. His son, John of Calabria, joined in the League of the Public Weal, but was afterwards reconciled to Louis XI. He lost his life in an adventurous attempt to win a crown in Catalonia (1470). The grandson, Nicolas of Calabria, was one of the aspirants to the hand of Mary of Burgundy, but died in 1472.

The independence of Anjou, like that of most of the later appanages, was strictly limited. The Duke received neither taille nor aides, but generally drew a fixed pension. Strictly he had not the right to maintain or levy troops, though this rule inevitably failed to act in time of revolution. But the domain profits were considerable, and the lack of direct royal government was a considerable diminution of the King's authority, and might at any time become a serious danger. In 1474 Louis XI took over the administration of Anjou, and in 1476, as it was reported that Rene had been meditating the bequest of Provence to Charles of Burgundy, the King forced on the old Duke a treaty whereby he engaged never to cede any part of that province to the enemies of France. On the Duke's death in 1480, his nephew Charles succeeded, but only survived him for a year, when by his will all the possessions of Anjou except Lorraine reverted to the Crown. The process of consolidation was proceeding apace. Provence had never hitherto been reckoned as part of France.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:58:18 ZULU