Conquered and conquerors

England’s connection to France went back to the Norman Conquest of 1066. King William I’s son Henry I ruled England and Normandy as a single united kingdom. Henry was considered by people at the time to be a harsh but effective ruler; he skilfully manipulated the barons in England and Normandy to secure his power in both territories.

Henry’s only son, William Adelin, drowned in 1120 and this left him without a male heir. Following this, Henry decided that his daughter, Matilda, would be his heir and announced her marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou. Geoffrey was the Count of Anjou – a region in France which bordered Normandy – and it was Henry’s hope that this alliance would help him to secure his control over Normandy.

Matilda and Geoffrey’s marriage alliance did not go as King Henry I had planned:

  • The couple's relationship with Henry broke down and fighting broke out along the border with Anjou.
  • After a week of illness, Henry died on 1 December 1135.
  • Despite naming Matilda as his heir, Henry was succeeded by Stephen of Blois – his nephew. This marked the start of a civil war between England and France which became known as The Anarchy.
  • Geoffrey and Matilda captured Normandy in 1144 and Matilda took an army to England to claim her inheritance as Queen of England.

Whilst Matilda was busy fighting against the forces of Stephen of Blois, her son Henry took control over Normandy and later Anjou. When Stephen died in 1154 Henry was crowned King of England.

King Henry II was an intelligent and energetic ruler and he gradually acquired more territory in France through a series of small wars but his greatest achievement was marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor ruled over a large swathe of France and after their marriage these lands became part of Henry II’s Angevin Empire because of his connection to Anjou.

King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine had four sons: Henry, Richard, John and Geoffrey. Richard and John went on to become kings of England but their reigns created instability within the Angevin Empire they had inherited.

King Richard I spent very little time in England, except to collect the taxes he needed to fight wars in France and become involved in the Crusades in Palestine in 1193. Richard became Lord of Cyprus during the Crusades and the island was briefly part of the Angevin Empire. In King Richard I’s absence, the King of France and his brother John worked together to weaken Richard’s hold on France.

King John was crowned after King Richard I’s death in battle and was quickly attacked by the French king. King John was not a good military leader and between 1200 and 1204 he lost most of England’s territory in France, including Normandy. King John’s barons in Normandy chose to either accept the French king as their lord or return to England. This created instability in England for another decade.