Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud
'Necropolis of the Kings and Queens of the Angevin Empire'


Romanesque chevet of the abbatial church of Fontevraud.

The Abbey of FONTEVRAUD (Maine-et-Loire) is where the last French nobles of the first Angevin dynasty, who gained reknown as the first 'Plantagenêts' kings and queens of England, were buried. It is often described as the royal necropolis of the 'Angevin Kings and Queens of England'. However, such a description fails to recognize the much more important extent -- and even the true context -- of their remarkable realm: the 'Angevin Empire'. For in its size and in the culture of its sovereigns, the Angevin Empire was a French empire. Fontevraud remains a symbolic monument to a dramatic medieval story rarely presented with accuracy in anglophone literature.

SIGNIFIENCE of the MONUMENT.
This began as such with the burial of Henri II, comte d'Anjou, duc de Normandy, and also Henry II, king of England (1154-1189). Buried later with him were his queen, Aliénor [Eleanor] duchesse d'Aquitaine, also a queen of England (1154-1189), and their son Richard 'Coeur de Lion', also king of England (1189-1199). Even later, was buried a daughter-in-law: Isabella d'Angoulême, also queen of England (1200-1216) as second wife of the English king John 'Lackland' (1199-1216). John lost his Angevin domains of Anjou and Normandy in the 1214 'War of Bouvines'. His burial at Worcester, England, is as significant as are the burials of his parents and older brother at the Abbey of Fontevraud. For John 'Lackland', no longer ruled an Angevin 'empire'.
With the confiscation of Anjou by the French king, Philippe II, the title of 'Angevin' for the dynastic family on the English throne was also lost. After 1214, the English ruling family is more properly termed 'the Plantagenets', an informal label derived from a nickname given to Geoffroi [Geoffrey] IV, comte d'Anjou, who according to tradition wore a sprig of broom, planta genista, in his cap. He married Matilda, daughter of the king of England, Henry I (of the direct Norman line -- which was also French in origin). Matilda was also the widow of the German Emperor Henry I and about 11 years older than Geoffroi d'Anjou, by whom she bore Henri, who would build the 'Angevin Empire' of 1154-1214 that shown brightly, if briefly, in Western medieval Europe. This 'empire' created visions of feudal associations that incited some of the fundamental reasons for the later Hundred Years' War between France and England. The term 'Plantagenet' more aptly realtes to the descendents of Geoffroi who remained on the English throne, but no longer had claim to the French province of Anjou. Indeed, there would be two other Angevin dynasties: the second from 1246 to 1351, and the third from 1351 to 1480, after which Anjou returned to the French crown.

 
Four recumbent figures, their heads to the west [distant wall with entrance door],
lie in the nave of abbatial church of Fontevraud.

Placement in the above picture, from back left, clockwise is as follows:
Aliénor d'Aquitaine Henri d'Anjou
Richard Coeur de Lion Isabella d'Angoulême

 

Henri d'Anjou, duc de Normandie, duc d'Aquitaine, and Henry II, king of England. He is the central figure to the story of the 'Angevin Empire', that is addressed in this webpage. Though he is credited with having advanced the administrative systems of law and finance in the English government, and the kingship of England was his highest held dignity, his actions showed that he was at heart a French nobleman. Though a mere count and duke of French domains, he held more land in France than did the French king. The situation produced an inevitable conflict that was not settled until the end of the Hundred Years' War.

Aliénor [Eleanor] d'Aquitaine d'Aquitaine (b.1122), also a queen of England as consort to Henry II. A remarkable woman, who inherited one of the largest and richest duchies in France, was queen of France (1137-1152) and queen of England (1154-1189); mother to kings Richard I and John of England. Though famous for her strong will and having lived an unusually 'liberated' life for a woman of medieval Europe, she was imprisoned 15 years by her husband, Henry II of England. Of course, she had instigated her sons to rebel against their father in 1172. Assuming the crown of the Angevin Empire upon the death of his father, Richard I freed his mother. Eleanor ruled England and the Angevin domains while Richard went on crusade and endured emprisonment at the hands of the German Emperor. She outlived Richard and witnessed the early years of her youngest son, John Lackland's disastrous reign.

Richard Coeur de Lion, duc de Normandie, duc d'Aquitaine, and also king Richard I of England. He was given the ducal title to Aquitaine by his mother and assumed the titles of king of Engalnd, duke of Normandy, and count of Anjou [among others of the 'Angevin Empire'] in 1189 upon the death of his father, Henry II. Richard participated in the Third Crusade (1189-1192) to the Holy Land, where he managed to make personal enemies of the French king, Philippe II and the German Emperor Henry VI. He arrived in the Near East in time to take credit for the fall of Acre (1191). After Philippe II departed, Richard I negotiated a truce with Saladin. En route back to Europe, Richard was seized and held for ransom by the German Emperor. Returning to England in 1194, Richard dealt successfully with his scheming brother, John Lackland; and in protecting his Angevin domains from the French king Philippe II. Richard I died from a crossbow arrow wound received as he was beseiging the small French castle at Chaluz. He requested to be buried at the feet of his father, Henry II.

Isabella d'Angoulême, also queen of England (1200-1216) as the second wife of the English king John 'Lackland'. Isabella had been betrothed to the French nobleman, Hugh de Lusignan, when John Lackland divorced his first wife to marry her. Isabella was not a popular queen in England and was no help as the 'last true Angevin' king of England proceeded to lose not only his French domains, but the trust of the Anglo-Norman barons that ruled in England. Upon John Lackland's death in 1216, Isabella strove to safeguard her young son, Henry III's, inheritance. However, she felt best to return to Angoulême, in France, where she married Hugh de Lusignan, her original suitor. She is accused of influncing her second husband to take up arms against the French king, Louis IX, in the interests of her son, Henry III's, claims to the old Angevin domains in southwestern France. The result was a disasterous Santonge War (1242). [Link to this encounter is at the end of this page.]
 
Photos shown above of the interior of the church are from an excellent booklet by Claire Giraud-Labalte: FONTEVRAUD, English translation by Enterprises 35, (Éditions Ouest-France, 1996).

THE STORY BEHIND THE MONUMENT -- THE 'ANGEVIN EMPIRE' (1154-1214).

Many may find it suprising that the larger, French dominated 'Angevin Empire' was not brought into an English domain, but that England was brought into the 'Angevin Empire'. This explains why the Angevin rulers of that empire, though enjoying the dignity as monarchs of England, spent their lives and most active years in France -- where they died and were buried. The story is a little confusing in that the traditional accounts tend to blend the features that tie the Angevin Empire (established in 1154) to the earlier Norman Conquest of England in 1066. This discussion will inter weave the dynastic players as they enter the scene. However, at the end of this page are links to pages that describe separately the two dynasties of these 'Adventuresome' French dukes and counts.
There has been some 'slight-of-hand' in anglophone literature when it comes to reporting the association of the French dynastical rulers who assumed the English crown. Traditional English history [repeated in most American works on medieval Europe] begins with the Norman conquest of 1066 and continues with a rather unruffled transition to when the count of Anjou assumes the English crown in 1154.
Traditional English histories menton the struggles for Normandy by the heirs of William I, the Conqueror. Little signifance is given to the fact that William I did not bequeth his Anglo-Norman realm to one heir. The Conqueror, in effect, left separated the English royal domain from the Norman patrimonial lands in France. Though, his youngest son, Henry I Beauclerc [English king 1100-1135] managed reunite the duchy with the English ruling family by defeating his older brother, Robert Curthose [duke of Normandy (1087-1135, 1100- 1106)] at the Battle of Tinchebray (1106) in Normandy.
Traditional English histories also note the English civil war which denied Matilda, the daughter to Henry I of England and her father's offiically proclaimed heiress to the English crown as well as the duchy of Normandy, the English throne in favor of Stephen of Blois. Not much is made of the fact that Stephen, though a nephew of Henry I, was introducing another French dynasty to the English throne and his fight could be seen as another attempted 'conquest'. Though the drawn-out civil war effectively denied Matild'a claim to the English throne, Stephen eventually lost Normandy in the early 1140s to Matilda's husband, Geoffrey IV, count of Anjou. Geoffrey of Anjou was recognized as duke of Normandy by the French king in 1145. Geoffrey gave his son Henry the duchy prior to Geofrey's death in 1151 and to Henry's marriage to Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine in 1152.
Henry count of Anjou [this included the county of Maine], duke of Normandy, and with a claim to be duke of Aquitaine, launched in 1142 a military campaign in England to acquire the English crown. Stephen's son and heir, Eustase, left Normandy (where he was trying to reestablish the Blois claim) and crossed over to England to lead his father's counter camapign against Henry. However, Eustase died in August 1153, and a peace conference was held at Winchester in November 1153. The conference led to a settlement that called for Stephen to 'adopt' duke Henry as 'son and heir'. Stephen died in October of 1154. Henry and Eleanor were crowned at Westminster Abby 19 December 1154. Henry II brought the French fiefs of Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine with him when he acended to the English throne in 1154. With Henry II and his queen, Eleanor, there began the short line of 'Angevin' English kings, but their Angevin realm was much larger that the English kingdom, and arguably earns the description as the 'Angevin Empire'.
The general English accounts attempt to portray all this unplesentness with a pretext that Henry, count of Anjou assumed the English crown in 1154 by right of inheritance. In fact, it was an Angevin 'conquest' that caused the transition of the Norman line to the Angevin line which established itself on the English throne in 1154.

More detailed descriptions of the French Norman and Angevin dynasties are covered at the following webpages:

OTHER ASPECTS of the ABBY of FONTEVRAUD
The Fontevraud Abby's history is much broader than just the famous Angevin connection. The Order of Fontevraud was founded in 1099 and consisted as a group of monasteries: Saint Marie housed nuns; Saint Lazare lepers; Saint Benoit the sick; La Madeleine was for women considered as social outcasts ['fallen women']; and Saint Jean de l'Habit housed the monks.
The overall community was managed by a Abbess, and early on became a refuge for members of noble families -- expecially for 'repudiated' queens and daughters of royal and aristocratic association. The abby had received considerable support from the counts of Anjou prior to Henry's death. His aunt had been an Abbess. So his burial there was understandable. His son, Richard I, who also died in France, had his request to be buried at the feet of his father honored. Near the end of her life, Henry's remarkable queen consort, Eleanor, retired to the Abbey and put on the habit of a nun. She was buried in abbey's crypt. Henry III of England evidently crossed over to witness the burial of his mother, Isabella, at the abbey. And later, the hearts of both John Lackland and Henry III were buried at the abbey.
With the fall of the Angevin Empire, the abbey of Fontevraud's fortunes suffered. It was protected during the Religious Wars of the sixteenth century by the Bourbons. However, it was pillaged and the royal tombs descrated by Revolutionaries of 1793. Napoleon made the abbey a prison in 1804. Restoration began in 1860. No longer a religious institution, Fontevraud has been adopted since 1975 by 'The Cultural Center of the West', and today is an impressive tourist site and location for artistic and educational forums.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

John Le Patourel, "The Plantagenet Dominions" History, 50 (1965) pp.289-308.

John Le Patourel, "The Norman Conquest, 1066, 1106, 1154, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, ed. R. Allen Brown (Ipswich, 1978) 1:103-120, 216-220.

John Le Patourel, The Norman Empire (Oxford, 1976).

W.L. Warren, Henry II, U. of California, Berkeley, 1973.

Bernard S. Bachrach, 'The Idea of the Angevin Empire', Albion, 10 (1978) pp.293-299.

Z.N.L. Brooked, 'Henry II, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine', English Historical Review lxi (1946).

Warren Hollister and Thomas K. Keefe, 'The Making of the Angevin Empire', The Journal of British Studies, 12 (1973):25.

Josephe Chartrou, L'Anjou de 1109 à 1151 (1928).

Dict. Nat. Biog., art. 'Plantagenet Family of'.

Louis Halphen, Le Comté d'Anjou au XIe siècle, (1906).

Louis Halphen et René Poupardin, Chroniques des comtes d'Anjou et des seigneurs d'Amboise, Paris, 1913.

R. Latouche, Histoire de comté du Maine, (1910).

D.C. Douglas, William the Conqueror, (1964).

A. Richard, Histoire des comtes de Poitou, I (1903).

J. Dhondt, Études sur la naissance moyen âge (1963).

Y. Renouard, 'Les institutions du duché d'Aquitaine (Des origines à 1453)', Histoire des Institutions françaises au moyen âge, ed. Lot and Fawtier I, Institutions seigneuriales (1957).

F.M. Stenton, Anglo-Saxon England (1947).

F.M. Powicke and E.B. Fryde, Handbook of British Chronology (1961).

R.W. Eyton, Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II (1878).

Muir's Historical Atlas, Medieval and Modern, ed. G. Goodall (1947).

Jim Bradbury, Stephen and Matilda; The Civil War of 1139-53 (1998).

Jim Bradbury, The Battle of Hastings (1998).


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