The Angevin Empire is a neologism defining the lands of the Plantagenets: Henry II and his sons Richard I and John. Another son Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany ruled Brittany and established a separate line there. As far as historians know, there was no contemporary term for the region under Angevin control; however descriptions such as “our kingdom and everything subject to our rule whatever it may be” were used.

The term Angevin Empire was coined by Kate Norgate in her 1887 publication, England under the Angevin Kings. In France, the term Espace Plantagenêt (Plantagenet Area) is sometimes used to describe the fiefdoms the Plantagenets had acquired.

Angevin Empire

The adoption of the Angevin Empire label marked a re-evaluation of the times, considering that both English and French influence spread throughout the dominion in the half century during which the union lasted. The term Angevin itself is the adjective applied to the residents of Anjou and its historic capital, Angers; the Plantagenets were descended from Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, hence the term.

The use of the term Empire has raised controversy among some historians, as the area was a collection of the lands inherited and acquired by Henry. It is unclear whether or not these dominions shared any common identity. Some historians argue that the term should be reserved solely for the Holy Roman Empire, the only Western European political structure actually named an empire at that time. Other historians argue that Henry II’s empire was neither powerful, centralised, nor large enough to be seriously called an empire. There was no imperial title, as implied by the term Angevin Empire.

However, even if the Plantagenets themselves did not claim any imperial title some chroniclers, often working for Henry II himself, did use the term empire to describe this assemblage of lands. In essence the highest title was “king of England”, to which were added the titles of dukes and counts held in France that were completely and totally independent from the royal title, and not subject to any English royal law.  Because of this some historians prefer the term commonwealth to empire, emphasising that the Angevin Empire was more of an assemblage of seven fully independent, sovereign states loosely bound to each other.