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The Angevin Empire: Introducing the Great Tower

The man who built Dover Castle's Great Tower was one of England's greatest kings - Henry II. He also built the largest European empire of his age, the Angevin Empire, stretching from Scotland to the Pyrenees

Empire building and expansion

1120-1154: Like his great-grandfather William the Conqueror, Henry was French. However, France was not yet united - powerful nobles ruled its separate regions. Henry's father ruled Anjou (from where we get 'Angevin'), and his mother ruled Normandy.

When his father died, Henry inherited both. Then he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, gaining her lands. Headstrong and ambitious, she was to play an important role in the following years. A shipwreck which killed Henry's uncle, heir to the English throne, gave him a claim to the crown - a claim he grabbed.

By 1154, Henry was King of England and the most powerful lord in France. Seizing chances through marriages and deaths, he had forged a great empire.

1154-1172: Over the next twenty years, Henry strengthened his possessions and expanded his control in northern England and South Wales, in Normandy and Brittany, and in the east of Ireland.

Decline and fall

1172-1189: Rich in land and power, Henry was also rich in sons. But rivalries over the empire's division between them - and his estranged wife Eleanor - proved disastrous. As civil war erupted in England, sons Young Henry, Richard and Geoffrey tried to seize Normandy.

Later, Richard defended Aquitaine against Young Henry and Geoffrey, then against Geoffrey and John. Finally, allied with the King of France, Richard forced his father to submit. Exhausted, Henry died, and his troubled empire passed to Richard.

1189-1215: King Richard, despite going on crusade, being shipwrecked on his return, then imprisoned in Austria, managed to hold the Empire together - mainly thanks to Eleanor. When Richard died, his brother John proved much weaker, losing first Anjou, then Normandy to the French King, And despite expansion in Ireland, his control slipped in Brittany and Aquitaine.

1215-1227: To add to John's woes, his English barons rebelled, prompting a French invasion, including a great siege at Dover Castle. Finally, under John's son, Henry III, the French were driven back across the Channel. But almost all the Angevin lands in France were lost.

However, although the empire Henry II had built in France had collapsed, his English descendants - the Plantagenets - retained the throne of England for 400 years.

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