Aquitaine, Aragon, Anjou and Vermandois

Aquitaine (Aquitània)

Occitania, is a region in southern France were historically the Occitan language was spoken it is roughly the same area as the Roman province Septem Provinciæ and the early Middle Ages the region was known as Aquitanica or the Visigothic Kingdom of Toulouse.

After Clovis had conquered the Visigoth at the battle of Poitiers in 507, the Merovingians set up the Duchy of Vasconia in 602. However, so far away from the centre they had difficulty establishing direct control. As of 660, the duchies of Aquitaine and Vasconia were united under the rule of Felix of Aquitaine to form an independent entity, they were also able to maintain its Roman civilisation.

This duchy reached its heyday under Eudes (Odo) the Great’s rule when it was attacked by the Muslims who had just invaded the Visigoth Hispania. After successfully fending them off in Toulouse in 719 he was defeated close to Bordeaux. Odo was required to pledge allegiance to the Frankish Charles Martel in exchange for help against the Muslim forces, and Vascon-Aquitanian self-rule first came to an end by 742, and definitely in 768 after the assassination of Waifer.

In 781, Charlemagne proclaimed his son Louis King of Aquitaine within the Carolingian Empire. However, the Carolingians had great trouble keeping the region under control under King of Aquitaine Pepin. After the death of the King of East Francia, Charles the Fat,  the nobles of Aquitaine appointed one of them, Count Ranulf II of Poitiers, as the new duke. His bastard son Ebalus took over but after he lost a battle against Norman Rollo – the founder of what later became the Duchy of Normandy – he had to flee.

In 893 the Duchy came into the hands of  his ally  Guilhèm (William) I (the Pious), Count of Auvergne, he was married to Engelberga  the daughter of Boso of Provence. 910, William founded the Benedictine abbey of Cluny that would become an important political and religious centre.

After his death his nephew Willam II succeeded him he was married to Gerletta a daughter of Rollo. By now however Ebalus received his title back in 928 and started his 2nd term as Duke of Aquitaine after the death of William II and his brother Acfred.

In 929, the West Francia King Rudolph started trying to reduce the power of Ebalus. As his overlord he, in 932 transferred the titles of Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Auvergne to the Count of Toulouse, Raymond Pons.  After the death of Rudolph in 936, Ebalus son William claimed the title back and after battles, negotiations and some concessions he was able to do so and in became Duke William III.

The Frankish Duke and Count of Paris Hugh the Great together with the West Francia King Louis IV  tried to conquer Aquitaine but William defeated them. Lothair, Louis’s successor joined Hugh to besiege Poitiers, which resisted successfully.  After the death of Hugh, his son Hugh Capet was named duke of Aquitaine, but he never tried to take up his fief, William reconciled with Lothair and maintained hit title and position.

His grandson William V (the Great) was one of the first great patrons of the arts, he was a big promoter of the Peace of God and was able to maintain the peace in his duchy. He travelled widely and received many international guests at his court

Skipping a few dukes, William IX (1071 – 1126) He was also one of the leaders of the Crusade of 1101. However he is best known as the earliest troubadour — a vernacular lyric poet in the Occitan language — whose work survives.

As his father before him, William X was a patron of troubadours, music and literature. He was an educated man and strove to give his two daughters an excellent education, in a time when Europe’s rulers were hardly literate. When Alienòr (Eleanor) succeeded him as Duchess, she continued her father’s tradition and transformed the Aquitanian court into Europe’s centre of knowledge.  She became one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe of her time. Her conduct was repeatedly criticised by Church elders (particularly Bernard of Clairvaux) as improper.

The Duchy passed to France in 1137 when Eleanor married Louis VII of France. The Duchy of Aquitaine was the largest and richest province of France; Poitou and Aquitaine together were almost one-third the size of modern France. As Queen of France, she participated in the unsuccessful Second Crusade. Eleanor was severely disappointed with her husband’s performance, they travelled back on different ships and she divorced him as soon as they were back in France (1152).

As he widow her position was now extremely vulnerable and immediate attempts were made by claimants to take over Aquitaine. Within two month after the annulment she married Henry, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. Two years later her second husband became King Henry II of England and Eleanor was crowned Queen of England.

Aquitaine now became an English possession. This was a critical issue for France as its own domains (in what is now France) were now smaller than those owned by the King of England. The King of France had the support of the Pope as he was not to keen in seeing England becoming too powerful on the continent.

Eleanor and Henry had five sons, three of whom would become king, and three daughters. However, the couple eventually became estranged and she left him in 1167, to move back to Poitier. Her, it has been argued by some scholars she established  the ‘Court of Love’, where Eleanor and perhaps her daughter Marie meshed and encouraged the ideas of troubadours, chivalry, and courtly love into a single court.

In 1173 she supported her son Henry’s revolt against her husband. She was taken prisoner by the French king and transported to England where she was imprisoned between 1173 and 1189.

Henry II died in 1189 and he was succeeded by his son, Richard the Lionheart, who immediately moved to release his mother. Now queen dowager, Eleanor acted as a regent for her son while he went off on the Third Crusade. When Richard was captured during that campaign, she personally negotiated his (very large) ransom by going to Germany. Eleanor survived her son Richard and lived well into the reign of her youngest son King John. By the time of her death in 1204 (at the age of approx 80) she had outlived all of her children except for King John and her daughter Eleanor, Queen of Castile, who was married to Alfonso VIII, king of Castile.

Within the strict rules of the feudal system it was possible for France and England to live more or less peaceful. By simply acknowledging the feudal rules of vassalage it was acceptable for France to accept England’s possessions. However, with growing centralisation, which undermined the local nobility and the overall feudal system, it became increasingly less acceptable for France to have an English threat on its doorstep.

Aquitaine became an increasingly bitter battle ground between England and France which led  to the Hundred Years’ War.  It remained in English possession until the end of the war in  in 1453, when it was finally annexed by France (Since known as  Guyenne).


The Crown of Aragon

European confederation of cultures

The so called  Crown of Aragon is also referred to as a confederation of individual polities or kingdoms ruled by one king with a personal and dynastic union of the Kingdom of Aragon and the county of Barcelona. At the height of its power in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Crown of Aragon was a thalassocracy (a state with primarily maritime realms) controlling a large portion of the present-day eastern Spain and southwestern France, as well the major islands and mainland possessions stretching across the Mediterranean as far as Greece. The component realms of the Crown were not united politically except at the level of the king, who ruled over each autonomous polity according to its own laws, raising funds under each tax structure, dealing separately with each cortes. Put in contemporary terms, it has sometimes been considered that the disparate lands of Aragon functioned more as a confederacy of cultures rather than as a single country. In this sense, the larger Crown of Aragon must not be confused with one of its constituent parts, the Kingdom of Aragon, from which it takes its name.

During the 15-16th century the Crown’s de facto capital was Naples: after Alfonso V of Aragon, also Ferdinand II of Aragon settled the capital in Naples. Alfonso, in particular, wanted to transform Naples into a real Mediterranean capital, lavishing also huge sums to embellish it further.

 County and kingdom of Aragon

Before Aragon came into being as a self-proclaimed kingdom in 1035, it was together with the other northern Iberian counties of Jaca, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza an independent marche and a Frankish feudal fiefdom. In a bid to stem Frankish and Moorish invasions, the counties of Aragon, Sobrarbe, Ribagorza, and the duchy of Castile united under the Kingdom of Pamplona (later Navarre). This was not as harmonious as it sounds; apart from fighting the Moors, the various entities also fought and quarreled among themselves. Nevertheless the lines of fortress castles in the region shows the line by line conquest of the combined forces moving back the Moors bit by bit.

After the death of King Sancho III (the Great) of Navarra, the kingdom was divided between his sons. Ramiro I was initially named king of Aragon in 1035; later, after his brother Gonzalo’s death, he was also named king of Sobrarbe and Ribagorza in 1044. Under the leadership of the military commender El Cid (the Lord), the new kingdom grew quickly, conquering territories from the Moorish kingdoms to the south. Huesca was taken in 1096 and later on Zaragoza in 1118. This city became the new seat of the Aragonese government, its cathedral the seat of the new archbishop it also became the site of royal coronations. By now Aragaon had clearly obtained its position on the European map.

The dynastic union in 1137 between Petronila, Queen of Aragon, and Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, produced a son, Alfonso II of Aragon who inherited all their respective territories creating the Crown of Aragon which included all lands and people, titles and states previously outside of the Kingdom of Aragon, including (from 1122 til 1246) the Marquisate of Provence, Montpellier (1204-1349) and the County of Roussillon (until 1659).

This union respected the existing institutions and parliaments of both territories. Although the County of Barcelona had more wealth (given its position on the Mediterranean and strong family ties – and its origins – in Occitania), the combined state eventually became known as Aragon. This was due to the total loss of Catalan influence, the renunciation of the family rights of the counts of Barcelona in Occitania, and the extinction of the House of Aragon and Barcelona in 1410.

Soon, Alfonso II committed himself to conquer Valencia as the Aragonese nobility demanded. But he prioritised like his father the expansion and consolidation of the House of Barcelona influence in Occitania.

From the 9th century, the dukes of Aquitaine, the kings of Navarre, the counts of Foix, the counts of Toulouse and the counts of Barcelona rivalled in their attempts at controlling the various ‘pays’ of Occitania.  The House of Barcelona succeeded to spread its influence in the area that is now south of France, through strong family ties in the counties of Provence, Toulouse and Foix. The Cathars or Albigensians rejected the authority and the teachings of the Catholic Church and this led to a rebellion and the loss of the southern France possessions. Pope Innocent III called upon Phillip II of France to suppress the Albigensians—The Albigensian Crusade, which led to bring the Occitania region firmly under the control of the King of France, and the Capetian dynasty from northern France.

Peter II of Aragon and I of Barcelona returned from the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in autumn 1212 to find that the French knight Simon de Montfort had conquered Toulouse, exiling the Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, who was Peter’s brother-in-law and his vassal. In September 2012 Peter’s army crossed the Pyrenees and arrived at Muret where he joined the forces of Raymond of Foix and Raymond of Toulouse to confront Montfort’s army. The Battle of Muret began on 12 September 1213. The Catalan, Aragonese and Occitan forces were disorganised and disintegrated anmd were defeated under the assault of Montfort’s squadrons. The allies under the Crown of Aragon were defeated, Peter was caught in the thick of fighting, and died as a result of a foolhardy act of bravado. The conflict culminated in the Treaty of Meaux-Paris in 1229, in which the Crown of Aragon agreed to renounce its rights over the south of Occitania.  These territories were integrated into the dominions of the King of France.

Crown of Aragon

However, elsewhere – during the long reign of Jamie I – the expansion of the Aragonese Crown continued southwards where it met with the Castilian advance eastward in the region of Murcia. From here on they focused on the Mediterranean, acting as far as Greece and Barbary (Berber Coast), whereas Portugal, which completed its Reconquista in 1249,  focused on the Atlantic Ocean. Mercenaries from the territories in the Crown, known as Almogàvers participated in the creation of this Mediterranean “empire”, and later found employment in countries all across southern Europe, where they often eagerly participated in the various divide and conquer battles.

Eventually the Crown included the Kingdom of Aragon, the County of Barcelona, the Kingdom of Valencia, the Kingdom of Majorca, the Kingdom of Sicily, Malta, the Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sardinia. For brief periods the Crown of Aragon also controlled Montpellier, Provence, Corsica, the Duchy of Neopatria in Latin Greece and the Duchy of Athens.

Sicilian Vespers

On 1282, the Sicilians rose up against the second dynasty of the Angevins (Anjou) during the so called night of the Sicilian Vespers and massacred the garrison soldiers. Peter III (the Great) of Aragon  – who was married to Constanza di Hohenstaufen, heiress of Sicily  – responded to the call for help from the Sicilians, and landed in Trapani and, five months later,  was proclaimed King of Sicily in Palermo.This caused Pope Martin IV to excommunicate the king, he placed Sicily under interdict, and offered the Kingdom of Aragon to a son of King Philip III of France. Peter reacted by invading southern Italy and conquering large parts of the boot of Italy. After Peter death in 1285 he left Sicily to his second son James II. Peter’s third son, Frederick III, in succession to his brother James, became regent of Sicily and in due course its king.

In 1302 the issue was settled with the Crown keeping the Island and the lands on the ‘Continente’ were given back to the Angevins.


Aragon itself was passed on to Peter the Great’s first son Peter IV. Through a grant of Pope Boniface VIII to Jamie (James) II, the kingdoms of Sardinia and Corsica were added to the Crown in 1297, however it would take more than a century to bring them under the control of the Aragonese. Through the marriage of Peter IV of Aragon to Eleanor of Sicily (a daughter of Frederick III of Sicily, the Kingdom of Sicily went back to the Crown again and in 1381 also the duchies of Athens and Neopatria, were added to the Crown. However, already in 1388 these Greek possessions were permanently lost to an Italian aristocrat from Florence, Nerio I Acciaioli, who became the Duke of Athens.

Sicily was again split off after the death of Peter IV when it was given to his grandson son Martin I (who ruled from 1395 to 1409). Rather confusingly after the death of his son (Martin I) in 1409 his father, by then king of Aragon, took over control of Sicily as Martin II.

After various invasions the Kingdom of Naples was finally added to the Crown in 1442 after its conquest by Alfonso V, a grandson of Martin II.

What became the new dynastic familial union of the Crown of Aragon with the Crown of Castile by the Catholic Monarchs in 1469, joining what contemporaries referred to as “the Spains” led to what would become the Kingdom of Spain had been for more than a century in the making. It started during a period of weakness during a paralysing interregnum in Aragon. While Castile and Aragon has since long been intermarried however, the weakened situation led to the two parities looking at opportunities to get the upper hand. This led to what became know as the War of the Two Peters was – fought from 1356 to 1375.  Its name refers to the two rulers of these countries: Peter of Castile and Peter IV of Aragon. The war was one of two equals without any decisive outcome, However, it undoubtedly led to a weakened Crown of Aragon, while at the same time it started to loosen the grip on its overseas dependencies, which started to operate more or less independent.

King Alfonso IV of Sicily conquered the Angevin lands in Southern Italy and from 1421 he became the designated heir of the Kingdom of Naples. He emerged as one of the most splendid princes of the early Renaissance. The Court in Naples became a European centre for artists, scholars, musicians, architects and many others. To highlight the infighting, during his reign Corsica was captured from the Aragonese Kingdom of Sardinia.

The decades of animosities between the various parties  finally ended in 1469.

The process of territorial consolidation was completed when King Charles I, known as Emperor Charles V, in 1516 united all the kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula minus the Kingdoms of Portugal and the Algarve under one monarch.

The Crown of Aragon and its institutions were formally abolished in 1716 after the War of the Spanish Succession as had been laid down in the Nueva Planta decrees, signed at the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and issued by the Bourbon king of Spain, Philip V.

Under this Treaty, the Crown of Aragon/Spain now also permanently lost control over Sicily (including Malta), Naples and Sardinia.

The decrees ruled that all the territories in the Crown of Aragon except the Aran Valley were to be ruled by the laws of Castile, embedding these regions in a new, and nearly uniformly administered, centralised Spain. The other historic territories—Navarre and the other Basque territories—supported Philip V, whom they saw as belonging to the lineage of French King Henry IV (1589-1610), and escaped for this time the suppression of the charters.


Angevins (House of Anjou)

Anjou was an independent duchy – in the north of France (Orléans and Angers) since the 9th century. The Angevins, also known as the House of Anjou, were a noble family founded in the early years of the Carolingian Empire. They first emerged as part of the minor feudal nobility, in what would soon be known as the Kingdom of France during the 10th century. After Geoffrey III, Count of Anjou inherited Anjou from his mother in 1060, the family began to grow in prominence, soon acquiring Maine. After going on crusade and becoming close to the Knights Templar, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was received through marriage by Fulk of Jerusalem in 1131.

The Angevins of Jerusalem became extinct in 1205 with the death of Isabella of Jerusalem..


The senior line of the family branched off – with Geoffrey V of Anjou – to become the House of Plantagenet. The Latin name ‘Planta genista’ derived from the name of a shrub, the common broom, Geoffrey wore a yellow sprig of the common broom in his hat.After William the Conqueror died, his son Henry I became king of England, he was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Their daughter Matilda married the Holy Emperor Heinrich V, after his death Empress Matilda married Geoffrey V. After Henry I died Matilda became the (first) queen of EnglandTheir son Henry became the next king (Henry II) of England the family eventually ruled the Kingdom of England form 1154 until 1485 (in total fifteen Plantagenet monarchs). Henry was also: Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland and, at various times, controlled parts of Wales, Scotland and western France.The reign of the Plantgenet ended when they finally lost the Hundred Years’ War in 1453.

In 1204, Anjou was lost to king Philip II of France. It was re-granted as an appanage for  Louis VIII’s son John, who died in 1232 at the age of thirteen, and then to Louis’s youngest son, Charles, later the first Angevin king of Sicily.

Charles’ granddaughter, Margaret married, in 1290,Charles of Valois, the younger brother of king Philip IV of France. He became Count of Anjou in her right, and was created Duke of Anjou and a Peer of France in 1297.

House of Anjou-Sicily and House of Anjou-Naples

Through the above mentioned Eleanor of Castille, the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, the House of Anjou established yet another branch. Blanca (Blanche) of Castile (daughter of Eleanor of Castile and granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine) married the French king Louise VIII ( a marriage arranged by her grandmother). After the early death of her husband Blanche proofed to be a very powerful ruler first as the regent of her son and when he came at age as King Louis IX St Stain she became Queen Mother.

Louis was able to wrestle Anjou back from the Plantagenet and bestowed the County of Anjou upon his brother, Charles (1227–1285) as a western vassal state of the Kingdom of France. This House would go on to rule Sicily, Naples, and Hungary, suffering many tragedies and disasters on the way; the second would eventually succeed to the French throne, collecting Navarre along the way.

Charles married the heiress of the County of Provence named Beatrice of Provence, she was a member of the House of Barcelona; this meant Charles’ holdings were growing as Count of Provence. After fighting in the Seventh Crusade, rather unexpected Charles was offered by Pope Clement IV, the Kingdom of Sicily — which at the time also included the southern half of the Italian Peninsula. The reason for Charles being offered the kingdom was because of a conflict between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, the latter of whom were represented by the ruling House of Hohenstaufen. However, after the night of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, he was kicked out of Sicily by Peter III of Aragon.. This led to the split of the country into the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. Charles now only was in charge of the latter. Throughout the following centuries Sicily and Naples would be contested between the various French and Spaniard dynasties.


The county was established in the 9th century by combining to prefectures: St Quentin (Aisne) and Péronne (Somme). It became strategic after the Treaty of Ribbemont in 880, when Lower Lotharingia was annexed by East Francis. Vermandois now became a border town in West Francia. Most likely very shortly after this a ringwalburcht (hill fortress) was built at Boves near Amiens, as far as known the is the oldest of its kind in Europe.

Pepin I of Vermandois, the earliest count known, he was descended in direct male line from the emperor Charlemagne.

More well-known was his grandson Herbert II (902–943), who considerably increased the territorial power of the house of Vermandois, and kept the king of France, Charles the Simple, prisoner for six years. Herbert II was son of Herbert I, lord of Péronne and St Quentin, who was assassinated in 902 by Baldwin II, Count of Flanders.  Herbert’s daughter Adele married Arnulf the Great of Flanders and their daughter Adele played a key role in the history of Hamaland. Herbert’s successors, Albert I, Herbert III, Albert II, Otto and Herbert IV, were not as historically significant.

In 1077, the last count of the first house of Vermandois, Herbert IV, received the county of Valois through his wife. His son Eudes (II) the Insane was disinherited by the council of the Barons of France. He was lord of Saint-Simon through his wife, and the county was given to his sister Adela, whose first husband was Hugh the Great, the brother of King Philip I of France.

Hugh was one of the leaders of the First Crusade, and died in 1102 at Tarsus in Cilicia. The eldest son of Hugh and Adela was count Raoul I (c. 1120-1152), who married Petronilla of Aquitaine, sister of the queen, Eleanor, and had by her three children: Raoul (Rudolph) II, the Leper (count from 1152-1167); Isabelle, who possessed from 1167 to 1183 the counties of Vermandois, Valois and Amiens conjointly with her husband, Philip, Count of Flanders; and Eleanor. By the terms of a treaty concluded in 1186 with the king, Philip Augustus, the count of Flanders kept the county of Vermandois until his death, in 1191. At this date, a new arrangement gave Eleanor (d. 1213) a life interest in the eastern part of Vermandois, together with the title of countess of St Quentin, and the king entered immediately into possession of Peronne and its dependencies.

The History of Northwestern Europe (TOC)