Angoulême


ANGOULÊME    Angoumois (pays).

County, later Duchy, in southwestern France;  the city stands on the River Charente, northeast of Bordeaux and WSW of Limoges.

The Franks established a county there after they had expelled the Visigoths in 507;  when the Frankish kingdom was divided, Angoulême belonged to the Kingdom of Aquitaine.  The line of Counts, who began in 866, and who originally held Périgord as well, lasted until the 13th century.  Vulgrin, the first of this line, was brother-in-law of Bernard Plantevalue, who was master of much of southern France, particularly the Auvergne.

The acquisition of the Duchy of Gascony in the 1030s by the Dukes of Aquitaine, who were also Counts of Poitiers, greatly increased the importance of Angoulême, because it lay between Poitiers and Bordeaux, the two centres of ducal power.

Isabelle d'Angoulême, tombe dans l'église de l...

Isabelle d’Angoulême, tombe dans l’église de l’abbaye de Fontevraud (France) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of the 12th century, the last of three brothers was Count.   All three had been a great nuisance to Richard the Lionheart, Duke of Aquitaine and later also King of England.  The heiress of one dead brother was married, as his second wife, to Hugh IX of Lusignan, a troublesome Poitevan vassal of the Duke’s;  Isabella, the heiress of the surviving Count, was betrothed to Hugh’s son, Hugh X.   In 1200 King John, who had recently succeeded to both England and Aquitaine, decided to resolve his problems by divorcing his childless wife and marrying Isabella, thereby acquiring cvontrol of Angoulême.   It was one of the factors which led to Philip Augustus of France depriving John of his northern French territories.

In 1220 the widowed Isabella married her former betrothed, and at the age of 34 began to acquire a second brood of children.  In 1245 she retired to a monastery, not as the result of piety, but of crime.  Her husband had been obliged to render homage to King Louis IX and his brother Alphonse, Count of Poitou, so Isabella had tried to poison them both.

Her great-grandchildren lost control of their Counties, mortgaging them to the King to pay their debts;  after the death of the last Count in 1308 the Crown got full control.

In 1328 Angoulême was given to Philip of Evreux, King of Navarre, in compensation for the King keeping Champagne, to which Philip’s wife, Joan II, had been the heiress.   Not long before her death in 1349 Queen Joan exchanged Angoulême for lands in Normandy, an exchange resented by her son, King Charles II, called the Bad.   Angoulême was given to Charles of Spain, the Constable of France.  In 1354 Charles the Bad’s brothers lived up to his nickname and murdered his supplanter.

By the Treaty of Brétigny,1360, Angoulême was supposed to become part of the English King’s independent Duchy of Aquitaine, but by 1373 it was clear that this was not going to happen.

In 1394 Louis, Duke of Orleans, the King’s brother added Angoulême to the lands he was accumulating.   After his death in 1407 it passed to his youngest son, whose grandson, Francis, Count of Angoulême from 1496, became King in 1515, whereupon he bestowed Angoulême on his mother, Louise of Savoy, as a Duchy.   On her death in 1531, the Duchy was held until 1536 by Charles, son of Francis;  in 1582, Henry III gave it to his bastard half-sister, Diane of Valois, the brightest of Henry II’s children, and she bequeathed it on her death in 1619 to the bastard son of Charles IX.  With the death of his granddaughter in 1696, the Duchy returned to the Crown.  The title was last borne by Louis, the elder son of Charles X.   He was also the last Dauphin of France from 1824 to 1830.

In 1559 Angoumois belonged to the enormous gouvernement of Orléanais, but early in the 17th century joined with its western neighbour to form the gouvernement of Saintonge & Angoumois.   Angoumois belonged to the généralité of Limoges and came under the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris.   In 1790 most of it became part of the Department of the Charente, the rest was included in Deux-Sèvres and the Haute-Vienne.

Angoulême has been the seat of a Bishop from Roman times.

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