County, later Duchy, in northwestern France
- A gouvernement, occupying both banks of the lower Loire, but more to the north, where the city of Angers stands on the River Maine, the short river that carries the waters of the Mayenne, Sarthe and Loir to the Loire.
City and pays derive their names from the Andevaci, a Gaulish tribe. Angers was also the seat of a Bishop, in the province of Tours.
Anjou’s importance as a centre of communications was enhanced in the early middle ages by its position near to the borders of Neustria, the western Frankish land. To the west lay Brittany, Celtic, largely independent, and troublesome; Angers was a base for the Breton March that was supposed to hold the Bretons in check. To the south lay the vast region of Aquitaine, a part of the Kingdom of France but enjoying considerable autonomy. Those who controlled Anjou became important if they were not important already. In the 860s Anjou was in the hands of Robert the Strong, the ancestor of the Capetian Kings of France, and it remained part of his family’s territories for more than half a century. They were Marquises of Neustria, Counts of Paris, eventually Dukes of France, and had willy-nilly to leave Anjou to the control of deputies, the Vicomtes, who became more and more powerful until in 929 Fulk the Red took the title of Count.
The first House of Anjou (929-1060) was a succession of formidable Counts, who extended Anjou south of the Loire. They competed with the Counts of Blois for control of Touraine, to the east, and by the 1040s had prevailed, and with the Dukes of Normandy for control of Maine, to the north. They also competed with Normandy for control of Brittany, and were influential in the County of Nantes, on the lowest reaches of the Loire. The Counts were also interested in the Auvergne and Aquitaine, especially Count Geoffrey II (d.1060), who married the widow of Duke William V, but they were divorced, and Anjou’s southern ambitions only enjoyed ephemeral success until the 12th century.
The second House (1060-1204) had been Counts of Gatinais (which they gave up) and inherited Anjou through Geoffrey II’s sister. In 1067 Count Fulk IV usurped his brother’s County and later in his reign ran into marriage difficulties. Until 1087 he also had to put up with the unneighbourly presence of Duke William the Bastard of Normandy, who frequently asserted power in Maine and Brittany, though he was diverted at times by his problems in his conquest, England. The later Counts greatly enhanced Angevin power and prestige. Count Fulk V abdicated from his County, which had been augmented by his first marriage to the heiress of Maine, to marry the heiress of Jerusalem, of which he and his male heirs of that marriage were Kings, 1131-1186. His son and successor in Anjou, Geoffrey V, married the heiress of King Henry I of England. Though in 1135 she was deprived of her inheritance by Stephen, her cousin, Geoffrey conquered Normandy in 1144. His son, Henry, succeeded him in 1151, in 1152 married Eleanor, the Duchess of Aquitaine, and in 1154 obtained his mother’s land of England. He thus was lord of most of western France, and a King besides. But in 1204 that Angevin empire was broken up, when Philip Augustus, King of France, deprived King John of Normandy and Anjou.
King Louis VIII bequeathed Anjou and Maine as an appanage to his son John in 1226, but John soon died, and it was Louis’s posthumous son, Charles, who became Count in 1246, the same year as he became Count of Provence by marriage with its heiress. By Papal grant and force of arms he became King of Sicily in 1266; in 1290 his son, Charles II, gave Anjou and Maine as dowry to his daughter, Margaret, on her marriage to Charles, Count of Valois, the French King’s brother. Their son succeeded as King of France in 1328.
In 1356 King John II gave Anjou as an appanage to his second son, Louis. It was raised to the rank of a Duchy in 1360. Duke Louis I hoped to succeed Joanna I, Queen of Naples, but when she died in 1382, the throne went elsewhere, though he did acquire Provence, which remained with his male heirs together with the title of King of Naples. Only on rare occasions did it appear that the Angevins of the House of Valois might make good their claim to the Kingdom, but they failed each time. The most famous of the House, Good King René, did acquire the Duchy of Bar in 1419/30 by inheritance through his grandmother, and the Duchy of Lorraine during the lifetime of his wife, its heiress. His son and grandson died before him and on his death in 1480, Louis XI of France took control of Anjou, disregarding the rights of René’s nephew, who died the next year anyway.
Anjou had been scene of skirmishings in the later years of the Hundred Years’ War, but it never came completely under English control. The Duke of Bedford, the English Regent of France (1422-35), had allocated Anjou to himself, to no avail.
Anjou continued to be granted to members of the French royal family as an appanage: to Louise, mother of Francis I, 1515-31; to Henry, son of Henry II, 1552-74, (he became King of Poland in 1573, and King Henry III of France in 1574); and to his brother, Francis Hector, 1576-84. In 1640 the title of Duke of Anjou was conferred on Philip, the younger son of Louis XIII, but was given up in 1660 when he became Duke of Orleans. The last time it was bestowed was on Philip, grandson of Louis XIV, and, fittingly enough, given the past form of the Counts and Dukes of Anjou, he became a King (of Spain, in 1700).
Anjou became a part of the gouvernement of Orléanais after the death of Francis Hector in 1584, though in 1589 Saumurois, the southeastern part of medieval Anjou, became a separate gouvernement. In the 17th century Anjou itself became a separate gouvernement. Anjou belonged to the généralité of Tours and judicially was subject to the Parlement of Paris.
In 1790 most of Anjou became the greater part of the Department of Maine-et-Loire; the lands on the fringes of the province were placed in those of Mayenne, Sarthe and Indre-et-Loire.