Fulk III, Count of Anjou
|Fulk III, Count of Anjou|
Seal of Foulque III
|Spouse(s)||Elisabeth of Vendôme
Hildegarde of Sundgau
|Noble family||House of Ingelger|
|Father||Geoffrey I, Count of Anjou|
|Mother||Adelaide of Vermandois|
|Died||21 June 1040
Fulk III of Anjou (French: Foulques), called Fulk Nerra ("the black"), early medieval Count of Anjou, was the first great builder of castles. He lived from 970 to 1040, constructed an estimated 100 castles and abbeys across the Loire Valley in today’s France, fought successive wars with neighbors in Brittany, Blois, Poitou and Aquitaine counties and traveled four times to Jerusalem on pilgrimage during the course of his life. He had two wives and three children.
He was a natural horseman and a fearsome warrior, with a keen sense of military strategy that saw him get the better of most of his opponents. He was allied with the goals and aims of the Capetians against the dissipated Carolingians of his era. With his county seat at Angers, Fulk’s bitter enemy was Odo II, Count of Blois, his neighbor 128 km east along the Loire River, at Tours. The two men traded towns, followers and insults throughout their lives.
Fulk built his first castle at Langeais, 104 km east of Angers, on the banks of the Loire, in 992. Like many of his constructions, it began as a wooden tower, and was eventually replaced with a stone structure, fortified with exterior walls, and equipped with a thick-walled tower called a donjon in French (source of the English dungeon, which however implies a cellar, rather than a tower). He built it in the territory of Odo I of Blois, and they fought a battle over it in 994. But Odo I died of a sudden illness, and his son and successor, Odo II, did not manage to evict him.
Fulk continued building more towers in a slow encirclement of Tours: Montbazon, Montrésor, Mirebeau, Montrichard, Loches, and even the tower of Montboyau, erected just across the Loire from Tours in 1016. He also fortified the castles at Angers, Amboise, Chateau-Gontier, Chinon, Mayenne and Semblançay, among many others. “The construction of castles for the purpose of extending a ruler’s power was part of Fulk Nerra’s strategy,” wrote Peter Fraser Purton, in A History of Medieval Siege, c. 450-1220.
Foulque was also a devout Christian, and built, enlarged or endowed several abbeys and monasteries, such as the Abbey of Beaulieu-les-Loches, Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, Saint-Aubin, and a convent, Notre Dame de la Charité at Ronceray in Angers. Although he never learned to write, he endowed a school with revenue to provide poor students with an education. Foulque also undertook four pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
He was the son of Geoffroy Grisegonelle and Adélaide of Vermandois. He had three older sisters: Hermengarde (b. 960), who married Conan of Brittany; Gerberge (b. 964), who married Guillaume II, duke of Aquitaine; and Adélaide (b. 968), who married Guillaume III, count of Provence. A half-brother, Maurice, was born in 980. Foulque married Elisabeth de Vendôme (~979-999) and they had a daughter, Adèle. Dates of birth are uncertain for Elisabeth and Adele, but Elisabeth’s death was recounted in the Chronicles of Saint-Florent: She suffered a fall from a great height, and then was burnt at the stake for adultery. Foulque married Hildegarde de Sundgau, daughter of Theodoric I, Duke of Upper Lorraine, in 1005. They had a son, Geoffroy, in 1006, and a daughter, Ermengarde-Blanche, around 1018. Geoffroy, who became known as Geoffroy II d'Anjou, succeeded Foulque as count of Anjou in 1040.
Fulk Nerra’s first victory was in June 992 at Battle of Conquereuil, where he managed to defeat Conan, duke of Brittany. Conan’s territorial ambitions had been quashed by Geoffroy Grisgonelle in 980, and seven years later, he planned an ambush on Angers while Foulque was at the crowning of Robert the Pious. Fulk and his men foiled the ambush, killing Conan’s son, Alain, in the process. In 992 Fulk laid siege to Conan’s castle at Nantes, but he slipped away to Conquereuil. Conan was killed in the battle, and Fulk set up as governor a regent, as the succeeding count was a child.
While Fulk and Odo II fought many skirmishes over territory and alliances, their biggest battle occurred in July 1016 at Battle of Pontlevoy. Odo was marching a large troop of 10,000 men southward toward Fulk’s tower at Montboyau when Fulk and much smaller group attacked him from behind. Fulk’s men were routed, and retreated, and Odo, thinking the battle won, went for a swim in the Cher River. Reinforcements arrived to help Fulk, and they returned and slaughtered Odo’s men, who were then at rest. Several thousand were reported killed.
Foulque also undertook four pilgrimages to Jerusalem, not seeking forgiveness for his sins as some mistake as the purpose of Christian pilgrimage. Following the death of his wife, Fulk made his first pilgrimage. Pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and connect personally to the Holy Land. After the Muslim conquest in 637, an agreement was reached between leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and succeeding caliphates to continue the visits. Fulk Nerra traveled to Jerusalem for his first pilgrimage in 1003, a few years after his wife Elisabeth’s death but at a moment of calm along the route. The journey was across the Alps at the Grand Bernard Pass in today’s Switzerland, over land to Bari in the southern Italian peninsula (a stop in Rome was usually made), by ship and land to Constantinople, and then to the Holy Land. The travel took about six months, through deeply dangerous territory. Fulk made a second pilgrimage in 1008, obliged to do so by the king as punishment after Fulk ordered the murder of an enemy. For his third and fourth trips, Fulk determined he had an moral obligation to protect pilgrims in the years following the desecration of Jerusalem by the Mad Caliph, so had his armed entourage provide security against robbers, murderers and enslavers along the route. His third trip was in 1035, with Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and then a fourth pilgrimage was made in 1038. He died in Metz in 1040 on his return from that trip, and was buried in the chapel of his monastery at Beaulieu.
Adèle, his daughter by his first wife, married Bodon, son of Landry, count of Nevers. Their eldest son, Bouchard, inherited Vendôme. Geoffroy Martel was count of Anjou from 1040 to 1060, but had no children from either of two marriages. The Anjou title went to his nephews, the two sons of his sister Ermengarde-Blanche (m. Geoffroy V of Château-Landon). Geoffroy III Le Barbu (the Beard) was count of Anjou from 1060 to 1098; Foulques IV Le Réchin (the Mouth) was count from 1098 to 1109. Le Réchin's grandson, Geoffrey Plantagenet, married Matilda, heir to the English throne, and began the House of Plantagenet line of English kings.
- Medieval Lands Encyclopedia, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy website,
- [Christian Thevenot, Foulque Nerra, Editions Alan Sutton, St. Cyr-sur-Loire, 2009]
- [Jonathan Sumption, The Age of Pilgrimage, The Medieval Journey to God, Paulist Press, 2003]
- Bachrach, Bernard S. (1993). Fulk Nerra, the Neo-Roman Consul, 987–1040. University of California Press.
|Count of Anjou