Fulk III, Count of Anjou

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Foulque III, Count of Anjou
Nerra.jpg
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
Born 970
Died 21 June 1040(1040-06-21)
Metz

Foulque Nerra, count of Anjou in medieval times, 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 take the better of most of his opponents. With his county seat at Angers, Foulque’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.

Foulque built his first castle at Château de 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 Eudes I of Blois, and they fought a battle over it in 994. But Eudes I died of a sudden illness, and his son and successor, Eudes II, did not manage to evict him.

Foulque continued building more towers in a slow encirclement of Tours: Donjon de 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 Château d'Angers, Château d'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. He also undertook four pilgrimages to Jerusalem, seeking forgiveness for his (many) sins.

Family[edit]

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 stake for adultery. Foulque married Hildegarde de Sundgau, daughter of the 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.[1]

Combat[edit]

Foulque 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) Capet. Foulque and his men foiled the ambush, killing Conan’s son, Alain, in the process. In 992 Foulque laid siege to Conan’s castle at Nantes, but he slipped away to Conquereuil. Conan was killed in the battle, and Foulque set up as governor a regent, as the succeeding count was a child.

While Foulque and Eudes II fought many skirmishes over territory and alliances, their biggest battle occurred in July 1016 at Battle of Pontlevoy. Eudes was marching a large troop of 10,000 men southward toward Foulque’s tower at Montboyau when Foulque and much smaller group attacked him from behind. Foulque’s men were routed, and retreated, and Eudes, thinking the battle won, went for a swim in the Cher River. Reinforcements arrived to help Fouque, and they returned and slaughtered Eudes’ men, who were then at rest. Several thousand were reported killed.[2]

Pilgrimages[edit]

Christian nobles regularly made the journey to Jerusalem, often in penance. After the Muslim conquest in 637, an agreement was reached between leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church and succeeding caliphates to continue the visits. Foulque Nerra traveled to Jerusalem for the first time in 1003, a few years after Elisabeth’s death but at a moment of calm in the county. The route 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 alone took about six months, through deeply dangerous territory.[3]

Foulque made a second pilgrimage in 1008, obliged to do so by the king after he ordered the murder of an enemy. His third trip was in 1036, with Robert 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.

Foulque Nerra's castle keep at Loches.

Succession[edit]

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.

  1. ^ Medieval Lands Encyclopedia, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy website,
  2. ^ [Christian Thevenot, Foulque Nerra, Editions Alan Sutton, St. Cyr-sur-Loire, 2009]
  3. ^ [Jonathan Sumption, The Age of Pilgrimage, The Medieval Journey to God, Paulist Press, 2003]
Preceded by
Geoffrey Grisegonelle
Count of Anjou
987–1040
Succeeded by
Geoffroy Martel