A Watch in the Night:
Foulque Nerra and the Battle for Anjou
Foulque Nerra, the 11th century count of Anjou, is caught in perpetual conflict between faith and ambition, vice and virtue. Enemies to the east in the county of Blois, and to the west in Nantes keep him battling for his borders, while court intrigue twists and turns his precarious relationship with the king. Foulque began building castles as strategy rather than defense, the first to do so, the last to erect more than 40 castles across the Loire Valley horizon by his own iron hand. He also made four journeys on horseback and ship to the Holy Land to ask forgiveness at God’s door for his sins. There were a few, including burning his first wife for adultery. Saddle up early: Foulque rides at dawn.
— Synopsis —
Foulque Nerra grows up in Angers castle, built by his ancestors on the banks of the Maine River in western Francia. He is barely 15 when as valet to his father, he tackles his first siege at Verdun. After succeeding to his father’s title, Foulque loses his young love and instead marries a woman who betrays him. She dies in 999, when the Apocalypse beckons and portents are strong, and the county blames Foulque for every blessed thing that goes wrong. He slowly rebuilds their confidence, but never that of the monks of Tours, whose disdain for him is only sharpened by a drunken visit up the cathedral aisle on the back of his stallion. Foulque has repentance to earn, and he wants to go to Jerusalem, to kneel at Christ’s tomb. When the king marries Foulque’s terrifying cousin Constance of Arles, he sees an opportunity. With this and each subsequent journey he notes changes to the Holy Land as the Fatimid leader inches toward his historical nickname, the Mad Caliph. Foulque returns at age 70 to die in Jerusalem, but as usual, things don’t quite work out that way.
A Rock of Refuge:
The Radical Couple of Champagne
Henri, count of Champagne, hosts the vital trade fairs of the 12th century, bringing merchants and buyers from the four corners of the continent by guaranteeing their safety and financial security en route. Bandits and rivals would like to prove him wrong, but his innovative system of credits and guarantees becomes the standard. Champagne’s power and influence challenge the king, who needs Henri on his side more than ever after divorcing Eleanor of Aquitaine. Deeply intellectual, Henri spars with powerful clergy who take refuge from the king in his lands, particularly Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile his wife, the king’s daughter, Marie of France, brings a culture of chivalry to Champagne and opens the door to a new kind of expression: literature.
A Song Among Lions: Troubadors, Perfect Women, and Trouble in Occitania
Among the hilltop fortresses of Occitania, cradle of troubadour song and poetry, castellan Peire-Roger de Cabaret took a last stand against the royalist forces of France as they closed in on the fiercely independent region at the turn of the 13th century. Heresy was the cry of the French, the battle a necessary campaign against the Cathars and their “perfect” ministers of reformed religion. But the king also offered them rich counties for their victory, and Simon Montfort thought he would have one, until a woman with a strong rock-throwing arm put an end to him. When French soldiers asked whether to torch the church at Béziers with thousands of people inside, the papal legate said “Kill them, God will know his own.”