Polishing up a couple of early chapters in Volume 3 of the History of the World, I ran across one of my favorite minor historical characters. You can’t get much more colorfully off-the-wall than Fulk the Black–the patriarch of the future Plantaganet line of English kings, no less.
Western Francia, like Germany, was a fragment of Charlemagneâ€™s defunct eighth-century empire; unlike Germany, which had begun its journey towards a national identity under the guidance of Henry the Fowler in 919, Western Francia was a patchwork. Only the ring of territories right around Paris was known as France; the rest of Western Francia was governed by local noblemen, held loosely together by personal oaths of loyalty to the Capetian king.
The Count of Anjou was one of these noblemen: loyal in theory to the French throne, but a king in his own lands in all but name. He had inherited a massive estate that bordered Henry Iâ€™s Norman lands on one side, and the King of Franceâ€™s royal holdings on the other. His power was largely due to the efforts of his great-grandfather Fulk the Black, a psychotically warlike aristocrat who had burned his wife, in her wedding dress, at the stake for adultery; fought a vicious war against his own son and then forced the defeated youth to put on a bridle and saddle and crawl on the ground in humiliation; and pillaged and robbed the surrounding lands at will. Fearing a justly-deserved hell, he had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in his old age, where he was rumored to have bitten off a piece of stone from the Holy Sepulchre with his own teeth so that he would have a relic to bring home.