To understand the history of England under its Angevin rulers, we must first know something of the Angevins themselves. The character and the policy of Henry the Second and his sons were as much a heritage of their race as the broad lands of Anjou. The fortunes of England were being slowly wrought out in every incident of the history of the Counts, as the descendants of a Breton woodman became masters not of Anjou only, but of Touraine, Maine, and Poitou, of Gascony and Auvergne, of Aquitaine and Normandy, and sovereigns at last of the great realm which Normandy had won. The legend of the father of their race carries us back to the times of our own aefred, when the Danes were ravaging along Loire as they ravaged along Thames. In the heart of the Breton border, in the debateable land between France and Britanny, dwelt Tortulf the Forester, half-brigand, half-hunter as the gloomy days went, living in free outlaw-fashion in the woods about Rennes. Tortulf had learned in his rough forest school "how to strike the foe, to sleep on the bare ground, to bear hunger and toil, summer's heat and winter's frost, how to fear nothing save ill-fame." Following King Charles the Bald in his struggle with the Danes, the woodman won broad lands along Loire, and his son Ingelger, who had swept the northmen from Touraine and the land to the west, which they had burned and wasted into a vast solitude, became the first Count of Anjou. But the tale of Tortulf and Ingelger is a mere creation of some twelfth century jontgleur, and the earliest Count whom history recognizes is Fulk the Red. Fulk attached himself to the Dukes of France who were now drawing nearer to the throne, and received from them in guerdon the county of Anjou. The story of his son is a story of peace, breaking like a quiet idyll the war-storms of his house.
Alone of his race Fulk the Good waged no wars: his delight was to sit in the choir of Tours and to be called "Canon." One Martinmas eve Fulk was singing there in clerkly guise when the king, Lewis d'Outremer, entered the church. "He sings like a priest," laughed the King, as his nobles pointed mockingly to the figure of the Count-Canon; but Fulk was ready with his reply. " Know, my lord," wrote the Count of Anjou, "that a king unlearned is a crowned ass." Fulk was in fact no priest, but a busy ruler, governing, enforcing peace, and carrying justice to every corner of the wasted land. To him alone of his race men gave the title of "the Good".
[Authorities. - The chief documents for Angevin history have been collected in the " Chroniques d'Anjou," published 'by the Historical Society of France (Paris, 1856-1871). The best known of these is the "Gesta Consulum," a compilation of the twelfth century (given also by D'Achery, " Spicilegium," 4to. vol. x. p. 534), in which the earlier romantic traditions are simply dressed up into historical shape by copious quotations from the French historians. Save for the reigns of Geoffry Martel, and Fulk of Jerusalem, it is nearly valueless. The short autobiography of Fulk Rechin is the most authentic memorial of the earlier Angevin history; and much can be gleaned from the verbose life of Geoffry the Handsome by John of Marmoutier. For England, Orderic and the Chronicle die out in the midst of Stephen's reign; here, too, end William of Malmesbury, Huntingdon, the "Gesta Stephani," a record in great detail by one of Stephen's clerks, and the Hexham Chroniclers, who arc most valuable for its opening (published by Mr. Raise for the Surtees Society). The blank in our historical literature extends over the first years of Henry the Second. The lives and letters of Beket have been industriously collected and published by Canon Robertson in the Rolls Series].
Himself in character little more than a bold dashing soldier, Fulk's son, Geoffry Grey-gown, sank almost into a vassal of his powerful neighbours, the Counts of Blois and Champagne. The vassalage was roughly shaken off by his successor. Fulk Nerra, Fulk the Black, is the greatest of the Angevins, the first in whom we can trace that marked type of character which their house was to preserve with a fatal constancy through two hundred years. He was without natural affection. In his youth he burnt a wife at the stake, and legend told how he led her to her doom decked out in his gayest attire. In his old age he waged his bitterest war against his son, and exacted from him when vanquished a humiliation which men reserved for the deadliest of their foes. "You are conquered, you are conquered! " shouted the old man in fierce exultation, as Geoffry, bridled and saddled like a beast of burden, crawled for pardon to his father's feet. In Fulk first appeared the low type of superstition which startled even superstitious ages in the early Plantagenets. Robber as he was of Church lands, and contemptuous of ecclesiastical censures, the fear of the judgement drove Fulk to the Holy Sepulchre. Barefoot and with the strokes of the scourge falling heavily on his shoulders, the Count had himself dragged by a halter through the streets of Jerusalem, and courted the doom of martyrdom by his wild outcries of penitence.
He rewarded the fidelity of Herbert of Le Mans, whose aid saved him from utter ruin, by entrapping him into captivity and robbing him of his lands. He secured the terrified friendship of the French king by despatching twelve assassins to cut down before his eyes the minister who had troubled it. Familiar as the age was with treason and rapine and blood, it recoiled from the cool cynicism of his crimes, and believed the wrath of Heaven to have been revealed against the union of the worst forms of evil in Fulk the Black. But neither the wrath of Heaven nor the curses of men broke with a single mishap the fifty years of his success.
At his accession Anjou was the least important of the greater provinces of France. At his death in 1040 it stood, if not in extent, at least in real power, first among them all. Cool-headed, clear-sighted, quick to resolve, quicker to strike, Fulk's career was one long series of victories over all his rivals. He was a consummate general, and he had the gift of personal bravery, which was denied to some of his greatest descendants. There was a moment in the first of his battles when the day seemed lost for Anjou; a feigned retreat of the Bretons had drawn the Angevin horsemen into a line of hidden pitfalls, and the Count himself was flung heavily to the ground. Dragged from the medley of men and horses, he swept down almost singly on the foe "as a storm-wind" (so rang the paean of the Angevins) "sweeps down on the thick corn-rows," and the field was won. To these qualities of the warrior he added a power of political organization, a capacity for far-reaching combinations, a faculty of statesmanship, which became the heritage of the Angevins, and lifted them as high above the intellectual level of the rulers of their time as their shameless wickedness degraded them below the level of man.