June 20, 2001
- Geoffroy Martel
Geoffroy Martel was the son of the terrible
Foulques Nerra. Ancient documents always describe Foulques Nerra
as terrible. He was the count of the Anjou region and he exerted
his considerable influence in the Loir Valley. His influence
resulted more from his prowess in battle rather any legal claim
to this region. He was the meanest son-of-a-bitch this side of
Burgundy and it was a time when noblemen were warriors and often
acquired their domain by conquest. I now associate the name Foulques
with tough guys like Rocky, Bubba and Elvis. First impressions
are often lasting impressions but not always accurate. I had
a friend named Jeffrey (English version of Geoffroy) when I was
young and I still associate that name with the scene wherein
his mother called out from his house "Jeffrey, its time
for your nap". Foulques probably didn't like the name Geoffroy
either so he added Martel (the hammer) to give his kid a little
more force. Martel is a derivative spelling of "marteau",
the French word for hammer. Geoffroy "the hammer" Martel
sounds much better. He could even become a professional wrestler
with a moniker like "the hammer".
He didn't turn pro but he did become the
most important figure in Vendomois history, and he was every
bit as awesome in battle as his father. He used his strength
to become the somewhat illegitimate but undisputed count of Vendome.
I was most impressed to read that he beat the snot out of a guy
named Foulques l'Oison to take complete power of the domain.
No one in France was more renowned in battle, not even the guys
However, Geoffroy Martel had the same
problem of most tough guys. He was a bit naïve and maybe
a little thick. Shortly after moving into the chateau at Vendome
in 1032, he and his wife, Agnes of Bourgogne, were standing on
the ramparts observing the night sky when they saw three shooting
stars fall in the marsh across the Loir river. Geoffroy was so
impressed with this event that he went to Chartres to ask the
bishop what it meant. The bishop, who was an ancestor of Pat
Roberson, told Geoffroy that the shooting stars were a message
from God to build him a gigantic cathedral in the spot where
the stars fell. The cathedral was named the Abbaye of the Trinity
and it is still one of the most impressive cathedrals in France.
The bishop of Chartres was not the only
one to take advantage of Geoffroy Martel. It is hard to know
if Geoffroy Martel was devout, superstitious or just naïve
but he was certainly an easy mark for the religious types. In
1042 he made a trip to Constantinople at the request of the emperor
to fight the Muslim infidels. After ridding the countryside of
the unbelievers, the emperor was ready to give him anything he
wanted. Other crusaders had already brought back enough pieces
of the holy cross to build a chateau so that gambit was not going
to work on Geoffroy. The emperor told him that he could have
all the gold that he could carry but it was going to be heavy
and Vendome was a long way to travel. Geoffroy responded that
he might be willing to trade some of the heavy gold for that
arm bone of Saint George that he had been admiring but his wife
would kill him if he came home without some cash. Here is how
the conversation went:
"I know exactly what you need but I can't really part with
it. It has cured so many people of blindness that there would
be a riot if I let it leave Constantinople."
Martel: "What is it?"
Emperor: "No. Really. I can't."
Martel: "At least tell me what it is."
Emperor: "Well. I don't know."
Martel: "Come on."
Emperor: [reluctantly]"It is the actual tear of Jesus
Christ gathered from his cheek by the Virgin Mary herself just
before he brought Lazarus back from the dead."
For over 500 years pilgrims traveled to
Vendome to touch the crystal vial containing the tear of Jesus
Christ and the reliquary containing the arm bone of Saint George.
I visited the Abbaye of the Trinity last week and touched the
shelf where the tear sat for so many years. Many still believe
that its power to heal remains in the Abbaye. I am going back
with Aprille next week because she just ran into a parked car
that she didn't see. I am not sure how the arm bone helps but
I have noticed that my sore knee has gone away and I can jog
He took the tear instead of a lot of gold.
The tear and the arm bone brought many pilgrims that contributed
to the wealth and importance of Vendome but did very little for
Geoffroy other than bring spiritual satisfaction.
Others also took advantage of Geoffroy
Martel's naïveté. Under the feudal system, a duke
had four counts and each count had four barons who swore allegiance,
paid taxes and served in his army. After taking over as count
of Vendome, Geoffroy Martel was constantly at war with the bishop
of Le Mans who coveted his lands. It was this conflict that resulted
in the establishment of the baronies of Lavardin and Montoire.
These two domains were cared for by foresters. In Montoire, a
forester named Nihard managed to convince Geoffroy Martel that
he and Saloman, the forester in Lavardin, ought to be made noblemen
and their domains made baronies. Nihard told Geoffroy that the
Bishop was about to give him more land around Montoire but that
he would refuse it if he would make him and Salomon barons. Geoffroy
agreed but Nihard tricked him by taking the title and the land.
Geoffroy Martel eventually gave up Vendome
to its rightful owner, Foulques l'Oison, when he became count
of Anjou but he left a bigger imprint on this area of France
than anyone either before or after his reign.