In November, 885, under the reign of Charles the Fat, after having, for more than forty years, irregularly ravaged France, they resolved to unite their forces in order at length to obtain possession of Paris.
Continuing Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays,
our selection from A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times by François P. G. Guizot. published in 1869. The selection is presented in ten easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays.
Place: Before Paris
The monasteries and churches, wherein they hoped to find treasures, were the favorite object of the Northmen’s enterprises; in particular, they plundered, at the gates of Paris, the abbey of St. Germain des Pres and that of St. Denis, whence they carried off the abbot, who could not purchase his freedom save by a heavy ransom. They penetrated more than once into Paris itself, and subjected many of its quarters to contributions or pillage. The populations grew into the habit of suffering and fleeing; and the local lords, and even the kings, made arrangement sometimes with the pirates either for saving the royal domains from the ravages, or for having their own share therein. In 850 Pepin, King of Aquitaine, and brother of Charles the Bald, came to an understanding with the Northmen who had ascended the Garonne and were threatening Toulouse.
They arrived under his guidance,” says Fauriel, “they laid siege to it, took it and plundered it, not halfwise, not hastily, as folks who feared to be surprised, but leisurely, with all security, by virtue of a treaty of alliance with one of the kings of the country. Throughout Aquitaine there was but one cry of indignation against Pepin, and the popularity of Charles was increased in proportion to all the horror inspired by the ineffable misdeed of his adversary. Charles the Bald himself, if he did not ally himself, as Pepin did, with the invaders, took scarce any interest in the fate of the populations and scarcely more trouble to protect them, for Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, wrote to him in 859: ‘Many folks say that you are incessantly repeating that it is not for you to mix yourself up with these depredations and robberies, and that everyone has but to defend himself as best he may.'”
In the middle and during the last half of the ninth century, a chief of the Northmen, named Hastenc or Hastings, appeared several times over on the coasts and in the rivers of France, with numerous vessels and a following. He had also with him, say the chronicles, a young Norwegian or Danish prince, Bioern, called “Ironsides,” whom he had educated, and who had preferred sharing the fortunes of his governor to living quietly with the King, his father. After several expeditions into Western France, Hastings became the theme of terrible and very probably fabulous stories. He extended his cruises, they say, to the Mediterranean, and, having arrived at the coasts of Tuscany, within sight of a city which in his ignorance he took for Rome, he resolved to pillage it; but, not feeling strong enough to attack it by assault, he sent to the bishop to say he was very ill, felt a wish to become a Christian, and begged to be baptized. Some days afterward his comrades spread a report that he was dead, and claimed for him the honors of a solemn burial. The bishop consented; the coffin of Hastings was carried into the church, attended by a large number of his followers, without visible weapons; but, in the middle of the ceremony, Hastings suddenly leaped up, sword in hand, from his coffin; his followers displayed the weapons they had concealed, closed the doors, slew the priests, pillaged the ecclesiastical treasures, and re-embarked before the very eyes of the stupefied population, to go and resume, on the coasts of France, their incursions and their ravages.
Whether they were true or false, these rumors of bold artifices and distant expeditions on the part of Hastings aggravated the dismay inspired by his appearance. He penetrated into the interior of the country, took possession of Chartres, and appeared before Paris, where Charles the Bald, entrenched at St. Denis, was deliberating with his prelates and barons as to how he might resist the Northmen or treat with them. The chronicle says that the barons advised resistance, but that the King preferred negotiation, and sent the abbot of St. Denis, “the which was an exceeding wise man,” to Hastings, who, “after long parley and by reason of large gifts and promises,” consented to stop his cruisings, to become a Christian, and to settle in the countship of Chartres, “which the King gave him as an hereditary possession, with all its appurtenances.” According to other accounts, it was only some years later, under the young king Louis III, grandson of Charles the Bald, that Hastings was induced, either by reverses or by payment of money, to cease from his piracies and accept in recompense the countship of Chartres. Whatever may have been the date, he was, it is believed, the first chieftain of the Northmen who renounced a life of adventure and plunder, to become, in France, a great landed proprietor and a count of the King’s.
A greater chieftain of the Northmen than Hastings was soon to follow his example, and found Normandy in France; but before Rolf, that is, Rollo, came and gave the name of his race to a French province, the piratical Northmen were again to attempt a greater blow against France and to suffer a great reverse.
In November, 885, under the reign of Charles the Fat, after having, for more than forty years, irregularly ravaged France, they resolved to unite their forces in order at length to obtain possession of Paris, whose outskirts they had so often pillaged without having been able to enter the heart of the place. Two bodies of troops were set in motion: one, under the command of Rollo, who was already famous among his comrades, marched on Rouen; the other went right up the course of the Seine, under the orders of Siegfried, whom the Northmen called their king. Rollo took Rouen, and pushed on at once for Paris. Duke Renaud, general of the Gallo-Frankish troops, went to encounter him on the banks of the Eure, and sent to him, to sound his intentions, Hastings, the newly made count of Chartres. “Valiant warriors,” said Hastings to Rollo, “whence come ye? What seek ye here? What is the name of your lord and master? Tell us this; for we be sent unto you by the King of the Franks.” “We be Danes,” answered Rollo, “and all be equally masters among us. We be come to drive out the inhabitants of this land, and to subject it as our own country. But who art thou, thou who speakest so glibly?” “Ye have sometime heard tell of one Hastings, who, issuing forth from among you, came hither with much shipping and made desert a great part of the kingdom of the Franks?” “Yes,” said Rollo, “we have heard tell of him; Hastings began well and ended ill.” “Will ye yield you to King Charles?” asked Hastings. “We yield,” was the answer, “to none; all that we shall take by our arms we will keep as our right. Go and tell this, if thou wilt, to the King, whose envoy thou boastest to be.”
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