Today’s installment concludes Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays,
our selection from the Earliest Times by François P. G. Guizot published in 1869.
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Previously in Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays.
In the midst of this confusion the Northmen, though they kept at a distance from Paris, pursued in Western France their cruising and plundering. In Rollo they had a chieftain far superior to his vagabond predecessors. Though he still led the same life that they had, he displayed therein other faculties, other inclinations, other views. In his youth he had made an expedition to England, and had there contracted a real friendship with the wise king Alfred the Great. During a campaign in Friesland he had taken prisoner Rainier, Count of Hainault; and Alberade, Countess of Brabant, made a request to Rollo for her husband’s release, offering in return to set free twelve captains of the Northmen, her prisoners, and to give up all the gold she possessed. Rollo took only half the gold, and restored to the countess her husband. When, in 885, he became master of Rouen, instead of devastating the city after the fashion of his kind, he respected the buildings, had the walls repaired, and humored the inhabitants. In spite of his violent and extortionate practices where he met with obstinate resistance, there were to be discerned in him symptoms of more noble sentiments and of an instinctive leaning toward order, civilization, and government. After the deposition of Charles the Fat and during the reign of Eudes, a lively struggle was maintained between the Frankish King and the chieftain of the Northmen, who had neither of them forgotten their early encounters. They strove, one against the other, with varied fortunes; Eudes succeeded in beating the Northmen at Montfaucon, but was beaten in Vermandois by another band, commanded, it is said, by the veteran Hastings, sometime Count of Chartres.
Rollo, too, had his share at one time of success, at another of reverse; but he made himself master of several important towns, showed a disposition to treat the quiet populations gently, and made a fresh trip to England, during which he renewed friendly relations with her King, Athelstan, the successor of Alfred the Great. He thus became, from day to day, more reputable as well as more formidable in France, insomuch that Eudes himself was obliged to have recourse, in dealing with him, to negotiations and presents. When, in 898, Eudes was dead, and Charles the Simple, at hardly nineteen years of age, had been recognized sole King of France, the ascendency of Rollo became such that the necessity of treating with him was clear. In 911 Charles, by the advice of his councilors and, among them, of Robert, brother of the late king Eudes, who had himself become Count of Paris and Duke of France, sent to the chieftain of the Northmen Franco, Archbishop of Rouen, with orders to offer him the cession of a considerable portion of Neustria and the hand of his young daughter Gisele, on condition that he became a Christian and acknowledged himself the King’s vassal. Rollo, by the advice of his comrades, received these overtures with a good grace and agreed to a truce for three months, during which they might treat about peace. On the day fixed Charles, accompanied by Duke Robert, and Rollo, surrounded by his warriors, repaired to St. Clair-sur-Epte, on the opposite banks of the river, and exchanged numerous messages. Charles offered Rollo Flanders, which the Northman refused, considering it too swampy; as to the maritime portion of Neustria he would not be contented with it; it was, he said, covered with forests, and had become quite a stranger to the ploughshare by reason of the Northmen’s incessant incursions. He demanded the addition of territories taken from Brittany, and that the princes of that province, Berenger and Alan, lords, respectively, of Redon and Dol, should take the oath of fidelity to him. When matters had been arranged on this basis, “the bishops told Rollo that he who received such a gift as the duchy of Normandy was bound to kiss the King’s foot. ‘Never,’ quoth Rollo, ‘will I bend the knee before the knees of any, and I will kiss the foot of none.’ At the solicitation of the Franks he then ordered one of his warriors to kiss the King’s foot. The Northman, remaining bolt upright, took hold of the King’s foot, raised it to his mouth, and so made the King fall backward, which caused great bursts of laughter and much disturbance among the throng. Then the King and all the grandees who were about him, prelates, abbots, dukes, and counts, swore, in the name of the Catholic faith, that they would protect the patrician Rollo in his life, his members, and his folk, and would guarantee to him the possession of the aforesaid land, to him and his descendants forever; after which the King, well satisfied, returned to his domains; and Rollo departed with Duke Robert for the town of Rouen.”
The dignity of Charles the Simple had no reason to be well satisfied; but the great political question which, a century before, caused Charlemagne such lively anxiety was solved; the most dangerous, the most incessantly renewed of all foreign invasions, those of the Northmen, ceased to threaten France. The vagabond pirates had a country to cultivate and defend; the Northmen were becoming French.
This ends our series of passages on Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays by François P. G. Guizot from his book A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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