Rollo the Norseman

From An Introduction to Medieval Europe (300 - 500) by James Westfall Thompson

... But the supreme object of attack was the valley of the Seine and Paris. In November 885, forty thousand Norsemen with seven hundred vessels laid siege to Paris. For ten months the people held out, under the leadership of Gozelin, Bishop of Paris, and Odo, Count of Paris. In September 886, Charles the Fat tardily arrived from Italy, only to conclude a wretched peace; the besiegers were paid seven hundred pounds of silver to abandon the siege of Paris, but were authorized to ravage Burgundy until March of the next year. After making Odo Duke of the Franks -- that is, of so-called Francia -- Charles the Fat after this single visit quitted France forever. Nevertheless, the failure of the Vikings after this long siege to take Paris arrested their progress, impaired their prestige, and raised Paris to a pre-eminent position. The Carolingian capital at Laon now had a rival, and from the counts of Paris the kings of France were destined to come.

While their failure to take Paris did not put an end to their raids, the Vikings were henceforth more interested in establishing themselves permanently on French soil. As early as 885 it was obvious that the channel coast of France was to become a Norse dominion. They made Rouen their capital and continued to settle down. After the Norsemen had failed to capture Chartres in the summer of 911 they and Charles the Simple of France, who realized thac there was no longer any hope of dislodging them from the channel coast, were ready to come to terms. Charles promptly concluded with their chieftain, Hrolf (Rollo), the peace The of St.-Claire-sur-Epte. This treaty, similar to Alfred the Great's foundation of treaty with the Dane Guthrum, recognized what might be called the French Norselaw (Normandy), 'the coastland from the river Epte to the boundaries of Brittany' -- it also provided that Hrolf was to become a Christian and, as Duke of Normandy, a vassal of Charles the Simple for his duchy. This latter provision caused some trouble, for the chronicler reports that the new vassal Hrolf refused to bestow the required kiss upon his liege lord Charles's foot.

'Never,' said he, 'will I bend my knees before anyone, nor will I kiss the foot of any Frank.' Moved, however, by their prayers he ordered one of his warriors to kiss the king's foot. The latter promptly seized the king's foot, carried it to his mouth and kissed it standing, thus throwing the king onto his back. At that there was a roar of laughter and a great disturbance amongst the spectators.

Officially the Norsemen gained a great deal of territory by the treaty, but as they had already practically dispossessed the old Frankish lords in the ceded territory, the treaty actually did little more than confirm an accomplished fact. Indeed, as the ceded territory had belonged to the Duchy of Francia, not to the crown lands, and as Hrolf became a vassal of Charles the Simple, the king did not even suffer any loss in power. Rather he had gained a powerful vassal to play off against another powerful and unruly vassal, the Count of Paris, and had barred Paris from the sea. The Frankish lords were thus the only real losers. For the common people the establishment of the Norsemen in Normandy meant simply a change of overlord. No more of the people were dispossessed, although those still remaining had already suffered so severely that they had little left to lose.

For the next twenty years Duke Hrolf made earnest efforts [...] to encourage repopulation, reclaimed land, repaired monasteries, fortance of and built towns. The Norsemen were unpleasant invaders but good Bormans colonists. Wherever they settled, but especially in Russia, England, and France, they speedily adopted the language, manners, and institutions of the people among whom they settled. Within a hundred years after the grant of Normandy these Norsemen had become Norman-French, and fervent and staunch champions of Christianity. While in itself this was perhaps no more extraordinary than the accomplishment of the settlers of Iceland, in importance to the future of European civilization no Norse emigrants could rival the Normans. They retained much of their ancestral vigor. Within one hundred and fifty years after the settlement in France they had launched out again and established themselves in England tod in southern Italy and Sicily, and a little later the crusades prried them to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Thew were destined to make out of Anglo-Saxon-Danish England a newl England, and out of Byzantine-Moslem Sicily and southern Italy to bring to life a brilliant, cosmopolitan, tolerant civilization unparalleled in the west. Everywhere they went they carried their genius for government -- 'they were the greatest governors since the Romans -- and their surpassing ability as architects and builders. It is of their church building that Henry Adams says, 'What they began, the) completed.' But his statement applies equally well to all their undertakings.