History of the Vikings
Bourges and in 868 he attacked Orleans; but the relations between the vikings and the Bretons, now familiar with one another by reason of their occasional alliances and by the ordinary trading that inevitably took place in the peaceful intervals between the plundering expeditions, had changed. The vikings had shown that they could be harmless neighbours when it so pleased them, and they had shown that they could even be useful if their strength could be turned against the Frankish king when he threatened Brittany. So, as a result of Breton and Frankish jealousy, in 869 a rash and experimental peace was made by Duke Salomon of Brittany with Hastein and his pirates. For the first time a viking host dwelt in France officially recognized, at any rate by its immediate neighbours, as settlers in the land.
As was to be expected, this peace did not really remove the distrust and dread of the vikings who had so hardly used the Loire countryside, and in the end, after the arrangement had lasted for three years, Salomon's suspicions were fully justified. The breaking of the peace was one of those daring and impudent exploits that occasionally enliven the records of the Northmen's rapine and arson. In the spring of 872 they suddenly took ship (they were then dwelling on their island-base in the lower Loire), sailed up-river, and then turned up the Maine to Angers. The inhabitants of this luckless town fled precipitately and the vikings entered the empty streets unopposed. It was, of course, expected that they would plunder and burn, and then, following their usual custom, depart hastily with their booty. But this time the vikings did nothing of the sort. Finding themselves in complete possession of a Frankish town, admirably situated astride the river and easy to defend, they elected to send for their wives and children, and, having done so, they settled down in comfortable occupation of the place. Angers was to be their new home.
Such was plainly their intention. But though vikings in a remote island-fastness of a rebellious province might be tolerated, vikings in complete occupation of a Frankish city, within raiding distance of Tours itself, was more than the often-humiliated ruler of the western kingdom dare permit. For a year, or nearly a year, they were indeed allowed to remain in Angers, but in the summer of 873 Charles marched against them with a great army and he had no difficulty in persuading Salomon and the Bretons to join his expedition. The vikings had set the fortifications in order so it was necessary to lay siege to the town,
and Charles immediately set to work by building an elaborate circumvallation. But he could not effect a proper blockade of the Maine, and this left the river-route in and out of Angers open to the vikings, who were thus able to watch the operations of the investing force without undue perturbation. Many were the attacks made on the town walls, and new engines of war were specially invented to help push them home; but it was all in vain, and the vikings, so long as their escape could be easily made, remained unshaken. Then an epidemic began to rage among the besiegers and the attacks weakened in strength; the Christian leaders began to despair, and at last, in October, it was realized that if there was to be success at all the viking ships must be destroyed without delay. The plan they adopted was a bold and ingenious measure, nothing less than the diverting of the Maine by cutting a great canal. It succeeded instantly; the ships were left high and dry, and fell an easy prey to the Franks and the Bretons, whereupon the vikings, now absolutely cut off from retreat or from possible reinforcement, surrendered without more ado.
The terms Charles imposed seem suspiciously lenient, and there is some talk of his having accepted a bribe; but he did at least extract from the vikings a promise that they would leave his kingdom, and they certainly were sent back at once to their island-home on the lower Loire. But they were granted a few months' respite here, and the upshot was that they did not leave at all, though for a long while they did not dare to trouble the country again, except in the immediate neighbourhood of their base. In plain fact, it was not until ten years later that they finally withdrew, and then it was only to go plundering elsewhere in France.
In 876 took place the seventh viking expedition to the Seine, and, like many viking ventures, it was well timed, for it found Charles away warring in the Aix and Cologne country. The Pitres bridge once more failed to stop the pirates and they made their way up-stream to threaten St. Denis; eventually Charles returned and bought them off for 5,000 pounds of silver. This was his last traffic with the Danes, for in the following year he died.
Much had his western kingdom suffered from the great evil of the viking invasion, but it is well to remember that another and greater evil, the ceaseless fraternal jealousies and civil wars of the Carolingians, had occupied him almost to the exclusion of his other cares throughout most of the years of his long reign. Charles, in fact, believed that his paramount duty was to preserve,
and, if possible, to increase, the kingdom that was left to him out of his famous grandfather's greater empire. His brothers, not the Danes, were his chief foes, and so long as he could keep the rival kings quiet at his frontiers, it was a small thing if a monastery here and a monastery there, a village or even a town, were sacked by the irresponsible pirates from Denmark. The vikings, he rightly judged, were not as yet a peril that threatened the very safety of his kingdom; he had not thought of them as would-be colonists, had not dreamed that they might one day win a part of his broad lands for themselves. And so, though he was a brave man, he would not, he could not rather, resist the vikings with the show of force that was necessary to drive them helter-skelter for ever from his land. Untrustworthy vassals, unsuitable military organization, and a lack of suitable equipment, these things combined with the ever-present dread of treachery on the part of his brothers and of insurrection in Brittany and Aquitaine, all made a resolute opposition to the pirates and a systematic and remorseless severity impossible. Charles the Bald was the victim of his times and his conditions, and, though his disastrous bribes to the vikings constitute a shocking record of weakness, it is fairer to blame the bewildering and ever-recurring conspiracies in Frankish politics rather than to impugn the wisdom, or the personal character and valour, of the king.
It was in 877 that he died, and his death was followed by that of his son and successor, Louis the Stammerer, a year and a half later. This last king left two youthful heirs, Louis and Carloman, and a third son, Charles, who was posthumously born. Immediately factions arose in the western kingdom; Louis of Saxony, a son of Louis the German, interfered; an independent kingdom of Provence was set up under Boso; in 880 there was a treaty that allotted Francia and Neustria to Louis III, and Aquitaine and Burgundy to Carloman. Louis III died in 882, and Carloman then became the sole sovereign of the old western kingdom of Charles the Bald, except for Provence. But two years later, in 884, Carloman also died, and, since the third son of Louis the Stammerer was unfit to reign by reason of his youth, the Frankish nobles appealed to the Emperor Charles the Fat, son of Louis the German, and now lord of most of the old middle and eastern kingdoms, to assume the vacant throne. By so doing they completed the union under a single crowned head of the three great kingdoms of the empire of Charles the Great.
In spite of the discord in the western kingdom, it was the
coastal district of the middle and eastern kingdoms, now ruled by Louis of Saxony, that suffered most from the raids of the vikings in the period between the death of Louis the Stammerer and the death of Carloman. In 879 a large Danish fleet, that had been wintering on the Thames at Fulham but had found no prospect of successful plundering in England (p. 240), appeared off the coast of France and sacked Thérouanne. Then the pirates made for the Scheldt and established themselves in a fortified camp at Courtrai. Louis of Saxony heavily defeated a party of them at Thion on the Sambre in 880, but this did not prevent the burning of Arras and of Nimeguen, and a viking expedition into Saxony itself. The Danes also suffered another defeat at Saucourt, between Abbeville and Eu, this time at the hands of the young Louis III, a famous battle that is celebrated in a German cantilène that has survived till this day. (1) But, despite these reverses, the vikings reached the valley of the Meuse and built themselves a camp at Elsloo. In the following winter (881-882) they sacked Maestricht and Liège, and plundered such notable towns as Cologne, Bonn, and Aix, and for three days they held Trier in their grip. In the meantime Louis of Saxony had died and Charles the Fat was now master of the whole eastern kingdom. In the summer of 882 he determined to rid himself of these troublesome Danes, and, gathering a big army, marched against their camp at Elsloo; but though his strength was considerable, for some reason his attack did not materialize, and in the end he resorted to negotiations. It was a shameful weakness; one of the viking leaders, Godfred, on the condition of his receiving baptism, was granted a large part of Frisia, probably Rorik's ancient holding, as a fief, and the others, Sigfred and Orm, were bribed to take their men away.
Although Harald and Rorik in the turbulent beginnings of Danish piracy had failed, as is easily understood, to consolidate their holding in Frisia, this installation of Godfred, at a later day, ought to have been a landmark in viking history, the foundation of a state such as had been won in England and such as was shortly to be established in Normandy. But Godfred was not a man of sufficient political perception to build up a stable colony. At heart he was a viking, and he was soon away on a viking raid in Saxony, and afterwards he was foolish enough to make impudent
1. K. Müllenhoff and W. Scherer, Denkmâler deutsches Poesie u. Prosa, Berlin, 1892, I, 24.
demands of Charles the Fat for a grant of the wine-districts of Coblenz and Andernach. As a result of his intrigues, he was assassinated by Charles's agents and his army was subsequently destroyed. Thus was Frisia lost, a land that had been for so long, from 834 till 876, partially, sometimes almost entirely, under viking dominion, and that was, in a sense, the natural colony of the Danes. Henceforward, the marauding hosts and wouldbe settlers left this poor troubled country alone.
That part of the viking armies that followed Sigfred and Orm, after some plundering in Flanders and Picardy, now turned to attack the western kingdom, and were bribed by Carloman to leave his realm in peace. But after Carloman's death they deemed themselves absolved from their bond, and, failing to obtain a similar bribe from Charles the Fat, who had succeeded Carloman as ruler of the West Franks, they forthwith attacked the Seine country. This was in the spring of 885.
It was a great force that had been collected, 700 ships and probably as many as 40,000 men, a viking invasion far more terrible than anything France had as yet seen. In July they took Rouen, and, after breaking through a Frankish force sent to oppose them, they concentrated in their full strength before Paris on the 24th of November. And now began one of the most memorable events of all the viking wars, the siege of Paris.
Paris was, except for some outlying suburbs, still an island-town, and in 885 there were only two bridges connecting the island with the river-banks. The northern bridge, leading to the north bank of the Seine, was a stone structure, narrow, but well made and strongly fortified with protecting towers at either end. The bridge connecting with the south bank was only made of wood, but it was also defended by towers. Clearly all depended on these bridges, for if they were destroyed the viking fleet could pass unhindered up the Seine, and while they held the Danes could not possibly attain their objective, which was the confluence of the Marne and Seine above Paris and the plundering of the inland Marne country beyond Paris. Yet it must have seemed a forlorn hope to stay their progress, for there were only two hundred men-at-arms in the town.
At first Sigfred tried to negotiate for a passage up-stream, offering to leave Paris in peace, but he was summarily refused by the gallant leaders of the defence, Joscelin, Abbot of St. Germain, and Odo (Eudes), Marquess of Neustria and son of Robert the Strong. They had been bidden by Charles, they said, to bar the Seine against the vikings, and bar the Seine