François Pierre Guillaume Guizot.

A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 1 online

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fulfil them, and, at the answer that he was, bade him take the crown that
lay upon the altar, and place it with his own hands upon his head, which
Louis did amidst the acclamations of all present, who cried, 'Long live
the emperor Louis!' Charlemagne then declared his son emperor jointly
with him, and ended the solemnity with these words: 'Blessed be Thou, O
Lord God, who hast granted me grace to see with mine own eyes my son
seated on my throne!'" And Louis set out again immediately for

He was never to see his father again. Charlemagne, after his son's
departure, went out hunting, according to his custom, in the forest of
Ardenne, and continued during the whole autumn his usual mode of life.
"But in January, 814, he was taken ill," says Eginhard, "of a violent
fever, which kept him to his bed. Recurring forthwith to the remedy he
ordinarily employed against fever, he abstained from all nourishment,
persuaded that this diet would suffice to drive away or at the least
assuage the malady; but added to the fever came that pain in the side
which the Greeks call pleurisy; nevertheless the emperor persisted in his
abstinence, supporting his body only by drinks taken at long intervals;
and on the seventh day after that he had taken to his bed, having
received the holy communion," he expired about nine A.M., on Saturday,
the 28th of January, 814, in his seventy-first year.

"After performance of ablutions and funeral duties, the corpse was
carried away and buried, amidst the profound mourning of all the people,
in the church he himself had built; and above his tomb there was put up a
gilded arcade with his image and this superscription: 'In this tomb
reposeth the body of Charles, great and orthodox emperor, who did
gloriously extend the kingdom of the Franks, and did govern it happily
for forty-seven years. He died at the age of seventy years, in the year
of the Lord 814, in the seventh year of the Indiction, on the 5th of the
Kalends of February.'"

If we sum up his designs and his achievements, we find an admirably sound
idea and a vain dream, a great success and a great failure.

Charlemagne took in hand the work of placing upon a solid foundation the
Frankish-Christian dominion by stopping, in the north and south, the
flood of barbarians and Arabs - Paganism and Islamism. In that he
succeeded: the inundations of Asiatic populations spent their force in
vain against the Gallic frontier. Western and Christian Europe was
placed, territorially, beyond reach of attacks from the foreigner and
infidel. No sovereign, no human being, perhaps, ever rendered greater
service to the civilization of the world.

Charlemagne formed another conception and made another attempt. Like
more than one great barbaric warrior, he admired the Roman empire that
had fallen, its vastness all in one, and its powerful organization under
the hand of a single master. He thought he could resuscitate it,
durably, through the victory of a new people and a new faith, by the hand
of Franks and Christians. With this view he labored to conquer, convert,
and govern. He tried to be, at one and the same time, Caesar, Augustus,
and Constantine. And for a moment he appeared to have succeeded; but the
appearance passed away with himself. The unity of the empire and the
absolute power of the emperor were buried in his grave. The Christian
religion and human liberty set to work to prepare for Europe other
governments and other destinies.

Great men do great things which would not get done without them; they set
their mark plainly upon history, which realizes a portion of their ideas
and wishes; but they are far from doing all they meditate, and they know
not all they do. They are at one and the same time instruments and free
agents in a general design which is infinitely above their ken, and
which, even if a glimpse of it be caught, remains inscrutable to them -
the design of God towards mankind. When great men understand that such
is their position and accept it, they show sense, and they work to some
purpose. When they do not recognize the limits of their free agency, and
the veil which hides from their eyes the future they are laboring for,
they become the dupes, and frequently the victims, of a blind pride,
which events, in the long run, always end by exposing and punishing.

Amongst men of his rank, Charlemagne has had this singular good fortune,
that his error, his misguided attempt at imperialism, perished with him,
whilst his salutary achievement, the territorial security of Christian
Europe, has been durable, to the great honor, as well as great profit, of
European civilization.


From the death of Charlemagne to the accession of Hugh Capet, - that is,
from 814 to 987, - thirteen kings sat upon the throne of France. What
then became, under their reign and in the course of those hundred and
seventy-three years, of the two great facts which swayed the mind and
occupied the life of Charlemagne? What became, that is, of the solid
territorial foundation of the kingdom of Christian France, through
efficient repression of foreign invasion, and of the unity of that vast
empire wherein Charlemagne had attempted and hoped to resuscitate the
Roman empire?

The fate of those two facts is the very history of France under the
Carlovingian dynasty; it is the only portion of the events of that epoch
which still deserves attention nowadays, for it is the only one which has
exercised any great and lasting influence on the general history of

Attempts at foreign invasion of France were renewed very often, and in
many parts of Gallo-Frankish territory, during the whole duration of the
Carlovingian dynasty, and, even though they failed, they caused the
population of the kingdom to suffer from cruel ravages. Charlemagne,
even after his successes against the different barbaric invaders, had
foreseen the evils which would be inflicted on France by the most
formidable and most determined of them, the Northmen, coming by sea, and
landing on the coast. The most closely contemporaneous and most given to
detail of his chroniclers, the monk of St. Gall, tells in prolix and
pompous, but evidently heartfelt and sincere terms, the tale of the great
emperor's far-sightedness. "Charles, who was ever astir," says he,
"arrived by mere hap and unexpectedly, in a certain town of Narbonnese
Gaul. Whilst he was at dinner, and was as yet unrecognized of any, some
corsairs of the Northmen came to ply their piracies in the very port.
When their vessels were descried, they were supposed to be Jewish traders
according to some, African according to others, and British in the
opinion of others; but the gifted monarch, perceiving, by the build and
lightness of the craft, that they bare not merchandise, but foes, said to
his own folk, 'These vessels be not laden with merchandise, but manned
with cruel foes.' At these words all the Franks, in rivalry one with
another, run to their ships, but uselessly: for the Northmen, indeed,
hearing that yonder was he whom it was still their wont to call Charles
the Hammer, feared lest all their fleet should be taken or destroyed in
the port, and they avoided, by a flight of inconceivable rapidity, not
only the glaives, but even the eyes of those who were pursuing then.

[Illustration: Northmen on an Expedition?? - - 254]

"Pious Charles, however, a prey to well-grounded fear, rose up from
table, stationed himself at a window looking eastward, and there remained
a long while, and his eyes were filled with tears. As none durst
question him, this warlike prince explained to the grandees who were
about his person the cause of his movement and of his tears: 'Know ye, my
lieges, wherefore I weep so bitterly? Of a surety I fear not lest these
fellows should succeed in injuring me by their miserable piracies; but it
grieveth me deeply that, whilst I live, they should have been nigh to
touching at this shore, and I am a prey to violent sorrow when I foresee
what evils they will heap upon my descendants and their people.'"

[Illustration: He remained there a long while, and his eyes were filled
with tears. - - 255]

The forecast and the dejection of Charles were not unreasonable. It will
be found that there is special mention made, in the chronicles of the
ninth and tenth centuries, of forty-seven incursions into France of
Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Irish pirates, all comprised under the
name of Northmen; and, doubtless, many other incursions of less gravity
have left no trace in history. "The Northmen," says M. Fauriel,
"descended from the north to the south by a sort of natural gradation or
ladder. The Scheldt was the first river by the mouth of which they
penetrated inland; the Seine was the second; the Loire the third. The
advance was threatening for the countries traversed by the Garonne; and
it was in 844 that vessels freighted with Northmen for the first time
ascended this last river to a considerable distance inland, and there
took immense booty. . . . The following year they pillaged and burnt
Saintes. In 846 they got as far as Limoges. The inhabitants, finding
themselves unable to make head against the dauntless pirates, abandoned
their hearths, together with all they had not time to carry away.
Encouraged by these successes, the Northmen reappeared next year upon the
coasts and in the rivers of Aquitaine, and they attempted to take
Bordeaux, whence they were valorously repulsed by the inhabitants; but in
848, having once more laid siege to that city, they were admitted into it
at night by the Jews, who were there in great force; the city was given
up to plunder and conflagration; a portion of the people was scattered
abroad, and the rest put to the sword." Tours, Rouen, Angers, Orleans,
Meaux, Toulouse, Saint-Lo, Bayeux, Evreux, Nantes, and Beauvais, some of
them more than once, met the fate of Saintes, Limoges, and Bordeaux. The
monasteries and churches, wherein they hoped to find treasures, were the
favorite objects of the Nortlimen'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 M.
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 every one has but to defend himself
as best he may."

It were tedious to relate or even to enumerate all these incursions of
the Northmen, with their monotonous incidents. When their frequency and
their general character have been notified, all has been done that is due
to them from history. However, there are three on which it may be worth
while to dwell particularly, by reason of their grave historical
consequences, as well as of the dramatic details which have been
transmitted to us about them.

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, Bieern, 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 afterwards, 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 in Poitou, Anjou, Brittany, and along the Seine; pillaged the
monasteries of Jumieges, St. Vaudrille, and St. Evroul; took possession
of Chartres, and appeared before Paris, where Charles the Bald,
intrenched 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 count-ship 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. Prince
Bieern then separated from his governor, and put again to sea, "laden
with so rich a booty that he could never feel any want of wealth; but a
tempest swallowed up a great part of his fleet, and cast him upon the
coasts of Friesland, where he died soon after, for which Hastings was
exceeding sorry."

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, in the Ile de la Cite, which had originally been
and still was the real Paris. Two bodies of troops were set in motion;
one, under the command of Rollo, who was already famous amongst 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
amongst 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 amongst 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." Hastings returned to the Gallo-Frankish army, and Rollo prepared to
march on Paris. Hastings had gone back somewhat troubled in mind. Now
there was amongst the Franks one Count Tetbold (Thibault), who greatly
coveted the countship of Chartres, and he said to Hastings, "Why
slumberest thou softly? Knowest thou not that King Charles doth purpose
thy death by cause of all the Christian blood that thou didst aforetime
unjustly shed? Bethink thee of all the evil thou hast done him, by
reason whereof he purposeth to drive thee from his land. Take heed to
thyself that thou be not smitten unawares." Hastings, dismayed, at once
sold to Tetbold the town of Chartres, and, removing all that belonged to
him, departed to go and resume, for all that appears, his old course of

[Illustration: PARIS BESIEGED BY THE NORMANS - - 259]

On the 25th of November, 885, all the forces of the North-men formed a
junction before Paris; seven hundred huge barks covered two leagues of
the Seine, bringing, it is said, more than thirty thousand men. The
chieftains were astonished at sight of the new fortifications of the
city, a double wall of circumvallation, the bridges crowned with towers,
and in the environs the ramparts of the abbeys of St. Denis and St.
Germain solidly rebuilt. Siegfried hesitated to attack a town so well
defended. He demanded to enter alone and have an interview with the
bishop, Gozlin. "Take pity on thyself and thy flock," said he to him;
"let us but pass through this city; we will in no wise touch the town; we
will do our best to preserve for thee and Count Eudes, all your
possessions." "This city," replied the bishop, "hath been confided unto
us by the Emperor Charles, king and ruler, under God, of the powers of
the earth. He hath confided it unto us not that it should cause the ruin
but the salvation of the kingdom. If peradventure these walls had been
confided to thy keeping, as they have been to mine, wouldst thou do as
thou biddest me?" "If ever I do so," answered Siegfried, "may my head be
condemned to fall by the sword and serve as food to the dogs! But if
thou yield not to our prayers, so soon as the sun shall commence his
course, our armies will launch upon thee their poisoned arrows; and when
the sun shall end his course, they will give thee over to all the horrors
of famine; and this will they do from year to year." The bishop,
however, persisted, without further discussion; being as certain of Count
Eudes as he was of himself. Eudes, who was young and but recently made
count of Paris, was the eldest son of Robert the Strong, count of Anjou,
of the same line as Charlemagne, and but lately slain in battle against
the Northmen. Paris had for defenders two heroes, one of the Church and
the other of the Empire: the faith of the Christian and the fealty of the
vassal; the conscientiousness of the priest and the honor of the warrior.

[Illustration: The Barks of the Northmen before Paris - - 260]

The siege lasted thirteen months, whiles pushed vigorously forward with
eight several assaults, whiles maintained by close investment, and with
all the alternations of success and reverse, all the intermixture of
brilliant daring and obscure sufferings, that can occur when the
assailants are determined and the defenders devoted. Not only a
contemporary but an eye-witness, Abbo, a monk of St. Germain des Pres,
has recounted the details in a long poem, wherein the writer, devoid of
talent, adds nothing to the simple representation of events; it is
history itself which gives to Abbo's poem a high degree of interest. We
do not possess, in reference to these continual struggles of the Northmen
with the Gallo-Frankish populations, any other document which is equally
precise and complete, or which could make us so well acquainted with all
the incidents, all the phases of this irregular warfare between two
peoples, one without a government, the other without a country. The
bishop, Gozlin, died during the siege. Count Eudes quitted Paris for a
time to go and beg aid of the emperor; but the Parisians soon saw him
reappear on the heights of Montmartre with three battalions of troops,
and he re-entered the town, spurring on his horse and striking light and
left with his battle-axe through the ranks of the dumfounded besiegers.
The struggle was prolonged throughout the summer; and when, in November,
886, Charles the Fat at last appeared before Paris, "with a large army of
all nations," it was to purchase the retreat of the Northmen at the cost
of a heavy ransom, and by allowing them to go and winter in Burgundy,
"whereof the inhabitants obeyed not the emperor."

Some months afterwards, in 887, Charles the Fat was deposed, at a diet
held on the banks of the Rhine, by the grandees of Germanic France; and
Arnulf, a natural son of Carloman, the brother of Louis III., was
proclaimed emperor in his stead. At the same time Count Eudes, the
gallant defender of Paris, was elected king at Compiegne and crowned by
the Archbishop of Sens. Guy, duke of Spoleto, descended from Charlemagne
in the female line, hastened to France and was declared king at Langres
by the bishop of that town, but returned with precipitation to Italy,
seeing no chance of maintaining himself in his French kingship.
Elsewhere, Boso, duke of Arles, became king of Provence, and the
Burgundian Count Rodolph had himself crowned at St. Maurice, in the
Valais, king of transjuran Burgundy. There was still in France a
legitimate Carlovingian, a son of Louis the Stutterer, who was hereafter
to become Charles the Simple; but being only a child, he had been
rejected or completely forgotten, and, in the interval that was to elapse
ere his time should arrive, kings were being made in all directions.

[Illustration: Count Eudes re-entering Paris right through the Besiegers-
- -262]

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

Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 1 → online text (page 21 of 35)