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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
Table of Contents


 

 

THE NORMANS BESIEGE PARIS

A
LTHOUGH weak and indolent, Charles was so anxious to bear the title of Emperor that he hastened to Rome as soon as Lothair's son died, to be crowned there by the Pope. He also claimed his brother Louis's kingdom in Germany; but while he was thus trying to increase his realm north and south, the Normans were constantly invading it from the west. Charles was on his way home from Italy to try to oppose them, when he died in the Alps, leaving France to his son Louis II., "the Stammerer."

Louis II. had a short and uneventful reign of less than two years. Like his father, he made great concessions to the nobles, an example followed also by his sons and successors, Louis III. and Car'loman, who ruled in peace together, but died early, after showing much more spirit than either father or grandfather.

[93] During this time the Normans were growing more and more troublesome, and they laid some parts of the land so completely waste that wolves roamed unhindered through ruined and deserted villages and towns. In fact, in those days, no one felt safe unless sheltered behind the strong walls of some great fortress. Such were the ravages of the Normans that the last-mentioned kings tried to buy them off by giving them a thousand pounds of gold a year. But when these two young monarchs died, leaving no heirs, the crown of France was given to their uncle, Charles II., the Fat, who already ruled over Germany and Italy. This uncle was as weak and cowardly as he was stout, so he proved a very bad ruler. Besides, he had already given the Normans a province in Holland, so these pirates knowing he was not to be feared, sailed boldly up the Seine river and laid siege to Paris (885).

King Charles remained inactive, but Eudes, Count of Paris (a son of Robert the Strong), and the bishop, defended the city so bravely that they kept the foe at bay for about a year and a half. During that time the people suffered horribly from famine and disease; but, encouraged by Eudes and the bishop, they nevertheless strengthened the walls, fought like heroes, and made up their minds to die rather than surrender.

The Norman chief, Rollo, who led the attack, was such a giant that no horse could carry him. He was, therefore, always obliged to go afoot, which won for him the surname of "Ganger", or "Walker." He found the city—which had been thrice before besieged by the Normans—so well fortified this time that, in spite of his good generalship, he could not manage to take it.

[95] The Parisians, who then occupied only an island in the river (La Cit7eacute;), had barred both branches of the stream, so that even the seven hundred Norman vessels could not go farther inland, as they had first intended. The Norman vessels could not go farther inland, as they had first intended. The Normans, exasperated by these obstacles, made many attempts to scale the walls, but the Parisians hurled stones upon the assailants, poured streams of boiling oil and pitch down upon them, and even women and children are said to have fought on the walls most fiercely.

Throughout this siege, Eudes kept up the people's courage, and once cut his way out of the city, through the close ranks of the enemy, to urge the king to come to the rescue of his besieged subjects. Lazy Charles made many promises, but Eudes, seeing that help was not speedily forthcoming, returned tot he city at the risk of his life, to cheer the inhabitants by his presence and share their hardships and labors.

At the end of many months, Charles the Fat finally appeared on the heights near Paris with a huge army; but, instead of attacking the Normans, he began to parley with them, and then weakly signed a new treaty, bribing them to pass on and rob Burgundy, but leave Paris in peace.

The Parisians, angry and ashamed, refused to ratify this treaty or to let the Normans pass, so the invaders had to carry their boats across country, and launch them farther upstream, beyond the obstructions placed to check their advance.

On this occasion, you see, "The King of France and ten thousand men," as the nursery rhyme has it, "pulled out their swords and put them back again." But the French, who admire bravery above everything, indignantly refused [96] to obey such a cowardly ruler any longer, and in 887 deposed Charles, electing Eudes to rule in his stead.


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