CHARLES the Bald began to reign in 843 A.D. At first
his eldest brother laid plots against him, as he had
done against their father, to take his kingdom away.
But Charles the Bald made friends with his brother
Louis, and together they fought at Fontanet in 841 A.D. against their cruel and ambitious eldest brother.
It was a terrible battle, lasting from dawn until
midday, when Charles and Louis were victorious. But so
many soldiers had been slain that all over France there
were sad and empty homes.
"Accursed be this day," wrote one of the officers who
fought at the battle of Fontanet:
"Be it unlit by the light of the sun,
Be it without either dawn or twilight . . .
Eye ne'er hath seen more fearful slaughter . . .
The linen vestments of the dead did whiten the field
Even as it is whitened by the birds of Autumn."
Two years after the battle of Fontanet the brothers
agreed to fight no more, but to divide the great
kingdom between them. Accordingly, at the Treaty of
Verdun in 848 A.D., Charles received the kingdom of
France, Louis Germany, while to Lothair was given Italy
and the name of Emperor.
After this battle Charles the Bald was really King of
France, but he had not much power except in the city of
Paris; for the lords and barons were kings on their own
lands, and were used to make their own laws and impose
 taxes on their people. Indeed, there was no limit
to their power.
The king gave lands and castles to the barons on what
was called the feudal system.
The feudal system meant that the barons became vassals
to the king. They were bound to do homage to him for
their lands and to fight for him in time of war.
In the same way the barons gave portions of their land
to the people who became their vassals, and in time of
war had to follow their lord to the battlefield, even
as the lords followed the king.
When they were not fighting, the barons were hunting or
feasting. They never dreamed of working, that was fit
only for the serfs or slaves, who were bought or sold
with the land as though they were tools.
These slaves were badly clothed and badly fed. Often,
when the harvest was poor, they were starved. Yet the
barons still feasted in their halls, heedless of the
hunger and misery of the people who were huddled
together in the huts that stood at their very doors.
After Charles the Bald had conquered his eldest brother
at the battle of Fontanet, his greatest troubles were
caused by the Vikings or Northmen.
Even in the time of Charlemagne these wild sea-rovers
had reached the coast of France, only however to set
their sails, and disappear as suddenly as they had
come, when they heard that the great emperor was near.
For Charlemagne was the only name the Northmen feared.
Charlemagne himself had foreseen what would happen when
he was no longer alive to guard his kingdom from these
As he sat at dinner one day in a seaport town, the
emperor saw vessels at anchor in the harbour.
"These are trading vessels" cried his lords, "from
Africa, from Britain, or elsewhere!"
 "Nay," answered Charlemagne, "these vessels be not
laden with merchandise, but manned with cruel foes."
"THESE VESSELS BE NOT LADEN WITH MERCHANDIZE, BUT MANNED WITH CRUEL FOES."
Then getting up from the table, he went to the window
and watched the red sails of the Northmen's ships as
they took to flight.
Tears fell from the emperor's eyes as he turned to his
followers. "Know ye, my lieges, why I weep so
bitterly," he asked. "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 enough to
touch at this shore. I am a prey to violent sorrow when
I foresee what evils they will heap upon my descendants
and their people."
In the reign of Louis the Good-natured, what
Charlemagne had foreseen came to pass.
The terrible Northmen from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden
descended upon the coast of France, and laid waste all
the towns and villages to which they came. In the time
of Charles the Bald the red sails of the Viking ships
were known and feared not only in France, but all over
More than once, in this reign, the Vikings reached
Paris, and the citizens, fearing lest their homes and
churches should be plundered and destroyed, offered the
Northmen large sums of money if they would but sail
away and leave their homes and sanctuaries unharmed.
This, as you can easily believe, made the Vikings
return again and again, in the hope of being paid a
heavy ransom to depart.
These fierce sea-rovers had no respect for church or
Hasting was the name of one of the chief leaders of the
Northmen. Wonderful tales were told of this man, of his
cruelty and his craft, so that when he actually landed
on the coast of France the people were full of fear.
 This is one of the stories that the French folk
had heard of Hasting.
It was not often that this chief found a town too
strongly guarded to be taken by his rough followers.
But once upon a time, finding he could not take a
certain city by assault, he determined to enter it by
craft, or, as you would say, by a trick.
He sent to the bishop of the town, saying that he was
very ill and wished to be baptized in the name of the
The bishop, pleased with such a wish from a Viking
chief, hastened to baptize Hasting as he desired.
Soon after this his comrades spread the tidings that
their chief was dead. They then went to the bishop, and
begged that he might be buried as a Christian, and have
a solemn service held over his coffin.
To this also the bishop willingly agreed, and the
coffin of the great Viking was carried into church,
followed closely by a band of Northmen.
Picture the good bishop's dismay when, in the middle of
the service, Hasting, strong and fierce as ever,
suddenly leaped from his coffin, sword in hand. His
followers at once drew their swords from beneath their
cloaks and closed the church doors.
Then the kind bishop and all the priests who were
present at the service were slain. The band of robbers
seized the rich treasures of the sanctuary, and escaped
to their ships and sailed away before the horrified
citizens, who had also come to the burial service of
the Viking chief, had found time or courage to stop
After hearing such a tale, it was little wonder that
the French dreaded this Viking chief.
When Hasting arrived at Paris, Charles the Bald sent
the Abbot of St. Denis, "the which was an exceeding
wise man," to talk with the Viking. This worthy abbot,
after promising Hasting large sums of money, actually
 in persuading him to give up his roving life and
to become a Christian.
Charles the Bald thereupon made him a count, and gave
him gifts of land and castles, and for many years the
Viking chief kept faith with the kings of France.
Soon after this Charles the Bald was in Italy, and as
he was crossing the Alps on his way home he was taken
ill. His servants could find no shelter on the
mountains for the king, save in a comfortless hut, and
there Charles the Bald died, at the age of fifty-four.
His son Louis the Stammerer, who succeeded him, was a
delicate prince who reigned only about a year. He was
followed by his brother Carloman, of whom there is
nothing to tell, save that after reigning for two years
he was gored to death by a boar as he was hunting in
the royal forests.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics