|The Story of Europe|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Presents the broader movements of European history, emphasizing the main factors which have gone into the formation and development of the various European states from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Reformation. The history of England is included only when that country plays a prominent part in the politics of Europe. A full treatment of the period immediately following the fall of the Roman Empire is given, since that period provides the necessary key to future developments. For smoother reading, dates are relegated to the margin for the most part. Maps, timelines, and genealogy charts of the various royal houses of Europe contribute to making this book an excellent resource for the study of the Middle Ages in Europe. Ages 14-18 |
THE NORTHMEN IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND
The Northmen as Settlers
AT the beginning of their raids the Northmen only came to plunder, and made no attempt to settle in the lands
they attacked. But as time went on they came not only to plunder but to settle. And wherever they settled a
change came over them. They were so adaptable that they lost their individuality and became merged in the
native population. They settled in England and became Englishmen, they settled in France and became Frenchmen.
Later, these Norman-French conquered England and again, in time, became Englishmen.
But before they finally settled there the attacks of the Northmen on France were both many and cruel. It was
not the coasts only that they left desolate, for in their narrow vessels they sailed up the rivers, and towns
and villages far inland were laid in ruins. Even Paris itself was threatened by them more than once.
The Carolingian line was by this time dying out in feebleness, and weak kings, unable to punish the impudent
invaders, paid them gold to depart. The Northmen accepted
 the gold, but they always returned again, each time in greater and greater numbers, ever more greedy, more
bold, and more cruel than before. With sword and firebrand they laid waste the land until there were whole
districts in the most fertile parts of France where it was said a man might wander for long days without
seeing the smoke of a chimney or hearing the bark of a dog.
"The heathen, like wolves in the night, seize upon the flocks of Christ," wails a writer of the time.
"Churches are burned, women are led away captive, the people are slain. Everywhere there is mourning. From all
sides cries and lamentations assail the ears of the king who, by his indolence, leaves his Christian folk to
Rollo settles in the North of France
After a time, some of the Northmen, under their leader, Rollo, took possession of a part of France and settled
there. And from this new base they launched even fiercer attacks on the rest of the country. At length, in the
time of Charles the Simple, the French saw that to buy the Northmen off was worse than useless, and to expel
them now that they were firmly rooted impossible. The only thing to do was to change lawless freebooters into
Charles, therefore, sent messengers to the rough, old sea king, offering him the undisputed possession of all
that north-west portion of France in which he and his warriors had already settled. In return for this, he was
to become a Christian, be baptized, and own himself vassal of the king. Rollo was not unwilling to listen to
the king's proposal, but he was not content with the land offered to him.
"The land is desolate and barren," he said, "there is not there the wherewithal to live." So he demanded more
land. Thereupon the king offered him Flanders. For he had a grudge against the count of Flanders. But Rollo
would have none of it.
 "It is nothing but a waste of bog and marsh," he said, and he demanded Brittany.
Now the part of France called Brittany had never really been in the possession of the kings of France. So all
Charles could give Rollo was the right to conquer it, if he could. And this he readily gave.
Matters being thus settled, Rollo had next to perform his part of the compact, and do homage as a vassal. Upon
the appointed day the king seated himself upon his throne with his priests and courtiers about him, and to him
came the rough old Northman and his warriors. The ceremony began, but when Rollo was told that he must kneel
before the king and kiss his feet he started back in wrath.
"No, by Heaven!" he cried. "I will kiss no man's feet!
"It must be," replied the priests, "in no other way can you hold your fief."
"Then let one of my followers do it for me," replied the proud sea-king.
And as nothing would move Rollo, Charles had to be content with that. So one of Rollo's followers was bidden
to perform the act of homage for his master. But he had as little liking as Rollo for what seemed to him a
piece of degrading foolery. He had never bent his knee to any man, and he did not mean to do it now. Striding,
therefore, up to the throne, without even bending, he seized the king's foot and raised it to his mouth. So
rough and sudden was his action that Charles fell backwards to the ground. And thus, amid the loud laughter
not only of the rude Northmen but of the Frankish courtiers also, the strange ceremony of homage ended.
After this Rollo was duly baptized, and received the Christian name of Robert, and many of his warriors
followed his example and were baptized also. Their conversion was sudden. But this was nothing to the
Northmen. For it was
 said many of them made an annual practice of it, merely for the sake of the white linen robe which they
received on the occasion.
The land which was thus given to Rollo was already known as Northmannie. It soon became Normandy, and its
people Normans. Very quickly they forgot their heathen religion and their northern speech and northern home.
Normandy, strange to say, became the best governed part of France, and the exploits of Rollo the Ganger, the
devastator of France, the pillager of monasteries, the slayer of women and children, were almost forgotten in
the fame of Robert, Duke of Normandy, the builder of churches, and framer of righteous laws.
Outwardly, wherever the Northmen settled they seemed to disappear and be merged in the native population. In
reality they imbued these populations with something of their own spirit. They were filled with a great
curiosity, they had a genius for order and government, they were fearless, energetic, and eager, always ready
to adventure and to do. Civilized, they retained much of the old vigour which as barbarian heathen had made
them such deadly and pitiless foes. Christianized, they became the passionate champions of the Catholic
Church. And the descendants of those Vikings who had refused to bend the knee to any man, and laughed aloud at
the discomfiture of their over-lord, became the great upholders of the feudal system, the impassioned
exponents of the orders of knighthood and chivalry.
The Northmen in England
England suffered from the Northmen even as did France. Here, however, they were met and checked by a skilful
soldier and statesman, Alfred the Great. Yet even he, with all his courage and perseverance, could not
altogether loosen the grip of the Northmen upon the island. At length he, too, like the king of France, was
obliged to buy peace by
 yielding part of his kingdom to the freebooters. And, by the Peace of Wedmore, Alfred assigned to the Danes
all the northern half of England. The conditions of this treaty were similar to those upon which Rollo
acquired Normandy. Guthrun the Dane was baptized, receiving the name of Athelstane and owning Alfred as
But with the Peace of Wedmore the struggle in England did not cease. It was only abated. During the rest of
Alfred's life and for more than a century after his death it continued, until in 1016 Knut the Dane became
king of all England. This Northman domination lasted until 1042, ending only fourteen years before the
conquest of England by William the Norman.
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