|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
WHY THE PEOPLE OF THE TENTH CENTURY PRAYED THE LORD TO PROTECT THEM FROM THE FURY OF THE NORSEMEN
 IN the third and fourth centuries, the Germanic tribes of
central Europe had broken through the defences of the Empire
that they might plunder Rome and live on the fat of the
land. In the eighth century it became the turn of the Germans
to be the "plundered-ones." They did not like this at all, even
if their enemies were their first cousins, the Norsemen, who
lived in Denmark and Sweden and Norway.
What forced these hardy sailors to turn pirate we do not
know, but once they had discovered the advantages and pleasures
of a buccaneering career there was no one who could stop
them. They would suddenly descend upon a peaceful Frankish
or Frisian village, situated on the mouth of a river. They
would kill all the men and steal all the women. Then they
would sail away in their fast-sailing ships and when the soldiers
of the king or emperor arrived upon the scene, the robbers
were gone and nothing remained but a few smouldering
During the days of disorder which followed the death of
Charlemagne, the Northmen developed great activity. Their
fleets made raids upon every country and their sailors established
small independent kingdoms along the coast of Holland
and France and England and Germany, and they even found
 their way into Italy. The Northmen were very intelligent.
They soon learned to speak the language of their subjects and
gave up the uncivilised ways of the early Vikings (or Sea-Kings)
who had been very picturesque but also very unwashed
and terribly cruel.
THE HOME OF THE NORSEMEN
Early in the tenth century a Viking by the name of Rollo
had repeatedly attacked the coast of France. The king of
France, too weak to resist these northern robbers, tried to
bribe them into "being good." He offered them the province
of Normandy, if they would promise to stop bothering the rest
of his domains. Rollo accepted this bargain and became "Duke
THE NORSEMEN GO TO RUSSIA
 But the passion of conquest was strong in the blood of his
children. Across the channel, only a few hours away from the
European mainland, they could see the white cliffs and the
green fields of England. Poor England had passed through
difficult days. For two hundred years it had been a Roman
colony. After the Romans left, it had been conquered by the
 Angles and the Saxons, two German tribes from Schleswig.
Next the Danes had taken the greater part of the country
and had established the kingdom of Cnut. The Danes had
been driven away and now (it was early in the eleventh century)
another Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, was on the
throne. But Edward was not expected to live long and he
had no children. The circumstances favoured the ambitious
dukes of Normandy.
THE NORMANS LOOK ACROSS THE CHANNEL
In 1066 Edward died. Immediately William of Normandy
crossed the channel, defeated and killed Harold of
Wessex (who had taken the crown) at the battle of Hastings,
and proclaimed himself king of England.
In another chapter I have told you how in the year 800 a
German chieftain had become a Roman Emperor. Now in
the year 1066 the grandson of a Norse pirate was recognised
as King of England.
Why should we ever read fairy stories, when the truth
of history is so much more interesting and entertaining?
THE WORLD OF THE NORSEMEN
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