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Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy

At the end of the first millennium A.D., the Vikings were a thorn in the side of any coastal area. The particular tormentor for the Franks at the mouth of the Seine was a Viking chieftain by the name of Rollo. His origins are in some doubt. He could have been expelled from Denmark or he could have been an enormous Norwegian that carried the appellate ‘The Walker” because he was too big for any horse to carry him. The controversy of his origins continues to this day.

While his origins are in doubt, his influence in Northern France is not.

In 885, with France in civil disarray, 30,000 Norsemen in 1400 boats traveled up the Seine and laid siege to Paris. The Parisians bribed them to continue up the river and torment the Burgundians. Surprisingly, Burgundy didn’t appreciate the gesture and harbored distrust and disgust for Paris for centuries thereafter.

Sometime between 900 and 910, Rollo had established a base at the mouth of the Seine where he could raid the area. In 911, he boldly made a play for Paris. Undaunted by his failure, he attacked Chartres. While he still failed to gain a foothold in the interior of France, he had gotten the Franks attention and hung around.

Charles “the Simple”, king of the Franks, finally got wise to the fact that Rollo wasn’t going away.

The Baptism of Rollo, from a fourteenth century French Manuscript in the Toulouse Library.

The Baptism of Rollo, from a fourteenth century French Manuscript in the Toulouse Library.

Charles offered Rollo a deal: In exchange for the Viking’s allegiance, he would give Rollo the eternal rights to the Duchy of Normandy. Furthermore, Rollo would convert to Christianity and take the less threatening name of Robert.

For Charles, it was an easy deal to make since he hadn’t controlled Normandy for some time…and even when he had, it was under constant attack. He could pawn off the need to protect the Seine to someone else.

Rollo, on the other hand, gained respectability and a firm base from which to raid other locales. To further sweeten the deal, Charles gave Rollo his daughter’s hand in marriage.

All that was left was executing the deal.

Rollo was summoned, baptized, and swore allegiance to Charles. He was then ordered to kiss the king’s foot in an apparent show of humility…or humiliation. After on-the-spot negotiations, it was agreed that one of Rollo’s men would enjoy the osculari pedes. Instead of kneeling to the ground, though, the Viking picked up the king’s foot sending him off his feet. The court erupted in laughter. With the mutual humiliation complete, the deal was done.

Rollo was true to his word, but only technically. After Charles’ death, he considered his agreement fulfilled and resumed westward expansion. While he gain more land, at that point his men had intermarried with the local women and had become proper Normans.

The Vikings in Normandy were now officially the English’s problem…and history would prove it wasn’t an empty threat when Rollo’s great-great-great-grandson William the Conqueror launched the Norman Invasion against England.

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