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Friday, July 28, 2023
#SummerTime #History: Discover the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte and the rise of the House of Normandy by Cathie Dunn #HistoricalFiction @cathiedunn
The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte
by Cathie Dunn
Or, how Rollo the Viking was latinised…
Many readers will now be familiar with Rollo the Viking – ever since he featured in the popular TV series, Vikings.
But I’m not going into the historical timeline errors of the rather inventive plot of this exciting series. Instead, I’m looking at a part of Rollo’s life that changed his outlook, his life – and that gave him the power he craved:
The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.
Rollo (or likely Hrólfr, to use the Norse spelling – Rollo is a latinised version) was a Viking leader who took part in raids and sieges in the northern region of what is now France, including modern Normandy, Brittany, Paris, and across to Burgundy.
|Statue of Rollo, Rouen, France. (c) Cathie Dunn|
He is first mentioned at the Siege of Paris, in 986, when he refused to leave with the money offered by Count Odo of Paris (who later became king) and continued the siege. But eventually, Rollo had to give up when reinforcements came from the Frankish king, Charles the Fat. Undeterred, he continued to harass the Franks living along the Neustrian coast, and along the Seine estuary over the years, as well as attacking Burgundy (with the Frankish king’s tacit approval, it appears). Around this time (or even before Paris), he captured Rouen, and the strategic town on the Seine became his base.
After besieging the small town (village?) of Bayeux at some point in the aftermath of Paris (possibly in 889), Rollo was married ‘in more danico’ (in a Pagan handfasting ritual) to Poppa of Bayeux, herself a historical character whose family tree is somewhat unclear.
Like with Rollo’s obscure origins – was he Danish or Norwegian, and was he known as Rollo the ‘Ganger’, or was that a fable? – we may assume her father was an important man in the area. He may have been Bérengar, Count of Bayeux (and/or Rennes?) or the otherwise unknown Guy de Senlis. Or, as William de Jumieges wrote, was she merely a random girl he married? Yet that doesn’t explain the importance of their son, also William, as Rollo’s heir.
Poppa was at least 10-15 years younger than her new husband. She was also a Frankish Christian, so what she made of the Pagan wedding ritual is sadly lost in the mists of time. Clearly, whoever her father was, he didn’t have enough influence to force Rollo to convert.
|Statue of Poppa of Bayeux in Bayeux, France. Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.|
As for Rollo, the marriage was the first act in consolidating his power in Neustria. Years of further attacks of the region may have followed, including a brief exile in the Kingdom of the East Angles, in the early 10th century, when King Charles III, or Charles the Simple, and his nobles had managed to threaten the invaders. Temporarily…
But on his return to Neustria, Rollo continued to raid lands of various Frankish and Burgundian nobles, across Neustria and its borderlands, something the Frankish king was under pressure to stop. Rollo’s followers would have increased over time, and he became a permanent thorn in the side of Charles the Simple.
But it was in the aftermath of the unsuccessful Viking siege at Chartres that Rollo’s influence grew markedly – and somewhat ironically, given that he lost. After campaigning across the north of Neustria and beyond, Rollo and his Norsemen laid siege to the prosperous town of Chartres. But after an earlier raid in the mid-9th century, the town’s defences had been fortified, and the besiegers had a hard time trying to gain the advantage. On July 20th, 911, possibly with the aid of a ruse, the Franks and their allies beat the surprised Vikings in battle and took many prisoners. Rollo and his inner circle escaped, ravaging Neustrian lands.
Having finally had enough, Charles offered Rollo a deal: keep Rouen and the surrounding lands in Neustria at peace, ally himself to the Frankish king, call himself jarl, and settle in Rouen with his fellow Norse. Oh, and Rollo had to renounce his Pagan roots and become baptised.
Details were finalised between the two leaders, and the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte sealed the deal. Sadly, we don’t know the exact date, but given the continuous threat Rollo caused to peace in Neustria, I would guess it was mere weeks after the disaster at Chartres.
Somewhat surprisingly, Rollo agreed. We can only guess his reasons. Religious conversion is never an easy choice to make, so one assumption is that his lust for power far exceeded his old faith. By 911, he’d not appeared to have aligned himself with other Norse leaders for years. Perhaps, Rollo may have wanted to shed the image of the warring Viking, although he would defend Neustria against Burgundians and other potential threats for almost two further decades, so his days as a warrior were not over with the treaty. And just maybe, he wanted to be regarded and respected like all the other Frankish lords, with a title and legitimate lands of his own.
Following the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, Rollo was baptised, as were his children by Poppa: his son, William, and daughter, Geirlaug (or Gerloc), who took on the Latin name of Adela. I’m sure this pleased their mother, Poppa, greatly, although she is not mentioned at all. Robert, count of Neustria (and later briefly King Robert I), became Rollo’s godfather, and the Rollo took on his godfather’s name following baptism.
An aspect of the treaty that we can’t be certain of is his alleged Christian marriage to Gisela, supposedly a daughter of King Charles III. There is no record of her – legitimate or otherwise, and only few chroniclers mention her. There are also no children recorded.
Did Gisela exist? And if yes, did Rollo set Poppa aside to wed her? If she’d been plain Poppa, cast aside, and not the daughter of an important man, the question remains how Rollo could keep William as his heir in the rather traditional Frankish society. His power was still growing. In that case, Rollo would have tried desperately to have a legitimate heir.
But his relationship with his son, who he appointed jarl in 927/8, even though he continued to live for another few years, tell us otherwise…
The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte paved the way for Rollo to turn from raider to respectable lord – to join the Frankish nobility (albeit under the Norse title of jarl), increase his power in Neustria and beyond, and become an important part in the defence of the West Frankish kingdom at a time of great upheaval and political intrigues between the Carolingian branches. It did not make him duke, however, even though various later sources gave him the title. And the treaty did not create Normandy, but it was the beginning of the conversion from Neustria to the lands of the Normands.
The treaty gave Rollo the power to expand his territory, which his son William defended with his life. It was his grandson, Richard, who was likely the first duke. Thus, the rise of the House of Normandy had begun…
A brutal Viking raid heralds the dawn of a new, powerful dynasty
– the House of Normandy
Neustria, Kingdom of the West Franks
Fourteen-year-old Poppa’s life changes when Northmen land near Bayeux. Count Bérengar, her father, submits to them, and she is handfasted to Hrólfr, the Northmen’s heathen leader, as part of their agreement.
To her relief, Hrólfr leaves immediately in search of further conquest, only returning to claim her years later. In the face of retaliating Franks, they flee to East Anglia, where she gives birth to their son and daughter.
When Hrólfr and Poppa return to reclaim Bayeux, his new campaign strikes at the heart of Frankish power, and King Charles of the West Franks offers him a pact he cannot refuse. In exchange for vast tracts of land in Neustria, Hrólfr must convert to Christianity and accept marriage to Gisela, the king’s illegitimate daughter.
Poppa’s world shatters. She remains in Bayeux, with her daughter, Adela. When Gisela arrives one day, demanding she hand over Adela, to be raised in Rouen, Poppa’s patience is at an end. But Gisela makes for a dangerous enemy, and only one woman will survive their confrontation high up on the cliffs.
Will Poppa live to witness the dawn of a new era?
ASCENT is the first in a new series about the early women of the House of Normandy – women whose stories have been forgotten through time.
Readers of Viking and medieval fiction will enjoy ASCENT, a fictional account of the life of Poppa of Bayeux, handfasted wife of Rollo the Viking.
Cathie writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
She loves researching for her stories, delving deep into history books and visiting castles and historic sites. Her novels have garnered praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.
Cathie is currently working on two projects: Treachery, the story of Sprota the Breton (and sequel to Ascent), and The Alchemist’s Daughter, the second in her Affair of the Poisons series. She is also writing a spin-off novella to Ascent, featuring Ranulf and his adventures on Orkney.
Cathie lives in the south of France with her husband and two rescue pets, Charlie Cat and Ellie Dog.
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