Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Norman Dukes, 912—1002

The country which lies on both sides of the lower course of the Seine formed, at the beginning of the tenth century, part of the dominions of Charles the Simple, king of the West Franks, who had inherited so much of the dominions of Charles the Great as lay west of a line roughly drawn from the Scheldt to the Mediterranean through the lower course of the Rhone. Danes and Norwegians, known on the Continent as Normans, plundered Charles's dominions as they had plundered England, and at last settled in them as they had settled in parts of England.

In 912 Charles the Simple ceded to their leader, Hrolf, a territory of which the capital was Rouen, and which became known as Normandy—the land of the Normans. Hrolf became the first Duke of the Normans, but his men were fierce and rugged, and for some time their southern neighbours scornfully called him and his descendants Dukes of the Pirates. In process of time a change took place which affected both Normandy and other countries as well. The West Frankish kings were descended from Charles the Great; but they had failed to defend their subjects from the Normans, and they thereby lost hold upon their people.

One of their dependent nobles, the Duke of the French, whose chief city, Paris, formed a bulwark against the Normans advancing up the Seine, grew more powerful than themselves. At the same time the Normans were becoming more and more French in their speech and customs. At last an alliance was made between Hugh Capet, the son of Hugh the Great, Duke of the French, and Richard the Fearless, Duke of the Normans. The race of Charles the Great was dethroned, and Hugh became king of the French. In name he was king over all the territory which had been governed by Charles the Simple. In reality that happened in France which Æthelred had been trying to prevent in England. Hugh ruled directly over his own duchy of France, a patch of land of which Paris was the capital.

The great vassals of the crown, who answered to the English ealdormen, only obeyed him when it was their interest to do so. The most powerful of these vassals was the Duke of the Normans. In 1002 the duke was Richard II.—the Good—the son of Richard the Fearless. In that year Æthelred, who was a widower, married Richard's sister, Emma. It was the beginning of a connection with Normandy which never ceased till a Norman duke made himself by conquest king of the English.

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