Viking Raids in France and the Siege of Paris (882 – 886)

Count Odo defends Paris against the Norsemen, romantic painting by Jean-Pierre Franque (1837), Galerie des BataillesThe Annals of St. Vaast gives a long account of raids by Vikings in the years 882 to 886, including their siege of Paris in 885-886.

882 - The Northmen in the month of October intrenched themselves at Conde, and horribly devastated the kingdom of Carloman,’ while King Charles with his army took his stand on the Somme at Barleux. The Northmen ceased not from rapine and drove all the inhabitants who were left beyond the Somme . . .

[King Carloman gave them battle] and the Franks were victorious, and killed nigh a thousand of the Northmen. Yet they were in no wise discomfited by this battle . . . . They went from Conde back to their ships, and thence laid waste the whole kingdom with fire and sword as far as the Oise. They destroyed houses, and razed monasteries and churches to the ground, and brought to their death the servants of our holy religion by famine and sword, or sold them beyond the sea. They killed the dwellers in the land and none could resist them.

Abbot Hugo, when he heard of these calamities, gathered an army and came to aid the king. When the Northmen came back from a plundering expedition . . . he, in company with the king, gave them chase. They, however, betook themselves to a wood, and scattered hither and yon, and finally returned to their ships with little loss. In this year died Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, a man justly esteemed by all.

883 - . . . In the spring the Northmen left Condc and sought the country along the sea. Here they dwelt through the summer; they forced the Flemings to flee from their lands, and raged everywhere, laying waste the country with fire and sword. As autumn approached, Carloman, the king, took his station with his army in the canton of Vithman at Miami, opposite Lavier, in order to protect the kingdom. The Northmen at the end of October came to Lavier with cavalry, foot soldiers, and all their baggage. Ships, too, came from the sea up the Somme and forced the king and his whole army to flee and drove them across the river Oise. The invaders went into winter quarters in the city of Amiens and devastated all the land to the Seine and on both sides of the Oise, and no man opposed them; and they burned with fire the monasteries and churches of Christ . . . .

884 - At this time died Engelwin, bishop of Paris, and the abbot Gauzelin was put in his stead. The Northmen ceased not to take Christian people captive and to kill them, and to destroy churches and houses and burn villages. Through all the streets lay bodies of the clergy, of laymen, nobles, and others, of women, children, and suckling babes. There was no road nor place where the dead did not lie; and all who saw Christian people slaughtered were filled with sorrow and despair.

Meanwhile, because the king was still a child, all the nobles came together in the city of Compiegne to consider what should be done. They took counsel, and decided to send to the Northmen the Dane Sigfried, who was a Christian and faithful to the king, and the nephew of Heoric the Dane, that he might treat with the nobles of his people and ask them to accept tribute money and leave the kingdom.

He accordingly undertook to carry out the task assigned to him, went to Amiens, and announced his mission to the leaders of the Northmen. After long consultations and much going to and fro, these decided to impose upon the king and the Franks a tribute of twelve thousand pounds of silver, according to their manner of weighing. After both parties had given hostages, the people who dwelt beyond the Oise were secure in some degree. They enjoyed this security from the day of the Purification of St. Mary until the month of October.

The Northmen, however, made raids in their accustomed manner beyond the Scheldt, and laid waste all things with fire and sword, and totally destroyed churches, monasteries, cities and villages, and put the people to slaughter. After the holy Easter festival the collection of the tribute began, and churches and church property were ruthlessly plundered. At last, the whole sum being finally brought together; the Franks assembled with a view of resisting the Northmen should they break their pledges, but the Normans burned their camp and retreated from Amiens . . . .

885 - [In December of this same year Carloman was accidentally killed while on a boar hunt.] As soon as Emperor Charles [the Fat] received tidings of this, he made a hasty journey and came to Pontion; and all the men of Carloman’s kingdom went to him there and submitted to his sway . . . .

On the twenty-fifth of July the whole host of the Northmen forced their way to Rheims. Their ships had not yet come, so they crossed the Seine in boats they found there, and quickly fortified themselves. The Franks followed them. All those who dwelt in Neustria and Burgundy gathered to make war upon the Northmen. But when they gave battle it befell that Ragnold, duke of Maine, was killed, with a few others. Therefore all the Franks retreated in great sorrow and accomplished nothing.

Thereupon the rage of the Northmen was let loose upon the land. They thirsted for fire and slaughter; they killed Christian people and took them captive and destroyed churches; and no man could resist them.

Again the Franks made ready to oppose them, not in battle, but by building fortifications to prevent the passage of their ships. They built a castle on the river Oise at the place which is now called Pontoise, and appointed Aletramnus to guard it. Bishop Gauzelin fortified the city of Paris.

In the month of November the Northmen entered the Oise, and besieged the castle the Franks had built. They cut off the water supply from the castle’s garrison, for it depended on the river for water and had no other. Soon they who were shut up in the castle began to suffer for lack of water. What more need be said? They surrendered on condition that they be allowed to go forth unharmed. After hostages had been exchanged, Aletramnus and his men went to Beauvais. The Northmen burned the castle and carried off all that had been left by the garrison, who had been permitted to depart only on condition that they would leave everything behind except their horses and arms.

Elated with victory, the Northmen appeared before Paris, and at once attacked a tower, confident that they could take it quickly because it was not yet fully fortified. But the Christians defended it manfully and the battle raged from morning till evening. The night gave a truce to fighting and the Northmen returned to their ships. Bishop Gauzelin and Count Odo worked with their men all night long to strengthen the tower against assaults. The next day the Northmen returned and tried to storm the tower, and they fought fiercely till sunset. The Northmen had lost many of their men and they returned to their ships. They pitched a camp before the city and laid siege to it and bent all their energies to capture it. But the Christians fought bravely and stood their ground.

886 - On the sixth of February those in the city suffered a severe reverse. The river rose and washed away the Little Bridge. When the bishop heard of this disaster he sent brave and noble men to guard the tower, so that they might begin to rebuild the broken bridge when morning broke. The Northmen knew all that had happened. They arose before sunrise, hurried with all their forces to the tower, surrounded it on all sides so that no reinforcements could reach the garrison, and tried to take the tower by storm.

The guard resisted valiantly, and the clamor of the multitude arose to heaven. The bishop was on the city wall with all the inhabitants. The people wept and groaned because they could not aid their own. The bishop commended them all to Christ because there was nothing else that he could do. The Northmen tried to break in the gate of the tower and finally set fire to it. Those who were within, weakened by wounds, were conquered by fire; and to the shame of Christianity, they were, killed in divers ways and cast into the river. The Northmen then destroyed the tower; and afterward they ceased not to assault the city itself.

The bishop was heartbroken over this heavy loss. He straightway sent to Count Herkenger and begged him to go at once to Germany and ask Henry, duke of Austrasia, to aid him and the Christian people. Herkenger hastened to carry out the mission entrusted to him, and persuaded Henry to come with an army to Paris. He, however, accomplished nothing there and soon returned to his own country.

Then Gauzelin, who sought in all possible ways to help the Christian people, decided to come to a friendly understanding with Sigfried, king of the Danes, to secure the deliverance of the city from siege.

Unhappily, while negotiations were going on, the bishop fell into sore infirmity. He ended his life and was buried in his city. The Northmen were aware of his death; and before it was announced to the citizens, the Northmen proclaimed from the gates that the bishop was dead. The people were exhausted by the siege and overwhelmed by the death of their father; they lost courage and abandoned themselves to sorrow. But Odo, the illustrious count, gave them renewed strength with his brave words.

The Northmen ceased not to attack the city daily; many were killed and still more were disabled by wounds, and food began to give out in the city. At this time Hugo, the venerable abbot, departed this life and was buried in the monastery of St. German Antisdoro. Odo saw how the people were falling into despair, and he went forth secretly to seek aid from the nobles of the kingdom, and to, send word to the emperor that the city would soon be lost unless help came. When Odo returned to Paris he found the people lamenting his absence. Nor did he reenter the city without a remarkable incident. The Northmen had learned that he was coming back, and they blocked his way to the gate. But Odo, though his horse was killed, struck down his enemies right and left, forced his way into the city, and brought joy to the anxious people . . . .

[The siege had lasted eight months when the emperor came to relieve the city.]  It was in the autumn that he appeared before Paris with a very strong army…But he did not force them to raise the siege.  He made terms with them and signed a shameful treaty.  He promised to pay a ransom for the city, and gave them leave to march unopposed into Burgundy, to plunder it during the winter.

 

This translation is from Readings in European History by James Harvey Robinson (Boston, 1904).

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