I need to spend some quality time with Richer of Rheims’s Historiae. It’s almost the only narrative source that pays any attention to my particular corner of Europe that’s even close to contemporary, though this is mainly because Richer’s teacher, the astronomical researcher, ecclesiastical politician extraordinaire, and eventual pope, Gerbert of Aurillac, or Gerbert of Rheims, or Pope Sylvester II, studied in Catalonia. He did so at such a time as to be taken to Rome by Marquis Borrell II, though, so Richer is practically the only cispyrenean source to even name Borrell (and he calls him Dux citerior hispaniae, which raises a whole bunch of questions about Borrell’s self-presentation). That’s why I should be reading him much more closely. And if not that, it should be because the excellent Monumenta Germaniae Historica edition includes a full facsimile of the autograph manuscript, including Richer’s own annotations, so you can really get to grips with what he was doing.1
However, why I currently want to read him is because I’ve just read something about which I had no idea. I was, obviously given my reading, dimly aware that in 945 King Louis IV of the West Franks had the ill luck to be captured by the Normans, whom he’d been using as allies against his nobility, and only rescued by his arch-enemy Hugh the Great, Duke of Francia.2 But apparently this is not the whole story, because according to Richer the leader who actually captured Louis was not the Norman Count of Rouen, but someone whom the other contemporary chronicler, Flodoard of Rheims (Rheims was really where history happened those days eh?) called “Hagroldus Nordmannus, qui Baiocis præerat”, `Harold the Norseman who used to lead the people of Bayeux’.3 And although then, and probably in 944 when Duke Hugh had beseiged Bayeux but not taken it, Harold was against the Duke, before very long he was allied with him, that is to say he was not a Norman vassal but another independent leader following his own inclinations.4
What this mainly has me thinking is how we sometimes make Normandy too, well, normative. In too many histories the Viking Age is supposed to end with King Charles the Simple establishing Rollo the Ganger and his men at Rouen and thus stopping attacks everywhere (except places like Brittany that didn’t count as anywhere from Rheims). This is often reckoned as the only thing Charles the Simple got right, though I wonder whether Philip Augustus felt that way as Richard the Lionheart charged out of the Anglo-Norman bridgehead once again. But here is Harold to remind us that Rollo need not have been the only one, just the most successful, whose descendants wound up ruling England and nearly half of France and even in the mid- to late-tenth century clearly being the ones whose story was going to matter.5 But there were, apparently others, or at least one other, and we just don’t know where he’d come from. How many “Viking allies” did Louis have? Had he put them there, or was this another bright idea by Charles that a later king came to regret, and that Flodoard, Richer and most of all Dudo of Saint-Quentin already knew, when they wrote, hadn’t lasted? How many Viking princes might Charles have put along that coast, in fact? Harold apparently didn’t enlist the Church structures of his area in his own cause in the way that Duke Richard I of Normandy (I mean Count Richard of Rouen) did, or his local propaganda specialists, and so doesn’t get the same sort of record.6 Also, it can’t be denied that the eventually-Norman dukes were particularly successful and so survived to be recorded in more detail; but the fact that Richard was later able to take Bayeux over shouldn’t be allowed to make Harold a priori less significant than the extremely young Richard in the years before then. I wouldn’t want to guess which one King Louis was more scared by in 945. I bet there’s more where this came from too. Maybe after Leeds.
1. H. Hoffmann (ed.), Richer von Saint-Remi: Historiae, Monumenta Germania Historica (Scriptores) XXXVIII (Hannover 2000); I wonder if there’s a market for an English translation of this? Someone must be doing one.
2. E. g. Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (London 1983), p. 316:
By 942, peace was restored between the king and all his nobles. The balance of power among the nobility, however, was altered radically with the murder of William Longsword in 942 by henchmen of Count Arnulf of Flanders, and the death of Herbert II of Vermandois the following year. Both left heirs in their minority. Louis quickly made peace with the four sons of Herbert and seized his opportunity to exert an influence in Normandy. In 944 he managed to get himself recognised by the Normandy Vikings as regent for William’s son Richard I (942-96). For a time Louis’ Viking allies proved invaluable in helping to pay back in kind some of the excesses of Hugh the Great’s vassals…. But in 945 Louis was taken prisoner by his Viking allies and only rescued from them, in exchange for Louis IV’s youngest son, by Hugh the Great.
3. Philippe Lauer (ed. & transl.), Les Annales de Flodoard (Paris 1905), s. a. 945, cit. Samantha Kahn Herrick, “Heirs to the Apostles: Saintly Power and Ducal Authority in Hagiography of Early Normandy” in Robert Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam J. Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 11-24 at p. 19 n. 26.
4. Flodoard & Richer, both s. a. 945, cit. Herrick as above.
5. See for this background Pierre Bauduin, “Chefs normands et élites franques , fin IXe-début Xe siècle” in idem (ed.), Les fondations scandinaves enOccident et les débuts du duché de Normandie (Caen 2005), pp. 181-194. I ought also to mention, and most of all read, Jason Glenn, Politics and History in the Tenth Century. The Work and World of Richer of Reims, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 60 (Cambridge 2004).
6. This is essentially the process that Herrick covers in “Heirs to the Apostles”, which is the article that sparked this whole post and is really quite sharp.