Harold, Viking lord of Bayeux, fl. 944-945

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

Opening page of the autograph manuscript of Richers Histories, Bamberg, MS Hist. 5

Opening page of the autograph manuscript of Richer's Histories, Bamberg, MS Hist. 5

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

Statue of Count Rollo the Ganger of Rouen, in modern-day Rouen

Statue of Count Rollo the Ganger of Rouen, in modern-day Rouen, from Wikipedia

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.

31 responses to “Harold, Viking lord of Bayeux, fl. 944-945

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  2. Swein Forkbeard

    I have been reading your blog for a long time and enjoy it immensely. Today I am wondering, do we have any more information on Harold himself, or is he only mentioned in this narrative?
    In case you are wondering, I am not an academic in this field, but I do research on it in my own time. I am currently reading Julia Smith’s “Europe After Rome” and attempting to learn some Anglo-Saxon.
    Congratulations on getting your paper into Leeds.

    Swein Forkbeard

    • Quick and honest answer: I don’t know. The MGH edition of Richer refers (at p. 132 n. 2) to various works that have a few pages on him, so there must be more to be said. Their references include Henri Prentout, Étude critique sur Dudon de Saint-Quentin et son histoire des premiers ducs normands (Paris 1916), pp. 359-363 and Eleanor Searle, Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power, 840–1066 (Berkeley 1988), pp. 74ff., among others; some other sources for Normandy and the Normans are listed on the excellent ORB page here (though the even more excellent page it links to is gone); and Elisabeth Ridel, “A-t-on vraiment parlé la « langue danoise » à Bayeux vers 940 ? Une relecture de Dudon de Saint-Quentin” in Mélanges en l’honneur de Pierre Bouet (Caen 2002), pp. 135-143, must presumably touch on him; but I’ve read none of these as yet, not even Searle I’m sorry to say. I doubt there can be much more contemporary report than this though, because Flodoard, Richer, a few charters and some saints’ lives are basically what there is and I doubt Harold was much of a donor to churches…

      • Swein Forkbeard

        It’s ok. Thank you for the sources. I can assure you that you are much more versed in this sort of thing than I am. He strikes me as an interesting sort of character given his background and placement. Well, anywho, thanks for the sources and the reply.

        • Angus McLellan

          After all these Catalans I never heard of before, it’s nice to find someone I had come across elsewhere.

          Benjamin Hudson in ‘Viking Pirates and Christian Princes’ reckons that our man Harald of Bayeux was the father of the Godred and Magnus (or more likely Maccus) Haraldsson who were active in the Irish Sea zone in the 970s and 980s. This suggestion is disputed by Claire Downham (‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland’, p. 186) and Alex Woolf (‘Pictland to Alba’, pp. 206-7).

          In case you might be deceived by Googling for books mentioning Harald, Hudson, on pp. 66-8, doesn’t have very much to say about him and adds very little, if anything, to the very interesting piece here. Downham and Woolf only mention him in passing.

          • I have a long history of disputing Benjamin Hudson’s claims myself, so I would be inclined to follow Claire and Alex in their scepticism. I don’t imagine I’m ever going to get round to reading Viking Pirates and Christian Princes, but if you happen to have a copy handy it might be interesting to know what his evidence is?

            • I think I have a library copy of that sitting around somewhere, I’ll have to have a look.

              I remember reading it while selling my body to science (seriously) but it obviously didn’t make any kind of meaningful impression on me, because I can’t remember any of it ther than being vaguely bored.

            • I just obtained a copy of Hudson’s Book, as I am interested in a possible line of descent from the Haraldsson Kings down to Cacht wife of Donnchad Mac Briain and sister of Echmarcach.

              Hudson’s evidence is apparently that the only certain information we have is that Harald is a Dane from Denmark. He first postulates that the Ui Imair are actually the progeny of Godfrey Hardecnutsson, Danish King of Northumbria.

              Harald of Bayeux disappears from Normandy in 954 AD with Rollo’s rise to power, which makes him a better candidate than either Harald Bluetooth of Denmark or Harald of Limerick to take control of the western Isles, in addition to prior
              historical ties between that region and Normandy.

  3. And this is why I need to learn French. *Sigh* Ah well.

    I’ve been wondering about the neatness of the whole Norseman->Norman shift for ages – it’s so very clean and obviously airbrushed. Not that I’m all together surprised by that, mind you, but I’m still hoping someone will get lucky and uncover an older, warts-and-all account that will give us more of an idea of the complexities of the story that have undoubtedly been glossed over. It’s not going to happen, but I can hope.

    • Eggs, do you read German? Ultimately, of course, you would be best helped by learning Latin I think, but there are more social advantages to French… As to the rest, I entirely agree; it’s by inserting poles like Harold into the tide that we can best eddy it up into something less like a sea-change. Terrible metaphor, sorry.

      • My German is pretty shonky but I could polish it up without too much trouble. I have…some Latin, I’ve done a year of it but after only one semester my ON and OE are probably as good as or better than my Latin.

        I’m going to have to come back to Latin eventually but I suspect learning French will have more direct benefits, both socially and academically, since the major Latin texts I use are all translated into English or French and I need both French and German for modern scholarship.

        • The reason I asked is that some of the MGH series (the ones subtitled Scriptores Rerum Germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) have facing German translations, but sadly this is not one from that series.

  4. There are several translations of Richer into French. Robert Latouche did a facing page one in the series Les classiques de l’historie de France au Moyen Age and there’s an older one (also facing page) by Joseph Guadet online at Google Books.

    I think therefore there would only be a smallish market for an English translation: that of people interested in early French history, but who can’t read French (Eggs Maledict being unfortunate as one of them).

    • Meh, you’re probably right at that. Lots of people in France still use Latouche as the editio princeps, which given how personally he interprets Richer’s marginalia, is problematic.

  5. I hang my head in shame – my interests are often more northerly, with a bit of Old Norse and Old English, but I need French for that too. Also for Crusading things. And for…pretty much everything. Sadly my brain struggles with Latin and all its descendants, despite finding most things Germanic relatively easy. Why? I don’t know.

    I shall track down those translations and have a look if I have time in the next couple of semesters.

  6. What an interesting story – it certainly does hint there may be more complex power structures and relationships operating in 10thC Normandy than are usually portrayed. I hope you get time to follow up with some more research.

    • Well, as to that, I hope someone else does it as my hands are full for the next little bit but I would definitely be interested. Though, it does sound as if Dr Herrick is on at least part of the case…

  7. Jon, I told you to read Herrick last year!

    I would take issue with the comment that the Norsemen to Normans shift is ‘clean and airbrushed’, but you’d expect me to say that. The chronicle sources are much more complex regarding ethnicity. And yes, 10thc Normandy was complex in terms of power relations and I don’t think any Normannist currently researching would dispute that. David Bates has said numerous times that he would love to rewrite ‘Normandy before 1066’ and there is exciting stuff being written on the Continent as alluded to above, not to mention the Norman Edge project. My suggestion is read the annals and the hagiography. Did I say that last year too? :-P

    Either way, I’m looking forward to getting to grips with early Normandy with my next year’s third years. They won’t know what’s hit them.

    • I think this is, as with diplomatic, one of those fields where the stock works read by those not specialising in the area haven’t caught up with the last twenty years’ work from close up. Normandy before 1066 is still prime reading list material, so a rewrite would be a valuable corrective to this. And if I were planning to correct this myself, I’d soak myself in the annals and hagiography as you suggest, but dammit I work on Catalonia :-P

      I’m afraid that the Experience of Power volume has actually jumped my to-read pile, because I was citing stuff in it already; I’m actually a lot further behind with other acquisitions.

  8. Justin Lake

    Thanks for the excellent blog, which I only stumbled across recently. I am actually just finishing a translation of Richer’s Historiae (a facing-page edition a la the Loebs or the I Tatti) for the new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series; it should be out at the beginning of next year.

  9. Lost images replaced and a couple of links updated…

  10. The translation by Justin Lake is now out, and makes clear that Richer was often a total fantasist. As a student of mine put it: “should we read sources who talk shit?” Cue a really interesting conversation. Richer has a habit of making up Vikings – see the long episode about the mysterious Catillus at the beginning of book 1. Flodoard, from whom Richer seemed to get most of his early stuff, has a reputation of higher reliability, but to what extent can we trust him?

    • Richer is something of a problem, though at least we do have his autograph manuscript, which is quite exciting. For invention and fantasy, though, he pales before Ralph Glaber, unfortunately his main contemporary. As for Flodoard, well, he is part translated by Bernard Bachrach, but that translation was not well reviewed, so there are trust problems even before we reach the author. Of course, all of this is evidence for something, but it’s sad for us that it’s not tenth-century politics…

      • As I’m sure you know, there is a French translation of Flodoard, ancient but serviceable and recently refurbished: Histoire de l’église de Reims, 2 vol., transl. F. Guizot, revised by N. Desgrugillers, Clermont-Ferrand, 2004. Michel Sot’s monograph is my go-to-book (Un historien et son église aux Xe siècle: Flodoard de Reims, Paris, 1993).

        • Oh, well, yeah, but the French is not much use to teach with in England or the USA. I’d assumed we were talking about teaching, I mean, for actual research purposes there’s nice new MGH editions of almost all of these texts, the one of Richer including a full facsimile of the manuscript!

          • I mentioned it because I thought that perhaps more students would have some French than some or any Latin – but maybe I’m just extrapolating from mine! It also is imaginable that some academics may be more fluent in French than in Latin themselves, and would rather browse a French translation than the original. But again, I may be wrong!

            • No, you’re probably right. My students tend to fight shy of using any of the foreign languages they supposedly possess, which is bothersome. I just don’t use French stuff on the lists unless I have no option, as a result. As for academics, I’ll read a translation first mostly, if what I want is a sense of what’s in a text, but when I’m going hunting for detail without the time to read the whole thing… well, apart from anything else, thanks to the MGH or the Pat. Lat. database, the Latin is often available from my desktop, whereas the translation will mean a library trip…

  11. Pingback: Seminars CXLVII-CXLIX: Chroniclers, Kilwa and Vikings In Normandy | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  12. Pingback: Money of post-Viking Brittany | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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