The making of the Duchy of Normandy

Rollo, Count of Rouen (911-933)

The treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, according to legend, illustration from a school text book, early 20th centuryThe Carolingian kings or their counts frequently managed to overcome the Vikings in the rare battles where they were lined up against them. They were never able to dislodge them from their bases, however, or prevent the repeated pillaging raids. Charles the Simple therefore decided to grant the Seine Vikings the concession of a territorial responsibility and jurisdiction in return for peace and military aid.

The accord was passed in 911 at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, on the frontier of Norman territory. This was in fact only attested by an act of chancellery issued by Charles the Simple, dated 918, which briefly mentions the lands granted to the Seine Normans.

The baptism of Rollo, chronicle, 15th century. [Bibliothèque de Toulouse]Whether de facto or by right, the accord made Rollo the new Count of Rouen, but, in return, imposed as a requirement the baptism of the pagan Viking leader which was as much a political act as a religious one. The territory granted to Rollo still represented the dwelling place of a population which was mostly Christian, something the new leader was not in a position to ignore. He had to negotiate with their natural leader the Archbishop of Rouen and with Robert, former representative of royal power in the region, Duke of the Franks, Marquis of Neustria and a man soon to be king, who gave him his baptismal name. The Viking Rollo became 'Count Robert'.

Rollo and the Bishop of Rouen, chronicle, 15th century. [Berlin Staatsbibliothek]Rollo himself and his entourage probably remained close to their pagan traditions, but the new count did not abstain from seeking the support of the church and notably sponsored the return of relics to the abbey of Saint-Ouen, near Rouen. Recumbent statue on the tomb of Rollo in Rouen cathedral (13th century.), photo J. Renaud.He was at pains to enforce the rule of law and a civil peace. His justice became the subject of edifying accounts.

The leader of the Normans worked hard at expanding his domain. In 924 he was confirmed in the possession of Bessin and Hiémois, and led his attacks to the west against the Bretons of Cotentin and Avranchin. It was still as a Viking that he launched expeditions to the east in the County of Flanders. The Norman coast remained a haunt for the Viking bands, especially those operating from England, and Rouen was a market for the fruits of their pillaging.

previous page    next page