The Founding of Normandy

Map of France showing Normandy, the region given to Rollo by Charles the Simple.

Map of France showing Normandy, the region given to Rollo by Charles the Simple.

In 911, a Viking leader named Rollo, who had been based by the estuary of the River Seine close to Rouen in France for about a decade, launched an unsuccessful raid on Paris. Later in that year, he went on to besiege Chartres, where, again, he was unsuccessful. 

The Creation of a Buffer State in France 

After some deliberation, the local rulers, including the French King, Charles the Simple, decided that they were unlikely to get rid of Rollo, whose men were still firmly rooted in the heart of the French kingdom, and that a truce was the better approach.

Charles agreed to offer Rollo the north-western corner of France (from the River Epte to the sea) in return for Rollo’s allegiance. It was in fact a smart compromise: the territory given to Rollo was the frequently-attacked coastal frontier, and putting it in the hands of a Viking ally would spare the Franks (as the French were then called), from having to deal with invaders. This would enable them to focus on improving their kingdom, by that point in a poor state because of extended civil strife.

From Rollo to Robert

As part of the agreement, Rollo, his court and army, converted to Christianity and he took the name of Robert. Rollo’s alliance to the king did not require him to renounce raiding territory outside Charles’ jurisdiction, and from the point of view of land acquisition, he continued to act as Viking chief, carrying out expeditions and expanding his territory when he could.    

The Baptism of Rollo, from a fourteenth century French Manuscript in the Toulouse Library.

The baptism of Rollo, from a fourteenth-century French manuscript in the Toulouse Library.

The Benefits of Allegiance: Land and a Princess’ Hand 

The swearing of allegiance to a king was an official ceremony. Rollo had to put his hands in those of Charles the Simple, after which the king offered him his daughter’s hand in marriage, and confirmed his right to the land between the Epte and the sea, and all of Brittany as a hereditary estate. 

Kissing the King’s Foot 

At this point in the ceremony, the bishops present suggested that Rollo kiss the king’s foot, as a sign of submission. It was probably an idea intended to humiliate Rollo, and was not taken very well.

After some discussion, it was agreed that one of Rollo’s men would do it. However, the person chosen lifted the king’s foot, and, without bending down, brought it up to his mouth. Not surprisingly the king fell over, amid general laughter in the court. Following this amusing scene, the king and his men swore to honour the concession to Rollo.