CHAPTER XI. Some Notes on the History of Normandy

The early inhabitants of Normandy submitted to the Roman legions under Titurus Sabinus in B.C. 58, only a few years before Caesar's first attempt upon Britain. By their repeated attacks upon Roman territory the Gaulish tribes had brought upon themselves the invasion which, after some stubborn fighting, made their country a province of the Roman Empire. Inter-tribal strife having now ceased, the civilisation of Rome made its way all over the country including that northern portion known as Neustria, much of which from the days of Rollo came to be called Normandy. Traces of the Roman occupation are scattered all over the province, the most remarkable being the finely preserved theatre at Lillebonne, a corruption of Juliabona, mentioned in another chapter.

In the second century Rouen, under its Roman name Rotomagos, is mentioned by Ptolemy. It was then merely the capital of the tribe of Velocasses, but in Diocletian's reign it had become not only the port of Roman Paris, but also the most important town in the province. In time the position occupied by Rotomagos became recognised as one having greater strategical advantages than Juliabona, a little further down the river, and this Gallo-Roman precursor of the modern Rouen became the headquarters of the provincial governor. The site of Rotomagos would appear to include the Palais de Justice and the Cathedral of the present day.

After the four centuries of Roman rule came the incursions of the savage hordes of northern Europe, and of the great army of Huns, under Attila, who marched through Gaul in A.D. 451. The Romans with their auxiliaries engaged Attila at Chalons - the battle in which fabulous numbers of men are said to have fallen on both sides.

The Roman power was soon completely withdrawn from Gaul, and the Franks under Clovis, after the battle of Soissons, made themselves complete masters of the country. In 511 Clovis died. He had embraced Christianity fifteen years before, having been baptised at Rheims, probably through the influence of his wife Clothilda. Then for two hundred and fifty years France was under the Merovingian kings, and throughout much of this period there was very little settled government, Neustria, together with the rest of France, suffering from the lawlessness that prevailed under these "sluggard" kings. Rouen was still the centre of many of the events connected with the history of Neustria. We know something of the story of Hilparik, a king of Neustria, whose brutal behaviour to his various queens and the numerous murders and revenges that darkened his reign, form a most unsavoury chapter in the story of this portion of France.

Following this period came the time when France was ruled by the mayors of the palace who, owing to the weakness of the sovereigns, gradually assumed the whole of the royal power. After Charles Martel, the most famous of these mayors, had defeated the Saracens at Tours, came his son Pepin-le-Bref, the father of Charlemagne. Childeric, the last of the Merovingian kings, had been put out of the way in a monastery and Pepin had become the King of France. Charlemagne, however, soon made himself greater still as Emperor of an enormous portion of Europe - France, Italy, and Germany all coming under his rule. At his death Charlemagne divided his empire. His successor Louis le Debonnaire, owing to his easy-going weakness, fell a prey to Charlemagne's other sons, and at his death, Charles the Bald became King of France and the country west of the Rhine. The other portions of the empire falling to Lothaire and the younger Louis.

During all this period, France had suffered from endless fighting and the famines that came as an unevitable consequence, and just about this time Neustria suffered still further owing to the incursions of the Danes. Even in Charlemagne's time the black-sailed ships of the Northmen had been seen hovering along the coast near the mouth of the Seine, and it has been said that the great Emperor wept at the sight of some of these awe-inspiring pirates.

In the year 841 the Northmen had sailed up the Seine as far as Rouen, but they found little to plunder, for during the reign of the Merovingian kings, the town had been reduced to a mere shadow of its former prosperity. There had been a great fire and a great plague, and its ruin had been rendered complete during the civil strife that succeeded the death of Charlemagne. Wave after wave came the northern invasions led by such men as Bjorn Ironside, and Ragnar Lodbrog. Charles the Bald, fearing to meet these dreaded warriors, bribed them away from the walls of Paris in the year 875. But they came again twelve years afterwards in search of more of the Frenchmen's gold. When Charles the Fat, the German Emperor, became also King of France, he had to suffer for his treacherous murder of a Danish chief, for soon afterwards came the great Rollo with a large fleet of galleys, and Paris was besieged once more. Odo, Count of Paris, held out successfully, but when the king came from Germany with his army, instead of attacking the Danes, he induced them to retire by offering them a bribe of 800 lbs. of silver. Before long Odo became King of France, but after ten years of constant fighting, he died and was succeeded by Charles the Simple. This title does an injustice to his character, for he certainly did more for France than most of his predecessors. Finding the Northmen too firmly established in Neustria to have any hope of successfully driving them out of the country, he made a statesmanlike arrangement with Rollo. The Dane was to do homage to the French king, to abandon his gods Thor, Odin and the rest for Christianity, and in return was to be made ruler of the country between the River Epte and the sea, and westwards as far as the borders of Brittany Rollo was also to be given the hand of the Princess Gisela in marriage. Rouen became the capital of the new Duchy of Normandy, and the old name of Neustria disappeared.

The Northmen were not at this time numerous, but they continued to come over in considerable numbers establishing centres such as that of Bayeux, where only Danish was spoken. As in England, this warrior people showed the most astonishing adaptability to the higher civilisation with which they had come into contact, and the new generations that sprang up on French soil added to the vigour and daring of their ancestors the manners and advanced customs of France, although the Northmen continued to be called "The Pirates" for a considerable time. When Rollo died he was succeeded by his son William Longsword, and from an incident mentioned by Mr T.A. Cook in his "Story of Rouen," we can see the attitude of the Normans towards Charles the Simple. He had sent down to Rouen two court gallants to sympathise with the Princess Gisela, his daughter, for the rough treatment she had received at the hands of Rollo, but they were both promptly siezed and hanged in what is now the Place du Marche Vieux.

Great stone castles were beginning to appear at all the chief places in Normandy, and when Duke Richard had succeeded Harold Blacktooth we find that the Duchy was assuming an ordered existence internally. The feudal system had then reached its fullest development, and the laws established by Rollo were properly administered. With the accession of Hugh Capet to the throne of France, Normandy had become a most loyal as well as powerful fief of the crown. The tenth century witnessed also an attempt on the part of the serfs of the Duchy to throw off something of the awful grip of the feudal power. These peasants were the descendants of Celts, of Romans, and of Franks, and their efforts to form a representative assembly bear a pathetic resemblance to the movement towards a similar end in Russia of to-day. The representatives of the serfs were treated with the most fearful cruelty and sent back to their villages; but the movement did not fail to have its effects, for the condition of the villains in Normandy was always better than in other parts of France.

Broadly speaking, all the successors of Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, governed the country with wisdom and ability, and although there was more or less constant war, either with the French, who were always hoping to regain the lost province, or with rebellious barons who disputed the authority of the dukes, yet the country progressed steadily and became prosperous. Abbeys and churches that the invaders had laid waste were rebuilt on a larger scale. At Jumieges there are still to be seen some remains of the church that William Longsword began to build for the unfortunate monks who had been left homeless after their abbey had been destroyed by the "Pirates." Richard I., who died in 996, had added to the Cathedral at Rouen, and the abbey of St Ouen prospered greatly in the religious revival that became so widespread during the eleventh century. Duke Richard II. had been assisted on one occasion by Olaf, King of Norway, and before his return to the north that monarch, impressed no doubt by the pomp of the ceremonial, was in 1004 baptised in the cathedral at Rouen.

After Richard II. came Robert the Magnificent, who was called also Robert the Devil by the people. It was he, who from the walls of his castle at Falaise, if the legend be true, first saw Arlette the tanner's daughter who afterwards became the Mother of William the Bastard. As a boy William had a perilous life, and it is almost marvellous that he survived to change his appellation to that of "Conqueror." Robert the Magnificent had joined one of the crusades to the Holy Land when William was only seven years old, but before he left Normandy, he had made it known that he wished the boy to succeed him. For twenty years there was civil war between the greater barons and the supporters of the heir, but in the end William showed himself sufficiently strong to establish his power. He won a great battle at Val-es-Dunes where he had been met by the barons led by Guy of Burgundy, and, having taken some of the most formidable fortresses in the Duchy, he turned his attention to his foes outside with equal success. Soon after this William married Mathilda a daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders, but although by this act he made peace with her country, William soon found himself in trouble with the church. Bishop Mauger, whom he had appointed to the See of Rouen, found fault with the marriage owing to its being within the forbidden degrees of relationship, and the papal sanction having been refused, William only obtained his wishes through the agency of Lanfranc. All his life William appears to have set a stern example of purity in family life, and his relations with the church, from this time to his death, seem to have been most friendly. It was largely due to his religious life as well as the support he gave to the monasteries that William was able to give the colour of a religious crusade to his project for invading England. Harold had slighted the sacredness of the holy relics of the saints of Normandy, and William was to show England that their king's action was not to pass unpunished. In this way the Norman host that assembled at Dives, while the great fleet was being prepared, included many who came from outside William's dominions. After the whole of England had been completely subjugated William had his time and attention largely taken up with affairs in Normandy. His son Robert was soon in open rebellion, and assisted by the French King, Philip I., Robert brought about the death of his father, for it was while devastating a portion of French territory that William received the injury which resulted in his death. Robert then became Duke of Normandy, and there followed those sanguinary quarrels between the three brothers William Rufus, King of England, Henry Beauclerc and Robert. Finally, after his return from Palestine, Robert came to England to endeavour to make peace with his younger brother Henry, who was now king, but the quarrel was not to be settled in this way. Henry, determined to add Normandy to the English crown, crossed the channel with a large army and defeated his brother at Tinchebrai in 1106. With the accession of Stephen to the English throne in 1135, came the long struggle between that king and Maud. When Henry II. married Eleanor of Aquitaine, not only that great province but also Maine and Anjou came under his sway, so that for a time Normandy was only a portion of the huge section of France belonging to the English Crown. During his long reign Henry spent much time in Normandy, and Argentan and Avranches are memorable in connection with the tragedy of Thomas a Becket. During the absence of Richard Coeur-de-Lion in Palestine John became exceedingly friendly with Philip Augustus, the French King, but when Richard was dead he found cause to quarrel with the new English king and, after the fall of the Chateau Gaillard, John soon discovered that he had lost the Duchy of Normandy and had earned for himself the name of "Lackland."

From this time, namely, the commencement of the thirteenth century, Normandy belonged to the crown of France although English armies were, until 1450, in frequent occupation of the larger towns and fortresses.