Gateway to the Classics: The Story of France by Mary Macgregor
The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

Rollo's Pride

Count Eudes, who had won the hearts of the people during the siege of Paris, now became King of France.

His most troublesome foe was Rollo, the Northman, who not only seized many important towns, but at the same time took pains to win the friendship of the citizens he had conquered.

When Eudes died, ten years later, his brother, Count Robert of Paris, advised the new king to make terms with Rollo.

Charles the Simple was a lad, barely nineteen years of age, and he followed Count Robert's advice, sending ambassadors to Rollo, to offer him lands and the hand of the French princess, if he would become a Christian and a vassal of the king.

Rollo promised to give up his roving ways and become a loyal subject.

So the king gave his new vassal the beautiful country which lay between the river Seine and the sea. And that part of France is now called Normandy, because the Northmen or Normans settled there.

It was the custom for every new vassal to go to the king's palace to take the oath of fealty to the sovereign.

Charles the Simple was surrounded by his courtiers when Rollo arrived. It was also, I should tell you, usual, after the oath was taken, for the vassal to kneel to kiss the king's foot.

But Rollo, though he was willing to take the oath of allegiance to Charles, was by no means willing to humble himself by kneeling to kiss the foot of the king. Moreover, his wild life had taught him little respect for such foolish customs.

"Never will I bend the knee to any man, nor will I kiss the foot of any man," cried Rollo, in a voice that no one dared to gainsay.

But some one must kiss the king's foot, and if Rollo would not, well, one of the Norman soldiers should do it in his stead.

So a rough Viking was unwillingly pushed to the front. At his master's command, refusing to kneel, he seized the king's foot and thrust it carelessly against his face, causing Charles to fall backward on his seat, amid the rude jests and laughter of the Northmen.

Rollo was now created the first Duke of Normandy, and this wild sea-roving Northman became the great-grandfather of William the Conqueror.

The nobles, with Count Robert of Paris at their head, now began to grow angry with their king, because he would have nothing to do with them, but chose as his favourite a man of humble birth, who was dishonest, and who daily grew more proud and haughty.

At length Count Robert demanded that the favourite should be dismissed, and when the king refused to listen to his demand, all the nobles rebelled and fought a great battle against Charles at Soissons in 923 a.d.

The nobles won the day, but Count Robert was slain. War, however, was still carried on by his son, Hugh the White, until at length Charles was a prisoner in the hands of his barons. For seven years he was carried from dungeon to dungeon, until he died.

Hugh the White, had he wished it, might now have become king, but instead of ruling himself, he sent for Louis, the son of Charles the Simple, who had been brought up in England.

Louis did little save quarrel with his nobles, as did also his son and grandson when they, each in his turn, became King of France.

And during these reigns the nobles grew ever more powerful, until Hugh the White's son, Hugh Capet, Count of France, was king in all but name.

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