Robert I (922-23)
Chartres is located on l’Eure and as such was subject to the Viking incursions in the 9th and 10th centuries. It fell to the Vikings in 858, during the reign of Charles the Bald. It was sacked and burned. Chartres was, at the time, a city of wood and was lightly defended and fell to the surprise attack. The following map, from the Historical Atlas of the Vikings, gives an idea of some of the Viking incursions into this area up to the early 10th century. It also shows, in purple, the cession of land to Rollo after the siege of Chartres, but that's getting ahead of the story.
There is not much left in Chartres dating from the 858 incursion but there is one site that is tied to this attack. In the crypt of the cathedral of Chartres is a well that likely dates back to Gallo-Roman times. This well is about 100' deep and is known by several names, including the 'saint's well,' in memory of monks who were supposedly thrown into the well in the 858 attack.
This attack triggered defensive maneuvers by the Carolingians and the development of fortifications on the Seine between Pitres and Pont de l’Arche, constructed by Charles the Bald. Robert the Strong guarded part of the Seine valley while additional fortifications at LeMans provided further protection for Chartres. This offered respite for Chartres, which enjoyed about 25 years of relief from direct attacks. During this time Chartres came under the control of Thibaut, father of Eudes, comte de Blois.
Charles the Bald
(for a larger version of this coin, click here)
AR denier, 20mm, 1.51gr. Obv: +GRATIA D-I REX, central KRLS monogram. Rev: +CARNOT'IS CIVITAS, ('O' is diamond shaped), central cross. Mint is Chartres. R 1405; MG 933 or 937; Dep 11 A1, 278 (147 examples); Bel 115.
However, Norseman incursions continued in the Seine, highlighted by the siege of Paris in 885/6. During this time of relative peace Chartres' defenses were rebuilt and strengthened by Thibaut.
In 910 a Viking named Renaud was active in the Senonais and moved into the Loire. He was at Fleury-sur-Loire and while he ravaged the town, he spared the abbey of St. Benoit. Chronicler Dudon says the Norman duke, venerating St. Benoit, spared the abbey out of veneration. Renaud made it back to Rouen, where he died, his bodied buried in a tomb in the shape of a pyramid.
By the end of the 9th century Rollo had emerged as a significant Viking chieftain leading raids in the Seine valley and surrounding territory. He apparently succeeded Renaud and ultimately took the fight to Chartres. Rollo’s antecedents are murky at best. D.C. Douglas offers a close look at them, generally discounting the veracity of the early chroniclers, some of whom are quoted below. His conclusion is that Rollo was probably born in Norway, and began his career in Ireland and possibly Scotland. He married a Christian woman. He probably arrived in Gaul between 905 and 911 and “was most probably present at the battle of Chartres.” Other sources are much more definitive about Rollo's presence at Chartres.
Meanwhile, in Chartres, administrative control had apparently shifted from Thibaut and secular control to ecclesiastical control.
You will notice a lot of ‘apparently’ and other qualifiers in this story, because contemporary chronicles vary in their interpretation of events. For example, Paul, a monk writing in the Chronicle de St. Pere mentions Richard the Justicer and Ebles, comte de Poitou as being present at the siege in 911 but doesn't make any reference to Robert, son of Robert the Strong. By the same token, Dudon, another chronicler fails to mention the presence of Richard and Ebles and concentrates on Robert. Likewise, Richer never mentions Richard or Elbes and gives leadership of the Franks to Robert. This account is a composite taken from more modern (19th and 20th C) writers. Likewise, different sources spell names differently, and I stay with the source rather than unify spellings.
Robert I (922-23) (Eudes?)
(for a larger image of this coin, click here)
AR denier, 21mm, 1.29gr. Obv: +MISERICORDIA D, central monogram. Rev: +TVRONES CIVITAS, central cross. Mint is Tours. Dep 1045 (DEI) as Robert (no examples studied). PdA 1616 as Robert or Eudes. Not in R. MEC says Robert did not have coinage, as does Prou (XXIII “n’a pas laisse de monnaies.”) On the other hand, Gariel gives this coin to Robert (plate 48 - #4) Unfortunately, attribution is not clear and I will go with Depeyrot.
So we arrive in the spring of 911. Rollo is in command of a band of (probably) several thousand Vikings. Bishop Guateaume is in control of Chartres. Jules Lair (“La Siege de Chartres par les Normands,” 1901) argues the siege probably started in April or May. Local tradition says Rollo set up his encampment on an island in the Eure (Petits-Pres). He proceeded to isolate Chartres by devastating the surrounding countryside almost as far as Chateaudun.
This picture is of the Eure just down stream from the old gates of Chartres. I was unable to identify 'Petits-Pres,' it is apparently not a current place name. The river flows around several islands at this point. This is a more likely site than just up stream, where the islands are overlooked by the heights of the town, making them more vulnerable than than these down stream islands.
Chartres was now a fortified town, in the shape of a trapezoid, going close to the river. The Vikings attacked the strengthened walls cum machinis et tormetis, says Guillaume of Jumieges (c. 1030). The Bishop sent out a call for help and the banus was raised. Lair (211) says “Il est certain que l’armee de secours etait compose de Francaise, de Bourguignons, d’Acquitains, que parmi ses chiefs se trouvainet le duc Robert, le duc Richard, le comte de Poitiers, Ebles.” By July the relief army had gathered to confront the Vikings. It was camped to the southwest of the city (Lair).
They fought Saturday July 20, 911. Douglas says “this is confirmed by the reliable Annals of Ste. Colombe of Sens … This date must be accepted.” This is a very strong statement from a writer who questions just about every other date and event description he cites from 10th and 11th century chronicles.
Lair describes that Richard split his forces into three corps. The first was made up of Aquitainians supported by contingents from d’Auvergne and de Berry, assisted by a group of Neustrian nobles. The second corps was made up of people of the north (supposedly including Robert) and the third was composed of the large group of Neustrians.
From Lair, Richard apparently led the initial attack and the united Burgundians and Franks "reprennent force et courage et chargent de nouveau Rollon, qui resiste." Rollo had arranged his force in a concave pattern and was pressing the Frankish center, forcing Richard to give ground. The issue was in doubt, but the Franks ultimately prevailed. Why? It depends on who you listen to. For example, Dudon says that the bishop sallied forth with townsfolk, imbued with the spirit of the Virgin, and caught the Vikings by surprise. This relieved pressure on the Frankish center and Richard was able to turn about and reengage Rollo, leading to the Norman defeat.
From Dudo of St. Quentin’s Gesta Normannorum “Keeping close to count Richard, they have swiftly attacked Rollo, who was then battling around the walls of Chartres. But, struggling valiantly against them, Rollo has rushed steadily upon them and has vanquished them in his accustomed manner in the first effort of the war. But the Franks and the Burgundians, recovering their strength and taking the risk a second time, attack Rollo, who is roughly opposing them. Therefore, with very many Christians and pagans now fallen, each army has been standing its ground in the battle, procuring life for itself through exchanged blows, when suddenly bishop Uualtelmus (spelled Guateaume elsewhere), crowned with the episcopal mitre as though about to celebrate mass and carrying in his hands a cross and the tunic of the sacrosanct Virgin Mary, bounding forth from inside the city surrounded by iron-clad battle-lines and followed by the clergy with the citizens, lashes the backs of the pagans with spears and swords. Rollo, however, perceiving that he is now between two armies and is not prevailing, and that his followers are waning, has begun to turn away from them, passing through their midst, lest he fall prey to death.”
Dudo was writing a history of Normandy and is clearly sympathetic to Rollo, as evident in this passage.
“Rollo, mighty and powerful and vigorous and most fierce in arms,
Do not feel ashamed if you now are considered a runaway.
No Frankish or Burgundian assembly
Of manifold nations and hosts puts you to flight, fells you,
But the nourishing tunic of the Virgin mother of God and
Likewise amulets and relics and the reverend cross
Which the reverend prelate carries in his worthy hands.
Your will is still in your ability, as it was in the past,
And now your will and your ability shall go forward legally
And shall recognize, at this very moment, your human ability and will.”
So was it Frankish arms or sacred help? Regardless, Chedeville says the bishops turned the 'chemise de la Vierge' to good account and it became a popular relic, which unfortunately was destroyed in a fire in 1194.
Richer has a somewhat different take on the battle. 'Le duc Robert remassa des troupes dans toute la Nuestrie; il en leva aussi en Aquitaine; enfin le roi lui envoya de Belgique quartre cohortes qui avaient a leur tete Ricouin, personnage cite plus haut. ... L'armee entiere se composait de 40000 cavaliers." On the Norman side, Richer says there were 50,000 combatants. From here the description is similar. The Normans were arranged in a concave line, with the intention of encircling the Franks and destroying them. Richer has a Belgium contingent attacking the Normans from the rear, leading to their defeat. The end from Richer: "Les ennemis vaincus deposent les armes et demandent grace en poussant des cris. Robert exige la cessation du massacre et insiste pour qu'on les arrache a cette tuerie mais il etait difficile de calmer l'armee, excitee par son grand succes. Le tumulte apaise, les principaux chefs sont fair prisonniers par le duc, les autres sont autorises a regagner leur flotte a condition de fournir des otages." No mention of Rollo or of the retreat to the colline de Lèves. He does, however, mention their subsequent conversion.
Richer is clearly exaggerating the number of combatants, as was common among medieval chroniclers to give importance to an event. For a discussion of why Viking forces would number at best in the 1000s rather than tens of thousands, see the discussion by Carroll Gilmor on the Siege of Paris page.
Where is this battlefield today? You will not get the feel of walking a Carolingian battlefield, as you can at Fontenoy or Poitiers II. Lair looks at all the contradictory evidence of chroniclers who placed the battle and concludes "La tradition locale, d'accord ice avec toutes les vraisemblances militaire, assure que la rencontre entre les Normands et les Francais eut lieu les Vaux-Rou, c'est-a-dire dans la vallee occupee aujourd'hui par la gare et ses dependances ... le terrain entra la place des Epars et la gare ait servi de champ de bataille, cele ne peut faire doute." This map of Chartres shows the likely battle field area, on the southwest side of the city. The place de Epars is at the lower end of the orange oval and the station is at the upper end of the oval.
This fight took place outside the walls of Chartres. Looking at the current landscape, I'd guess the walls bent around from the existing fragment towards Place de Epars and on down to the river, likely following the current ring road. Here is the view back to the cathedral from the Place de Epars.
Rollo withdrew with some of his troop to a position outside of Chartres, the colline de Lèves. Lèves is to the north of Chartres. The colline de Lèves is on the left bank of the Eure; Lair says to the west of Chartres but it looks much more NNW. A colline is a hill. Rollo’s surviving troops took refuge there after the battle. From Lair (221-2); "C'etait use position solide, sur les bords de l'Eure, ou les fuyards trouvaient un abri dans les ruines d'un petit monastere. Cela prouve ... que le bataille avait en lieu dans la vallee a l'ouest de Chartres, sur la rive gauche de la riviere." The maps marks the colline and a champ de mars. The orange text underlines the words "le Champ de Mars." Unfortunately, this champ de Mars refers to a WWII Resistance action and post-war memorial. The smaller map to the right shows the colline and the contour lines of the hill and the Vau de Lèves. The Eure is to the right, the Champ de Mars is to the left of the red text.
About this time Ebles, comte de Poitiers arrived, having missed the main fight outside the walls of Chartres. The source now switches from Lair to Alfred Richard's Histoire des Comtes de Poitou. Ebles was naturally frustrated by having missed the action and wanted to set off in pursuit of the Normands. After an initial unsuccessful assault on the Normand position and assessing the situation, he asked Richard for help. Richard, who was camped on the battlefield outside Chartres, moved up to Leves and camped at the foot of the hill.
The location of this action is unknown. Looking at the ground and topography, I'd guess the Frank camp was someplace close to the X on the map to the right. This would be a straight track up from Chartres and is a location consistent with the various accounts of the battle. Today this is the commercial area in Leves. Likewise, the camp of the Vikings is not clearly known. The top of the colline de Leves today is a residential area. The neighbors were quite puzzled when we got out and walked along the street. One women was kind enough, when we explained what were were looking for, to let me into her yard which descended steeply to the valley below. The first picture is the top of the colline, with the fall off to the right. The second is looking up from the base of the hill, a little to the west of the X - the cemetery is evident on the map.
The Norman situation was critical, but a Viking ruse saved the day (or actually night). In the night several Vikings crept down the hill and entered into the middle of the Frankish camp. There they sounded Viking war horns suggesting an attack was underway. This panicked the Franks who fled in all directions. It also gave the Normans a chance to come down off the colline and move to their boats.
The Normans gave themselves an additional advantage while they were on the shore of the Eure. They slaughtered a large number of animals – cows and horses, and built themselves a barrier of the dead animals. When the Franks regrouped in the morning and came to attack, their horses were put off by the smell of the blood and would not advance. “… les Normands, laisses en paix, purent s’embarquer tranquillement et rejoinder leur chef.”
The ultimate significance of the Frankish victory was that Rollo came to realize that living by plundering and raiding was becoming high cost and more uncertain. He responded to advances by Charles III and agreed to accept territory in return for the cessation of attacking in Francia. This agreement is called the Traite de Sainte-Clair-sur-Epte but there is no actual written document laying out the provisions. The basis is that in return for the lands in Normandy (which he already controlled) he agreed to police these in a way as to discourage other Viking raiders. He and his followers also agreed to convert to Christianity. This became the basis of the duchy of Normandy.
Charles III (896-923)
(for a larger image of this coin, click here)
AR denier, 19mm, 1.12gr. Obv: + CRATIA D-I REX, central KRLS monogram. Rev: +/PARISI/.../CIVITA/+. Mint is Paris. R1706; Dep 772 (45 examples); MG 1393; Prou 335.
This postscript to the siege of Chartres is captured in the Chronicle of St. Denis Based on Dudo and William of Jumièges [Vol. III, p. 105].
“The king had at first wished to give to Rollo the province of Flanders, but the Norman rejected it as being too marshy. Rollo refused to kiss the foot of Charles when he received from him the duchy of Normandy. "He who receives such a gift," said the bishops to him, "ought to kiss the foot of the king." "Never," replied he, "will I bend the knee to anyone, or kiss anybody's foot." Nevertheless, impelled by the entreaties of the Franks, he ordered one of his warriors to perform the act in his stead. This man seized the foot of the king and lifted it to his lips, kissing it without bending and so causing the king to tumble over backwards. At that there was a loud burst of laughter and a great commotion in the crowd of onlookers. King Charles, Robert, Duke of the Franks, the counts and magnates, and the bishops and abbots, bound themselves by the oath of the Catholic faith to Rollo, swearing by their lives and their bodies and by the honor of all the kingdom, that he might hold the land and transmit it to his heirs from generation to generation throughout all time to come. When these things had been satisfactorily performed, the king returned in good spirits into his dominion, and Rollo with Duke Robert set out for Rouen."
"In the year of our Lord 912 Rollo was baptized in holy water in the name of the sacred Trinity by Franco, archbishop of Rouen. Duke Robert, who was his godfather, gave to him his name. Rollo devotedly honored God and the Holy Church with his gifts. . . . The pagans, seeing that their chieftain had become a Christian, abandoned their idols, received the name of Christ, and with one accord desired to be baptized. Meanwhile, the Norman duke made ready for a splendid wedding and married the daughter of the king [Gisela] according to Christian rites."
"Rollo gave assurance of security to all those who wished to dwell in his country. The land he divided among his followers, and, as it had been a long time unused, he improved it by the construction of new buildings. It was peopled by the Norman warriors and by immigrants from outside regions. The duke established for his subjects certain inviolable rights and laws, confirmed and published by the will of the leading men, and he compelled all his people to live peaceably together. He rebuilt the churches, which had been entirely ruined; he restored the temples, which had been destroyed by the ravages of the pagans; he repaired and added to the walls and fortifications of the cities; he subdued the Britons who rebelled against him; and with the provisions obtained from them he supplied all the country that had been granted to him.”
Douglas (429) assesses the veracity of Dudo’s contribution to this Chronicle by saying “Dudo, who is so loquacious about the alleged meeting between Rollo and Charles, is both laconic and obviously inaccurate in describing the results. All that remains certain is that a cession of territory was made, and that this was followed by the formal conversion of Rollo and many of his followers.”
The conversion occurred in the fall of 911 or early 912. Contrary to the Chronicle of St. Denis quoted above, Rollo was apparently not a great supporter of the church and Douglas claims he reverted to paganism before his death.
Sources (complete citations in references)
Chedeville, A., Histoire de Chartres
Douglas, D.C., “Rollo of Normandy”
Dudo de St. Quentin, excerpt from Gesta Normannorum, http://www.the-orb.net/orb_done/dudo/chapter11.html
Haywood, J., The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings
Lair, J. “Le Siege de Chartres par les Normands”
Ogg, F.A., ed., "Chronicle of St. Denis," in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the German Invasions to the Renaissance, (New York, 1907, reprinted by Cooper Square Publishers (New York), 1972), pp. 165-173. Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.
Richard, A., Histoire des Comtes de Poitou
Richer, Histoire de France (888 - 995)