Eudes and the Siege of Paris
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Eudes (Odo) is from the Robertine line, which emerges more distinctively in French history as the Capetians. He is son of Robert the Strong, count of Angers, and Adelaide. Eudes apparently never married and had no heirs. His tie to the later Capetians is through his brother Robert. Odo is uncle of Hugh the Great and great uncle of Hugh Capet. These relationships are set out in an abbreviated family genealogy. (Dunbabin 28)
The family originally came out of Lotharingia during the reign of Charles the Bald and received lands around Angers. Family loyalty to Charles led to a number of significant territorial additions, and the grants of valuable abbeys. Odo was given the title of count of Paris when he reached his majority. At this time, Paris was not the plum it was to become. It occupied a significant crossroads in travel and the Seine was a major waterway into the north. This also meant it offered easy access to the Norse, who from the reign of Charles had become much more aggressive in their incursions.
Earlier in the century, Norse raids were in smaller parties, making quick hit and run attacks, and then moving on to other targets. By the last quarter of the century, these had evolved into major campaigns, often with wintering in the ‘host’ country. The motivation was looting rather than conquest, and the populations suffered for this. Nantes, Tours, Orleans, Rouen and Paris were all sacked at one time or another, as were countless other cities. The French response was several fold:
1: It was common to abandon an area in the face of repeated attacks. This was a not unusual monastic response, and a number of abbeys relocated.
2: It was common to offer tribute to the invaders to leave, which they were usually willing to do.
3: In some cases lands were given invaders with an eye to settling them and encouraging allegiance to the ruler. Rollo of Normandy received territory under such conditions.
4: The French mounted defenses against the invaders and sought to bring them to battle. Charles the Bald developed the strategy of barricading rivers and fortified a series of previously unwalled towns. Land battles were common, but the mobility of the raiders made it hard for the French to bring the Vikings to fight on their (French) terms.
It was his role in repelling one of these attacks, the siege of Paris in 885-6, that ultimately led to Odo being chosen king of west Francia. Paris was ruled by Bishop Gauzlin when the city was attacked by a Viking force under Sigirid. The Norse were refused permission to continue upstream and set about besieging Paris. Odo and his brother played key roles in its defense. A description of the siege is courtesy of Professor Nicholas Pappas of Sam Houston State University, from his website.
The Siege of Paris 
885. The Northmen came to Paris with 700 sailing ships, not counting those of smaller size which are commonly called barques. At one stretch the Seine was lined with the vessels for more than two leagues, so that one might ask in astonishment in what cavern the river had been swallowed up, since it was not to be seen. The second day after the fleet of the Northmen arrived under the walls of the city, Siegfred, who was then king only in name but who was in command of the expedition, came to the dwelling of the illustrious bishop. He bowed his head and said: "Gauzelin, have compassion on yourself and on your flock. We beseech you to listen to us, in order that you may escape death. Allow us only the freedom of the city. We will do no harm and we will see to it that whatever belongs either to you or to Odo shall be strictly respected." Count Odo, who later became king, was then the defender of the city. The bishop replied to Siegfred, "Paris has been entrusted to us by the Emperor Charles, who, after God, king and lord of the powerful, rules over almost all the world. He has put it in our care, not at all that the kingdom may be ruined by our misconduct, but that he may keep it and be assured of its peace. If, like us, you had been given the duty of defending these walls, and if you should have done that which you ask us to do, what treatment do you think you would deserve?" Siegfred replied: "I should deserve that my head be cut off and thrown to the dogs. Nevertheless, if you do not listen to my demand, on the morrow our war machines will destroy you with poisoned arrows. You will be the prey of famine and of pestilence and these evils will renew themselves perpetually every year." So saying, he departed and gathered together his comrades.
In the morning the Northmen, boarding their ships, approached the tower and attacked it. They shook it with their engines and stormed it with arrows. The city resounded with clamor, the people were aroused, the bridges trembled. All came together to defend the tower. There Odo, his brother Robert, and the Count Ragenar distinguished themselves for bravery; likewise the courageous Abbot Ebolus, the nephew of the bishop. A keen arrow wounded the prelate, while at his side the young warrior Frederick was struck by a sword. Frederick died, but the old man, thanks to God, survived. There perished many Franks; after receiving wounds they were lavish of life. At last the enemy withdrew, carrying off their dead. The evening came. The tower had been sorely tried, but its foundations were still solid, as were also the narrow bales which surmounted them. The people spent the night repairing it with boards. By the next day, on the old citadel had been erected a new tower of wood, a half higher than the former one. At sunrise the Danes caught their first glimpse of it. Once more the latter engaged with the Christians in violent combat. On every side arrows sped and blood flowed. With the arrows mingled the stones hurled by slings and war-machines; the air was filled with them. The tower which had been built during the night groaned under the strokes of the darts, the city shook with the struggle, the people ran hither and thither, the bells jangled. The warriors rushed together to defend the tottering tower and to repel the fierce assault. Among these warriors two, a count and an abbot [Ebolus], surpassed all the rest in courage. The former was the redoubtable Odo who never experienced defeat and who continually revived the spirits of the worn-out defenders. He ran along the ramparts and hurled back the enemy. On those who were secreting themselves so as to undermine the tower he poured oil, wax, and pitch, which, being mixed and heated, burned the Danes and tore off their scalps. Some of them died; others threw themselves into the river to escape the awful substance. . . 
Meanwhile Paris was suffering not only from the sword outside but also from a pestilence within which brought death to many noble men. Within the walls there was not ground in which to bury the dead. . . . Odo, the future king, was sent to Charles, emperor of the Franks, to implore help for the stricken city.
One day Odo suddenly appeared in splendor in the midst of three bands of warriors. The sun made his armor glisten and greeted him before it illuminated the country around. The Parisians saw their beloved chief at a distance, but the enemy, hoping to prevent his gaining entrance to the tower, crossed the Seine and took up their position on the bank. Nevertheless Odo, his horse at a gallop, got past the Northmen and reached the tower, whose gates Ebolus opened to him. The enemy pursued fiercely the comrades of the count who were trying to keep up with him and get refuge in the tower. [The Danes were defeated in the attack.]
Now came the Emperor Charles, surrounded by soldiers of all nations, even as the sky is adorned with resplendent stars. A great throng, speaking many languages, accompanied him. He established his camp at the foot of the heights of Montmartre, near the tower. He allowed the Northmen to have the country of Sens to plunder; and in the spring he gave them 700 pounds of silver on condition that by the month of March they leave France for their own kingdom. Then Charles returned, destined to an early death.
In addition to the sources Professor Pappas' notes, the story is told in Guizot (1824) in two books (58 pages) Serendipitously, this book is in the USF library.
As noted, Odo called on Emperor Charles the Fat for support, which came in the form of a royal army. However, Charles decided it would be better to ransom the city and allow the Norse to pass than to fight. This effectively lifted the siege and opened Burgundy to a winter of Norse plunder. The Parisians were not pleased with this resolution ("les Parisiens apprirent tout a coup avec un profonde indignation que l'empereur traitait avec l'ennemi" Martin 484) and refused passage. The Norse were forced to portage around the city to continue upstream. Charles was not only letting Paris off the hook, he was also taking revenge on the Burgundians. From Martin (484) "parce que les habitants n'obeissaient pas a l'empereur" and were instead supporting his political opponents.
Carroll Gilmor takes issue with the contemporary estimate of the Viking fleet and armed strength. Abbo of St. Germain's chronicle is the source of the 700 ship estimate, along with an armed force of 40,000 men. Gilmor estimates the size of a Viking crew as between 26 - 30 men, reducing the size of the force to 18,000 - 21,000, and that even this is too high. Gilmor goes on the say that "a more reliable method of reassessing ship numbers involves the application of operational space to a fleet in a stationary position." With 700 ships the Seine " would have been converted into a lumber yard, indeed a colossal log jam." The fleet would have been at risk from fire. Given the difficulty of counting ships, the fact that there is a nearby bend in the river making a down stream estimate impossible and that there is no evidence of a person or group who sallied out to estimate the size of the fleet all leads Gilmor to believe Abbo seriously over estimated the size of the fleet, a not uncommon medieval occurrence.
Gilmor suggests that the length of the fleet is even smaller, based on Regino of Prum's description of the Viking portage around Paris. This further reduces fleet and armed strength. Gilmor presents this suggested portage route, based of Regino of Prum's description.
Gilmor uses the idea that the portage would have to have been smaller warships rather than larger seagoing vessels to arrive at an estimate of the fleet. "Provided the area near the present Pont d'Iena marked the boundary line between the fleet of regular warships and the boats in the rear, the number of ships that comprised the fleet can be computed thus: The distance along the river between the tip of the island adjoining Ile-de-la-Cite and the Pont d'Iena is 2250 m. A string of 90 warships would fit in this section of the river, providing the Northmen retained the single file order of their ships as they emerged from the narrows at Clichy. If we add to these the 120 ships flanking the Ile-de-la-Cite the total fleet would number 210 ships, or 300 vessels if rowed two abreast from Clichy, with manpower ranging from 5000-6000 to 7000-8000."
Gilmor goes on to support the estimate of several thousand invaders rather than tens of thousands based on caloric requirements for a Viking, carrying capacity of the land, estimates of peasant agricultural population and the production of a surplus and the navigational difficulties on the Seine. This is a very detailed and fascinating analysis.
There is a memorial plaque to the defenders of this siege of Paris in the Parvis de Notre Dame, at the entrance to the archeological museum and close to the site of the defensive fortification at the time.
The longer term repercussion of Charles' behavior in allowing a portage around Paris was a loss of confidence in Charles and his being deposed in 887 (and dying the next year). This left the west without a strong Carolingian contender for the throne and the need for strong leadership. In the face of the absence of a Carolingian candidate, the nobility elected Odo king of west Francia in 888. Martin (486) cites a contemporary source as describing Eudes as "fils de Robert, vaillant homme ... qui surpassait tous les autres hommes en beaute et visage, en hauteur de taille, en force et en sagesse." How could they pick anyone else?
Pierre Riche quotes contemporary chronicler Regino of Prum, who has a more prosaic view, as follows:
“After his death (Charles the Fat), the kingdoms that had obeyed him, as though bereft of a legitimate heir, dissolved from association into separate parts: and they no longer waited for a ruler given by nature but each chose to create for itself a king from its own innards. This situation sparked tremendous warring. Not that the Franks lacked leaders who could rule the kingdoms with nobility, bravery and wisdom, but rather because the very equality of birth, honor and power among them heightened their contention, since no one stood out enough for the others to agree to submit to his authority. Francia would have brought forth many leaders fit to take the reins of the kingdom, had not fate armed them for their mutual destruction through competition for power.” (Riche’ 219)
This was the kingdom Eudes inherited. His experience as king continues on Eudes: king of west Francia.
Professor Nicholas Pappas
Sam Huston State University
1. Abbonis Monachi S. Germani Parisiensis, De Bellis Parisiacae Urbis, et (Odonis Comitis, post Regis,adversus Northmannos urbem ipsam obsidentes, sub Carolo Crasso Imp. ac Rege Francorum [Abbo's "Wars of Count Odo with the Northmen in the Reign of Charles the Fat"]. Text in Bouquet, Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France, Vol. VIII., pp. 4-26. Translation in James H. Robinson, Readings in European History (New York, l904), Vol. I., pp. 164-168.
2. The Northmen who ravaged France really had no kings, but only military chieftains.
3. Odo, or Eudes, was chosen king by the Frankish nobles and clergy in 888, to succeed the deposed Charles the Fat He was not of the Carolingian family but a Robertian (son of Robert the Strong). and hence a forerunner of the Capetian fine of kings regularly established on the French throne in 987. His election to the kingship was due in a large measure to his heroic conduct during the siege of Paris by the Northmen.
4. The tower blocked access to the city by the so-called "Great Bridge," which connected thc right bank of the Seine with the island on which the city was built. The tower stood on the present site of the Chatelet.
5. In time Robert also became king. He reigned only from 922 to 923.
6. Abbot Ebolus was head of the rnonastery of St. Germain des Pres.
7. The Northmen were finally compelled to abandon their efforts against the tower. They then retired to the bank of the Seine near the abbey of Saint-Denys and from that place as a center ravaged all the country lying about Paris. In a short time they renewed the attack upon the city itself.
8. Charles the Fat, under whom during the years 885-887 the old empire of Charlemagne was for the last time united under a single sovereign. When Odo went to find him in 886 he was at Metz, in Germany. (German and Italian affairs interested him more than did those of the Franks
9. Sens was about a hundred miles southeast of Paris. Charles abandoned the re~rion about Sens to thc Northmen to plunder during the winter of 886-887. His very lame excuse for doing this was that the people of the district did not properly recognize his authority and were deserving of such pumshment.
10. The twelve month siege of Paris thus brought to an end had many notewortlly results. Chief among these was the increased prestige of Odo as a national leader and of Paris as a national stronghold. Prior to this time Paris had not been a place of importance, even though Clovis had made it his capital. In the period of Charlemagne it was distinctly a minor city and it gained little in prominence under Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald. The great Carolingian capitals were Laon and Compiegne. The siege of 885-886, however, made it apparent that Paris occupied a strategic position, commanding the valley of the Seine, and that the inland city was one of the true bulwarks of the kingdom Thereafter the place grew rapidly in population and prestige, and when Odo became king (in 888) it was made his capital. As time went on it grew to be the heart of the French king dom and came to guide the destinies of France as no other city of modern times has guided a nation.
11. He was deposed in 887, largely because of his utter failure to take any active measures to defend the Franks against their Danish enemies. From Paris he went to Germany where he died, January 13, 888, at a small town on the Danube.
Sources (see References for the full citation):
Bunbabin, J, France in the Making 843-1180
Coupland, S., The “Vikings in Francia and Anglo-Saxon England to 911,” The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. II
Gilmore, C., "War on the Rivers: Viking Numbers and Mobility on the Seine and Loire, 841 - 886" in Viator 1988
Guizot, M., Collection Des Memoires Relatifs a l'Histoire de France
Martin, H., Histoire de France
Nelson, J, “The Frankish Kingdoms, 814 – 898: The West,” The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. II
Riche, P., The Carolingians