Book review: The Normans
They stooped to conquer
Empires of the Normans. By Levi Roach.
For many years, a Viking host led by a charismatic brigand, Rollo, had been pillaging up and down the Seine.
But when he overextended himself with an attack on the cathedral city of Chartres in 911, Rollo’s forces were given a bloody nose by the Frankish magnate Robert of Neustria.
Robert knew this was only a temporary reprieve and advised the king, Charles the Simple, to cut a deal with Rollo while the going was good.
They offered land between the Epte and the sea and marriage to Charles’s daughter, Gisla.
In exchange Rollo would make a pledge of service to the king (including protection from other Vikings) and convert to Christianity.
He had no hesitation in accepting the terms while demanding (and getting) yet more territory.
But when it came to displaying gratitude by kissing Charles’s feet, as custom required, he got one of his men to do it.
Also refusing to kneel, Rollo’s henchman simply grabbed the king’s ankle, pulled the royal foot to his lips and sent the monarch sprawling.
The symbolism could not have been clearer.
Over the next three centuries, Rollo’s Norman successors—his great-great grandson was William the Conqueror—turned Normandy into the most politically and militarily cohesive territory in what would become France.
From there they set forth to dominate much of western and southern Europe, carving out kingdoms in England, the south of Italy, Sicily and the Holy Land.
Exactly 301 years after Rollo’s refusal to bend the knee, the 17-year-old Frederick II was being crowned in Mainz as king of the Germans and Holy Roman Emperor in waiting.
Young Frederick was a Norman from Apulia.