Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How the Men of Paris Defied the Sea Kings
Charles the Fat [885-888]

As soon as the Northmen heard of the death of Carloman they returned. From far and near the sea robbers came. Never before had they gathered in such numbers as now. The Franks stood aghast as they saw the dragon-headed vessels sail up their rivers.

"Have you not been paid?" they asked. "Have you not promised to keep away for twelve years?"

"Nay," replied the Northmen, "it was with Carloman we made our bargain. Carloman is dead, we are free from our oath. If the new King would make a bargain with us let him pay us more gold."

Up the river Seine they sailed, ship upon ship, large and small, to the number of seven hundred. They attacked and took town after town, growing ever bolder and more insolent as they advanced.

At length they reached Paris. For miles the river was black with vessels bringing an army of thirty thousand heathen against the fair city.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


But here in Paris the bravest of the Franks had gathered led by Eudes, Count of Paris, son of Robert the Strong, who in his day alone had held the Normans in check. With him was the fighting Bishop Gozlin. And here the Northmen were stopped in their triumphal course.

Finding Paris so strongly guarded, Siegfried the Sea King demanded to be brought before the Bishop.

"Gozlin," he said, "take pity on yourself and your followers. If you do not wish to perish allow us to pass through Paris. If you do this, we promise to preserve you and Eudes and all your goods from harm."

But Gozlin answered, 'This city has been given into our care by Charles our Emperor. He has given it to us, not to bring ruin on our Empire, but to insure peace. If by chance this city had been given unto you to guard would you have yielded it to the enemy?'

"Nay, had I done so I should perish by the sword," replied Siegfried. "Nevertheless, if you will not yield what I ask, as soon as the sun rises we shall begin our attack."

So saying he departed. Gozlin would not yield, and Siegfried kept his word. Day had hardly dawned when the Northmen attacked the tower which guarded the bridge across the Seine. All day the fight lasted. Arrows rained upon the brave defenders. They on their side poured burning oil and melted lead upon the enemy, so that to escape being burned many of the Northmen threw themselves into the river and were drowned. Night at last put an end to the fight.

Next morning it began again. All day it raged as fiercely as before. Then, seeing that Paris was not to be taken by assault, the Northmen resolved to starve the people into surrender. So a long siege began.

While the Northmen lay encamped around the walls, the people of Paris suffered all the horrors of hunger and disease. Not a day passed without some fighting, and every day the number of the brave defenders grew smaller. Still they fought on and hoped on.

Message after message was sent to the Emperor begging for aid, but no aid came. Still encouraged by their brave Bishop the people held out. Then one sad day the Bishop died. Without the walls of Paris there was rejoicing, within wailing and tears. It seemed as if with the gallant Bishop hope too had died. Then at last Count Eudes decided to go himself to seek aid from the Emperor. Disguised as a Northman he left Paris in secret, and passed safely through the camp of the enemy.

Eudes left the city in charge of Ebles, a nephew of the dead Bishop. He guided the people gallantly while their brave Count was absent, and kept hope alive in their hearts until one morning Eudes, surrounded by soldiers, appeared upon the height beyond the walls. The people of Paris saw him and rejoiced.

The Northmen too saw him and made ready to fight, and prevent him entering the city. But Eudes put spurs to his horse, and drawing his sword, he dashed forward, cutting his way through the enemy. To right and left his sword flashed again and again, and many a heathen warrior fell dead in his tracks. Followed fast by his men Eudes reached the gates. As he came near Ebles threw them open wide, and Eudes dashed through. Then turning he and his followers beat back with great slaughter the heathen host who pursued them.

Great was the joy within the walls at the return of the hero. Greater still was the joy at the news that the Emperor was fast approaching with help.

But Charles the Fat was slow to move. For many, many long days and nights the people looked in vain for the Emperor and his army.

At last they came. The slopes of Montmartre were white with their tents, the glitter of their spears was like the stars at night, and the hearts of the brave defenders rejoiced. Now, at length, the Northmen would be utterly defeated.

The French watched eagerly from the walls of Paris ready to join in the fight as soon as the Emperor gave the signal. But day by day passed. No trumpet sounded to battle, no war cry was heard. The soldiers of the Emperor lay idle, their banners fluttering lazily by their tents. Then suddenly one day the people of Paris learned that the Emperor had made a treaty with the enemy. He had given the Northmen leave to go to spend the winter in the part of France called Burgundy, and pillage there at will. This he did because the Burgundians had rebelled against him. It was an easy way, he thought, of getting rid of the Northmen and punishing the rebels at the same time.

When the people of Paris heard of this shameful treaty, they were filled with anger. All their suffering had been in vain. They had endured month after month of misery, in order to prevent the Northmen getting farther into the country. Now the Emperor was giving them free leave to pass to the very heart of it, there to plunder and burn at will.

But the people of Paris would not consent to this bargain. They refused to allow the Northmen's ships to pass up the river, and manned the walls, and fought as sturdily as at the beginning of the siege. The Northmen, however, were now determined to reach the rich lands of Burgundy. So, seeing that they could in no way pass the city by river, they took their boats out of the water, carried them more than two miles overland, and launched them again above the city, well out of reach of the French arrows and slings.

So the great siege of Paris ended. The city had been saved. It seemed at first as if only the city had been saved, and as if the rest of France was to be given over to the Northmen. But it was really not so. For the fame of the siege spread abroad in the kingdom, and the French took heart. If one city could keep the Northmen at bay for a whole year why should not others? they asked. It was plain then that the Northmen might be conquered, they said.

Charles the Fat did not reign long after his cowardly treaty with the Northmen. His people had grown tired of his sloth, and, in 887, they drove him from the throne, and chose another Emperor. He made no resistance. He who had been one day ruler of a vast empire found himself the next a lonely beggar. He was so old and fat that he could not move without help; his mind, too, was giving way. He was an object for pity rather than anger. But in his weakness and distress he found no friend. Forsaken by every one, in danger of starving, he was obliged to beg his bread until he died a few months later. He had reigned in France three years, but the French had such a contempt for him that they do not count him among their Kings. Charles the Bald is Charles II and Charles the Simple, of whom we shall hear later on, is Charles III. The Emperor Charles the Fat is passed over.