Franks and Normans, from conflict to integration

Relations between the Franks and the Normans are initially conflictual. However, in 911, it led to the creation of the Duchy of Normandy, ceded to the Viking Rollo by Charles the Simple. After having been among the most terrible adversaries of France, the Normans become part of it.

Who are the Normans?

Those commonly referred to as the Vikings were in fact referred to by contemporary sources as the Normanni, the men of the North. If the term viking was known in the Middle Ages, it is popularized much later. Other sources mention the Danishor even "pagans" or "foreigners". In the east, they are the Varègues. We will therefore use the term "Normans" here, especially since we will be mainly interested in the latter's relations with the Franks, initially conflicting relations but which ended with the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte.

All these peoples come from Scandinavia, and undergo internal transformations at the end of the 8th century, which push them in a movement of expansion towards the South. The problem is that historians have long ignored the details of these mutations for a long time. Today, we talk about the will of the Scandinavian kings to assert their authority over the local chiefs, causing competition and exile. To this must be added the development of trade and a growing appetite for wealth. In any case, they are in any case barbarians who plunder for the sake of plundering contrary to the image they have long dragged. England and the near Carolingian Empire are the first to attract their envy, having probably been trading partners.

The Carolingian Empire crumbles

The death of Louis le Pieux, son of Charlemagne, in 840 confirms the serious problems experienced by the Carolingian Empire from the 820s. A civil war broke out between the three sons of Louis the Pious and, in 841, Charles le Chauve and Louis the Germanic are victorious over their brother Lothair. A year later, they signed the oath of Strasbourg, swearing mutual assistance, isolating Lothair, who had to accept the Treaty of Verdun in 843: the Empire was divided into three kingdoms, including West Francia. However, the dissension is not over, and Charlemagne's old empire is ripe to suffer under the blows of the Normans.

The first Norman raids in Francia

It was nevertheless under Louis the Pious, and even as early as Charlemagne, that the Franks began to get to know the Normans. First in the form of small-scale raids, carried out mostly by Danes. Their original but formidable boats made it possible for the Normans to coast and sail up rivers very easily, and to be elusive. In 799, a hundred Normans were killed by the local defense near Noirmoutier. Then, in 820, they attacked Flanders and the mouth of the Seine before attacking the Vendée again in the 830s. Francia was however less affected at this time than the British Isles and Ireland. .

The multiplication of Norman raids

The 840s seem to be a turning point. Attacks are carried out by many more ships and fighters, and against multiple targets, simultaneously. In addition, the Normans are no longer content to loot and leave, they stay longer on the spot, penetrate further into the land. We see them, for example, wintering in the lower valley of the Seine in the early 850s.

Several large cities or their surroundings were affected by these raids: Nantes (843), Toulouse (844), Paris (845),… In 848, they besieged Bordeaux. The Loire and Seine valleys are permanently under threat from Norman looters. The powers then begin to try to buy peace, by paying tribute, and even to offer the Normans to engage as mercenaries in the civil wars that hit the old empire.

The height of the Norman raids and the siege of Paris

Between 856 and 862, the raids became even more pressing. Installed on the island of Oissel, the Vikings attacked Saint-Denis, and made prisoner the Abbé Louis, cousin of the king and grandson of Charlemagne! Charles the Bald must pay a huge ransom, which weakens him further in an already difficult context for him. The policy of tributes continued until the end of the 9th century, to contain the Norman raids, without much success, apart from the lifting of the siege of Angers in 873.

Indeed, the death of Louis le Bègue, son of Charles, in 879, created a new major crisis within the former empire of Charlemagne. The Normans are now well anchored in Basse-Seine, and they make the siege of Paris in 885. The city resists somehow for a year, defended by Eudes. It took the arrival of Charles the Fat for an agreement to be reached and the town finally liberated in 887, again for a fee. The Normans return quietly to the valley of the Scheldt.

The creation of the Duchy of Normandy

A year after the end of the siege of Paris, its defender Eudes becomes king of West Francia, opening the Robertian dynasty. He continued to fight the Normans, over whom he won some victories, ridding the Seine valley of their presence in 889. But in the end he preferred to do as his predecessors and pay them tribute. He was a contested king anyway, until his death in 898. As for the Normans, for the most part they decided to focus on England.

The successor of Eudes, Charles the Simple, was consecrated as early as 893 by the enemies of the incumbent Frankish king. On his actual arrival on the throne, he in turn had to face the Norman raids. In 911, Charles freed Chartres from the Norman threat and, in a position of strength, decided to negotiate with one of their leaders, a certain Rollo. The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte was signed in the fall of 911: the Normans could remain in a strictly delimited region, but owed assistance to the Frankish king, and convert to Christianity. The treaty confirms a movement of rapprochement between the Normans and the Frankish powers and a desire for integration which began in the 850s, despite the looting.

Those who did not settle in Normandy (Danes and Norwegians) concentrated their efforts on the British Isles, while the Swedes took the road to the East. The Franks, for their part, will integrate their Normans to make them one of the most important and powerful elements of the kingdom of France in the following centuries. Better yet, from England to the Mediterranean, the adventure of the Normans was only just beginning ...


- F. Neveux, The adventure of the Normans, Perrin, 2006.

- Y. Cohat, Vikings, kings of the seas, Gallimard, 1987.

- G. Bührer-Thierry, C. Mériaux, France before France (481-888), Belin, 2011.

- J. Haywood, Atlas of the Vikings (789-1100), Otherwise, 1996.

- C. Gauvard, France in the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th century, PUF, 2005.

- The Normans: from Normandy to the Kingdom of Sicily, Antiquity & Medieval History, no28H, August 2011.

For further

- P. Bauduin, The Frankish world and the Vikings (8th-10th century), Albin Michel, 2009.

Video: The Aotearoa History Show 12. Post-War New Zealand (January 2022).