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The election of Odo received its best justification when in June 888 he smote the great army of the Danes at Montfaucon in Champagne, and drove them from the valleys of the Meuse and Marne. The whole realm concurred willingly in his second coronation at Rheims, where he was invested with a crown, which his neighbour Arnulf had sent him, in token of friendship as well as of a claim of suzerainty.
Even the distant and ever-rebellious south bowed for a time before the sceptre of Odo: when he marched into Aquitaine Ramnulf count of Poictiers, who had thought for a moment of establishing himself as an independent duke south of the Loire, struck no blow against him, but did instant homage. Wars of ^"ut wn^e Odo was in Poitou the Vikings had odo with again gathered in great force on the lower Seine, the Danes. under chiefs among whom we descry for the first time the name of Hrolf or Rollo, the future duke of Normandy. They laid siege for the third time to Paris: the brave town held out for many months, but Odo, less able to defend his old fief as king than he had been as count, followed the deplorable precedent of Charles the Fat, and gave them money to take themselves off to Brittany.
Of course they returned ere long, but when they once more invaded central France, Odo inflicted a crushing defeat on them at Montpensier: their chief Oskytel was captured with many of his men. Like Guthrum in England the vanquished Dane offered to become a Christian, but as he issued from the baptistery, count Ingo, the standard-bearer of Odo, cut him down. 'Never trust a Dane, baptized or unbaptized,' said the murderer, and his master left him unpunished, as if he felt that the cynical plea was sufficient justification (892).
Just when he appeared to be strongest, Odo was in truth nearing his greatest danger. The Danes being for a time driven off, the unruly counts of France, free from the impending terror, began at once to conspire against their king. He was too much one of themselves for them to regard him as their absolute master, and too strong-handed for them to feel their new hereditary fiefs safely their own. In 893 some of the great nobles sent for the boy Charles the Simple, the heir of the Karlings, from his refuge in England. Richard, duke of Burgundy, William, count of Auvergne, Heribert, count of Vermandois, and Fulco, archbishop of _.
Rheims, were the chief of the rebels. There ofodoand followed six years of desperate civil war: Odo gj^rljes the was far too strong for the fourteen-year-old boy whom his treacherous vassals had raised up against him : again and again he drove Charles from the cities where he had fortified himself, and chastised the rebels who adhered to him. But some one of the counts of Neustria or Aquitaine was always rising in favour of the Karling. Driven from one district he reappeared in another, and the land had no rest. It was to no purpose that Odo once offered to make his rival king of Aquitaine and rule himself in Neustria alone: such a compromise would not have suited his ambitious vassals, who were'inspired not by any real loyalty to the ancient house, but by a wish to gain complete local independence.
At last Odo, worn out with the struggle, died on the last day of the year 898. His brother and heir Robert refused to continue the struggle against the heir of the Karlings, and did homage to Charles the Simple, receiving from him confirmation as ruler of the ' Duchy of France'—the lands of Paris, Orleans, Tours, Chartres, Beauvais, and Le Mans. Thus the civil war ended, but at the cost of the establishment of one more great fief, and that one comprehending the whole of the heart of Neustria, a very kingdom in itself.
Charles the Simple was now undisputedly king of the whole realm of the West Franks, and was recognised as its ruler for thirty-one years, till his untimely death in 929. He had by this time reached the age of twenty, and had gained
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much experience in the uncertainties of war and Simple, King in the bearing of adverse fortune (899). He of France, was a man of energy and resource, the worthy brother of the long-dead Lewis in., and his nickname 'the Simple,' given him because he was too prone to trust his treacherous vassals, and was so often deceived by them, is rather a title of honour than the reverse. From the very first his position was far weaker than that of any of his predecessors had been. The great fiefs had now become definitely hereditary: any endeavour to prevent the reversion of the father's land to the son was regarded as a usurpation on the king's part, and resented by the whole body of vassals of the realm. In every part of Neustria and Aquitaine the counts and dukes had now become semi-independent sovereigns, and it was only in the royal demesne, and in the lands of the great ecclesiastical fiefs, that the king retained monarchical power.
Charles was by no means destitute either of ambition or of energy. He did his best to assert his royal authority over his' vassals, and to cope with the never-ending Danish invasions. He did not forget the traditional policy of the Neustrian Karlings, their desire to unite with their own realm the whole or part of Lotharingia, the plan that had led his grandfather Charles the Bald into so many unhappy wars. More fortunate than his ancestor, Charles succeeded in laying hands on a large portion of the disputed realm. The Austrasians had grown weary of their union with Germany while ruled by the turbulent and tyrannical Zwentibold, whom Arnulf had set over them. After Arnulf s death they cast out and slew his bastard, and adhered for a time to Lewis the Child. But when the young Lewis followed his father to the grave, the Lotharingians refused to concur with the other Teutonic races in setting Conrad the Franconian on the throne. Headed by the count of Hainault, Reginald-with-the-Long-Neck, they declared that they would have none but a Karling to reign over them, and Lotharingia t^rew themselves into the arms of Charles the joined to Simple. From 912 onwards he reigned as their France, 912. ^ing, and found his best supporters among their warriors, for Austrasia was not yet so feudalised as Neustria, and the love of the old royal house was still strong within its borders.
The Viking raids never ceased during the reign of Charles. The civil war of 893-8 had given the Danes an opportunity of returning to Neustria, and they were not slow to take it. When the chroniclers of the time are not recounting the rebellions of Charles's undutiful subjects, they are generally occupied in detailing Danish ravages. But it is now to be observed that the inroads of the Vikings are not nearly so dangerous to the realm as they had once been: the spell of the invincibility of the Northmen had been broken, and whenever they appeared they were fiercely withstood by the local counts and dukes. The land no longer gave them such rich prey, for the open towns had now surrounded themselves with walls, and were not as formerly the defenceless victims of every raider who could muster a few hundred men at his back. Still the invaders never ceased to come, for many of their former fields of action were now closed: in England Alfred and his son were too strong for them, and in Germany they never had their old good fortune after their great defeat at Louvain. France, therefore, had now to bear the brunt of their attacks, and all their hordes concentrated themselves on the coast between the Scheldt and the Garonne.
It was in 911 that Charles the Simple took a step which was to change the aspect of the great struggle with Hroif on the the Danes. Their main army was now lying on Seine, 910-11. the lower Seine, and their chief camp was at Rouen, a great city which they had sacked and desolated and made their own. Their war-lord was now the sea-king Hrolf, or Rollo as the Franks called him, who had asserted his power by right of superior ability above all the other jarls. Hrolfs bands ranged far and wide in the Seine valley, and had fought at Chartres a bloody but indecisive battle with the host of the Franks, headed by the king's greatest vassals, the dukes of France and Burgundy and the count of Poitou.
Despairing, as Alfred had despaired thirty years before, of ever being able to drive away the Dane, Charles took the same step that the great king of Wessex had taken. He determined to offer the Viking leader a great tract of land as a settlement for his followers, if he would consent to draw them all together and to conclude a stable peace. The experiment had been made before by the Frankish monarchs, with no encouraging results, and the tale of Charles the Fat and king Godfred must have been fresh in the minds of the Vikings. Nevertheless the offer was made once more: if Hrolf would settle down, he should have an ample Danelagh—as the English would have called it—for his men. Charles proffered him Rouen and the lower valley of the Seine, and with them the hand of his daughter Gisela. The Northman blustered and affected to despise the king's offer, but presently he began to haggle and to speak of terms. The monarch of the West Franks and the veteran sea-king met at Clair-sur-Epte, and Treaty of 'there the bargain was concluded. Hrolf asked ciair-sur- and received all the lands from the river Epte to Epte,9n. the sea^ a grant whicn the Danes interpreted as giving them all the coast-land from the mouth of the Somme to the borders of Brittany. Charles added to this the easy promise of the suzerainty of Brittany itself, when Hrolf should succeed in conquering the unruly princes of that land, who for many years had paid no allegiance to the Frankish crown. The Viking therefore received the hand of the king's daughter, promised to submit to baptism, and 'became the man' of Charles the Simple. A well-known story tells how Hrolf refused to bow the knee himself to the Frank, when the oath of homage had to be given, and deputed one of his chiefs to be his proxy, and how the Dane, with designed clumsiness, when he bent before the king's feet, succeeded in upsetting king and throne together. But Charles overlooked the insult in return for the tangible benefits that the submission of Hrolf involved, and loaded the Danes with gifts on their departure.