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CHAPTER XXIX .
THE END OF THE NINTH CENTURY
Reign of Odo in France—His Danish wars—His civil war with Charles the Simple—Charles succeeds to the throne—He grants Normandy to Hrolf —Lotharingia annexed to France—Robert and Rudolf rebel against Charles the Simple—Murder of Charles at Peronne—Spain and the Moors—Growth of the kingdom of the Asturias under Pelagius and the three Alfonsos—Its continued progress—Summary of the period— Feudalism, its military and political meaning—Conclusion.
We left the much-vexed Neustrian realm handed over to a king whose title to the crown lay in his strong hand and his good sword, and not in any hereditary right. Odo count of Paris was not sprung either on the father's or the mother's side from the house of the Karlings. His father was Robert the Strong, a count of Angers and Blois under Charles the Bald, one of the few Frankish chiefs who won a reputation in the struggle with the Vikings. When Robert fell by a Danish arrow, his son appears a few years later in power by the middle Seine and Loire, and especially in charge of Paris, where he won his great name and his crown by the gallant defence of the city in 886-7. Odo was without doubt the best candidate that could have been chosen for the West Frankish throne. The sole legitimate heir of the Karlings—Charles the Simple, the posthumous son of Lewis the Stammerer—was only eight years of age, and to hand the kingdom over to a minor would have been a piece of madness. Nevertheless the choice of Odo was a bad alter
native at the best: he was but one among a dozen personages of equal position, each of whom believed himself to be his new master's equal. Between 850 and 887 all the greater counties of Neustria and Aquitaine were becoming hereditary. Charles the Bald and his short-lived successors had everywhere bought a temporary freedom from trouble by appointing the son to fill the father's place, and in the next generation orewinerus the rulers of the counties and duchies looked upon Great Fiefs in their title to succeed to their ancestor's governor- **** ship as fixed and absolute. In every one of these districts, which were afterwards to be known as the “Great Fiefs,” the first commencement of hereditary rule dates from the fatal days between the battle of Fontenay and the deposition of Charles the Fat. The first sovereign in the county of Toulouse who passed on his dominions to his son dates from 852 : in Flanders the date is 862 : in Poitou 867 : in Anjou 870 : in Gascony 872 : in Burgundy 877: in Auvergne 886. To all these rulers Odo was but a fortunate equal, whom they had consented to elevate to the throne because of the imminent danger which the kingdom was suffering from the Viking raids. In spite of the oaths that they had sworn him they could not in their own minds look upon him as a king of the same sort as the Karlings had been. In a time when hereditary right was beginning to count so highly, it was a fatal weakness in a king to owe his power to the old Teutonic right of election alone. In reading the chronicles of this period of French history we are reminded in a striking manner of the troubles of the kings of the Spanish Visigoths. We find once more the utter confusion that ensues from the elective system when the nobility is too strong, and the royal name has been lowered by a series of weak or incapable rulers. In Odo's first year he was comparatively free from troubles within; the Vikings were spread all over the face of the land, and even the turbulent counts of Neustria refrained from rebellion in face of the danger, while Wido of Spoleto, the rival of the new king, had to quit the realm for want of followers. PERIOD I. 2 I
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 But while Odo was in Poitou the Vikings had odo with again gathered in great force on the lower Seine, ** 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 Civil Wars Rheims, were the chief of the rebels. There of odo and followed six years of desperate civil war; Odo oil.” imple. 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 cons. the much experience in the uncertainties of war and simple, king in the bearing of adverse fortune (899). He :France, -929. was a man of energy and resource, the worthy brother of the long-dead Lewis III., 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 threw themselves into the arms of Charles the joined to Simple. From 912 onwards he reigned as their *** king, 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. --