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their activity grew incessantly; every year their fleets discovered some new and rich field for plunder, till no creek or estuary of western Europe was unknown to their pilots. We have already told how Charles the Great was so vexed by their first ravages that he endeavoured to establish a defensive flotilla in all the ports of Neustria, and how in the last years. of his reign the Danish king Godfred had given him serious trouble both in the south Baltic and on the Frisian shore." We have mentioned the far more important descents of the Vikings on the lands about the Rhine mouth in the days of the feeble government of good king Lewis. But now the evil was still growing: the emperor Lothair and his brothers were to find the Northmen no longer a nuisance but a real danger. Nothing could have been more daring than the enterprise of the Northmen in setting out from their distant homes to undertake the long voyage to Ireland or Aquitaine. Their vessels were merely long narrow open boats, generally some seventy-five feet long by fifteen broad, but drawing only threeand-a-half feet of water. They relied on rowing more than on The ships of sailing, and their one mast could easily be lowered, the Vikings, and generally was taken down before a naval engagement. When the wind was favourable they used a single large square sail, but it was always in the strength and endurance of the oarsmen that they placed their main confidence. The ordinary Viking vessel seems to have carried about one hundred and twenty men, so that to transport any large body an enormous number of ships was required. But even in small numbers the Vikings were very formidable; they were all professional warriors, who had taken by choice to the trade of sea-robbers, and were individually far superior to the forced levies whom English aldermen or Frankish counts could hurry into the field against them. They were far better armed than their opponents, almost every man being well equipped with the shirt of ring-mail and steelhelmet, while among the Franks * See page 367.
and English only the nobles and chiefs were as yet wearing armour. They were also fighting for their lives: the pirate defeated in a strange country was completely at the mercy of the people of the land, and always doomed to death; hence he fought with a far greater fury than his enemies. But at first the Viking came to pillage rather than to fight: he was better pleased to plunder some rich undefended port or monastery and then put out to sea, than to win precarious spoil after hard handstrokes with the levies of an angry country-side. By this time the Vikings were operating on every coast in western Europe. It was not only the Franks who were suffering from their inroads: the English kingdoms and the Celts of Scotland and Ireland were faring even worse. The expeditions of the Northmen were now taking two well-marked courses; one was the voyage past Frisia and the Rhine-mouth to the Neustrian and south English coasts. The other was a longer and bolder adventure, the open sea voyage from the western capes of Norway to Orkney and Shetland, and thence southwest, past the Hebrides, to Ireland, Wales, and western England. The former line of plunder was mainly in the hands of the Danes; the latter was more frequented by the Norwegians. The other two northern peoples, the Swedes and Goths of the Scandinavian peninsula, were almost entirely engrossed in cruises eastward, against the Slavs and Finns of the Baltic. In the earlier years of the Viking raids, Ireland suffered more than any other country; its tribal kings could give no protection to their subjects. There was not a town in the island defended by a stone wall, and the numerous and wealthy monasteries, protected by their sanctity alone, lay open to the spoiler. The Norwegian pirates ranged at their good pleasure over the face of the land, and ere long the vikings commenced to winter in it, instead of returning in Ireland. home at the end of their summer ravages. It was in Ireland that they first bethought them of seizing the whole country and turning it into a new Norse kingdom. It was in the very PERIOD i. 2 D
year of the Partition of Verdun that a great chief named Thorgisl gained full possession of the northern half of the island, and established himself as king therein. He reigned for two years (843-45) with great success, till he fell by chance into the hands of Malachy, king of Meath, who drowned him in Loch Owel. With his death, his kingdom fell to pieces, and the Irish recovered much that he had conquered from his divided followers. But the Norwegians still clung to all the ports and headlands of Ireland: at Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Limerick, they built their towns and waged continual war against the Irish of the inland parts. England fared at first better than the sister isle. The great over-king Ecgbert of Wessex was well able to defend his realm; most of the Viking attacks were beaten off with loss as long as Ecgbert lived (802-838). But under his weaker son Ethelwulf the invasions grew more and more desperate and persistent, till in 850 we find the fatal sign that the Vikings succeeded for the first time in wintering in the land, fortifying themselves in the Kentish isle of Thanet, and defying the fyrd of Wessex to force the narrow waterway that separated it from the mainland. The Danes in the Frankish empire had a far harder task than their Norwegian brethren had found in Ireland, and for a long time they showed much greater caution in venturing inland, or accepting battle in the open field. They fled before the face of Lewis the Pious when he marched against them in force, and it was only when the empire was distracted by civil war that they began to strike boldly up the great rivers and plunder the towns of the interior. It was of evil import for the empire that just before the fight of Fontenay they had sailed up the Seine and taken Rouen (841), and that just before the pacification of Verdun they had entered the Loire and burnt the great port of Nantes. But when at last the Frankish kings had made peace, the Vikings had grown so bold that they persisted none the less in their attacks on the empire, and in the years that followed the new partition, their successes were even greater than before. All the three brothers were sorely beset by the Northmen, and two of them met with an unbroken series of disasters. Lewis the German fared best; the tough Saxon tribes on The Danes his frontier always made a good fight against in Saxony. their hereditary enemies the Danes. But the king saw the new town of Hamburg burnt in 845, so that its bishop had to fly to Bremen, and in 851 a great expedition sailed up the Elbe, defeated the Saxon counts in the open field and returned in triumph to Jutland after ravaging the eastern half of Saxony. Lothair and Charles fared far worse. The emperor saw his coastland in Frisia ravaged every year. It was in vain that he tried to gain peace by giving the island of Walcheren to Rorik the Dane, on the condition that he should hold it as a fief and guard the coast from his brethren. Other greedy adventurers followed Rorik, till the whole Frisian coast was dotted with their palisaded forts, and their ravages penetrated farther and farther inland, till Lothair in his palace at Aachen began to tremble for his own safety. But the lot of the young king Charles and of the Western Franks was still less happy. His realm had a far greater length of exposed coastland than those of his brethren, and he was vexed by a lingering civil war, for Pippin of Aquitaine had never acquiesced in the Partition of Verdun, and did his best to maintain himself among his partisans south of the Loire. After much fighting he was compelled for the vikings two years to do homage to Charles, but he soon in France. rose in arms again, and though his uncle had the better in the contest he was still able to keep up an obstinate resistance. Charles thought more of subduing Pippin than of warding off the Danes, and while he was engaged in Aquitaine the northern parts of his realm were fearfully maltreated. As early as 843 the Vikings found courage to winter in Neustria, seizing and fortifying the monastery of Noirmoutier on an island at the Loire-mouth. Next year they were enabled to strike far
inland, for Pippin, overborne by his uncle Charles, madly called in Jarl Oscar to his aid, and brought the Vikings up the Garonne as far as Toulouse. Thus introduced into the very heart of the land, they were able both to spy out its fertility and wealth, and to judge of the weakness and unwisdom of its rulers. It was not Aquitaine, however, that first felt their heavy hand. In 845 they boldly entered the Seine-mouth, plundered Rouen for the second time, and then ascended the river far higher than they had ever mounted before, up to the very walls of the city of Paris. Charles dared not face them, but fortified himself on the heights of Montmartre and the abbey of St. Denis, while the Vikings entered Paris and plundered part of the city, till, stricken by an inexplicable sack of panic, they returned to their boats and dropped Paris. down the river again. It was certainly not the army of Charles that they need have feared, for he was thinking of paying tribute rather than of fighting. Indeed he paid 7ooo lbs. of gold to this particular horde to induce them to quit Neustria altogether. From this time onward things went from bad to worse for king Charles, largely owing to his own faults as we may guess, for he was a fickle unsteady prince, always taking new enterprises in hand and dropping them suddenly for some fresh plan before he had half carried them out. Nor was his courage beyond suspicion; more than once in his reign he fled out of danger with an alacrity that savoured more of fear than of prudence. After the sack of Paris we find the Vikings hovering around Neustria on every side ; one band had established itself at the Loire-mouth, another under Jarl Oscar watched the Garonne, another devoted itself to the harrying of Flanders, and got succour when required from the emperor Lothair's Danish vassals on the isle of Walcheren. Spasmodically hurrying about from one scene of Viking outrages to another, king Charles protected nothing, and always arrived too late to be of use. In 847 even Bordeaux, the greatest city of southern Gaul, was beleaguered by the Vikings of the Garonne.