The Viking Siege of Paris part 2 of 2: Rollo the Walker and the Second Siege in the year 885

in Apr 21, 2023

Forty years after the first siege of Paris, another large Viking fleet of a few hundred ships sailed up the Seine. The year is 885, and the city of Rouen was the first to surrender to the Viking Raiders, with the citizens being well treated. One of the notorious Viking chieftains who participated in this raid was Ganger Hrollaug or Rolf the Walker (also known as Rollo or Rollon or Rolla). He was so giant that no horse could be found strong enough to carry him, therefore he had to walk.

statue of Rolf the Walker in Falaise, France

Sources differ about the origin of Rolf the Walker, some claiming he was of Norwegian origin, some say he was Danish. He had raided Neustria, a north-western part of modern France, since 876. In November of 885, he led an attack on Paris, demanding a tribute from Odo (Eudes), Count of Paris. When Count Odo decided not to pay, the Vikings decided to lay siege to the city.

Contrary to what happened during the first siege, this time the city was fortified and walled, and managed to withstand the siege. In February of 886, many of them moved to plunder nearby towns and villages. In April, a large part of them returned to Scandinavia with a small tribute and whatever loot they collected. The Parisians received reinforcements from Henry, Count of Saxony, but didn't dare to fight the remaining Vikings in the field. Henry himself died in a skirmish with the Vikings this year. Charles III “the Fat” (reigning from 881 to 888) arrived with his imperial army in October, lifted the siege and encircled the remaining Vikings under command of Rolf the Walker in their camp on Montmartre, but decided to negotiate rather than to fight.

King Charles III “the fat”, convinced the Vikings to sail up the Yonne to plunder Burgundy which was in revolt and promised to pay them 700 livres (257 kilograms) of silver upon their return. They sailed back in spring of 887, received the tribute and left the area. Rolf returned home with a captive wife Poppa, daughter of either Guy, Count of Senlis, or Berenger, Count of Bayeux, who died in battle with the Vikings.

IX century depiction of a Viking assault on Paris in 885 or 886

The Vikings were unable to sack Paris in 885 or 886 for two main reasons: They weren't experienced in siege warfare and they brought no siege equipment, albeit they did construct siege towers, battering rams and catapults later. The city was connected to the river banks by two bridges, a shorter one made of stone to the left bank (near modern Petit Point) and a longer one made of wood to the right bank (near modern Pont au Change). Each bridge-head had a tower protecting it. Instead of capturing both towers and using the bridges for the future assaults on the city, they launched a few unsuccessful attacks straight from the ships. When the siege was laid, they dug trenches on the river banks to cut supply lines to the defenders and tried to demolish the bridges which blocked passage for the Viking ships. The wooden bridge collapsed on the 6th of February 886 with 12 defenders left in the bridge-head tower who refused to surrender and were all killed.

Rolf the Walker with his men returned to Paris in 911, and Charles III “the Simple” or “the Straightforward” (reining from 898 to 922) decided to negotiate with them. He offered a title of count and his daughter Gisela to Rolf together with the city of Rouen and the surrounding area known later as Normandy. In order to marry her and become a vassal of the king, Rolf accepted Christianity from Franco, Archbishop of Rouen. He also had to kiss the king's foot to show his allegiance.

He refused initially saying he was neither going to bend his knee before any man nor kiss any man's foot, but complied eventually in his way (the vast amounts of money that came with the highly profitable land may have played a part to it). Charles the Simple was on horseback while Rolf stood by the side of his horse. He grabbed the king's foot and drew it up to his lips, which made the king almost to fall from his horse to a great amusement of the Vikings.

Later, Rolf moved to Rouen and granted parts of the county to his leading men as his vassals, establishing the feudal system there. He apparently wasn't much pleased with Gisela, as he divorced her and remarried to Poppa in 919. He ruled the County of Rouen until 927 and died before 933 being over 80 years old.

The County became the Duchy of Normandy somewhere in the early 11th century. Most of the Capetian kings of France descended from Rollo through various lines, as well as William the Conqueror, which was Rollo’s great-great-great-grandson.

The Vikings may not have plundered Paris a second time, but in the end, their descendants became kings of both France and England.

Norman conquests by 1130 portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry

There are some contradicting accounts in some sources, and the Frankish kings line of succession can be daunting to peruse, with two different kings under the same name: Charles III, with one being “the fat”, and the other “the simple”. There are also several oh-so-slightly different versions of these events recorded – and some events so convoluted that we decided not even to mention them. Please leave your comments below.




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Anthony Faulkes (1995) Snorri Sturluson, Edda. 3rd. edition. London, England: Everyman J. M. Dent. ISBN-13 978-0-4608-7616-2

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Colleen Newton

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