The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte (911): birth of Normandy

Relations between the Franks and the Normans (also known as Vikings) were initially confrontational. Then, as the Vikings took hold, the exchanges became more diplomatic, until everyone was happy with it. It is in this logic that is signed in 911 the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, birth certificate of Normandy, with decisive consequences, and whose 1100 years we are celebrating this year.

The Frankish kingdom in 911

The death of Charles the Fat in 888 led to what Claude Gauvard called “the birth of territorial principalities”. But the rupture is gradual, and less radical than at the Treaty of Verdun (843). The kingdom that interests us here is that of West Francia. Robertien Eudes, who defended Paris against the Normans in 885, is elected king by the Great. He was nevertheless a weak ruler, even if he received the support of Aquitaine and Arnulf of Germania. He quickly saw Louis de Provence, a descendant of the Carolingians, and Charles the Simple oppose him. Sick, King Eudes designates the second as his successor. Charles the Simple became king in 898.

The new master of Western Francia resumes the fight against the Normans. He achieved several successes until the one in front of Chartres, where he defeated a certain Rollon.

Rollo, mysterious Norman

Become the first count of Normandy, Rollo is paradoxically a famous but little-known character. Its origins are still the subject of debate among historians, but its existence is proven. It is not known whether he was of Danish or Norwegian or even Swedish origin: the Norwegian Rollo would have been banned and left to devastate Ireland, then Neustria (the north-west of West Francia). The Danish Rollo is known by Dudon de Saint-Quentin, a contemporary chronicler of Rollo's grandson, the Duke of Normandy Richard I. He obviously gives a very positive, even heroic image, and teaches us that Rollo was the son of a Danish chieftain, and that he was attacked in treason by the king of the time. Rollo must then flee, and he chooses England first, which he begins to plunder before making alliances with the local ruler (Alfred the Great?) At the end of the 9th century. Rollo then chose, still according to Dudon, to turn to Neustria: he would have participated in the siege of Paris (885), then in incursions into Burgundy (898 and 910). He finally failed in front of Chartres in July 911.

Whether the deeds of arms and Rollo's career are true or not, it is a fact: the Norman finds himself negotiating the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with Charles the Simple.

The Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte (911)

Negotiations between Normans and Franks began several months ago, with the active participation of the Archbishop of Rouen, who had known Rollo since his arrival in his city in 876, and who would have played an active role in the future conversion of the Vikings. King Charles the Simple, he had to fight against the discontent of the Great of his kingdom, including the Marquis of Neustria, who had participated in the victory of Chartres. These negotiations are preceded by a truce, with each camp occupying a bank of the Epte, the right for the Normans, the left for the Franks, with an exchange of hostages.

Rollo tries until the last moment to get a little more, while forcing the Franks to swear on their Christian faith, indicating that he knows full well who he is dealing with. Then comes the ceremony, where the Norman puts his hands in that of Charles, thus recognizing his submission to his overlord. He then grants him the hand of his daughter and especially the territories: the one between the Epte and the sea, as well as Brittany… to be conquered! The limits of what would become Normandy were then the main rivers in the region: Bresle, Epte, Eure, Avre, Touques and Dives. The important fact is that these lands are not in profit, as it usually happens between vassal and overlord, but in final donation, which was probably not the original intention of Charles the Simple. Rollo thus becomes a very important prince, with sovereign powers, and enjoys the land for himself and his heirs.

The conversion to Christianity of Rollo and the Normans

Another aspect of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte is the conversion of Rollo and his people to Christianity, although it seems that it was not part of the strict clauses of the text. Rollo was baptized in 912 in Rouen, which seemed to pose some difficulties for the Archbishop of Reims, being wary of these pagan barbarians.

The weight of the Archbishop of Rouen (or more precisely of the successive archbishops) also counted in the expansion of the Duchy of Normandy in the following years, in particular towards the west: in 924, Rollo subdued Bayeux and, in 933, his son Guillaume Longue Epée joined Coutances and Avranches. All these cities fall under the ecclesiastical authority of the Archbishop of Rouen ...

The consequences of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte

The power put in place by Rollo is inspired by both the Scandinavian model and the Frankish model. The Normans indeed have a real desire to integrate into the Frankish world, while keeping some traces of their origins. We see it in the fact that the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte is generally respected the following years. Then in the piety of the counts (then dukes) of Normandy from Guillaume Longue Epée, reputed to be a fervent Christian, which helped the integration of the people of Viking origin in the new lands. The Norman princes are finally perfectly integrated into the network of the Great, including in violent struggles, as shown by the assassination of William by the Count of Flanders in 942.

A powerful principality well anchored in the Frankish world, Normandy really asserted itself with the reign of Richard I (942-996). If his death causes succession disturbances, the power of the duchy is not diminished for all that, and Normandy even begins to have ambitions well beyond the Frankish kingdom, with Robert the Magnificent and obviously his son Guillaume, says the Conqueror, who conquered England in 1066. At the same time, a small Norman family, the Hautefeuille, even began to settle in the Mediterranean to eventually found the remarkable Norman kingdom of Sicily, and push until the Holy Land. Scandinavia is far away ...


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

- 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.

- R. Boyer (dir), The Vikings, first Europeans (8th-11th century), Otherwise, 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.

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