France from the Time of Charles the Bald to the Eleventh Century

During the reign of Charles the Bald, France first suffered from the attacks of the Normans, a race of bold and needy adventurers from the north of Europe. Their plundering invasions were continued for upwards of seventy years; till at length (912) the French king was compelled to purchase their amity by yielding to Rollo their leader the country afterwards from them called Normandy, of which Rouen was the capital. The first successor of Charles the Bald with whose name history has associated anything worth remembering, was Charles, surnamed the Fat (885). He was the son of that Louis to whom Germany had been before assigned, and was thus enabled to bring that country and France for a short time once more under a single ruler. In the turbulence of the times Charles was soon deposed; and during the century which followed, France, so lately the centre of an empire little less than that of Rome in the days of its Caesars, was split up into a multitude of independencies, by nobles who would own only a very slender subjection to the kings. Out of these nobles at last sprang Hugh Capet (987), who was enabled, on the death of Louis V, to place himself on the throne. He was already possessed of great property, and proved to be also a prince of much ability and penetration. He established the royal residence at Paris, which his predecessors had deserted, and became the founder of a family which, in one of its branches, occupied the throne of France till the overthrow of monarchy in 1848. He deserves to be mentioned with honor, as being among the first of European kings who trusted to prudence, counsel, and moderation, rather than force of arms, in effecting his purposes. On his death (996), in the fifty-seventh year of his age and the tenth of his reign, he was succeeded by his son Robert, who had all his father's equitable disposition without his vigor of character. He was subjected to a degree of tyranny on the part of the church of which perhaps the history of the world does not afford such another example. Robert had been guilty of marrying a cousin in the fourth degree without a dispensation from the Holy See - that is, without paying a fine for what was only an imaginary offense. Gregory V, who then occupied the pontifical chair, threatened to excommunicate Robert if he should not dismiss his wife, and, on Robert's refusal, actually did so, and laid all his dominions under an interdict. This punishment proved tremendous in its effects for though the king himself showed sense and courage enough to despise the wrath of the pontiff, yet his subjects deserted him in terror. The priests, in consequence of the interdict, refused sacrament to the sick all over the country, and the dead were everywhere left unburied, when mass was no longer said. In these circumstances the unfortunate king submitted. A second marriage, contracted with the consent of the church, proved very unhappy. The new queen, Constantia, or Constance, made many efforts to embroil her husband and his family, and in the midst of these Robert died (1031). His son Henry succeeded, and it was during his reign that those pilgrimages to the Holy Land, which were so soon to end in the Crusades, took their rise. Of these we shall speak by themselves. In the meantime we take leave of France by mentioning that Henry's successor was Philip (1060), whose reign is remarkable as having witnessed the beginning of those contests with England which continued at intervals till the early part of the nineteenth century.

At this period (1066) the Normans invaded and conquered England, where their leader, William, Duke of Normandy, became the founder of an important dynasty.