Baptizing Pirates: Fabula and Tri-functionality

in Norman Apology

published in Mediaevistik 4 (1991), pp. 157-178.


Baptising pirates was for centuries ineffective, and became a commonplace joke among the historians, chroniclers, hagiographers, and biographers of the Middle Ages(1). Pirates themselves were, of course, no joke, although the exact extent of the damage they did is difficult to determine, and modern historians oscillate between accepting, on the one hand, the assessment offered in the chronicle of St. Wandrille, numquam tale exterminum in his territoriis, and assuming the skeptical posture offered, with tongue well in cheek, by J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, when he suggests that the Viking were, "little more than groups of long-haired tourists who occasionally roughed up the natives."(2) Eventually, however, after enough land and people had passed into their political control, the pirates were converted to Christianity, leaving their descendants with the task of representing their pious metamorphosis. One of the most interesting problems which they set themselves was the task of fabricating a dramatic conversion-scene. The solution generally adopted by Norman historians with literary aspirations -- particularly Dudo of Saint-Quentin, Wace, and Benoit de Saint-Maure -- was to fabricate fabulae or, at best, argumenta, to serve as historia(3). Marius Victorinus provides a brief definition of these terms:

Fabulam dicit esse quae nihil veri nec veri simile continet ...

Deinde historia est, inquit, quae res veras continet, sed a nostra

memoria remotas...Argumentum est, quod quidem non est

factum, sed fiere potuisse creditur(4).

Since medieval writers did not affix such labels to their narratives, what is outright fiction, what is fact, and what is plausible though fictional cannot always be determined confidently.

Models for the three kinds of narrative existed in earlier texts, composed by writers in the service of the pirates' opponents; in historia, argumentum and fabula, they encoded Christian suspicion of the sincerity of pirates' baptisms, as well as suspicion of the baptisms and political submissions of Saxons, Arabs, heretics and other pagans(5). Their narratives also often encoded the political fact that baptism and conversion were functions of transactions involving the exchange of land(6). In Duby's sense of the terms, then, baptizing pirates involved all three functions: warrior, priest, and the more ambiguous category associated with labor, food, and fecundity(7).

The Carolingian aspiration to convert the pagans finds its simplest, most direct representation in a passage probably composed in 796; in the course of his elaborate panegyric, Ad Carolum Regem, Theodulph imagines pagans bending their necks and knees to the triumphant Charles, in simultaneous acknowledgement of temporal and spiritual hegemony(8):

Adveniunt gentes Christo servire paratae

quas dextra ad Christum sollicitante vocas... (ll. 37-38)

Ut veniunt Abares, Arabes nomadesque venite

regis et ante pedes flectite colla, genu.

(ll. 45 -46)

In a more complex representation, involving two of the three functions, the early ninth-century poet Ermoldus Nigellus provides an ideal model for converting pirates(9). In the course of depicting the baptism in 826 of the Danish leader Herold (ll. 2164-2365), Ermoldus composes an apostrophe, calling upon the Norseman to cast his own gods away, or turn them into plowshares, thus, in a sense, converting the false images of the second function into practical implements of the third function(10):

Dic, Herolde, precor jam nunc, quam pluris amabis

Celse, fidem regis an tua sculpta nequam?

Ferque fabricata focis auri argentique metalla,

et tibi sive tuis inde paretur honos.

Si ferrum fuerit, fortassis ad arva colenda

Sufficit, et cultros inde fabrire jube:

Plus tibi vomer opes telluri infixus habebit

Qua, deus ille tibi conferat arte sua. (ll. 2324-31)

Poetically, then, the apostrophe encodes the Carolingian's perception of the link between religious conversion and control and use of land.

After depicting Louis generously providing the Norseman with a royal feast, a hunt, and many fine gifts, Ermoldus represents Herold kneeling to submit his Colla jugo Christi (2464). The Dane then declares that he is now satisfied, both spiritually and physically, Corde Deo plenus, corpus habundat ope, (l. 2469), and therefore will recognize Louis as master of the Danes:

Mox manibus junctis regi se tradidit ultro

Et secum regnum, quod sibi jure fuit.

"Suscipe, Caesar, ait, me nec non regna subacta,

Sponte tuis memet confero servitiis."

Caesar at ipse manus manibus suscepit honestis;

Junguntur Francis Danica regna piis. (2481-87)

Although, as Faral points out, Herold had sworn fealty twelve years before his baptism, no exchange of land is recorded at that time. The Royal Frankish Annals, however, records a gift of land that accompanied the baptism in 826. Recognizing, then, that the sacred ceremony needed secular, material support -- that is, the second function performs most effectively when supported by the third -- Ermoldus had some justification for collapsing time, melding the two ceremonies to permit sacred and secular rituals to support each other(11).

For the most part, however, successful conversions in the eighth and ninth century were rare, and the comic anecdote offered later in the ninth century by Notker the Stammerer, in his historical farrago, De Carolo Magno (II.xix), reflects some of the frustration involved with the task of converting Scandinavians(12). Like Ermoldus' passage, the late ninth-century scene is part of a Carolingian panegyric, however it eventually modulates into a jeremiad. Notker introduces the incident with a Biblical analogy:

Et quia de Northmannis mentio incidit, quanti

fidem habeant et baptismum, de rebus avi vestri

temporalibus gestis paucis evolvam. Ut post mortem

bellicosissimi David multo tempore finitimae

gentes, manu fortissima subiugatae, eius filio

Salomoni pacific tributa dependerunt, ita propter

timorem et tributa, augustissimo imperatori Karolo

persoluta, filium eius Hludowicum gens immanissima

Northmannorum simili veneratione solebat honorare.

In one of his encounters with the Northmen, Notker's Charlemagne asks if they are willing to accept Christianity, and they proclaim themselves willing to obey him in omnibus. Their willingness is not a sign of sincere religious conviction, but of political expediency, as Notker makes insistently clear in his remarks on the sartorial symbols of their submission:

Qui a primoribus palacii quasi in adoptionem

filiorum suscepti, de camera quidem caesaris

candidatum, a patrinis vero suis habitum Francorum

in vestibus preciosis et armis caeterisque

ornatibus acceperunt. Quod cum diutius

actitaretur, et non propter Christum sed propter

commoda terrena ab anno in annum multo prlures iam

non ut legati sed ut devotissimi vassali ad

obsequium imperatoris in sabbato sancto paschae

festinarent occurrere, contigit, ut quodam tempore

usque ad quinquaginta venissent.

The fifty, according to Notker, confess their sins, undergo baptism, and line up to receive their new clothes. This time, however, their expectations are disappointed:

Quos imperator interrogatos, si baptizari votum

haberent, et confessos iussit aqua sacrata sine

mora perfundi. Cumque tot lineae vestes non essent

in promptu, iussit incidi camisilia et in modum

sepium consui vel in modum vitium pastinari.

One of the Norsemen, an old hand at baptism, complains that his previous conversions were more rewarding:

Iam vicies hic lotus sum et optimis

candidissimisque vestibus indutus; et ecce talis

saccus non milites sed subolcos addecet. Et nisi

nuditatem erubescerem, meis privatus nec a te

datis contectus, amictum tuum cum Christo tuo tibi


At this point Notker drives his point home with Biblical allusions, as well as with a complaint about his own times:

Tanti pendunt hostes Christi, quod ait apostolus

Christi: Omnes, qui in Christo baptizati estis,

Christum induistis, et illud: "Quicunque

baptizati sumus in Christo Jesu, in morte ipsius

baptizati sumus, et quod maxime contra

contemptores fidei violatoresque sacramentorum

vigilat: Rursum crucifigentes sibi filium Dei et

ostentavi habentes. Quod utinam apud gentiles

tantum et non etiam inter eos, qui Christi nomine

censentur, sepius inveniretur!"(13)

Notker's anecdote is comic partly because the conversion does not involve the exchange of land, but only the literally superficial exchange of ceremonial garments. Futile baptisms, however, frequently produced more violent results, as a tale told by Richer late in the tenth century suggests. After winning a fierce battle, with the aid of his standard-bearer Ingo, King Eudes captures the leader of the pirates, and makes him an offer he cannot refuse:

Utiliter ergo patrata victoria, rex tirannum

captum secum Lemovicas ducit ibique ei vitae ac

mortis optionem dedit, si baptizaretur, vitam, sin

minus, mortem promittens. Tirannus mox absque

contradicitone baptizari petit; sed dubium an

fidei quicquam habuerit(14).

King Eudes now demands a gesture of piety from the pirate -- a three-day fast -- and proceeds to carry out the ritual of baptism. The pirate leader, however, does not survive his baptism; instead, Ingo murders him as the ritual is about to be completed:

Quia ergo Pentecostes instabat sollempnitas ac

episcoporum conventus regi aderat, ab episcopis ei

triduanum indicitur jejunium. Die vero constituta,

cum in basilica sancti Marcialis martiris, post

episcoporum peracta officia, in sacrum fontem ab

ipso rege excipiendus descenderet jamque trina

immersione in nomine patris et Filii et Spiritus

sancti baptizatus esset, Ingo ante signifer,

gladio educto, loetaliter eum transverberat ac

fontem sacratum vulneris effusione immaniter


Ingo then clings to the altar of saint Martial, until the king abates his fury sufficiently to grant his standard-bearer a forum for his own defense. He defends himself so well, that he receives not only a pardon from king Eudes, but the castle of Blois, together with the chatelaine of Blois for a wife. Unfortunately, he dies soon after his gentrification, of a disease described with elaborate, and apparently professional competence, by Richer.

Ineffective baptisms, however, did not usually result in violence against pirates. Approximately twenty years after Richer composed his text, early in the eleventh century, Dudo of Saint-Quentin provided two dramatic examples of pirate conversions in his Deeds and acts of the first leaders of Normandy. The first offers an example of treacherous, sacrilegious brutality on the part of the pirates; the second offers the image of a successful, permanent conversion. Dudo invents Hastings, an almost entirely fictive figure, to absorb some of the negative qualities that probably belonged to the historical original of the second figure, Rollo, a Norman of questionable piety, whom Dudo turns into a mostly fictional figure(15). Together they contribute to Dudo's purpose, as Duby describes it:

What our clerk meant to say was that the Norman

chiefs had emerged from the depths of barbarism

and had by degrees risen to Christian culture and

to the divine grace conveyed therein. At first

they had relied on the monks, and later had

concluded their civilizing works with the help of

the secular church. (p. 85)

To lend resonance and dignity to the brutal achievements of the pirates, Dudo performs pyrotechnical feats, in a mixture of prose and various forms of verse, importing references from philosophy, theology, music, and rhetoric(16). In the course of his performance, Dudo encodes the change from pirate to landowner, with a consequent emphasis on labor, the means of production, and on women, the means of perpetuating ownership.

To represent the worst of the barbaric past, Dudo retrieves the figure of Hastings, mentioned neither by Flodoard nor by Richer, heaping upon this shadowy figure, who may be a conflation of at least two ninth-century pirates, every conceivable abhorrent quality, in spite of the fact that, as Prentout points out: "... de tous les faits relatifs ‹ Hasting que mentionnent les annales franques, il ne s'en trouve pas un qui concerne la Normandie."(17) Rollo, then, becomes an equivocal, transitional figure, playing approximately the role that his son William had played in Richer's account(18).

In Dudo's text, the contrast between Hastings and Rollo is only implicit; however, more than a century later, Wace, early in his Roman de Rou, makes Hastings' function as an antithesis to Rollo and his descendants explicitly clear(19):

Amdui furent Danoiz, mez moult furent divers,

Rou fist auques a droit, Hastains fist a envers,

Rou fu amiables, Hastainz fier et divers(20).

If the figure of Hastings becomes the locus of all pirate vices, and Rollo the transitional figure, then Rollo's son William Longsword, and William's son Richard are free to absorb as many positive qualities as Dudo can invoke from the early eleventh-century storehouse of panegyric commonplaces. Hastings' baptism, then, is false, the better that Rollo's may be true.

In Dudo's text, Hastings' behavior is paradigmatically execrable at Luna, where he submits to a Christian baptism, not to save his soul, but as part of a ruse to take the Italian city, which he believes, presumably with pirate stupidity, to be Rome. Claiming to be mortally ill(21) and desperate to be baptized, Hastings is brought on a litter to a cathedral within the city walls, where his men proceed to murder everybody in sight. Dudo's representation of the slaughter is conventional, and significant mostly as a dramatization of the violation of the second function by those momentarily in command of the first function:

Participant omnes Christiani mystico sacrificio

Jesu Christi. His missarum solemniis decenter

expletis, paulatimque paganis congregatis, jussit

praesul corpus ad sepulturam deferri. Pagani cum

magno clamore petebant feretrum, et dicebant

alternatim non eum sepeliendum. Stabant igitur

Christiani super responsis eorum stupefacti. Tunc

Alstignus feretro desiluit, ensemque fulgentem

vagina deripuit. Invasit funestus praesulem librum

manu tenentem. Jugulat praesulem, prostrato et

comite, stantemque clerum in ecclesia inermem.

Obstruxerunt pagani ostia templi, ne posset ullus

elabi. Tunc paganorum rabies trucidat Christianos

inermes. Traduntur omnes neci, quos furor reperit

hostis. Saeviunt infra delubri septa, ut lupi

infra ovium caulas. Corde premunt gemitum

mulieres, lacrymasque effundunt inanes. Juvenes

cum virginibus loris concatenantur simul(22).

To produce this argumentum if not fabula, Dudo may be recollecting a passage from Einhard's Life of Charlemagne, in which, immediately after describing the precautions taken by Charlemagne to reduce the damage done by Norse pirates and by the Moors, Einhard lists two exceptions to the success of Charlemagne's policy; Civita Vecchia was destroyed by the treachery of the Moors, and certain Frisian islands were harried by Vikings:

Ac per hoc nullo gravi damno vel a Mauris Italia

vel Gallia atque Germania a Nordmannis diebus suis

adfecta est, prater quod Centumcellae civitas

Etruriae per proditionem a mauris capta atque

vastata est et in Frisia quaedam insulae Germanico

litori contiguae a Normannis depraedatae sunt.

(pp. 52-54)

Dudo seems to have melded the Moorish and Viking threats, and, on the hint of Morrish treachery, filled in a background by reinventing the stories of treacherous pirate baptism(23). Pagans raging against helpless Christians, as the second function is violated by the first, is the image firmly established by the scene, that is based on no incident in Flodoard or in Richer.

At this point in his version of the incident at Luna, Wace expands Dudo's commonplace comparison, involving wolves and sheep, by adding peasants, and a rudimentary farm-scene, thus augmenting the first two functions with the third:

Quant vint a le biere porter,

que l'en dut le corps enterrer,

Hastainz de la biere sailli,

s'espee traite fist un cri;

au premerain coup qu'il donna

a l'evesque le chief coupa,

a son parrain coupa la teste

com se fust une vil beste.

Paienz, touz trai(s)tes lor espees

et lez chapes des cols jetees,

les portes coururent fermer,

que nus n'en peust eschaper;

dez chetiz font tel tueiz

comme li leu fet de brebiz

quant il peut entrer en teit,

que li villainz ne s'aperchoit;

estrangle moutons et brebiz

et aigniaux touz granz et petiz.

Ensement firent li paien

du dolent peuple crestien... (693-712)

Thus Wace, in an instance of his tendency to amplify his sources in the direction of a more comprehensive representation of historical reality, adds to the scene the third function, in the form of laborers.

The tendency might be attributed to the nature of the genre in which he worked -- and, to an extent impossible to determine with any certitude, to Wace's own temperament(24). Perhaps as a result of his more comprehensive vision, as well as, "une certaine malice,"(25) he lost the job of official Norman verse-historian to Benoit(26).

Benoit also adds the third function to the scene, while restoring Hastings as a cutthroat; however, in keeping with Duby's perception that Benoit feminized the third function(27), the text offers not peasant-laborers, but, perhaps in a poetic reinvention of Wace's decapitation, the mutilated arms and breasts of weeping women, thereby feminizing horror:

E Hastenc est em piez sailli,

Enz en son poign s'espee nue.

Com male deserte a rendue

A saint evesque, som parrein!

Tot le fendi deci qu'eu sain;

Mort l'a e le conte ensement,

S'a il des meillors plus de cent.

Paine unt les portes serrees,

Les eisues e les entrees.

Li clerjez est enz desarme

E tuit icil de la cite;

Nunt desfense, nen unt od quei.

Fu mais oiz si fait deslei?

Detrenchent les, n'os sai plus dire.

Alas! com doleros martire!

Hauz criz crient e angoissos,

De nule part ne sunt rescos.

Braient dames, plorent puceles

Cui l'en cope braz e mameles.

Soz les autex les escervient,

Toz detrenchent e tot ocient(28).

After such horror, then, to make Rollo more appealing than Hastings would not be the most difficult rhetorical task imaginable.

As part of his comprehensive panegyric of Norman aristocrats, Dudo describes Rollo's military prowess as so great, that only God can stop him. In addition, however, Dudo must provide Rollo with pious possibilities. Consequently, a vox divina, combining the Augustinian commonplace of the voyage of life and Gregory's pun on the beauty of the English(29), announces to the sleeping Rollo that he must first travel to the British Isles:

"Rollo, velociter surge, pontum festinanter

navigio transmeans, ad Anglos perge: ubi audies

quod ad patriam sospes reverteris, perpetuaque

pace in ea sine detrimento frueris."

A convenient Christian interprets the message, stressing its baptismal aspect:

Hoc somnium cum cuidam sapienti viro et

Christicolae retulisset, hujusmodo sermone

interpretatus est: "Tu vergente venturi temporis

cursu sacrosancto baptismate puricaberis,

praedignusque Christicola efficieris: et ab errore

fluctuantis saeculi ad Anglos, scilicet Angelos,

usque olim pervenies, pacemque perennis gloriae

cum illis habebis." (pp. 144-145)

Rollo, however, still hesitates, and Dudo provides him with a second dream vision, whose primary visual elements are a mountain, a purifying fountain, and birds of many colors, whose left wings are red. When his advisors lapse into silence at the prospect of interpretation, one of his Christian prisoners explains the meaning of the vision, again anticipating the Norseman's baptism:

Mons Franciae quo stare videbaris, Ecclesia illius

designatur. Fons, qui in summitate montis erat,

baptismus regenerationis interpretatur....Te in eo

ablui et ab eo leprae pruriginisque morbo

expurgari, te lavacro sacri baptismatis

regenerari, et ab omnibus peccatis emundari...Per

alites fonte infusas, et in eo alternatim ablutas,

communique comestione edentes, populum antiquae

fraudis contagio pollutum, typico baptismato

abluendum, sacrosancti corporis et sanguinis

Christi alimonia saginandum.

Thus Rollo is persuaded, after a relatively peaceful interlude in England, to cross the channel to find his home in France. Yet another test, however, awaits him; assailed by a violent storm in the midst of the crossing, Rollo responds with a pious outbreak, composing a prayer of eleven hexameters, resonantly nasal(30), acknowledging both his own guilt and the power of the Christian deity:

O Deus omnipotens, coelestia lumine complens,

Qui coelum terramque tenes per secula, cujus

Numen et aeterno complectens omnia giro,

Infectum vitiis peccati et faece repletum,

Qui me Christicolam fieri vis munere visi

Temporis exiguo cursu volvente futuri:

Suscipe vota libens, precibusque faveto benignus,

Fluctus sedatisque feros compesce ruinis,

Casibus eripiens istis nos atque labore,

Comprime demulscens, mitescens, atque serena

Undantem nimium violente turbine pontum. (p. 149)

The sea, of course, immediately subsides, demonstrating the efficacy of subordinating the first function to the second.

Having planted the seeds of piety in his character, Dudo now brings Rollo to land, and to immediate military success. Less brutal than his predecessors, Rollo shows compassion to Raginerus, thus remaining memor visionis, semperque sperans affuturum sibi quod viderat in somnis. In one of the many apostrophes which he composes throughout his text, Dudo calls upon Rollo to think of the future, and particularly of his impending baptism:

Hinc fontis liquidi, et sacri rorem subiturus,

Chrismate perfusus, oleique liquore novatus,

Praemiae perpetuae capies cum munere vitae.

In the course of ravaging France, however, the pirate king suffers his first defeat. When the Archbishop of Chartres marches forth from the besieged town with a set of holy relics, singing, the combination of relics and song strikes terror in the heart of Rollo, who flees, followed closely by his men. Thus the military power of Christianity, and the pious potential of the pirate reveal themselves simultaneously(31).

Flodoard has no comparable scene in the Annales. Although he does record the conversion of the pirates, without specifically mentioning Rollo(32), he says nothing of feudal submission or marriage. Significantly, in Flodoard the conversion follows the defeat at Chartres, with no intervening scene in which the French demand that their king negotiate with the overpowering pirate:

De Nordmannorum quoque mitigatione atque

conversisone valde laboravit, donec tandem post

bellum, quod Rotbertus comes contra eos Carno

tenus gessit, fidem Christi suscipere coeperunt,

concessis sibi maritimis quibusdam pagis, cum

Rothmagensi, quam pene deleverant, urbe et isdem


Clearly, then, Dudo is involved in fabricating a scene that allows Rollo to maintain his primacy in the first function, that permits the power of the second function its peculiar hegemony, and that incorporates what must have been an historical fact -- the pirates were defeated at Chartres.

Dudo imagines the scene dramatically, with the Archbishop delivering a sermon emphasizing everyman's human limitations, then offering salvation and real estate:

Deum te aestimas? Limo plasmatus, nonne homo es?

Nonne es esca vermium, cinisque et pulvis? Memento

qualis es et eris, et cujus judicio damnaberis.

Herebro, ut reor, frueris, nec quamquam lacesses

ultra praelis. Si vis Christianus fieri, praesenti

futuraque pace poteris frui, ditissimusque hac

terra morari (p. 168).

Neither in the discussion with the king, urging him to negotiate with the pirates, nor in the Archbishop's negotiations with Rollo, does Dudo permit anyone to mention the severe damage done by Rollo's men. In an earlier passage

(pp. 164-165), Dudo does give a vague description of their destructive activity, but it follows a truce foolishly broken by the Franks, so that the results, mostly involving killing peasants, seem, in a sense, "just," particularly since Dudo's sense of the significance of those who labor in the fields is slight.

Wace, however, provides a more judgmental, less diplomatic ecclesiastic; when his Archbishop addresses Rollo on the necessity for conversion and feudal submission, he suggests that the pain inflicted by the Viking in life will be symmetrically awarded to him after death:

"Rou," dist il, "Dex veut creistre t'onnor et ton barnage;

en painne et en malice as use ton aage

et vescu d'autrui lermes et d'autre gaaignage,

maint homme as essillie et torne a servage

et mis par povrete mainte fame au putage,

et tolloit lor chasteaux et lor droit heritage;

ne prenz conroi de t'ame plus que beste sauvage,

tu iras en enfer en dolerouz mesnage,

en perdurable painne qui onques n'asoage,

de vivre longuement n'as pleige ne gage. (ll. 1120-29)

Once again Wace provides a passage that reflects his general tendency to give a more complex account of historical reality than what Dudo and Benoit provide.

The pirates recover, however, from their miraculous defeat, to continue their triumphs until the French are brought to their knees. When the nobles assemble to urge Charles to make peace with the pirates, Dudo uses the occasion to compose yet another encomium of Rollo, as a chorus of Frenchmen heap honorific epithets upon him:

Rollo superbo regum ducumque sanguine natus,

corpore pulcherrimus, armis fervidus, consilio

providus, aspectu decorus, contra suos mansuetus

... (p. 166)

The relentless panegyric continues for ten more lines, and contrasts sharply with Wace's version of the scene, which allows far more of historical reality to break in. Instead of a chorus of undifferentiated aristocrats, Wace offers several distinctive perspectives, each of which emphasizes the destructive powers of the pirates; describing the damage done several times, not as an exercise in "epic repetition," but to provide several perspectives, again produces a more comprehensive vision of historical reality. First he describes the destruction from the perspective of the narrator, then from the perspective of the notables in general, and then, dramatically, from the perspective of the negotiating Archbishop.

As the narrator, he locates the geographical limits and the damage to property and to human beings: old and young, men and women, the great and the small, husbands and wives, all suffer, paradoxically alike in pain, though members of conventionally antithetic categories:

Le plain pais gasterent, de Bleiz jusq'a Saint Liz,

les hommes ont destruiz et lez avoir raviz,

n'i remaint bourc a fraindre qui tant fust bien garniz

se il ne fust bien clos de murs ou de palis;

dexz hommes voissiez merveilloux tueiz,

n'en ont nule pitie plus que lou de brebiz,

tuent jembles et viex, tuent granz et petiz,

veuves font les moilliers, orfelinz font les fiz,

et porgiessent les dames dejouste lor mariz;

icelle honte suffre nul franz homs a enviz. (ll. 1056-1065)

From the perspective of the clergy and the nobility (i.e., the first two functions), the king is to blame for the major problem caused by Norman aggression -- a fall in production and distribution (third function):

Voient la felonnie, voient la crualte

dez Normanz et de Rou qui le regne ont gaste:

de Bleiz jusqu'a Saint Liz n'a un arpent de ble,

marcheant n'osent aler n'a chastel n'a cite,

villainz n'osent en vingne laborer ne en pre,

si ceste chose dure moult avront grant cierte,

ja tant com guerre soit nen avront grant plente;

face pais as Normanz, trop a cest mal dure. (ll. 1073-80)

However, although Dudo is concerned for the most part with producing unrelieved panegyric, he acknowledged the destructive activities of the pirates in an earlier scene, that, significantly, takes place in another country. When Rollo promises king Aethelstan, in return for one half the land and wealth of the kingdom, to repress the rebellious factions in England, he proposes a series of destructive accomplishments that culminate in three elements, or aspects, of the third function:

Quos vis, conteram, quos voluerit disperdam.

Subvertam urbes eorum, villasque et oppida

incendiam ipsorum: proteram eos et dispergam,

subjiciam eos tibi et occidam. Uxores et semen

eorum captivabo, et armenta eorum devorabo. (p.


Significantly, Benoit's Archbishop reduces Rollo's destructive function by distributing the blame between Hastings and Rollo (ll. 8472ff.), while magnifying the appeal for conversion to 110 lines. At this point in all three texts, the Archbishop urges Rollo to marry the king's daughter, which he agrees to do, leaving only one final transaction to be accomplished: a ritual submission, which Rollo perceives as humiliating.

Instructed to kiss the king's foot, he resists, assigning the task to one of his soldiers, who performs the gesture without bending over; as a result, the king ends up on his back, with everyone laughing:

Rolloni pedem regis nolenti osculari dixerunt

episcopi: "Qui tale donum recipit, osculo debet

expetere pedem regis." Et ille: "Nunquam curvabo

genua mea alicujus genibus, nec osculabor

cujuspiam pedem." Francorum igitur precibus

compulsus, jussit cuidam militi pedem regis

osculari. Qui statim pedem regis arripiens,

deportavit ad os suum, standoque defixit osculum,

regemque fecit resupinum. Itaque magnus excitatur

risus, magnusque in plebe tumultus. (p. 169)

Rollo's behavior here is represented in language that deliberately recalls the earlier description of his father, a man too proud to bow his neck before any man:

qui nunquam colla suae cervicis cuipam regis

subegit, nec cujuslibet manibus gratia servitii

manus suas commendando commisit (p. 141).

The scene displeased Michelet very much: "Telle était l'insolence de ces barbares,"(33) but he might have felt even greater repugnance towards Wace's version of the scene, in which Rollo himself, and not one of his retainers, overturns the king:

Rou devint hons li roiz et sez mains li livra;

quant beiser dut le pie baiser ne se daingna,

la main tendi aval, le pie au roi leva,

a sa bouche le traist et le roiz enversa,

assez s'en ristrent tuit, et le roiz se drescha. (ll. 1152-56)

A milder version of the scene, in a chronicle compiled in the early thirteenth century, also offers a comic element in the conversion of Rollo, but it emphasizes the linguistic, rather than the religious differences between the pirates and their unwilling hosts.

Hic Carolus dedit Normanniam Rolloni cum filia sua

Gisla. Hic non est dignatus pedem Caroli

osculari, nisi ad os suum levaret. Cumque sui

comites illum ammoneret ut pedem Regis in

acceptionem tanti muneris oscularetur, lingua

Anglica respondit, Ne se bi Goth, quod

interpretatur, Non, per Deum. Rex vero et sui

illum deridentes, et sermonem ejus corrupte

referentes, illum vocaverunt Bigoth: unde Normanni

adhuc Bigothi dicuntur(34).

This version of the incident encodes the necessity that accompanied the religious conversion of converting from the Norse language to Latin. However, according to Ademar of Chabannes, William Longsword himself accomplished the religious and linguistic shift after the death of Rollo:

Tunc Roso defuncto 8' (an. 931), filius ejus

Willelmus loco ejus praefuit, a puericia

baptizatus, omnisque eorum Normannorum, qui juxta

Frantiam inhabitaverant, multitudo fidem Christi

suscepit, et gentilem linguam obmittens, Latino

sermone assuefacta est (PL 141, c. 44).

Although Dudo could not have found a scene like this in Flodoard or Richer, he could have found a scene that encoded a similar historico-political fact -- that the balance of power in north-eastern France lay in the hands of the pirates when Carolingian power diminished -- in a incident Richer relates involving Rollo's son, William Longsword.

Richer imagines a scene in the royal quarters at Attigny, where Hugh the Great, Herbert of Vermandois, Arnold the Old, Louis d'Outre-Mer -- four of the five most powerful men jockeying for power, more frequently as brokers than as warriors, in northern France in the middle of the tenth century, meet with the emperor Otto, having excluded, for some mysterious reason, the pirate prince:

Et die constituta rex ibi cum provinciarum

principibus affuit, Hugone videlicet cognomento

Magno, Arnulfo Morinorum, Wilelmo piratarum

ducibus, ac Heriberto tiranno; nec defuit Saxoniae

rex Otto. Ludovicus rex, cum in conclavi sese cum

Ottone rege ac principibus recepisset, consilio

incertum an fortuitu, solus Wilelmus dux admissus

non est.

Understandably, William Longsword grows angry, and literally breaks into the meeting:

Diucius ergo afforis exspectans, cum non

vocaretur, rem animo irato ferebat. Tandem in iram

versus, utpote manu et audatia nimius foribus

clausis vim intulit ac retrorsum vibrabundus


The sight that greets his eyes displeases him mightily, since Otto, not Louis has the seat of honor; the pirate proceeds first to establish his right to be present, and then to put the two men in their proper places:

Ingressusque lectum conspicatur gestatorium. In

quo etiam a parte cervicalis Otto editior, rex

vero in parte extrema humilior residebat. In

quorum prospectu Hugo et Arnulfus, duabus

residentes sellis, consilii ordinem exspectabant.

Vuilelmus regis injuriam non passus: "An," inquit,

"his interesse non debui? Desertorisne dedecore

aliquando sordui?" Fervideque propinquans:

"Surge," inquit, "paululm rex!" Quo mox surgente,

ipse resedit. Dixit indecens esse regem

inferiorem, alium vero quemlibet superiorem

videri; quapropter oportere Ottonem inde amoliri

regique cedere. Otto pudore affectus surgit ac

regi cedit. Rex itaque superior, at Vuilelmus

inferior consederunt. (pp. 170-172)

Symbolically and single-handedly, then, William restores order, and, more importantly for Richer, Carolingian hegemony, to northern France. Whether fabula or argumentum, the scene, like the one Dudo fabricates for the conversion of Rollo, encodes an historical-political truth about tenth-century politics in northern France: the faction to whom the Normans threw their support would win.

However, the scene has no sacred elements. Part of Dudo's contribution to Norman panegyric was to combine the truth encoded in Richer's scene with the even more difficult rhetorical task of dissipating the audience's well-founded suspicion of the notion that pirates made good Christians in the early tenth century. Therefore Dudo, followed by Wace and Benoit(35), goes to great lengths to prepare a convincing baptism for Rollo, in which feudal submission,

marriage, and baptism -- rituals to represent all three functions -- follow each other in rapid succession. The results encode and dramatize two historical, political facts simultaneously: in the tenth century Norsemen held the balance of power in Northern France; their religious conversion was brought about not by eloquent, inspirational missionary preachers, but by grants of land and alliances through marriage(36).



(1) This essay is based on the hypothesis that history during the middle ages was a branch either of grammar or of rhetoric (i.e., it was a part of literature). For a densely compacted discussion of this hypothesis, see Herbert Grundmann, Geschichtsschreibung im Mittelalters, Göttingen, 1965. For a more extensive, lavishly detailed discussion, see Bernard Guenée, Histoire et culture historique dans l'occident médiéval, Paris, 1980. In English, the argument was popularized by R.G. Collingwood, in The Idea of History, Oxford, 1946. The most elegantly epigrammatic representation of the perception belongs to Paul Zumthor, who momentarily obliterates the distinction between fiction and history when he remarks, "Historiographie ni roman n'avaient pour fonction de prouver une vérité mais de créer." Langue, texte, énigme, Paris, 1975, p. 245). Two recent examples of useful practical criticism are: Nancy Partner, Serious Entertainment, Chicago, 1977; John O. Ward, "Some Principles of Rhetorical Historiography in the Twelfth Century," in Classical Rhetoric and Medieval Historiography, ed. Ernst Breisach, Kalamazoo, 1985, pp. 103-165.

(2) J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, Early Medieval History, New York, 1976, pp. 220, 222.

(3) For further discussion of these terms, see Heinrich Lausberg, Handbuch der literarischen Rhetorik, 2 vols., Munich, 1960, I.146-240 on structure. For some useful applications of the terms, see Michael Lapidge, "Gildas' Education and the Latin Culture of Sub-Roman Britain," pp. 41ff., in Gildas: New Approaches, ed. Michael Lapidge and David Dumville, Woodbridge, 1984.

(4) Rhetores Latini minores, ed. C. Halm, Leipzig, 1863, p. 202.

(5) For Frankish suspicion of Saxon baptisms and political submissions, see the Royal Frankish Annals, or Einhardi Annales, for the year 776 (MGH, Scriptores I, p. 156). The composer of the Reginonis Chronicon makes the following judgement:

Quanto vero illi plus pavore perterriti fugerunt,

tanto magis christiani conforti omnipotentem

Dominum laudabant, qui salvos facit sperantes in

se (MGH Scriptores I, p. 558).

(6) For the argument that baptism in Carolingian times involved military and political motivation, see Arnold Angenedt, "Taufe und Politik in frühen Mittelalter," Frühmittelalterliche Studien VII (1973), pp. 143-168; see also Karl Hauck, "Karolingische Taufpfalzen im Spiegel hofnaher Dichtung. Uberlegung zur Ausmalung von Pfalzkirchen. Pfalzen und Reichklöstern," in Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften, Göttingen, I. Philologisch-historische Klasse (1985, 1), 3-95. Hauck edits a poem that represents Charlemagne's conversion of the Saxons in 777 by military force, without a specifically imagined conversion scene.

(7)For a discussion of these terms, see Georges Duby, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined Chicago, 1980 (original, Paris, 1978). Duby develops the scheme, originally devised by Dumezil, of Warrior, Priest, and a function more difficult to define, in the area of labor and fecundity. As Dumezil describes the difficulties of delimiting the domain of the third function, he seems to be describing Joyce's Molly Bloom:

Il est moins aisé de cerner en quelque mots l'essence de la troisième fonction, qui couvre des provinces nombreuses, entre lesquelles des liens évidents apparaissent, mais dont l'unité ne comporte pas de centre net: fécondité certes, humaine, animale et vegetale, mais en m¦me temps nourriture et richesse, et santé, et paix ... et souvent volupté, beauté...(L'idéologie tripartie des Indo-Européens, Brussels, 1958,

p. 19).

See also Jean Flori, L'Essor de la chevalerie, Geneva, 1986, for an attempt to apply tri-functionality to a study of feudal ritual; Joel H. Grisward's Archéologie de l'épopée médiévale, Paris, 1981, offers an application of trifunctionality to a specific medieval genre.

(8) Mon. Germ. Hist., Poetae latini aevi carolini, ed. Dummler, I, Berlin, 1881, p. 483.

(9) As Arnold Angenendt points out (Kaiserherrschaft und Königstaufe, Berlin, 1984, pp. 215-223) the conversion was also accompanied by a gift of land.

(10) Ermold le Noir, Poème sur Louis le Pieux, ed. Edmond Faral, Paris, 1932, p. 178.

(11) Ermoldus' alteration is not the most cavalier alteration of pirate chronology to have taken place during the early Middle Ages. A far greater chronological discrepancy occurs when Richer, the late tenth-century historian with Carolingian proclivities, ascribes to 988 AD the offer of land in exchange for baptism made by the Franks in 911 AD; see Histoire de France, ed. by Robert Latouche, Paris, 1967, pp. 12-14.

(12) De Carolo Magno, ed. Philipp Jaffe, Bibliotheca Rerum Germanicorum, vol. IV, Berlin, 1867, pp. 696-697; translation is by Lewis Thorpe, Two Lives of Charlemagne, Baltimore, 1969. pp. 168-169.

(13) For another example of praise of pagans to castigate Christians, see Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, ed. D. Whitelock, 2d edition, London, 1952, p. 25, where Wulfstan complains that heathens are regularly more attentive to their Gods than


(14) Richer, vol. 1, p. 26.

(15) For an assessment of the historical evidence concerning Rollo's identity and accomplishments, see D.C. Douglas, "Rollo of Normandy," English Historical Review, 57 (1942), p. 422.

(16) Dudo's performance certainly justifies the indignant definition of panegyric given by Isidore of Seville:

Panegyricum est licentiosum et lasciviosum genus

dicendi in laudibus regum, in cuius conpositione

homines multis mendaciis adulantur. Quod malum a

Graecis exortum est, quorum levitas instructa

dicendi facultate et copia incredibili multas

mendaciorum nebulas suscitavit (ed. W.M. Lindsay,

Oxford, 1911, VI,viii,7).

(17) Henri Prentout, Etude Critique sur Dudo de Saint-Quentin, Paris, 1916, p. 97. Jean Flori's description (p. 146) of Hastings as, "le farouche guerrier païen, rude mais juste," obviously is at odds with my interpretation of his character and function. Frederic Amory, on the other hand, reads the character of Hastings as a function of the character of Rollo:

"Dudo is at contrast the naked savagery and

animal cunning of Hasting...with the Christianized

mission of Rollo" ("The Viking Rollo in

Franco-Scandinavian Legend," in Saints, Scholars and

Heroes, Ann Arbor, 1979, p. 269.

(18) See below.

(19) Perhaps following the rhetorical model for such antitheses provided by the poet of the Song of Roland, when he regularly declares, Paien unt tort e chrestiens unt dreit.

(20) Roman de Rou, edited by A. J. Holden, Paris, 1970, 1971, 1973. (ll. 12-14 of Holden I, p. 15).

(21) See Amory, p. 271 for analogous deceptions.

(22) Dudo of St. Quentin, De Moribus et Actis primorum Normanniae Ducum, ed. Jules Lair, Caen, 1865, pp. 134-135.

(23) For the argument that the event at Luna represents a conflation of events in 859, 862, and 890, see Prentout, p. 57. For the argument that Viking activity in the Mediterranean, 859-862 AD, provides the facts upon which the incident is fabricated, see Guillaume de Jumièges, Gesta Normannorum Ducum, ed. by Jean Marx, Paris, 1914, p. 15, n. 1.

(24) For the argument that chansons de geste are more reliable than the official panegyrics of medieval historians, see Réne Louis, L'Epopée franëaise et carolingienne, Zaragossa, 1956; particularly convincing are his remarks about the treatment of Louis the Pious (p. 425).

(25) Gaston Paris, La litt€rature franëaise au moyen-«ge, Paris, 1914, p. 149.

(26) See ll. 1141ff. of the Rou. In "Rôle littéraire d'Alienor d'Aquitaine et de sa famille," Cultura neolatina 14 (1954) 5-57, Rita Lejeune argues that he lost the post because of his close connection with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Ulrich Broich claims that he simply took too long doing it (W.F. Schirmer and U. Broich, Studien zum literarischen Patronat im England des 12 Jahrhunderts, Cologne-Opladen, 1962, 86-88). Peter Dronke, in The Medieval Poet and his World, p. 283, accounts for the change aesthetically: "Henry was a perceptive enough critic to know how much better a poet Benoit was than Wace." However, the question may involve a close connection between aesthetic and political elements.

(27) Op. cit., p. 336. Duby is also upset that Benoit tended to politicize the second function (p. 332).

(28) Benoit de Saint-Maure, Chronique des Ducs de Normandie, ed. Carin Fahlin, 2 vols., Upsala, 1951, 1954; ll. 1712-32.

(29) Bede II.1 and De Doctrina Christiana IV.

(30) See L.P. Wilkinson, Golden Latin Artistry, Cambridge, 1963, pp. 62-63, where the examples of euphony consist predominately of resonating n's and m's.

(31) See Gregory of Tours, III.i-iii, for the Trinity's power to bring about military victory, and, for this popularized variation on the Augustinian attitude. See also Frantisek Graus, Volk, Herrscher, und Heiliger im Reich der Merowinger, Prague, 1965, p. 456, for examples from earlier times. In the fourteenth century, Jean d'Outremeuse directly attributes Rollo's baptism to the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary during a battle, that, however, took place not at Chartres, but at Liège:

... et tant que Dies inspirat Rollo; et dist

qu'ilh astoit jà avant d'eage et avoit fait de mal

trop; par I miracle qu'ilh avoit veut à Liáge ilh

voloit prendre baptesme et Dieu croire et proier


Oeuvres de Jehan des Preis, (Jean d'Outremeuse), ed. A. Borgnet and S. Bormans, Brussels, 1864-87, vol IV., p. 88.

(32) History of Rheims, IV.xiv (MGH SS XIII, p. 577).

(33) Jules Michelet, Histoire de France: Moyen-Age, Paris, 1898, p. 321.

(34) RHG VIII, Paris, 1752, Ex Brevi Chronico S. Martinis Turonesis, Anno 912: p. 316.

(35) With some help and hindrance from an intervening text, Guillaume de Jumièges' Gesta Normannorum Ducum. William generally strips away the rhetorical gaudiness of Dudo's text; in addition, he focuses on the treatment of Rollo as an example of Dudo's tendencies to fawn (Marx p. 2), refusing, in spite of his fulsome dedicatory epistle to William the Conqueror, whom he compares for fortitudo to Samson, and for sapientia to Solomon (p.1), to engage in dishonest adulation of his ruler's pirate avatar:

Sane geneologiam Rollonis, a paganis majoribus

nati, et multa etate sua in paganismo acta, tandem

ad sanctam infantiam saluberrimo fonte renati,

necnon somnium ejus cum pluribus id generis ab

historica serie desecui, animadvertens ea penitus

adulatoria, nec speciem honesti vel utilis

pretendere. (p. 2)

William's firm stand, however, was undermined by the interpolations of Robert de Torigny, who reintroduced some of the material on Rollo, in yet another example of the vulnerability of medieval texts to the demands of later times.

(36) Although Rollo's son William was not produced by Gisla (if Rollo actually received her from Charles the Simple at the time of his baptism), but by Poppa, a woman whose discontinuous presence in Rollo's bed provides problems for Dudo, Wace, and Benoit. In the fourteenth century, Jean d'Outremer simply elides her, declaring that Gisla was the mother of William Longsword (Oeuvres de Jehan des Preis, {Jean d'Outremeuse}, ed. A. Borgnet and S. Bormans, 7 volumes, Brussels, 1864-87; IV, p. 88). In addition, the nature, quality, and effectiveness of Rollo's conversion, as the three Norman apologists represented it, was not entirely convincing. For Adémar of Chabannes (c. 988-1034), for example, Rollo was a far more ambiguous cardo rerum. To celebrate his conversion, Adémar's Rollo first orders captivos plures to be decapitated, as a nostalgic gesture towards his abandoned gods:

Et Normanni regressi, terram vacuam repperientes, sedem sibi in Rotomago constituunt cum principe suo Roso. Qui factus christianus, captivos plures ante se decollare fecit in honore quos coluerat deorum. (Chronique, ed. by Jules Chavanon, Paris, 1897, pp. 139-140).

His next step is to distribute significant amounts of gold among various churches, in honor of the "true God":

Et item infinitum pondus auri per ecclesias

distribuit christianorum in honore veri Dei, in

cujus nomine baptismum susceperat.

Chavanon points out the modification made in the C manuscript at this point, by a scribe who thought that the passage called for a gloss. He specifies the number and religion of the captives (100 Christians), the amount of gold (100 pounds), and provides a motivation, or explanation for the decapitation (Rollo went mad with fear of dying: imminente obitu in amentiam versus).