Before we head back to the gates of Paris, a few general items of interest! First is an excellent interview with Clive Standen on his role as Rollo and his insights on the show in general! It’s a great interview and he points out some of the same things that I try to make clear here.
Here is an excerpt from the interview where he discusses dealing with limited, sometimes boring historical facts and weaving them into an interesting story as it applies to Rollo’s history and story.
The Vikings were very oral culture so much of the history of them was written by a lot of the cultures that they came into contact with and, in many cases, conquered, and was written long after that contact. So since they didn’t really document their society in the way we normally expect, any show or any kind of narrative that portrays them has to fill in some pretty big gaps, and I was just wondering if you give me some insight into how that happens on this series. Is that something that Hirst talks to you guys about, how he chooses to flesh the history out and how aware are you of when something is more strictly historical versus when he’s using narrative license?
Sometimes you get the best stories from the sagas. This is a time when there was no TV, and entertainment was based around stories and some of the sagas are larger-than-life. But you can base a story on a saga which gives you something that was written about the time or if not, very close to the time.
But the thing is that Michael–and we are all the same page with this—just as the Vikings didn’t really write much down, as you said, and the history was written by the invaded, there are a lot of historians that have got different agendas as well. Just looking at Rollo: there are four or five different people writing on Rollo. Dudo of St Quentin was one of the biggest writers of the history of Rollo. He was writing 400 years after the events; he was also writing for the (then) Duke of Normandy who he was trying to write a lineage for and protect that lineage and somehow conveniently talks—or glides over– certain aspects of Viking society. Dudo has an agenda to try to make Rollo an impressive historical figure.
So sometimes what we can take from history is we can take the actual events and the things that make this figure famous in history and the things they actually accomplished but the real person, for an actor and a script writer, you’ve got to dissect that and flesh it out. So you have to take some sort of artistic license in the character. But you know it is fascinating to think that we know where someone ended up and the big plot points of how they got there from the history books, but as an actor and writer–it’s very hard to explain—you have the A and the Z but you have to fill in the B and C and D, everything in between. It’s up to the actor to fill in the middle and to make it a full story where you can actually take everybody’s different accounts and try to build on that.
I don’t know if I making any sense at this point. I’m just trying to make the point that you can’t just read Wikipedia, read a little bit about Rollo, and then go “That’s not the Rollo history because I read it on Wikipedia. There’s a greater thing happening when you start to get all of the stories and documentation together and then you yourself have to pick apart what was the propaganda what someone’s agenda and look more deeply is. Which is what we should do on social media as well when people start reading people’s posts and likes and you assume something is true because someone has posted it without thinking what someone’s agenda was in posting it. It’s no different when you start researching history.
If you follow along this theory and line of thinking, it would apply to the character of Gisla as well. When you looker further and deeper into the limited information about this Gisela, you have to think to yourself, Why is there not more information on this woman? Who made the decision way back in the past to basically erase her from history and leave doubt as to whether she even existed. Some have suggested that Michael Hirst should have went with the story of Poppa, Rollo’s concubine or Dane wife- that she would be more interesting and closer to historical facts. I disagree. I think the story of Gisla and what might have or could have happened with her makes for a far more interesting story. Gisla also gives Hirst the tie in to Paris and to Charles. I think we need to look at Gisla as a combination of Poppa and Gisela. Personally, I can’t wait to see Hirst’s version of hers and Rollo’s story!
Our next bit of interest is the preview for this week’s episode in which Ragnar makes his status clear to everyone. Also for those who might be concerned about Floki, he is still around! Obviously, a few people have pissed Ragnar off by possibly questioning his decisions or his authority.
If you watch the beginning of the video, you see a group swimming under the bridge of Paris… in a historical account of Ragnar Lodbrok’s siege of Paris, there is mention of how they did eventually set a bridge on fire by burning boats underneath it!
If anyone thought that this siege would be simple or quick and that our Vikings would easily win, they will be sadly mistaken. The sieges of Paris were well documented and they were long drawn out battles with neither side truly being able to claim victory. Yes, Ragnar’s group did manage to get into the city and even occupy it for a time so I suppose you could consider that a victory of sorts. The Vikings eventually withdrew from the city after being paid off by the Franks. I have already covered much about the historical attacks on Paris and their results in a previous post on the Importance of Rollo. You can read that here:
Now on to our current topic, The gates of Paris and beyond. I say beyond because as usual, there is so much else going besides the truly epic battle! I did cover much of the lead up to this battle and the wall portion of it in the last post concerning Floki’s bout with hopefully temporary madness… https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/vikings-the-madness-of-floki/
As I mentioned in the last post, you really need to watch the episode to truly appreciate the entire battle. My assorted pictures and recaps do not even begin do it the credit it so well deserves. It was a massive undertaking on all parts!
Let’s look at how the people of Paris reacted and survived, from the lowliest of poor serfs to the one sitting at the top one his throne the entire time while his daughter fought his battle for him! First of all, when Count Odo and his minions announce closing time for the City, they are deadly serious! If you were out there milking your cow, weeding your garden, doing your laundry or what ever else you might have been so concerned about that you didn’t bother to pay attention and run like hell for those gates, so sorry for you…Cause no matter how hard you bang on that gate you’re not getting in! We’ll say some nice prayers in your name after the siege is over…
The gates were firmly closed and we can only hope that maybe those poor stragglers found somewhere to hide out of the way. Because, really our main intent is to get into the city, not worry about poor defenseless serfs… unless they make the mistake of getting in our way! If any of them are left alive after the battle, we’ll pick them up on our way out- but only if they’re young women and children- sorry but those are who bring the most gold on the slave market.
What was going on inside the city? As one could easily imagine, all out panic was taking over for most of the residents. They all gathered in the church for protection and prayer…
Where was their mighty ruler during the entire time of the raid? Ahhhh yes, that supreme ruler of all was in his great hall, sitting alone on his throne hiding behind that bizarre mask again. Those damn masks are beginning to bug me. They seem to be a recurring item of some importance but I can find no detail, description or explanation of such a ritual anywhere? If anyone figures it out, please let me know so it doesn’t end up driving me nuts! Anyway, this time I think he is literally hiding behind the mask so if anyone wanders in, they won’t see him shaking and crying like a baby!
The question has to be asked here. Is this man really as pathetic as he’s looking so far? Well, he does have the one thing going for him… he is the King, even if he is turning out to be a milk toast, puppet type King. As far as who he is in history, he seems to be a combination of Charles the Fat, Charles the Bald and Charles the Simple. It should be pretty clear from their various nicknames, how their citizens felt about them by this point in history. This was towards the end of their particular dynasty, the Carolingian dynasty and frankly the people were a little tired of all of them. I believe our King Charles is portraying some of the characteristics given to Charles the Fat who was described as spineless and incompetent. It really makes not much difference, by this time in history they were all similarly regarded and could have been interchangeable! As I said, he is the King and even if he is generally a puppet being used by others, if he should come up with his own lame idea in the future and decide to implement, no one can really stop him. And, he most likely will come up with his lame plan to pay the Vikings off to get rid of them. For the moment though, he is sitting on his throne cowering while his daughter Gisla takes charge!
Gisla watched the Vikings arrive but would not stand by idly waiting for their destruction.
Gisla knows her people need a leader and they need inspiration. They’re certainly not going to get it from her Father, and I think she has a thought in her mind to show Odo up as well… She goes to the one place that she knows her people will take guidance and inspiration from. She goes to the church because her people are devoutly religious and they will be inspired by their faith. During this time, the Christians were devoted to their relics of faith. They firmly believed in the miraculous powers of such relics, despite the fact that most of said relics were fakes that the church approved of and even encouraged at times for the amounts of followers and wealth they brought to the church. Very rarely there might be some actual documented proof of a miracle or divine vision surrounding such articles, and really all it took was for one person to suddenly recover from illness, win a losing battle or such to inspire people to believe in the miracles of Christ and his Saints.
Gisla has one such relic close at hand… she has the Sacred Banner of St. Denis, the Oriflamme!
Just what is the Oriflamme, the Banner of St. Denis and why would her people be so willing and ready to fight for it?
The Oriflamme (from Latin aurea flamma, “golden flame”) was the battle standard of the King of France in the Middle Ages. It was originally the sacred banner of the Abbey of St. Denis, a monastery near Paris. In French, the term “oriflamme” has come to mean any banner with pointed ends; by association with the form of the original.
The Oriflamme was mentioned in the eleventh-century ballad the Chanson de Roland (vv. 3093-5) as a royal banner, first called Romaine and then Montjoie. According to legend, Charlemagne carried it to the Holy Land in response to a prophecy regarding a knight possessing a golden lance, from which flames would burn and drive out the Saracens. This suggests that the lance was originally the important object, with the banner simply a decoration, but this changed over time.
When the Oriflamme was displayed on the battlefield it indicated that no quarter was to be given, its red colour being symbolic of cruelty and ferocity.
Although the azure ground (from the blue cope of St. Martin of Tours) strewn with gold fleur-de-lis remained the symbol of royalty until the 15th century, the Oriflamme became the royal battle standard of the King of France, and it was carried at the head of the king’s forces when they met another army in battle. In the fifteenth century, the fleur-de-lis on the white flag of Joan of Arc became the new royal standard replacing both the symbol of royalty and the Oriflamme on the battle field.
Gisla heard the story of how the banner was sacred because it presumably had been dipped in the blood of St. Denis…
According to Christian tradition, Saint Denis is a Christian martyr and saint. In the third century, he was Bishop of Paris. He was martyred, with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after 250 AD. Denis is said to have picked his head up after being decapitated, walked ten kilometres (six miles), while preaching a sermon of repentance the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as patron of Paris, France, and as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
The medieval Christians believed and practiced mysticism and what they considered Holy magic or miracles just as firmly and as passionately as the Norse did with their Pagan religion. To them, yes there might be only one true God but there were any number of Holiest Saints whom they believed held almost as much power as their God. So, it really was not all that different from the Norse belief in many Gods for different purposes. If they all could have seen it in this way, things would have been so much easier!
Now, back to Gisla and her plan…
Gisla kind of backed the Bishop into a corner and forced him to bless her Banner in front of all of the citizens in the church so they would know the importance of it. Really, how was he going to say no to such a blessing with all of those people waiting?
Then she did the most courageous thing that proved her worthy of leading and eventually caught the attention of one Rollo… She took that blessed banner and marched to the top of the wall where the fighting was at it’s worst and bloodiest. She spoke to the men, encouraged them and raised the Banner of St. Denis over them to remind them of what they fought for and why. This young woman was not a milk toast whiny woman, in her own way she was a warrior! She believed in her people, in her country and she would stand with her men and face the battle whether others agreed or not, such as Count Odo…
When Gisla arrived on the wall, I have a feeling that Odo’s thoughts were probably, “Ohhhh Great, WTF is she doing up here! If she gets herself killed, it will be my fault and if she survives, she looks like the hero instead of me!”
Gisla did not back down and run to hide behind a mask. She stayed up there on that wall yelling her encouragement and watching the entire battle. She may not have fought with a weapon but she fought with what she had, her words! The men drew strength and courage from her brave presence there.
As I said, she stood up there and watched the whole battle, yelling her encouragement the whole time… her presence did not go un-noticed by the Vikings either. At least one Viking became so thoroughly distracted by the sight of her that he forgot to pay attention to the job at hand.
Yes, unfortunately our Rollo was the one completely distracted by the sight of Gisla on the wall… Gisla was also watching him.
That momentary distraction almost cost Rollo his life… I am pretty sure he will be a little pissed at himself and her for it?
No need for anyone to worry… he did survive the fall and I am sure he will be having some words with Gisla about all of this at some later point!
As for the overall battle, we do have to give Count Odo credit. He was in charge and led a well organized and prepared defensive campaign whether we like him or not. He did his job and supervised both the battle at the gates and on the walls. While we are speaking of Odo, let us just have a very quick refresher on who he is in history?
Odo was the eldest son of Robert the Strong, Duke of the Franks and Marquis of Neustria, belonging to the branch known as the Robertians. After his father’s death in 866, Odo inherited his father’s title of Marquis of Neustria. Odo lost this title in 868 when King Charles the Bald appointed Hugh the Abbot to the title, but regained it following the death of Hugh in 886. After 882, he held the post of Count of Paris. Odo was also the lay abbot of St. Martin of Tours.
Odo married Théodrate of Troyes and had two known sons, Arnulf (born probably about 885) and Guy (born probably about 888), neither of whom lived past the age of fifteen.
Historically, Odo was in charge of the defense of Paris during the siege of Paris that took place in 885-886 and involved the Vikings, Sigfred, Sinric and Rollo.
With hundreds of ships, and possibly tens of thousands of men, the Vikings arrived outside Paris in late November 885, at first demanding tribute. This was denied by Odo, Count of Paris, despite the fact that he only could assemble a couple of hundred soldiers to defend the city. The Vikings attacked with a variety of siege engines, but failed to break through the city walls after some days of intense attacks. The siege was upheld after the initial attacks, but without any significant offence for months thereafter. As the siege went on, most of the Vikings left Paris to pillage further upriver. The Vikings made a final unsuccessful attempt to take the city during the summer, and in October, Charles the Fat arrived with his army.
To the frustration of the Parisians who had fought for a long time to defend the city, Charles stopped short of attacking the Viking besiegers, and instead allowed them to sail further up the Seine to raid Burgundy (which was in revolt), as well as promising a payment of 700 livres (pounds; 257 kg). Odo, highly critical of this, tried his best to defy the promises of Charles, and when Charles died in 888, Odo was elected the first non-Carolingian king of the Franks.
We have not really discussed the charge of the gates yet but it went much like the battle at the wall. No blame or accusations here against Lagertha and her group. They fought exceptionally well considering the circumstances and had a good plan. They did succeed in getting through the gates with the help of some interesting inventions of slimey Erlandeur’s along with the additional muscle and horse power of Sigfrid! They were just unprepared for the surprise counter attack planned by Odo’s forces inside the inner gate. There was a great slaughter there when the Viking group became trapped within the hall.
Ahhh I know we are talking about this mainly from the French perspective but I do feel a need here to point out that one Sigfred was indeed a real historical player in a siege of Paris. I know I have included some of this information previously but it bears repeating as it does deal with Odo, as well as with Rollo!
Danish Vikings under Sigfred and Sinric sailed towards West Francia again in 885, having raided the north-eastern parts of the country before. Sigfred demanded a bribe from Charles, but was refused, and promptly led 700 ships up the Seine, carrying perhaps as many as 30,000 or 40,000 men. The number, the largest ever recorded for a Viking fleet in contemporary sources, originates from Abbo Cenuus. Although an eyewitness, there is general agreement among historians that Abbo’s numbers are “a gross exaggeration,” with Abbo being “in a class of his own as an exaggerator.” Historian C. W. Previté-Orton has instead put the number of ships at 300, and John Norris at “some 300.” Although the Franks tried to block the Vikings from sailing up the Seine, the Vikings eventually managed to reach Paris. Paris at this time was a town on an island, known today as Île de la Cité. Its strategic importance came from the ability to block ships’ passage with its two low-lying foot bridges, one of wood and one of stone. Not even the shallow Viking ships could pass Paris because of the bridges. Odo, Count of Paris prepared for the arrival of the Vikings by fortifying the bridgehead with two towers guarding each bridge. He was low on men, having no more than 200 men-at-arms available (also according to Abbo Cenuus), but led a joint defence with Gozlin, Bishop of Paris (the first “fighting bishop” in medieval literature), and had the aid of his brother, Robert, two counts and a marquis.
The Vikings arrived in Paris on 24 or 25 November 885, initially asking for tribute from the Franks. When this was denied, they began a siege. On 26 November the Danes attacked the northeast tower with ballistae, mangonels, and catapults. They were repulsed by a mixture of hot wax and pitch. All Viking attacks that day were repulsed, and during the night the Parisians constructed another storey on the tower. On 27 November the Viking attack included mining, battering rams, and fire, but to no avail. Bishop Gozlin entered the fray with a bow and an axe. He planted a cross on the outer defences and exhorted the people. His brother Ebles also joined the fighting. The Vikings withdrew after the failed initial attacks and built a camp on the right side of the river bank, using stone as construction material. While preparing for new attacks, the Vikings also started constructing additional siege engines. In a renewed assault, they shot a thousand grenades against the city, sent a ship for the bridge, and made a land attack with three groups. The forces surrounded the bridgehead tower, possibly mainly aiming to bring down the river obstacle. While they tried setting fire to the bridge, they also attacked the city itself with siege engines.
For two months the Vikings maintained the siege, making trenches and provisioning themselves off the land. In January 886 they tried to fill the river shallows with debris, plant matter, and the bodies of dead animals and dead prisoners to try to get around the tower. They continued this for two days. On the third day they set three ships alight and guided them towards the wooden bridge. The burning ships sank before they could set the bridge on fire, but the wooden construction was nonetheless weakened. On 6 February, rains caused the river (still filled with debris) to overflow and the bridge supports gave way. The bridge gone, the northeast tower was now isolated with only twelve defenders inside. The Vikings asked the twelve to surrender, but they refused, and were all subsequently killed.
The Vikings left a force around Paris, but many ventured further to pillage Le Mans, Chartres, Evreux and into the Loire. Odo successfully slipped some men through Norse lines to go to Italy and plead with Charles to come to their aid. Henry, Count of Saxony, Charles’ chief man in Germany, marched to Paris. Weakened by marching during the winter, Henry’s soldiers made only one abortive attack in February before retreating. The besieged forces sallied forth and to obtain supplies. Morale of the besiegers was low and Sigfred asked for sixty pounds of silver. He left the siege in April. Another Viking leader, Rollo, stayed behind with his men. In May, disease began to spread in the Parisian ranks and Gozlin died. Odo then slipped through Viking-controlled territory to petition Charles for support; Charles consented. Odo fought his way back into Paris and Charles and Henry of Saxony marched northward. Henry died after he fell into the Viking ditches, where he was captured and killed.
As I mentioned, things went badly at the gates. The few who survived were lucky to have gotten out of there alive. Lagertha’s survival was due to Kalf’s quick thinking and realizing that it was a trap. He dragged her out of there, while sleazy Erlandeur made his own dash for the back of the crowd!
The Viking group eventually realized they were defeated and chose to retreat in order to fight another day. Inside the walls of Paris, Charles and Odo inspected the remaining carnage left behind. Charles showed his truest distain and his disgust…
Count Odo is pleased with himself and of course both he and the King consider this a great success…little do they realize that the Vikings are more determined now than ever-or at least two of them, Ragnar and Rollo are. Both men commented later that they were determined to conquer Paris! Rollo mentioned in discussion with Ragnar about what to do next. Rollo is determined to get back inside that city… perhaps his idea of plunder is flesh rather than gold, flesh as in that of one Gisla? Ragnar mentioned it in his conversation with his beloved and departed Athelstan! “I wish you were here. Paris is every bit as beautiful as you said. I am determined to conquer it now!”
Ohhhhh Damn! I did just mention that Rollo is determined to get back inside that city, didn’t I? Here is new preview of the next episode!
For the moment though, the Parisians are celebrating their victory. Naturally, Charles and Odo take full credit for this defeat of the Pagans. Charles looks good in his people’s eyes even if he did nothing but hide for the entire duration of the battle. And, if Charles looks good then Odo should reap the benefits of this… or that is his plan anyway.
Gisla arrives at the celebration with her sacred banner, then proceeds to congratulate her Father on his great success. Though, when she is paying him such tribute, she seems a bit sarcastic about it… probably knowing full well that he was cowering in the corner while she was out there leading and encouraging his men!
Something else is going on here behind the scenes and I am thinking that Gisla should probably be a little concerned about her future or her fate? Realistically, Gisla is a princess, and while she is strong willed and determined, she is not in complete control of her future. Her Father, as weak willed as he is, still has the final say in her destiny… Much like Ragnar Lothbrok states in the future, “I am King and I have the final say!” Odo has already stated openly that he expects to marry Gisla as his reward for this defeat. Charles is wishy washy and now owes Odo big time for this success…
Odo is up to something. He has some other agenda and plan going on behind some backs. While Count Odo is paying lip service and adding his voice to the praise of his King, he seems focused on something or someone else.
Who is this woman? And what does she have going on with Count Odo…
What ever their secret is, they seem to be in agreement on something!
Ahhhhh if you think the Vikings or the Saxons are full of intrigue, secret agendas, deceptions and sins, they have nothing on the French! These people may be devoutly holy on the surface but their devious plotting and exploits exceed anything that Ecbert or Ragnar could think of! Personally, I am looking forward to seeing a bit more of their less than holy behaviors in the future! I know many of you are only concerned about the Viking side of things, but in order for the Viking groups to survive in the future, they will need to know how to maneuver their way through all of these other mazes of ruling dynasties. Attack, plunder and run only work for so long… then you need to settle down someplace and defend yourself against those new raiders and pillagers who take your place. As our Vikings have just discovered, they have a lot yet to learn about other places and people. And, as Ragnar says, “It is good to follow Odin but it is better with knowledge!”
Now, I have just one last thought for the night and it does not concern France at all. There is one other thing that has happened while we’ve all been in Paris. As most of us know, Porunn has been suffering great difficulties in adjusting to her injury and to her new Motherhood. She has been struggling, trying to hold things together in her mind and heart for some time now. My personal thought is that her struggle has been going for far longer than any of us may realize or comprehend. Perhaps it is due to her years a slave. We do not know what she may have endured during those years that would leave a mark on her mind. In fact, we know very little about her at all other than that she was a slave. Bjorn met her as a teen. Who really knows how long she was a slave, where she came from, who she was before? Does she have a hidden past that she remembers and it ever haunts her? All we know is that as a teen, Bjorn chose her, wanted her, thought he loved her. Maybe he did, but that was young untried love, they have both grown some and I think she knows he doesn’t love her. She may not even truly love him… We don’t really know, what we do know is that she is not coping well with Motherhood. She has finally reached her personal breaking point and left Kattegat without baby Siggy. She left in the middle of the night with no word to anyone. Aslaug awoke in the morning to a crying Siggy and no Porunn.
Aslaug was puzzled at first and then realized what had happened. Baby Siggy is now in the care of Aslaug. I think she will be safe and well cared for, and perhaps it is fitting for the child to now be raised by Aslaug. The baby was named after Siggy, who died trying to save the other children of Aslaug. I hope that Aslaug will care for this little girl with love and realize the significance of this gift the Gods have suddenly given her.
I do worry and pray for the fate and the destiny of Porunn, who has now become a wanderer.