Ethelred the Pious
Lower Seine Valley, just above Rouen, 925
Count Robert raced his horse up the wooded hill, so urgent that his knights who accompanied him had to struggle to keep up. The rest of his army would arrive shortly, but it was imperative that Robert hold the high ground while his enemies, viscious Norsemen from England, were still disembarking from their boats in the valley.
A sight at the top of the ridge made Robert pause. Silhouetted against the trees, a figure sat on horseback. He was clearly English from his dress, and he was clearly waiting for Robert. "My master want talk," the rider called out in a broken sort of Latin.
"You tell your master that he has had five years to talk," responded the count. It had been six years, actually, since Sigtrygg and his Vikings had landed at the mouth of the Seine and begun taking everything they could find. For six years they had lived as squatters on the land that Robert, as Margrave of Neustria, was sworn to defend. To talk of negotiation now, after years of inconclusive bloodshed and on the day of what was sure to be a great battle, was nothing short of ridiculous, not to mention suspicious.
The English rider said nothing as Robert and his knights reached the crest of the hill. Robert surveyed the valley below and let out a gasp. In the river floated the expected long boats, and savage looking Danes and Saxons were pouring out of them. But among them rode armored horsemen-- and in their midst hung the flaming red banner of Robert's King and Emperor.
"Charles' men?" uttered one of the knights. "How?"
The Englishman again asked Robert awkwardly to come with him.
The Count was led to where Sigtrygg sat in a hastily built pavillion, flanked by two guards, an imperial scribe, and a terrified-looking English cleric. When Robert entered, Sigtrygg did not rise, but said something that sounded very smug in a language Robert could not understand, but had learned to despise.
"The Margrave of Angelania welcomes his noble companion the Count of Paris," stammered the cleric in Latin, who clearly was to serve as interpreter for this uncouth invader.
Before Robert could respond with anything other than an incredulous stare, Sigtrygg produced a document. Robert quickly scanned the calligraphy and realized his situation had just changed drastically:
"...since such a faithful one of ours, by the favor of God, coming here in our palace with his arms, has seen fit to swear trust and fidelity to us in our hand, therefore we decree and command that such shall be numbered among our faithful vassals and shall rule over the March of Angelania... In confirmation of which, we have caused our royal seal to be affixed to this letter."
Sigtrygg spoke, and again the nervous monk translated: "The Margrave asks whether your highness had received the news of his meeting with King Charles." Another sentence guttural Danish. "Or of his, er, baptism."
To show off his newfound faith, Sigtrygg tapped his breast, forehead, and shoulders in a careless imitation of the sign of the cross.
Robert looked at the imperial soldiers standing guard and saw that there was little he could do today. "Then I greet you... as a brother in Christ and a fellow servant of the King," he finally said. "But Sigtrygg," he added, "you're doing it wrong." He waited for the monk to translate. "To do the cross, you must start up here." With the back of his hand, Robert delivered a blow that was soft enough not to injure, only to insult. He left the tent quickly, his knights at his heels. "The man who would take such an oath from this barbarian is no Emperor of mine," he muttered as they mounted their horses and rode back toward the ridge.
Background and aftermath
In 925, Sigtrygg the Squinty was baptized and swore an oath of fealty to Charles the Simple, King of West Francia and Emperor of the West. Sigtrygg was given the northern coast of Francia from Constantine's Peninsula, across the mouth of the Seine, almost to the edge of Flanders. Robert, Count of Paris and Margrave of Neustria, considered this a betrayal by Charles, since he had been seeking imperial aid for years to drive Sigtrygg out of his lands.
Robert waited for the right moment to strike. He assembled the magnates of Neustria in 930, confirmed them as his vassals, and led them in a repudiation of Charles' rule. Robert's goal was to seize the Angelanian lands, by then ruled by Sigtrygg's brother Godfrey (originally Gudröðr, Godefroy in French). Robert captured some land west of the Seine, but failed to conquer all of Angelania. He did defeat Charles in battle, and the Emperor died in prison in Paris in 932.
By then, Robert was calling himself the King of Neustria. He harbored ambitions to take over the entirety of West Francia. But he did not have the strength to carry this out. Aquitaine and the other southern states remained independent, loyal only to the far-off Emperor in Germany.