Your RDA of Irony

On This Day in 879…

No one in 9th century France was literate enough to write a birth announcement, but if you were in proximity to a town crier you would have heard of the birth of a heir to the throne. History would remember the birthday boy as Charles the Simple. Of course, a town crier–the medieval version of a press secretary–would have insisted that the epithet of “Simple” referred to Charles’ straight-forward manner.

However, then that town crier would have to explain the rest of the family’s nicknames. Charles’ father was “Louis the Stammerer”, his uncle “Charles the Fat, and his grandfather “Charles the Bald.” In fact, the Carolingian dynasty was plagued by its epithets. The royal line began with Pepin the Short and ended with Louis the Sluggard. Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was the happy exception among the miserable monikers. Even Charlemagne’s son had the nickname curse. He was known as Louis the Pious, which suggests that he was better at prayers than statecraft. (And his prayers couldn’t have been very efficient because they did not protect France from either his feuding sons or the Vikings.)

At least, Charles the Simple solved the Viking attacks. He simply surrendered. In 911 he ceded northwest France to the Norsemen. The region is still known as Normandy.

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    Wheels within wheels within wheels! Who could imagine that a surrender in 911 could impact the life of a poor-but-honest talk show host in 2007?

    Me, I married a viking. My lovely wife hails from that Norman stock, via the Appalachians.

    I’m reminded of the fact every time we disagree, at which point she gets in touch with her Norse roots.

    I’m still waiting for her to show up with the helmet and braids. That’s really all that’s missing from the tableau.

  2. A certain etiquette was observed when Charles ceded northwest France to its Norse conquerors. It was not a surrender but an investiture. The Viking leader Hrolf (alias the more pronounceable Rollo) was “granted” the land in return for his pledge of loyalty to the French king. This fealty was supposed to be demonstrated by Hrolf’s kissing the foot of King Charles.

    Hrolf observed the custom in his own way. Rather than stooping to the king’s foot, Hrolf lifted up the royal foot to his lips, dragging Charles off his throne and unto the ground.

    Hrolf did not intend to dispossess the French king of his throne. However, some of Hrolf’s ancestors did nurse that ambition: Edward III and Henry V.

  3. Peggles says:

    Thus began France’s long and illustrious history of surrendering at the drop of a chapeau.

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