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Part 2. The work of Dudo and what it is about

Normandy scene. Claude Monet. Seashore and Cliffs of Pourville in the Morning. 1882
Monet. Seashore and Cliffs of Pourville in Normandy

The dynasty in Normandy had the chronicler Dudo write their porridge-like history. Dudo of St. Quentin blossomed around AD 1000. He wrote on behalf of Norman dukes that descended from Rollo (Gange-Rolv). Dudo is not considered to be an accurate and reliable historian, bu he is the only for some happenings.

Vikings in Short

"Rude, destructive and unkind - me?"

Dudo describes a typical (!), ravaging pagan:

This accursed and headstrong, extremely cruel and harsh,
destructive, troublesome, wild, ferocious, infamous, destructive and inconstant, brash,
conceited and lawless,
rude, everywhere on guard,
rebellious traitor and kindler of evil,
this double-faced hypocrite and ungodly, arrogant, seductive and foolhardy deceiver,

this lewd, unbridled, contentious rascal
aggravate[s] towards the starry height of heaven an increase of destructive evil
and an augmentation of deceit -

He is more monstrous than all the rest.
[From Ch. 2)


One such marauder was called Anstign. He made a treaty with the Frankish king around 875. But before that the following happened:

Anstign decided one day:

"The breezes we have wished for are becoming and blowing a path for us. Let us go to Rome and subject it under us, as we have done to Francia."

He later came to a city and thought it was Rome. He said:

"When night is falling, notify the prelate and the count that I am dead. Earnestly request, weeping greatly, that they have me buried, a neophyte, in their town."

Anstign also said to his crew:

"Make a bier for me, and place me on it as if I were dead. Place my arms in it with me and lament well as you station yourselves in a ring around them."

The city dwellers thought he was dead and agreed to bury him inside the city, in a church-monastery. They were kind, and also had hopes in ceremonies and emblems, and did not understand what a deadly fraud was about. They wanted to sing ceremoniously. As they did, Anstign jumped down from the bier and snatched his sword in a thrice. He attacked the prelate that was holding a book in his hand. He slaughtered that man in cold blood, and the rest of the clergy stood defenceless.

Pagans had blocked the doors, and none could get out. In a frenzy the pagans butchered all, as wolves do within the pens of sheep. Women poured out useless tears. Young men and maidens were bound together with thongs. The last day of life befell all of them. They were all slain in cruel fashion.

After than Anstign learned that it was not Rome. Angrily he said:

"Take booty from the entire province and torch this town." [From Chapter 2)

Of such a civilian they say in Norway: "He was not kind." That is the essence of it.

The story goes on

The cleric Dudo of St. Quentin tells that duke Richard I of Normandy commissioned him to write a history of the Normans. The commission was delivered two years before the death of Richard I in 996 or 1002. Richard was buried at the Norman monastery of Fécamp in Normandy. After Richard's death, other members of the Norman ducal house continued to patronise Dudo, hoping he would complete the task.

It has not been possible to determine exactly when Dudo began to write his unabashed panegyric of the first three Norman dukes, Rollo, William Longsword, and Richard I, and still harder to decide when he finished. Most likely he wrote the history during the late 900s and/or early 1000s, while associated in many ways with the ruling family of ducal Normandy. From that circle William the Conqueror rode out one day to take over and rule Britain.

It is usually concluded that Dudo completed his Norman history late in 1015, after he got promoted to "decanus". It can be seen in the long work itself that Dudo was a dean (decanus) of the community of St. Quentin in the Vermandois. He served the bishop Adalberto. Before that he was a "canonicus" (canon) at the same place. We also find the title "capellanus" (chaplain) used by duke Richard II.

Dudo's history of Viking Normandy survives in several manuscripts that differ from one another in many ways. Most of them were copied during the eleventh or twelfth centuries, when Gesta Normannorum (Norman History) was at its peak of popularity - when Normans ruled in many countries with their "iron hands".

The translation we bring highlights from and write on top of, is a copy made in the second half of the 1000s, at Mont-St.-Michel - the fabled monastery just off the French coast near the "border" of Normandy and Brittany. The translation we thus take off from, is a good version of a single manuscript of Dudo's Gesta Normannorum, and that version happens to represent a compromise between many conflicting interests.

There is no easy way in these matters. "Editions" of medieval texts can be rather misleading and not only confusing, due to errors and inconsistencies that abound. We should make allowances for that as we read them.

On metres and tall prose

The original poems that I seem have captured some points of, are largely obscure. So the few lines above are not exactly renditions, but . . . At any rate, many meanings may be derived from the original, often ambiguous Latin of Dudo. Felice Lifshitz (1996) writes about the matter:

From a very early date, certain [copyists] rejected the verse portions of the narrative, which are often maddeningly obscure, and reproduced only the prose sections; this is true even of the oldest surviving copy . . . I have attempted to render neither the metre nor the rhyme-scheme, the latter in any case being effectively non-reproducible. . . [This] text . . . could be used . . . by professors. [Lifshitz' ◦Gesta Normannorum, an ORB document]


But first came the Northman Rollo. By agreement with the French king Charles the Simple, he and his converted men were to defend the Seine and thereby Paris. They succeeded.

Then, a few generations after Rollo, the cleric Dudo wrote the Norman history in cumbersome Latin. His mentions of places he had not visited and from times gone by are inaccurate. The other main source, Icelander sagas of Norwegian kings are from the 1200. Dudo is purportedly at his best when telling of his contemporary times in Normandy around the year 1000. His style reflects the conditions in Normandy then, and counterbalances some aristocratic, barbarous norms and customs at the back of the Norse (or Icelandic) writings.


Tales from Dudo of St Quentin's Norman History, Gesta Normannorum, Literature  

Barthelemy, Ch. Histoire de la Normandie ancienne et moderne. Tours:Mame, 1862.

Brown, Reginald Allen. The Normans and the Norman Conquest. London: Constable, 1969.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, reteller. The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: The Gods of the Vikings. Reprint ed. London: Penguin, 1993.

Crouch, David. The Normans: The History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007.

Dolley, Michael. Anglo-Norman Ireland 1100-1318. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 1972.

Freeman, Edward. The History of the Norman Conquest of England. London: University of Chicago, 1974.

Gibberd, Frederich. The Architecture of England from Norman Times to the Present Day. 4th ed. London: Architectural Press, 1962.

Graham-Campbell, James, and Dafydd Kidd. The Vikings. London: British Museum Publications, 1980.

Grant, Michael. Myths of the Greeks and Romans. New York: Meridian/Penguin, 1995.

Hødnebø, Finn, og Hallvard Magerøy, eds. Norges kongesagaer. Vols 1-4. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1979.

Kapelle, William. The Norman Conquest of the North: The Region and Its Transformation, 1000-1135. London: Croom Helm, 1979.

Lifshitz. Felice, tr. Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum: An English Translation. (History of the Normans). ORB Online Library (Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies), 1996. ——— Dudo wrote this history to legitimise the Norman rule of Normandy. It tells how the a group of Vikings conquered parts of France, and eventually came to rule the area. The work is available in Latin and in English on the ORB of Medieval Studies. Parts of Lifshitz’s translation-in-progress are called rough still.

Loud, Graham A., and Alex Metcalfe, eds. The Society of Norman Italy. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

Marongiu, Antonio. Byzantine, Norman, Swabian and later Institutions in Southern Italy. Collected Studies. London: Variolum Reprints, 1972.

Matthew, Donald. The Norman Monasteries and Their English Possessions. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Renaud, Jean. Les Vikings et la Normandie. Rennes: Ouest-France, 1989.

Rowley, Trevor. The Norman Heritage: 1055-1200. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.

Simonnæs, Per. Normannerne kommer. Oslo: Grøndahl Dreyer, 1994.

Steenstrup, Johannes. Normannerne, bd 1. Copenhagen: Klein, 1876.

Woodward, Ernest Llewellyn Woodward. A History of England. London: University Paperback / Methuen, 1965.

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