Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Normans in Normandy: Dudo of St Quentin

Who was Dudo?

Dudo, writing in the dedicatory letter to bishop Adalbero of Laon that serves as a preface to the work, says that Duke Richard I of Normandy commissioned a history and, after Richard’s death in 996, other members of the Norman ducal house continued to patronise him in the hopes that he would complete the task. Dudo writes that the commission was completed two years before the death of Richard I.  According to the oldest manuscript copies of Dudo’s narrative, this occurred either in 996 or 1002. The former year, 996, is the one that is usually acceptable by scholars. However, it is symptomatic of the difficulties involved in studying the period that the later date, 1002, was preferred by the scribes of the oldest extant manuscript copies of the text (Bern, Bürgerbibliothek, Bongars 390 of the early eleventh century and Berlin, Staatsbibliothek - Preußischer Kulterbesitz, Philipps 1854 of the late eleventh century)[1] and was left ‘uncorrected’ by the owners of the Berlin manuscript, namely the monks of the Norman monastery of Fécamp, where Duke Richard died and was buried. The manuscript was owned, in the twelfth century, by the Norman monastery of Fécamp, also on the Channel coast, and is listed in the twelfth-century library catalogue of that house under the title “Gesta Normannorum” or “Deeds of the Normans”.  Dudo’s history of early Normandy, unlike the vast majority of texts written before the age of the printing press, survives in a fairly large number of manuscripts, all of which differ from one another in a variety of ways, but most of which were copied during the eleventh or twelfth centuries, the height of the popularity of the text[2]

If determining the date at which Dudo began to write is difficult, determining the date at which he finished writing is even more problematic. In the author’s dedicatory letter to bishop Adalbero, Dudo called himself the ‘decanus’ (dean) of the community of canons of St. Quentin in the Vermandois. Because Dudo is called simply a ‘canonicus’ (canon) of St. Quentin in a charter of duke Richard II that dates from 1015[3], it is usually concluded that he completed his Norman history late in 1015, after receiving a promotion to ‘decanus’[4] Because the charter survives in the original, and not in some later copy, its own authenticity is not in doubt[5]. Nevertheless, the reasoning behind this particular end-date is not absolutely certain.

Dudo himself wrote the first four lines of the charter of 1015, calling himself the ‘capellanus’ (chaplain) of Duke Richard II. Another scribe wrote the rest of the charter and called Dudo a ‘canonicus’.  The title therefore does not have the kind of authority that it would have had had it come from Dudo’s own pen.  Yet, even if Dudo did use the title ‘canonicus’ in 1015, that would not preclude his already having become the ‘decanus’ of the congregation[6].  When a canon became dean of St. Quentin, he did not cease to be a canon of the community.  This can be seen in a typical charter in the cartulary (collection of charters) of St. Quentin that refers to “the dean and the other canons of the church of blessed Quintinus”[7]. The 1015 charter represents, in a sense, Dudo’s will, whereby he is guaranteed by Richard II that he may bequeath to his monastic family certain benefices that he had been given by Richard I.  At this moment, it is understandable that Dudo would have emphasised his status as a member of the community of the monastery, rather than his official position over it.  Finally, if Dudo was not the dean of the community at the time of the 1015 charter, there is no reason to assume that he necessarily became dean after drawing up the charter rather than that he had been dean before drawing up the charter. The deanship of a canonry is not a lifetime position from which one cannot abdicate.  Indeed, it is precisely the sort of position from which one might resign in order to become the ‘capellanus’ of Richard II, the position that Dudo described himself as holding in the charters of 1011 and 1015.

To complicate matters even more, it is important to consider materials beyond the dedicatory letter and the two ducal charters. Can we be certain that we ought to trust the salutation of the dedicatory epistle when it refers to Dudo as the ‘decanus’ of St. Quentin, whether in 1015 or at any other time? The dedicatory letter does appear in a number of the earlier manuscript copies of the text.  However, none of these is separated from the date of Dudo’s own writing by fewer than several decades. On the other hand, the Annals of St. Quentin, written in a ninth-century manuscript from St. Quentin and then updated by tenth- and eleventh-century hands contemporary with the events recorded, describe the rule of ‘abbates’ (abbots) and ‘custodes’ (guardians) throughout the period in question, with no reference to anyone named Dudo, or indeed to any ‘decani’.[8]  Against a background of such uncertainty, it is difficult to see how historians can say anything more specific than that Dudo wrote the history during the late tenth and/or early eleventh centuries, while associated in a variety of ways with the ruling family of ducal Normandy.

Issues in Dudo

The origin story

By the beginning of the eleventh century, there was a growing awareness in Normandy that a new people, as well as a new principality, had been formed over the course of the previous century.  This consciousness forms an important theme in Dudo’s chronicle.  He wrote his tale of Normandy’s past to please an audience that was largely members of the Norman ducal court.  According to Dudo, Rollo the tenth century Viking founder of Normandy saw a vision of his future while still a pagan wanderer.  Rollo was transported to a mountain in Francia, washed in a clear and fragrant fountain and joined there by thousands of birds who came from every direction to build their nests around the mountain.  A Christian, who Rollo had taken captive in battle, interpreted the dream: the mountain symbolised the Christian church; the fountain was the baptism that Rollo would receive; and the birds represented the ‘men of different realms’ who would make their homes with Rollo and accept him as their leader.

Origin stories like this were widespread in medieval Europe.  Common to many other cultures and periods, their purpose was to create a viable past that reinforced collective identity and values.  To be effective, these stories need to have the ring of truth about them though this point is often overlooked.  A common feature of medieval origin stories was the assumption of a single descent: the people who formed the cultural and political unit were generally seen as racially homogeneous and this common ancestry is often the point of the story.   Graham Loud[9] argues that Norman historians conformed to the traditional view of common descent: Dudo and his successors do describe Rollo and his followers as Danes/Dacians who descended from the Trojan exile Antenor.  But this point seems to miss the broader picture.  By recognising the different origins of the people of Normandy, Dudo broke with this tradition. 

Dudo would, given his education and training, have been fully aware of this tradition.  However, he chose to offer a truer account that underlined the message of inclusion that was central to his patrons.  The Norman achievement and this was recognised by Dudo, was the successful incorporation of various peoples from different backgrounds into one community and, as a result, created a new people, a new ethnicity and a new identity.  The dominant theme in Dudo’s work is that Normandy was the product of a difficult but ultimately successful union between newcomers and natives[10].

Fact and fancy

Despite Dudo’s willingness to subordinate fact to fancy, his work represents the beginning of Norman historiography[11].  Written at the express command of the duke, his work sheds light on how early eleventh century Normans interpreted the first century of their rule, or at least how Dudo imagined they did.  Had his version not rung true in the ears of later Normans, it would not have been so widely plagiarised by later historians.  The message of Rollo’s dream was repeated again and again by historians and summarised in the late eleventh century by a monk of the abbey of Saint-Wandrille[12] who simply wrote that Rollo reconciled “the men of all origins and different professions in little time, and he made one people out of different races”.

The problem is that the view Dudo expressed of a new people born of the synthesis of several groups has been lost in the historiographical debate on the origins of the duchy.  The debate can be seen as one of two polarised positions: one that sees discontinuity in the Viking heritage of the Normans and one that stresses continuity by stressing the Norman capacity to assimilate and absorb Frankish culture.  Again, this obscures the broader picture: discontinuity at the upper levels of society did not mean discontinuity at the lower levels.  Dudo recognised that the important issue was not whether Normandy was more Viking or more Frankish at a given date but rather how it evolved through combining these divergent traditions into a new and dynamic society.

The people who seized control of the region were opportunists and this represented their Viking heritage.  However, Rollo and his successors quickly recognised the importance of broadening the basis of their support internally and externally.  This was essential as there were many people who still saw them as the scourge of God.  Although the Vikings were not engaged in a deliberately anti-Christian crusade, to their victims they appeared both as ‘the rod of God’s wrath’ and ‘the people of God’s wrath’ and Carolingian charters often refer to them as the enemies of Christianity.  The assassination of William Longsword in 942 and the attack on Rouen that followed it showed that the position of the Normans was by no means secure or permanent.  Opportunities were taken by the Normans from the 940s to strengthen their position.They preserved and, to a significant degree maintained Carolingian legal and administrative institutions that helped to centralise their rule.  They expanded their network of alliances and neutralised potential threats through the practive of selective marriage, internally and externally.  They increased their wealth by controlling the currency, collective revenue based on Carolingian taxes and encouraged economic growth under their authority.  They used the church to reshape their advantage and there is little doubt of the centrality of the role played by the Church in the establishment of Normandy before 1066. 

Dudo placed considerable emphasis on the theme of predator to patron and protector of the Church.  A contrast is drawn between ‘bad’ Vikings who attacked the church and those ‘good’ Vikings who rebuilt it.  As patrons of the church from Rollo onwards, the Normans were able to throw off their bloodthirsty image and, more importantly, the church provided an infrastructure for the Norman rulers to expand their authority geographically and socially.  Dudo claimed that Rollo received all his lands in Normandy, as well as in Brittany, from the Frankish king in 911.  In reality, Rollo’s rule was far more limited and it was not until the late tenth century that his successors were able to claim effective control over the area that later became lower Normandy. 

Dudo’s chronicle provides a justification for the position of the Normans in Normandy and a legitimacy for their rule based on a combination of fact and fabrication.  Latin models such as Dudo of Saint-Quentin and Guillaume de Jumièges largely inspired Benoît de Sainte-Maure as he fulfilled King Henry II Plantagenêt’s request to write a history of the dukes of Normandy. Yet his perspective was different. Besides reporting military deeds and conquests, Benoît also allowed himself religious and political comments. He showed how the Norman dukes, who were said to be Henry II’s ancestors and descended from the Danes, themselves allegedly descendents of the Trojans, built the foundations of a harmonious civilisation as they combined their military role and their worldly power under the sway of the Roman Church. Their patria, Troy and the splendid civilisation Benoît had conjured up in his Roman de Troie, might have disappeared, but the history of the Danes who became Dukes of Normandy and Kings of England was an ongoing affair. Reaching its high point under Henry II, as Benoît claimed, it illustrates how they could retrieve and develop ‘Trojan’ virtues such as how to guide and rule their people in the light of the Christian faith, and how they founded the Trojan civilisation again, this time on the boundaries of the Western world.


[1] Gerda Huisman ‘Notes on the Manuscript Tradition of Dudo of St. Quentin’s Gesta Normannorum’, Anglo-Norman Studies volume 6 (1984), page 122; J. J. G. Alexander Norman Illumination at Mont St.-Michel, 966 - 1100, Oxford, 1970, pages 40, 235.

[2] Gerda Huisman ‘Notes on the Manuscript Tradition of Dudo of St. Quentin’s Gesta Normannorum’, Anglo-Norman Studies volume 6 (1984), pages 122-136.

[3] Recueil des chartes des ducs de Normandie, 911 - 1066 ed. Marie Fauroux, Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie 36; Caen, 1961, no. 18, pages 100 – 102.

[4] Leah Shopkow ‘The Carolingian World of Dudo of St. Quentin’, Journal of Medieval History, volume 15 (1989), pages 19-37.

[5] Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Collection de Picardie 352 no. 1.

[6] He also wrote, as ‘capellanus’ another extant charter of Richard II (Recueil des chartes ed. Fauroux no. 13, pages 86 - 89), which also survives in the original: Rouen, Archives Départementales, Seine-Maritime ms. 14 H 915A.

[7] “...ecclesie beati quintini decanus ceterique canonici”: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. Latin 11.070 no. 74 folio 86r.

[8] Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica ms. latinus 645 ed. L. Bethmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, volume XVI, Hannover, 1859, coll. 507 - 508. The Benedictines of St. Maur, by contrast, present the governance of the house to have involved lay abbots and deans throughout the period; however, they provide no source for “Vivianus”, said to have been the ‘decanus’ in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, before Dudo: Gallia Christiana volume ix, Paris, 1751, coll. 1038 - 1054).

[9] Graham Loud ‘The “Gens Normannorum”: Myth or Reality?’, Anglo-Norman Studies, volume 4 (1982), pages 104-116.

[10] On this see, Cassandra Potts ‘Atque unum ex diversisgentibus populam effecit, Historical Tradition and the Norman Identity’, Anglo-Norman Studies, volume 18, (1996), pages 139-152.

[11] Dudo’s historicity was savaged in Henry Howorth, “A Criticism of the Life of Rollo as Told by Dudo of St Quentin,” Archaeologia volume 45 (1880): pages 235-50, and Henri Prentout, Étude critique sur Dudon de Saint-Quentin et son histoire des premiers ducs Normands, Paris: Picard, 1916.  Despite defences such as Lair’s introduction to his edition of Dudo and Johannes Steenstrup, Normandiets Historie under de syv første Hertuger, 911-1066, Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences et des lettres de Danemark, 7me série, Section des Lettres 5.1, Copenhagen: Andr. Fred. Høst & Søn, 1925, Dudo’s critics have largely held the field as even his harshest critics seem to hold to a largely Dudoesque early Normandy. In recent years, however, Dudo has enjoyed a significant resurgence. At Caen, a “neo-Dudonist” school is emerging, seeking to rehabilitate Dudo as historian, led by Pierre Bouet and François Neveux; see François Neveux, La Normandie des ducs aux rois (Xe-XIIe siècle), Rennes: Ouest-France, 1998 and L’Aventure des Normands, Perrin, 2006. Further, some historians have come to appreciate Dudo as a source not for the history of the 10th century, but for the intellectual climate of Normandy and the Carolingian world in the 11th century. See, M. Arnoux ‘Before the Gesta Normannorum and Beyond Dudo: Some Evidence on Early Norman Historiography’, Anglo-Norman Studies, volume 22 (2000), pages 29-48, important for evidence as to the early development of Dudo’s text; Eleanor Searle ‘Fact and Pattern in Heroic History: Dudo of Saint-Quentin’, Viator volume 15 (1984), pages 119-37; Leah Shopkow ‘The Carolingian World of Dudo of Saint-Quentin’, Journal of Medieval History volume 15 (1989), pages 19-37; Pierre Bouet ‘Dudon de Saint-Quentin et Virgile: L’Enéide au service de la cause normande’, in Recueil d’études en hommage à Lucien Musset, Cahier des Annales de Normandie 23, Caen: Musée de Normandie, 1990, pages 215-36; Victoria B. Jordan ‘The Role of Kingship in Tenth-Century Normandy: Hagiography of Dudo of Saint-Quentin’, Haskins Society Journal volume 3 (1991), pages 53-62; Emily Albu (Hanawalt) ‘Dudo of Saint-Quentin: The Heroic Past Imagined’, Haskins Society Journal volume 6 (1994), pages 111-18; Felice Lifshitz ‘Dudo’s Historical Narrative and the Norman Succession of 996’, Journal of Medieval History volume 20 (1994), pages 101-20; Claude Carozzi, ‘Des Daces aux Normands, le mythe et l’identification d’un peuple chez Dudon de Saint-Quentin’, Claude Carozzi et Huguette Taviani-Carozzi (eds.), Peuples du Moyen Âge. Problèmes d’identification, Séminaire Société, Idéologies et Croyances au Moyen Âge, Publications de l’Université de Provence, 1996, pages 7-25; and the articles in Dudone di San Quintino: Sono qui raccolte le relazioni tenute dagli intervenuti al Convegno su Dudone di San Quintino, organizzato a Trento dal Dipartimento di scienze filologiche e storiche dell’Universita atesina il 5 e 6 maggio 1994, edited by Paolo Gatti and Antonella Degl’Innocenti, Labirinti 16 (Trent: Universita degli studi di Trento, 1995).

[12] Jean Laporte (ed.) Invention et miracula Sancti Vulfrani, Rouen, 1938, page 21.

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