By Eleanor Searle
Viator, Vol.15 (1984)
Abstract: Around the turn of the millenium, Dudo of St.-Quentin, an ecclesiastic in the service of the Norman “Duke”, was commissioned to write an account of the Viking invasion by the Duke’s grandfather Rollo, who captured Rouen in the late ninth or early tenth century. That account has long been puzzle and an irritant to historians, for it has been shown to be factually unreliable where it can be checked against other sources. The irritation is all the greater because of the potential importance of the work, which is the only source we have about events in the tenth century within the area that was becoming Normandy. This paper argues that if the work is read as essentially a heroic epic, in which the pattern of events is the key to their significance and meaning, then the author is recounting a revealing story.
Read as a work of art, Dudo’ s book concerns legitimacy: the God-bestowed legitimacy of the Rouen lineage of Viking chieftains now and forever — and the legitimacy of those who have accepted the leadership of that lineage. These “acceptors” of Rouen, the pattern implies, are new invaders, of the mid-tenth century, who sealed their alliance with the earlier, and seriously threatened, group by a great marriage (followed by a series of marriages) that added the imperatives of kinship to the advantages of collective coordinated action. Dudo’s “facts” about Rollo, the first, God- chosen leader, are, in this reading, mere embellishments to his eulogy of his own patrons’ success in creating a proto-state, capable of providing safety and stability in the lands so recently conquered. Such a reading shifts the establishment of “Normandy” from the late ninth to the late tenth century, and introduces a principle of state-formation that can be tested in the more easily understood sources of the eleventh century.