On April 11 in the year 882, Vikings defeated a Frankish army in Remich, Luxembourg. The Vikings were led by Guðfrið – a veteran of the Great Heathen Army that pillaged the English isles. However, this wasn't the first time that Guðfrið and his men put Northwestern Europe under their axes.
Guðfrið had descended on the region in 880, devastating Flanders, the Kingdom of Lotharingia and several cities in the region. He remained a scourge until 882 when Emperor Charles the Fat assembled a considerable force to deal with the Vikings ravaging his realm. As the attackers marched towards Asselt, where the Vikings were camping, they cleverly split up their forces to take the Northmen by surprise.
The attack, however, didn’t go as planned. The element of surprise was spoiled by traitors who warned Guðfrið, which gave the Vikings a chance to prepare for war. Faced with a bloody, pitched battle, Charles decided to withhold his attack. He saw a strategical advantage with laying siege on the Viking camp instead, which could hand him victory without wasting more lives. It was a good idea - in theory.
As the siege proceeded, an extreme hailstorm appeared out of nowhere and severely punished the Frankish forces. The Vikings most likely enjoyed better conditions in their encampment (Thor must have been praised that day). Things got even worse for the attackers when disease started spreading from the rotting corpses that they had piled up. Only 12 days into the siege, it became unbearable for the Franks to wait any longer for Guðfrið’s surrender.
Even though opinions must have differed among the Frankish commanders, Charles the Fat went ahead and sent an envoy to discuss peace terms with the Vikings. Left with little choice (other than starve to death), Guðfrið was forced to come to terms. He swore an oath to the Emperor, promising that he would never again attack his Kingdom. He also had to accept baptism, becoming a Christian with Charles the Fat as his godfather. In return, Charles made him the Duke of Frisia in Netherlands, which came with both political and financial power. Guðfrið was also given the daughter of the Lotharingian king as wife (she must have been pleased…). He was in other words made a vassal of Charles the Fat, making it impossible for him to break his oath. The other Viking leader present in the camp, Sigfrið, was neither interested in land nor titles, since Charles had to pay him off with church money.
One would think that Guðfrið would have lived his life happily ever after, controlling Frisia and bedding a princess. However, old loyalties seldom die. As other Vikings raided and pillaged large parts of northwestern Europe in 884 and 885, Guðfrið did nothing to stop them. This infuriated the Franks who summoned him to a meeting where he was accused of complicity. The whole situation got solved the medieval way, with Guðfrið being murdered by local nobles.
Live by the sword – die by the sword.
(Picture: Murder of Guðfrið by Jacobus van Dijck)
I found this interesting because during my research into my family history I discovered my great great grandfather had settled in the Netherlands and he and his son and grandson all took wives from Belgium. Because my DNA profile is represented by less than 3% in this region and heavily represented in Scandinavia one of my ancestors must have made their way (likely from Denmark) to the Low Countries and settled. In this same region during the late 800s there was a Viking encampment at place called Elsloo (roughly where Bunde is today) on the Mass river where they raided from. A very short distance (1 1/2 hr walk) from Elsloo is a place called Masstricht, which is where my father was born. It is possible that during Guðfrið‘s incursion one of my ancestors made his way from Scandinavia to the Netherlands, raided, fought at Remich in 882 and settled instead of returning home. It is also possible they arrived much later through a more benign migration but I think the former narrative is much more exciting.
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