Today in History: April 5, 882 - Viking raids in West Francia

On this day in history, on April 5, 882, the Vikings of the “Danish Great Army” sacked the great city of Trier in East Francia, pillaging it for three days before returning to their fortified camp at Esloo on the Meuse. 

The movements of this great band of norse raiders evidence the interrelation between Danish raids on the countries of Western Europe: 

Intent on plunder, the “Danish Great Army” had arrived in England in 878 to join their brothers-in-arms in the wars against the Anglo-Saxons. Upon their arrival in the Thames valley, however, they learned that Guthrum and the “Summer Army” (which had first reached England in April 871) had been defeated by King Alfred at Edington and there was little chance of successful plunder in England following Guthrum’s baptism and treaty of peace with the Anglo-Saxons, they decided to stay the winter at Fulham on the Thames and in the following year – 879 – to sail for the continent.

In mid-July 879,  the “Great Army” landed on the coast between Calais and Boulogne and by the end of the month, they had already sacked Thérouanne and the abbey of Saint Bertin. As they proceeded deeper into East Francia, the vikings raided the Yser, Lys and Scheldt valleys before they encamped for the winter at Ghent.

Early the following year, in 880, this Viking army left its camp at Ghent and attacked Tournai, Condé, Valenciennes, and even Reims. While on his way home from Ribemont in February 880 – where he was ratifying a treaty giving him lands in the kingdom of Lothair II - Louis “the Younger” came upon a party of the Viking raiders at Thion (Thiméon; modern Belgium, prov. Hainaut) on the Sambre and heavily defeated them. However, his illegitimate son Hugh died in battle.

King Louis the Younger of Saxony didn’t press his advantage, however, and this defeat did not prevent the Vikings from burning Arras and Nimeguen. Moreover, in retribution, the Vikings mounted an expedition into Saxony itself, defeating Louis’s men in Saxony and killing Duke Bruno, brother of Louis’ wife Queen Liutgard, before returning to their camp at Ghent. In the fall, the Vikings moved to a new, fortified camp at Courtrai and between December 880 and January 881, raided Arras, Cambrai and Péronne. Within a matter of only weeks, around February 881, they were on the move again, harassing Thérouanne, the coastal region between Boulogne and Saint Valéry, and the Somme valley, including Amiens and Corbie, before again returning to their camp at Courtrai.

The Danes suffered another defeat on Aug. 3, 881 at the Battle of Saucourt, between Abbeville and Eu, at the hands of joint Kings Louis III and Carloman II of France. Their famous victory against the marauding pagans is celebrated in a German cantilène that has survived till this day. Unfortunately, because neither monarch pressed the advantage following their defeat, the Vikings were able to reach the Meuse valley unmolested and fortify themselves in a camp at Elsloo.

Battle of Saucourt-en-Vimeu

In the winter of 881, they moved along the Meuse, sacking and burning the monasteries of St-Lambert at Liège, Prüm, and Inden, and even the palace at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle; the main palace of Emperor Charlemagne), as well as all of the monasteries in the neighboring dioceses: Tongres, Arras and Cambrai, as well as part of the diocese of Rheims, much of which they had burned, including the fortress of Mouzon and the city of Maastricht on the Meuse. Moving to the Rhine, they burned Cologne and its adjacent monasteries, as well as Bonn and Koblenz. Early in 882, the Vikings were on the Moselle and, after attacking Treves, they attacked, pillaged, and burned the great city of Trier.

Starting on April 5, 882, Trier and its adjacent monasteries were sacked during a period of three days. Afterward, the Vikings made their way to Metz but were confronted at Remich on the Moselle by Bishop Wala of Metz, Archbishop Bertulf of Trier, and Count Adalard of Metz. Although Bishop Wala was killed in battle, their counterattack was unsuccessful and the Frankish forces fled, leaving Metz to be sacked by the invaders.  

*** It should be noted that though Viking raiders specifically targeted ecclesiastical lands (for reasons described in an earlier article) and although it wasn’t unusual for Frankish bishops to participate in battle or even personally lead armies or fleets against the Danish invaders — as was the case with Abbot Hugh of St. Martin, who took part in the battle at Thion (Thiméon) on the Sambre in February 880 — some prominent religious figures, including the formidable Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, insisted that bearing arms and fighting was contrary to ecclesiastical law and their episcopal office. Following the death of Bishop Wala of Metz during the attempted defense of his bishopric and its populace in 882, Archbishop Hincmar wrote that Wala’s “bearing arms and fighting, (was) contrary to sacred authority and the episcopal office.”

Viking raids of Frankish lands that began in 879 ended in 892, when two armies - one led by Hasting (Hæsten ; Hasteinn), which operated along the Loire, and another led by Rollo, who’d been ravaging areas along the Seine -  departed for England, providing yet more evidence to the interrelation between Danish raids in Europe:

lthough Hasting (Hæsten ; Hasteinn) and his band of Viking raiders (who had been attempting to establish a settlement on the Loire in the region of Nantes - a “Loire Normandy” - since the 870s through ethnic cleansing of the region) had been defeated in Frisia at the Battle of Louvain the year before, in 891, they didn’t leave because of Frankish military strength… they left because of the weather!

The summer of 892 was exceptionally dry, leaving the earth parched and destroying much of the harvest. Unsurprisingly, these natural conditions resulted in famine and disease and the Vikings retreated, seeking better opportunity in England in campaigns against King Alfred. Hasting and his (smaller) Viking band left Boulogne and, after landing in Kent in 892, began the War of 892 between the Danes and the English.