Foreword: This is another piece that I originally wrote for Theod Magazine back in the mid-90’s. Much like my Penda “saga” it was the first detailed treatment of the subject in modern Germanic Heathen literature.
The continental mission began in the year 691 C.E. when the Northumbrian priest Wilibrord set out for Frisia with twelve companions. Before beginning his work, the missionary decided to first pay a visit to the land of the Franks, where, with the aid of the Pope, he secured the promise of military support from King Clovis II’s “mayor of the palace” (ie. warlord), Pepin II. Thus began a relationship that would lead not only to the savage conversion of the continental Germanic tribes, but also to the fall of the Merovingian royal line (of France) and the invention of the “Christian Kingship”. In stark contrast to the Anglo-Saxon mission, which relied upon guile, carrot-dangling, and compromise as it’s chief weapons, the continental mission was bloody and brutal; though ultimately the Catholic “policy of accommodation” was a significant factor in even this conversion.
Despite the fact that, in typical Germanic fashion, the initial missionaries were well received by such notable men as King Radbod of Frisia and King Ongentheow of Denmark – the latter of whom sent Wilibrord on his way with 30 Danish youths to be educated in the teachings of Christ! – their deeds would quickly earn them the hatred and contempt of Frisian, Saxon, and Dane alike.
An illustrative instance; soon after his departure from Denmark a gale drove Wilibrord’s ship to ground on an island known as Fositesland. On this island, which was considered a part of Radbod’s Frisia and sacred to the deity Fosite, stood a temple, as well as a spring and a herd of cattle. In spite of warnings, or perhaps, rather, prompted by them, Wilibrord baptized three locals he had managed to convert in the spring and then had a number of the cattle slaughtered for a feast.
In 696 C.E. Pope Sergius appointed Wilibrord archbishop of the Frisian nation.
With the death of Pepin II in the year 714 C.E., King Radbod took to the field against the Catholics; determined to drive them from his kingdom all together. He was met with strong opposition however from Charles “the Hammer” Martel, Pepin’s son and successor. In 719 C.E. glorious Radbod passed away, and with his death official conversion was forced upon the Frisians and Utrecht was permanently established as the Continental mission’s center.
Over the next three years another Anglo-Saxon missionary, Winfred (aka Boniface), rose to prominence in Wilibrord’s service. In 723 C.E. Pope Gregory II himself wrote a letter to Martel in order to bring his attention to the zealous missionary and request that the Mayor of the Palace guard his life. Later this same year Winfrid returned to Hesse, his primary sphere of evangelical activity, accompanied by a troop of Franco-Catholic soldiers. With this assurance, he proceeded to chop down the sacred Thunor Oak at Geismar. And with its fall, the mission began to spread into Saxony like wild fire.
In the year 741 C.E. Charles Martel died, leaving three sons, Carloman, Grifo, and Pepin the Short, as his heirs. In all, Martel is known to have sent troops into Saxony a total of five times in order to loot, burn, and generally terrorize the locals. Winfrid would comment that his missionary gains would’ve been impossible without the aid of Martel.
Of Martel’s sons, Grifo and Carloman, there is little enough to tell.
Upon his father’s death, Grifo, acting upon the advice of his mother, strove to take possession of all of his father’s holdings. He was defeated and taken captive by his brothers, and remained in their “care” until 747 C.E. when he escaped; fleeing into Saxony in hopes of rallying support for his cause. When Pepin the Short led his army of Franco-Catholics into Saxony however, the natives (presumably Westphalian Saxons) handed Grifo over without a fight.
As for Carloman, he invaded Saxony twice, in 743 CE and 744 CE, and both times he forced the submission of a drighten (warlord) called Theodoric. It is also worth noting that in 746 CE he ordered the Alemannian nobles to attend an assembly at Connstadt. Now, the Alemannians had been conquered by the Merovingian, Clovis I, in that black year 496 CE, but they had been in constant revolt ever since. Carloman had resolved to put an end to this once and for all. So, when the Alemannians arrived at the assembly they quickly found themselves surrounded by Franco-Catholic troops in full battle-gear and a slaughter commenced. When all was said and done, not a single Alemannian noble was left alive. The death toll was said to have numbered in the thousands. Soon after this, Carloman was struck by a sudden fit of conscience and decided to retire into a monastery.
Of Pepin the Short there is much more of direct significance to tell.
He and Winfrid were very close and over the years since Martel’s death the missionary had labored to strengthen the rather strained relationship that existed between the Carolingians and the papacy. It was in fact Winfrid who played off Pepin’s “Christian right” to be King against the sacral and hereditary right of the Merovingians, and in doing so won for Pepin the support of Pope Zacharias and a majority of Franco-Catholic nobles. At the Pope’s request an election was held, and Pepin the Short was declared the Christian King of the Franks. Childeric III, of the customarily long-haired Merovingian line, was tonsured and thrown into a monastery even as Winfrid crowned and anointed Pepin; thus instituting the Christian Kingship … or more appropriately, the cult of Monarchal Absolutism or Divine Right of Kings.
In hopes of creating at least the illusion of credibility, the Pope awarded the new “King” the title of “Patrician of Rome”, which is something that he had no legal right to do under Roman legal code. And Pepin responded by making an illegal donation of land to the papacy – lands which would in time grow into the Papal States – and by taking up the Pope’s cause against the heretical Lombards, who had been the allies of his father!
After returning to Frisia in 754 CE to continue his evangelical work, Winfrid met his end at the hands of a mob of Frisian commonfolk that still harbored resentments regarding their own conversion. The pattern of conversion established Wilibrord and Winfrid, and emulated by many a lesser missionary, was the chief reason for the great number of missionaries that “suffered” (sought and found?) martyrdom during the Continental mission; rather than any inherently Germanic heathen hatred of Christiantity or civilization.
Anyway, later that same year, Pope Stephen felt it somehow necessary to re-confirm Pepin’s right to the “Kingship” and thus re-anointed him. He further conferred the title of king upon Pepin’s sons, Charlemagne and Carloman, and anointed them as well.
Finally, in the year 768 CE Pepin the Short died and his kingdom was split between the two brothers. He had led a total of three raids into Saxony. It is worth noting that he forced the Westphalians, who bore the brunt of Frankish “evangelical” efforts, to pay of tribute of 300 horses, as opposed to the 300 cows that the Merovingians had always demanded. This not only marks a shift in emphasis in leadership from the stewarding of one’s own folk to the acquisition of greater land and resources, but also reveals the growing importance of the mounted soldier to the Franco-Catholic war- machine. By the time of Charlemagne, virtually the entire army was not only mounted, thus allowing for rapid advance and lighting fast battlefield manoeuvres, but many were also capable of fighting from the saddle. The resources taken to train and equip and keep such soldiers constantly in the field was absolutely vast, and over the years of Charlemagne’s “enlightened” reign this price would show itself on the common man … the once proud and free Frankish churl, many of whom would eventually have to sell themselves into thralldom in order to satiate their lord’s desire for control and conquest .
Of Charlemagne and Carloman it could easily be said that there was no love lost between them. It is known that Carloman favoured the Lombards, while Charlemagne was the Pope’s lap dog. In fact, this division of loyalty within the Carolingian house resulted in a familial disaster. Case in point, when Pope Stephen learned that the Queen Mother had arranged a marriage between Charlemagne and the daughter of King Desiderius of Lombardy, which was a good thing in terms of peace and regional stability, he wrote a letter to the Carolingians in which he scolded them for attempting a union with, as Stephen himself put it, “…that fetid brood of Lombards, a brood hardly human…” As a result of this, Charlemagne refused to hear the advice of his mother forever after. And obviously, this did little to brighten Carloman’s disposition toward either his brother or the Pope.
Curiously, in 771 CE Carloman died and, for reasons unknown, his wife felt it necessary to flee to the court of Desiderius. Whatever may have gone on here, this much is certain; with Carloman’s death Charlemagne became the sole ruler of all Frankland.
Now, with the death of Pepin the Short, the Saxons had taken to driving the Catholic missionaries from their lands; burning their churches to the ground for good measure. Furthermore, they had also stopped paying the annual tribute. As a direct result of these actions, Charlemagne vowed at the Worms assembly of 772 CE to subjugate the Saxons, destroy their religion, and convert them to Roman Catholicism.
Up until this point, the Carolingians had “merely” supported the Saxon mission, but at Worms, they took charge of it; though with the Pope’s blessing, of course.
Following the Worms assembly, Charlemagne rode into Saxony at the rear of 1,000 horsemen virtually unopposed. In contrast to statements that Charlemagne was the prototypical Germanic warlord, he did in fact ride at the rear of his host, as opposed to at the forefront, which, as Tacitus related, was the customary place of a Germanic warlord. Anyway, Charlemagne took the stockade Eresburg, then proceeded to the mouth of the river Lippe where stood the revered Saxon Irminsul. In imitation of Winfrid, he chopped down the pillar down and then spent the next three days violating the associated temples and plundering them of “a great amount of gold and silver”; which no doubt thatched the temple not unlike we read of the great Swedish temple of Uppsala. When all was said and done nothing remained of the most sacred spot in Westphalia, and perhaps all Saxony.
From here, the Catholic King led his army onward, plundering, burning and killing as he went, until he reached the river Weser. Here, with a hastily mustered fyrd (folk army, militia), the Saxons met him to discuss terms of peace. These were as simple as they were intolerable; that the missionaries be left unmolested in their work, that the annual tribute of 300 horses be reinstated, and that twelve highborn hostages be yielded up as tribute to the truce. With a sword not only at their own throats, but also those of their kinfolk, the Saxons had little choice but to submit.
Nevertheless, the following year, with Charlemagne off waging war against the Lombards, the Saxons struck back. A large-scale raid was organized by Lord Widukind of Westphalia and Lord Bruno of Angaria, and launched into both Frisia and Hesse. On this raid many churches were plundered and burned, including the church of Winfrid at Fitzlar.
In 774 CE Charlemagne retaliated. Three detachments of his main force were sent to drive the already retiring Saxons out of Frankland, while a fourth was sent directly into Saxony to plunder and burn to it’s heart’s content.
In 775 CE the Franco-Catholic assembly was held at Duren and there Charlemagne vowed to subjugate the Saxons “…or exterminate them altogether.” And so Charlemagne led a full host into small, loosely knit Saxony, accompanied by a mob of missionaries. Holy groves were burned, defiant priests cut down, temples destroyed, villages and farmsteads leveled, fields of grain trampled, while livestock was slaughtered and left to rot. The only real resistance the Catholic King faced on this crusade was led by the Lord Widukind, who snatched a modest yet decisive victory, and suffered two defeats. Both Bruno and Lord Hassi of Eastphalia submitted without a fight prior to Widukind’s second and “final” defeat.
Before retiring to his kingdom, Charlemagne left an occupying force at both Eresburg and Syburg.
The following year found Widukind active once more. Unsupported by his so-called peers, the princely Saxon retook Eresburg, displayed keen judgement in having it demolished, and then placed Syburg under siege. By the time Charlemagne rolled into Saxony, the stockade had all but fallen, and with the arrival of a massive troop of fresh soldiers, the Saxons were forced to abandon it and scatter. Widukind rallied his men at the old site of the Irminsul, and there it was decided that the aetheling should make for the safety of Denmark while everyone else remained to submit to Charlemagne.
And so it went, but what followed was a brutal period of forced baptisms, in which men were beaten senseless with clubs and forced into the baptismal font. In the meantime, Charlemagne not only ordered the reconstruction of both wooden forts, Eresburg and Syburg, but also the construction of the relatively massive stone fortress that was to be known as Karlsburg.
Lest any jibe Widukind’s retreat to Denmark, please do keep in mind that if his warriors had demanded he stay, he could not have done otherwise. He was their pre-eminent military mind, and THE figurehead of the rebellion. His warriors undoubtedly forced him to go.
In the year 777 CE Charlemagne held both his assembly and his annual muster in Saxony at Paderborn. He demanded that all of the Lords of Saxony attend — though this probably meant a certain segment of Saxons such as the Westphalians, Angarians, and Eastphalians in specific for reasons that will become evident as the history progresses — and all the lords so summoned answer … with the exception of Widukind. Mindful of the hostages of 772 CE, and no doubt the massacre of 745 CE, all present mouthed oaths of fealty to both Charlemagne and his children, and then surrendered themselves for baptism. Also, a very odd spectacle appeared there at Paderborn; a band of Muslim envoys. This lot struck an alliance with the Catholic King and then, with the close of the assembly, he hastened his host to Spain in order to wage war on the Saracen Muslims.
And here it might be proper to go into what detail we can of Lord Widukind of Westphalia. As has already been mentioned, he was the most prestigious lord of the Westphalian Saxons, and perhaps even of all the Lords of Saxons. In the years since 772 CE, he had led his fyrd to victory in a number of skirmishes against the Franco-Catholics. And he was clearly well aware that this war of Charlemagne’s was very different from any fought in the past against the Franks; with the spiritual sovereignty of his nation, and every individual in it, being at stake. As a result, he was forced to highlight the religious element in his fight against the Christians in a manner uncharacteristic of Germanic cultural values. One might say that the religious element had already been highlighted for him of course. But of all the Saxons, Widukind was easily the wealthiest and the most powerful, and furthermore, he was the brother-in-law of King Sigfrid of Denmark.
Now, it may very well have been that Widukind had designs on instituting the cult of Kingship amongst the Old Saxons, who had always been a very loose knit collection of petty tribes ruled by the petty lords of the locality; and only temporarily uniting (in theory) under a single, ahem, “Irmin-Drighten” (Great Warlord), chosen by lot, in times of great need. Thus, it may have been Widukind’s own (perceived?) ambitions that, more than anything else, kept his peers from giving him the support they really should have. Or perhaps his peers were just more concerned with their own estates and privilege?
But despite the seeming obsolescence of the Germanic fyrd, with its large mass of part-time warriors and kin-based units, it was a formidable force as both Alfred the Great and Harold Godwinsson would later prove against many a war-worthy viking invader. And it didn’t drive the people into debt, and was thus sustainable over the long term to boot; unlike the Imperial Legions of Rome for instance. Thus, one can only imagine what difference a united Saxon fyrd might have made under Widukind’s capable and innovative leadership.
Whatever the case, Widukind’s concern for and support of the Saxon way of life, not to mention his proven willingness to bleed in the trenches, quickly earned him the love and respect of churls from throughout Greater Saxony.
And so, with Charlemagne and a large chunk of his host off in Spain, Widukind returned from Denmark. And not long afterwards, a second organized raid was launched into the lands of the Franco-Catholics. While churches remained the primary focus of the attack, it was distinguished form the raid of 773 CE by the fact that no booty was taken in their retaliatory destruction. No doubt this would have weighed them down, slowing both their advance and retreat, and reveals a goodly degree of authority, on behalf of Widukind, and discipline, on behalf of the Saxons. The Saxons advanced as far as the Rhine, the traditional border between German and Roman, and then began to fall back. When a troop of cavalry was sent to drive the invaders out of Frankland, Widukind feigned a retreat, lured the force to a river crossing, and there sprung an ambush.
The Franco-Catholics were slaughtered to a man.
Meanwhile, as Charlemagne was double-timing it back from Spain, he ran afoul of some Saracens at Roncesvalles. The Catholic King suffered the loss of many fine men there, including the war-worthy paladin Roland, and was forced into retreat.
Finally, late in the summer of 778 CE, Charlemagne at last charged his Austrians and Alemannians with the task of driving the invaders back into Saxony. Needless to say, time always being a factor, this was accomplished with relative ease.
Over the following winter, and just to make an otherwise traumatic year even worse, Charlemagne’s young son, Lothar, fell ill and died.
And so it is perhaps not without reason that, for the next two years Charlemagne concentrated all of his efforts on Saxony; invading, pillaging, killing, deporting, and carrying out mass forced baptisms.
In 782 CE he once again held his annual assembly in Saxony, this time at Lippspringe. Here the Saxon lands were divided up into “political counties” and awarded to the Catholics King’s vassals; including a select few Saxe-Catholics, who were also given land and title in Austria to insure “mutual interest”. Furthermore, the power to mete out justice was stripped from the traditional panel of “dooms men” (local churls well versed in local law and custom) and given over to the Counts; who further enjoyed the freedom to exercise that power however they saw fit. We might speculate that most fell back on what they knew, and exercised their power according to Franco-Catholic norms; which amongst other things was aimed at the eroding the strength of the kindred, and breaking down the social fabric in general … to the end of empowering a centralized authority. The formation of guilds for instance was considered a threat to the power of the centralized state, as such organizations required that oaths be sworn between members, and these oaths might infringe on loyalty to the state. This “crime” was made punishable by flogging, ***nose slitting***, and even full outlawry under Carolingian rule. Charlemagne also set up an evolving circuit of counts, which limited the ties between the Count and the folk he ruled over, and thus further increased the power of his centralized authority.
Anyway, beyond this, one can only imagine how any given Count may have exercised his power at any given time.
As the Lippsringe assembly drew to a close, it was crashed by a band of Danish envoys led by a Dane called Halptani. On behalf of his lord, King Sigfrid of Denamark, he launched a formal protest against the persecution of their fellow Germanics, but Charlemagne was indignant and responded by accusing King Sigfrid of harbouring “outlaws“. He then went on to further insult the King by offering to “reward him” if Widukind was turned over. This offer was refused outright by Halptani on his lord’s behalf, who retorted by issuing a formal warning that any evangelical activity in Denmark would be regarded with extreme prejudice. This new attitude of the Danes towards Christianity is said to have become a subject of dark humor around the Carolingian court.
Following the close of the assembly and Charlemagne’s return to Frankland, word was received that the Sorbs (a Slavic tribe living between the Elbe and the Saale) had launched a raid into Eastphalia and Thuringia. Thus, three noblemen – Adalgis, Geilo, and Worad – were set over an army of Austrians and charged with the task of driving the Sorbs out of the Empire-to-be.
This attack by the Sorbs “just so happened” to coincide with Widukind’s return to Saxony. And as word of his return spread, revolt began to flare. In response to this, Charlemagne sent his cousin, Count Theodoric, to reinforce Adalgis and the others. They met at the river Weser and, abandoning the Sorb campaign, immediately proceeded to the Suntel Mountains. There, on the northern slope, Widukind and his fyrd stood in defiance of the Franco-Catholics.
Hoping to regain the advantage Widukind had taken by positioning his force on the wooded slope, Theodoric ordered an enveloping manoeuvre. However, before he was able to move his troops into position, Widukind appeared and goaded Adalgis into a reckless up-hill charge. The Franco-Catholics quickly found themselves surrounded and a great slaughter commenced. In the end, Adalgis, Geilo, Four Counts, and twenty other men of rank lay dead. What few soldiers escaped the massacre made for the protection of Theodoric, who pitched camp and sent word to his cousin.
And so before long, Charlemagne rolled into Saxony at the head of a fresh host of troops, thus forcing the battle-weary Saxons to once again scatter. Once again, Widukind was forced to “infringe” on the hospitality of noble Denmark. And indeed, in the wake of Charlemagn’e scorched earth policy, it is likely that Denmark was beginning to experience a steady trickling-in of Saxon refugees.
But if the Saxons thought Charlemange had been terrible up to this point, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
In recent years, the Catholic Warlord had been facing continuing revolts throughout Frankland, suffering partial defeats and disastrous encounters, his lands had been struck by famine, and he had suffered the death of both a young son and a close personal friend. Undoubtedly this must have been grating on the infamous Carolingian temperament as demonstrated by Charlemagne’s uncle Caroloman in his deeds against the Alemannians.
In any event, all of the Saxon Counts were ordered to Verdun, where the Catholic King demanded to know who was responsible for this uprising. Without hesitation all named Widukind, as all knew to be the case, but this was not enough. The nephew of Carloman continued to press the matter until finally, each began to name the other and many more besides. In the end, 4,500 stood accused, both noble and common alike. Those not present at the assembly were quickly rounded up, and then on one black day, late in the year, all 4,500 were beheaded at Verdun.
When word of this reached Widukind, we can imagine that he was left numb. Even by 8th century standards such an act was considered excessively brutal, and even many a Frankish nobleman began from this day to fear for his freedom and privilege. The Pope remained, remarkably, silent on the matter.
In the year 783 CE Widukind returned to Saxony. He was accompanied by a band of Frisian envoys and immediately called for a folkmoot. No doubt he spoke of the elderfolk, their deeds, ordeals, and way of life, and of all they had suffered at the hands of Charlemagne, his forefathers, and other “peace-loving” Christians. And most certainly, he spoke of Verdun. And when all was said and done, “all of Saxony” answered with one voice. Throughout the land pitched battles were fought, churches burned to the ground, and both Counts and missionaries slaughtered without mercy. Simultaneously, temples were rebuilt and the great blessings begun anew. The Frisians, undoubtedly recalling the deeds of King Radbod, followed suit in their lands.
But for all the zeal, it was already too late. The tide could not be turned back.
Once again, Charlemagne led a great host into Saxony and began burning farms, destroying newly rebuilt temples, trampling fields of grain, and both killing and stealing livestock. In shameless defiance of customary rules of warfare, the Catholic King, with his young son Charles the Younger at his side, continued on throughout the winter and the Yule months with his evangelical work.
And so the “war” raged for two years, with each side enjoying many partial victories and suffering partial defeats, but by the end of 784 CE the Frisians had been subdued and the Saxon nobility had begun to betray their folk once again. Widukind was forced to flee back to Denmark, where we might imagine he took stock of the situation.
The Saxons had endured the unendurable. Over the past twelve years, enough time for young boys to grow into men, they had seen sacred groves and ancient trees leveled, holy springs polluted, items of great spiritual value stolen, and men of priceless knowledge butchered. Their homes had been burned, their crops destroyed, cattle slaughtered, with winter looming or reigning supreme, their women and children led off into captivity, and their rights entirely stripped away in their own land. By this time, neither Westphalia, Angaria, nor Eastphalia could field even a modest fyrd. And yet the stubborn Saxon churls, broken and bloodied as they were, stood ever ready to follow noble Widukind.
Apparently, the Catholic King was making good on his boast.
However, while none could doubt Charlemagne’s prowess as a general, things were not so much better in the Franco-Catholic Empire. Resources were strained, famine had struck twice in the space of six years, and already hungry churls were being driven further and further into debt, even slavery, as a direct result of their Monarch’s insatiable lust for war. Even the nobles did not go untouched. But of all those under Charles the Great, it was the Thuringians, Austrians, and Alemannians who suffered the most; bearing the brunt of Charlemagne’s battles. As resentment built, assassinations plots began to brew in their midst.
In the year 785 CE, after routing the final remnants of organized Saxon resistance, Charlemagne sent word to Denmark that he desired to meet with Widukind and discuss terms of peace. And once he produced a number of hostages as an assurance of his good faith, the Saxon aetheling made his way to Attigny. The terms that awaited him there were surprisingly fair; if Widukind would submit to baptism and Carolingian overlordship, Charlemagne would pull his army out of Saxony and grant the Saxons a good deal of autonomy in regards to their own affairs.
These terms were agreed to, binding oaths were sworn, and then Widukind knelt, not before Charlemagne himself, but before an idol of Christ. Thus was the official conversion of the Saxons complete.
This victory was celebrated throughout Christendom, But the Saxons themselves quickly realized that if something sounds to good to be true, it probably is. The infamous “Capitulary on Saxony” was soon enacted. According to these dictates, any Saxon who refused baptism, resisted the missionaries, or acted in any way, physical or otherwise, against the spread of the cult of Christ was subject to immediate death. Of the fifteen offences that carried the death penalty, only one, the act of perjury, had any precedent in Saxon customary law. Folkmoots were strictly forbidden, as was the worship of the native pantheon, and not only did the meting out of justice remain in the hands of the Counts, but a new veto privilege was also given to the Christian priests. In addition to this privilege, churches were made the only place of refuge from “the law”. This was all simple good-cop-bad-cop logic designed to drive the Saxons into the arms of the clergy. It also brings into question any notion of “religious zeal” in the number of churches that were erected throughout Saxony in the wake of “St.Widukind’s” submission and the end of (this phase of) the war.
For the following seven years, once again long enough for boys to become men, the Saxons suffered under Charlemagne’s tyranny. They were even forced to act as auxiliaries in his military campaigns, though they are said to have undertaken their duties with little of their former fighting spirit. During this time the Bretons of Brittany revolted, as did the Bavarians. A Thuringian-Austrian assassination plot was tied in with a revolt of their own, and not only did Charlemagne continue to wage war on the Lombards, but he even managed to start a diplomatic conflict with King Penda’s descendant, the mighty King Offa II of Mercia. Beyond these events, a great lightning storm was said to have raged over Frankland one December, killing a number of people, a great death of birds occurred, a terrible epidemic swept the Empire, and once again…famine struck.
In 792 CE it came to pass that the Albingians, who were considered a branch of the Saxons, but whom often held aloof from the wars of their fellows, struck out against Charlemagne’s encroaching Empire. It was at the mouth of the river Elbe, which marked the southern boundary of their lands, that they fell upon a troop of Franco-Christian soldiers and virtually wiped them out.
As it went, this blow was left unanswered by Charlemagne, and as a result, Count Theodoric and his men were later ambushed and slaughtered when they entered Saxony the following year to collect auxiliaries for Charlemagne’s Hun campaign. And with this act, years of pent up offence exploded. Throughout Saxony churches were again burned, priests slaughtered or taken captive for leverage, and the old ways were restored.
Meanwhile, the Saracens invaded Septmania, where they reaped a great slaughter of Franco-Catholics, and the first Viking longships rowed out of Denmark to engage in the sacking of the Northumbrian monastery at Lindisfarne.
It was not until 794 CE, the year in which Jarrow was sacked by the Danes, that Charlemagne and Charles the Younger rode into Saxony. The Saxons met them just south of Paderborn where they submitted without a fight and swore that they would embrace Christianity once more. But for all of that, Charlemagne received word the following year at the Kostheim assembly that the Saxons were indeed still worshiping in the time-honoured manner. As a result, the Catholic King spent the entire year ravaging Saxony. And the following year was a virtual rerun of the last; save that Charlemagne pushed beyond the swamplands until he reached the shores of the Baltic.
And so this continued on for year after terrible year until finally, in 804 CE, an estimated 10,000 Saxons were uprooted and resettled in various parts of the vast Franco-Catholic Empire; where they undoubtedly suffered the misplaced anger the Franks harbored for their Monarch. Those lands left empty in Saxony were then re-peopled with loyal Franco-Catholics.
During these years, Saxon refugees streamed across the Danish border, and by 804 CE mighty King Godefrid, son of Sigfrid, had seen enough. With Charlemagne and his ally Duke Thrasko of the Obodrites (a Slavic tribe) still campaigning in northern Albingia, Godefrid made for Schleswig, the centre of Old Anglia. There he massed up his entire fyrd, all of his horsemen, and his entire fleet of longships.
In earlier diplomatic missions the Danes had made clear their stance toward Christianity, and subsequently drove that point home with the sacking of both Lindisfarne and Jarrow. And now it seems that Denmark was at last prepared to challenge the champion of Christianity himself. Messengers were sent back and forth between King and emperor, but needless to say perhaps, nothing was resolved.
For the next four years Denmark sat strangely silent. Meanwhile, back in the Empire yet another great famine and epidemic swept the land. As a result, many noblemen failed to attend the annual assembly and muster.
Then, in the 808 CE Denmark struck.
King Godefrid launched an attack on the Obodrites, making two-thirds of their land tributary and driving Thrasko himself into exile. Furthermore, the Dane-King took control of northern trade by leveling the important trading centre of Rubric, and then transferring all of it’s merchants and artisans to safety of Hedeby. He then restored the elder earthwork first erected by Offa I of Old Anglia back in the 4th century CE. It has since become known as the Danevirke.
Over the course of the next year, ambassadors of both Godefrid and Charlemagne met at Badenflot. Much was discussed, nothing resolved, but by the end of the talks, Godefrid had made a couple of things clear; that he considered both Frisia and Saxony his by right, and that he was prepared to topple Charlemagne from his throne and bring a bloody end to Christianity in the north.
And this was no idle boast on Godefrid’s part. Beyond his own Danes, the son of Sigfrid is also believed to have ruled over Vestfold in Norway and could no doubt count upon the aid of both Frisian and Saxon alike. Whatever advantage a mounted army offered Charlemagne was entirely countered by absolute and unquestionable Danish naval supremacy (an area Charlemagne had chosen to neglect despite better counsel), and beyond this, Godefrid had displayed genius not only in matters pertaining to war, but to peace as well.
In 810 CE, even as the Emperor began planning a Danish campaign, 200 longships descended upon Frisia. Godefrid fought three major engagements against the Franco-Catholics stationed there and took the victory each time.
Thus was Frisia liberated under the royal banner of Denmark.
When word of this reached the Emperor he immediately sent out the call to muster, but once again, many could not, or simply would not answer. And so, with what troops he had, Charlemagne began an uncharacteristically slow and uncertain march for Frisia. In the meantime, Godefrid sailed back to Denmark to plan an offensive against Frankland itself. Unfortunately, long before Charlemagne reached Frisia he received word that the Dane-King had been murdered. In a very suspicious and undignified display, the champion of Christianity said that he had never received news so delightful or worthy of praise.
With no heir apparent, a successional feud erupted that left Denmark in the grips of chaos and saved Frankland, for a time. Charlemagne himself died four years later, survived only by one son, the timid Louis the Pious. He was crowned Emperor by the Pope in 816 CE, but by the middle of the ninth century the Imperial crown was merely aesthetic. In 845 CE the legendary Dane, Ragnar Lodbrok, sacked Paris itself, and thirty-six years after that, the vikings destroyed a great monument of Charlemagne that Louis had erected in Aix. By 987 CE the Carolingians, the royal Christian house of Frankland, had fallen.
As for the Saxons, in 933 CE, under the rule of Henry I, they launched a crusade against the Danes; intent on converting them by fire and sword.