Study Notes for The Little Duke

Book by Charlotte Yonge
Study Notes by Anne White

How to use these study notes:

Since families following the AmblesideOnline Curriculum will be reading The Little Duke with Year Two students, these notes are intended more for the parents' benefit than for the children to use directly. Please don't insist that children in Year Two memorize the vocabulary, or understand the historical events; young Richard often doesn't fully comprehend what's going on either. It's not even vital to the story that Richard becomes the great-grandfather of William the Conqueror.

You might want to set the stage, though, by explaining a little of how the some of the Norsemen (Vikings, with whom Year Two students should already be familiar) took over the land of Normandy, which is now part of France. At the time of this story, their culture was still very much "Norse," although we are told that they were losing their own language. One of the issues that Richard faces in the story is the reconciling of his Norse heritage, including violent sagas of revenge, with his family's more recent conversion to Christianity.

He is also caught in a kind of cultural battle, as his people are regarded as the rough, tough outsiders, without the proper French appreciation for luxuries like window glass. But a hundred years or so later, when they had invaded England, the Norman lords (who all spoke French by then) were considered the ones with the fancy manners and snobbish attitude, compared to the rough, tough Saxons. Another Norse-related point of interest is that Leif Ericson is believed to have been born in about 970, so this story predates even that one.

But you don't need a lot of background to open this story. It starts in the cold autumn in a rather cold castle. Richard is the young son of the Duke who rules Normandy; but he lives with another family both because the Duke is busy and because that was the custom (see the notes for chapter 1). In the first chapter, he is anxiously waiting for his father to arrive on one of his too-rare visits.

Chapter 1. The Silver Key

Time: Autumn of the year 943 AD (other sources say 942 AD)

Setting: The Castle of Bayeux in Normandy. Normandy is now part of France, but at that time it was somewhat separate, ruled by Duke William of Normandy, who was in turn ruled by Louis, King of the Franks. (That is, Louis IV, called Louis d'Outremer or Transmarinus, both meaning "from overseas.") Normandy was the land that had been granted to the Norsemen (Vikings) by King Louis' father. This is why Fru (or Dame) Astrida speaks "the old Norwegian tongue" or "the old Norse language." According to the book, the French language was still in its beginnings, and it was called the 'langue d'oui."

Main Event: A welcome-home party for Duke William, and a chance for him to visit with his son before he goes off to deal with some troublesome nobles.
Other things to note: Duke William reminds young Richard not to be too enthusiastic about the stories of old Norse battles and heroes, and especially those glorifying vengeance. He also tells Richard to show a better attitude towards his school work.
At the end of the chapter: Duke William leaves on his journey.


Duke William of Normandy (William I, Duke of Normany, 900-942, called William of the Long Sword) and his son, Prince Richard (Richard I of Normandy, 933--996, called Richard the Fearless). Richard's mother was named Duchess Emma (according to this book; history books have different accounts of William's wives), but she had died sometime previously. Duke William tells Prince Richard that King Harald the Fair-haired drove Richard's grandfather Earl Rollo from Denmark (to settle in Normandy).

The Centeville family, the owners of the Castle of Bayeux: Sir Eric de Centeville (who is referred to later as "old" and "grizzled"), who acts as Richard's guardian; his mother, Fru (Dame) Astrida; his son, Osmond, who is a few years older than Richard. Young Prince Richard lives with this family because it was "the custom among the northmen, that young princes should thus be put under the care of some trusty vassal, instead of being brought up at home."

Rulers of other places: Count Arnulf of Flanders, Count Herluin of Montreuil, Count Bernard of Harcourt (called The Dane), Baron Rainulf of Ferrières. Count Arnulf has recently caused trouble for Count Herluin, and Duke William must help settle the dispute. Duke William also mentions the Counts of Anjou, of Provence, and of Paris, King Hako of Norway, and King Ethelstane (Athelstane) of England.

Father Lucas, Richard's tutor

Legendary Norse heroes and gods, discussed by Duke William and Prince Richard: the brave Sea-King Ragnar, Odin, Thor

Vocabulary for Chapter 1:
crypt = burying place
apartment = room
ample = large
trenchers = plates
chased = ornamented
steward = servant in charge of household affairs
stag of ten branches = a male deer with large antlers
shaft = arrow
haunch = part of the deer
vassal = one who serves another
venomous = poisonous
embattled = fortified
a pupil in chivalry = one who is learning to be a squire and eventually a knight
restitution = repayment
sagas = ballads; heroic tales

Something to discuss: Richard tries to make light of his dislike of reading by pointing out that his father can't read and seems to have done all right anyway. Is this a logical argument? What is Duke William's response?

Chapter 2. Arnulf's Treachery

Time: A short time after chapter 1

Setting: The same castle; the cathedral (also called the Church of Our Lady) in Rouen

Main Event: The Count of Harcourt (Count Bernard) arrives and announces the death of Duke William: he has been murdered by Count Arnulf of Flanders. This means that Prince Richard is now the Duke of Normandy. Richard is taken to Rouen, his father's home, and to the church there to see his father's body. Richard vows vengeance on the Count of Flanders, but he is reproved by the priest (see below) who reminds him of his father's Christian faith.

New Characters:

"The false Fleming" refers to Count Arnulf of Flanders; the people of Flanders are also called the Flemish.

Duke Alan of Brittany (Brittany is another province of France)

Legendary Norse heroes: Sigurd Bloodaxe, etc.

Other rulers referred to: Kaiser Otho of Germany

Walter the Huntsman

Martin, Abbot (head priest) of the Monastery of Jumièges, Duke William's chief friend and counselor

"doffed his bonnet" = took off his hat
"cleave his skull" = break his head open
restitution = paying back what you owe
vassal = someone who serves someone else
chastise = scold or punish
largesses = generosity
pay homage = bow to
bier = platform
hair shirt = a rough garment worn by monks that would irritate the skin; worn as a sign of humility and to share in Christ's suffering
washed in yon blessed font = baptized in this church, in that baptismal font
if thou dost vow aught = if you vow anything

Something to notice: Duke William's friends, "the barons" (or nobles) "were far from possessing any temper of forgiveness, thought revenge a duty, and were only glad to see a warlike spirit in their new prince." These different expectations are going to cause conflict for Richard throughout the story.

Chapter 3. Duke William's Treasure

Time: the same

Setting: the church in Rouen; Duke William's castle

Main Event: Duke William's funeral, Richard's investiture as the new Duke of Normandy, and the evening afterwards. There is an explanation of how Duke William had been hurt several years previously while hunting, and had been cared for at the monastery of Jumièges.

New Characters:

The Archbishop of Rouen: an important priest who had charge of the Cathedral at Rouen

Alberic de Montemar: a young noble only a few years older than Richard

investiture = official ceremony, like a coronation
as he was desired = as he was asked to do
clergy = priests
ranks = rows
the choir = part of the church
Holy Communion = the Eucharist
confirmation = a rite of the church confirming one's baptism, usually done now between ages 12 to 14 but which, according to this story, was "administered in infancy." Because Richard had already been confirmed, he was allowed to receive Holy Communion during the ceremony.
communicated = received Holy Communion
iniquity = sin
ducal = belonging to a duke
girded = attached, hung
Frank = one of the tribe of the Franks; King Louis of France
coffers = money chests
endowed = supported it financially
his temporal affairs = his earthly business
"saw a white cap at a doorway" = saw Dame Astrida wearing her white cap

Something to notice: Richard's prayer: "It was a great and awful oath . . . He still knelt, put both hands over his face, and whispered, 'O God, my Father, help me to keep it.'" Also notice Duke Alan's warning: that the King of France "will strive to profit by thy youth and helplessness" (and this does happen later on), and his own promise of friendship. Notice that Count Bernard is suspicious of Duke Alan's promise.

Why were the nobles so interested in seeing Duke William's greatest treasure? (They were worried that the Normans might be in financial trouble.) Why were the contents of the trunk so surprising?

Something to explain: Duke Alan complains that King Charles the Simple (the father of King Louis) called his countrymen, the free Bretons (men of Brittany) liegemen (servants, vassals) to a race of plundering northern pirates (the Norsemen). Duke Alan says that he never paid homage to Duke William because of the power the Norsemen had been given; he refused to acknowledge them as his overlords; but he did pay homage to Duke William because of his "generosity and forbearance." In other words, he respected Duke William for his own goodness, not because he was a Norseman. Duke Alan says that he will also pay homage to Richard, again not because he is a Norsemen but in memory of Richard's father.

Chapter 4. In the Hands of the Frank

Time: Shortly after the death of Richard's father

Setting: Rouen

Main Events: Richard makes friends with Alberic, Baron de Montemar, who is ten years old. Alberic comes to live with Richard. King Louis arrives to allow Richard to pay homage to him, but his intentions may not be kindly ones. (There is a hint that the King may have had something to do with Duke William's death.)

New Characters:

The father of Alberic is discussed; he was killed in a battle, fighting alongside Richard's father.

King Louis of France (920-954). His sons Lothaire (Lothair, 941--986) and Carloman are also referred to.


precipices = cliffs
bred up with my Lord Duke = raised with him
seneschal = steward; an important servant in charge of the household and banquets; like a butler
marches = border areas
"had left all the advantages of the game to Richard" = let Richard win
"with so little animation" = with so little enthusiasm
demeanour = manners
sit in council = participate in meetings to discuss the ruling of Normandy
"the appeals from the Barons . . ." = very boring financial and business matters
"petted and made much of" = spoiled, fussed over

Something to notice: in the growing friendship between Alberic and Richard, how they manage to work out the problem of Richard's needing to win the game (because he is the Duke).

Something to discuss: Richard's attitude towards Count Bernard vs. King Louis. Who do you suspect will prove to be a better friend?

Chapter 5. The Faith of a King

Time: the same

Setting: the same

Main Events: Sir Eric warns Osmond during the night that King Louis plans to take Richard with him by force, making him a "ward of the crown" and thereby taking control over Normandy. Alberic overhears and volunteers to go and warn Count Bernard, who has been absent during the King's visit. The next day Richard's friends attempt to get him out of the castle, but Richard, not realizing what is going on, ruins that plan. He is taken to pay his homage to the King, and the King promises to lead "an onset on the traitor Fleming." He insists on taking Richard "to grow up in love and friendship with my two boys," and they make preparations to leave for the royal Castle of Laon. Alberic is sent back to his own home, but Osmond is sent with Richard.

New Characters:

Queen Gerberge
Thibault the armourer
King Harald Bluetooth
Hugh the White, Count of Paris
Hubert of Senlis (Richard's uncle)


to wile = to deceive
"to cut off all the race of Rollo" = to end the rule of the Northmen in Normandy
"our resistance will little avail" = it will do us little good to resist
the postern = the back gate
burghers, burgesses = townspeople
bring warrant = bring written permission
imperious = lordly
gauntlet = glove
strive = struggle
insolent = rude
succour = help
flown into a passion = flown into temper
speak their jargon = speak French
hold parley with them = talk to them
the Rouennais without = the townspeople of Rouen outside the gates
a pledge, a hostage = someone from the French side, 'traded" for Richard, to ensure that Richard will not be harmed
Dieu aide = "God helps" (a war cry)
guerdon = reward
ban and arriere ban = something like reserve troops; those who are called up to fight for the King
"the beads of his rosary reminded him of their order" = a rosary is a string of beads on which prayers are counted

Something to think about: "Besides, he is so taken with this King's flatteries, that I doubt whether he would consent to leave him for the sake of Count Bernard. Poor child, he is like to be soon taught to know his true friends." This is one of the major themes of the book.

Something else to notice: At this point in the story, Osmond had "small trust in Richard's patience and self-command." The development of those virtues is another important theme of the story. Notice the small step that Richard makes in that direction in this chapter, by realizing that his outburst had spoiled a plan to keep him safe.

Something to explain: Osmond refuses to give Richard up to the Franks with the statement that as his father "was committed to his charge by the [council] of Normandy, he holds himself bound to keep him in his own hands until further orders from them." Sir Eric was given responsibility for Richard by the Norman leaders, and he has no permission from them to let Richard go to anyone else. However, after Count Bernard arrives and Richard is taken to the King, the Normans decide that they had better let Richard go for the time being, because they are not yet in a position to fight for Normandy. Count Bernard advises Richard to be patient, and says that within a few weeks or months they will have enough of an army together to defend themselves and rescue him.

Chapter 6. The Playfellow of Princes

Time: Shortly after the last chapter

Setting: The journey to Laon and the arrival at the castle

Main Events: see Setting. Richard meets the Queen and the two French princes.

Quote: "Glass windows and hangings to sleeping chambers! I do not like it; I am sure we shall never be able to sleep, closed up from the free air of heaven in this way ". . .

New Characters:

Queen Gerberge, who has "a sharp sour expression"
Prince Carloman, who was "eight at Martinmas," and Prince Lothaire, who was "nine three days since." Carloman appears to be easier to get along with than Lothaire.
Sybald and Henry, two Norman grooms who travel with Richard and Osmond
The seneschal and others at the French court


palfrey = horse
rude = simple, plain, rough
traverse = cross
"Richard did not find the second place left for him at the board" = Richard should have been given the second-best seat at dinner, since he outranked the Baron who owned that castle.
morass = swamp
"iron collars round their necks" = shows that these people are serfs, similar to slaves
the fleur-de-lys standard = the French flag with symbols of lilies on it
glazing = glass windows
tell your beads = use your rosary to say your prayers

Something to notice: Richard's attempts to control his temper, but also his difficulties at being polite to people he does not like (such as the Queen). Osmond scolds him later and tells him that 'the first teaching of a young knight is to be courteous to ladies."

Chapter 7. Captors and Captive

Time: The same year and into the next, ending shortly after Whitsuntide (a spring holiday, seven weeks after Easter)

Setting: The royal castle at Laon

Main Events: Description of Prince Lothaire's bullying ways and his cruelty to animals (warning for those with younger ones: he becomes angry at his dog and orders it killed, and then attempts to have a falcon's eyes put out). When Richard interferes in one such incident, he ends up being injured himself. The winter goes by and things continue on without much change, but when Hugh of Paris visits at Easter, he warns Osmond to watch out for any trouble. On Whitsunday there is a great banquet and one of the guests is Count Arnulf, the murderer of Duke William. When Richard refuses to attend the feast, trouble ensues, and it appears that the Count of Paris was right about the situation becoming more dangerous. (Another warning for sensitive souls: Richard's servants Sybald and Henry are killed in this chapter, and Queen Gerberge physically threatens Richard.)

New Characters:

Charlot, Giles (servants at the court of Laon)
Hugh, Count of Paris (he was mentioned previously); he also mentions his children Hugh and Eumacette (Richard's future wife)

"as became his rank" = as his rank of Duke required
"check his faults" = stop his faults
consternation = noise, confusion
effeminate = having feminine manners
forbear = refrain from doing something; stop before going too far
"his own loyalty and forbearance" = his belief that a subject should be loyal to his King, no matter whether he likes or approves of that King or not
"the feeble and degenerate race of Charlemagne" = the present King Louis was descended from the great King Charlemagne, but Charlemagne's descendants were generally weak and corrupt (like Louis and his sons)

Something to notice: Lothaire had learned to think "that to give way to his naturally imperious and violent disposition was the way to prove his power and assert his rank." Is that the way to be truly "strong willed?"

Something to discuss: was Richard right in interfering with Lothaire's attempt to maim the falcon?

Something to notice about Richard's character development: as he studies Lothaire's mean disposition and cowardice, he makes "many resolutions against ordering people about uncivilly when once he should be in Normandy again." At the end of the chapter it is noted that "Richard, who, six months ago, could not brook a slight disappointment or opposition, had, in his present life of restraint, danger, and vexation, learnt to curb the first outbreak of temper, and to bear patiently instead of breaking out into passion and threats..."

Chapter 8. A Bundle of Straw

Time: Summer of the year 944

Setting: The castle of Laon; the country between Laon and Normandy; Montemar (Alberic's castle)

Main Events: Walter the Huntsman arrives at Laon, but is chased away from the castle. When he discovers the state of things there, he returns to Normandy to alert Richard's friends. Richard suddenly becomes ill, and Osmond, suspecting poison, refuses to let him leave his room even after he starts to recover. Osmond comes up with a plan to get Richard back to Normandy.

New Characters:
Walter the Huntsman (mentioned earlier)
Perron, one of Lothaire's servants
Bertrand, the seneschal at Montemar, and his wife
Dame Yolande, also called the Dame de Montemar (the mother of Alberic)
Maurice, Jeannot and others--Norman servants
King Harald Horridlocks--a legendary Norseman who vowed not to cut his hair

alms = money given to beggars or other poor people
pilgrim = traveller, especially one journeying for religious reasons
obeisances = bows
the chase = hunting animals
disappointed of his game = had not caught anything
scourge = whip
thong = leather strap
sanctity = holiness
gain an interview with Osmond = get a chance to speak with him
with this intelligence = with this news
evil tidings = bad news
expire = die
assiduously = carefully
telling his beads = using his rosary to pray
provisions = food
wallet = bag
mantle = cloak
Sieur de Centeville = Lord Centeville
what recked he = what did he care
mended his pace = went a little faster
yonder stout palfrey = that strong horse
chaffer = haggle about the price
sagacity = wisdom
forded = crossed (by someone else before them)
imprudence = lack of care
pennon = flag, banner

Something to notice: Notice how the author describes Richard at Montemar (contrasting that with previous impressions that were given), and how he addresses the Norman nobles, including Count Bernard. Why do they look at him "with pride and joy?"

Chapter 9. Blue-Tooth to the Rescue

Time: Some time after the previous chapter;

Setting: The castle of Senlis, where Richard is sent for safety

Main Events: News comes that King Louis has assembled an army and has marched into Normandy, forcing the surrender of Rouen. Ships from Denmark arrive to help the Normans. Osmond goes to join the battle, and returns with the news that Louis has been taken prisoner by the Danes. Richard wonders about the loyalty of Count Bernard during these events, but it turns out that he has remained loyal to the Normans, even when he seemed to be helping the French.

New Characters:
Harald Blue-tooth, the King of Denmark, and his army
Nobles previously mentioned, including Alan of Brittany, Count Hugh, Herluin of Montreuil
The warder of the castle of Senlis

frontier = border
abode = place to live
forge = a shop where metal is worked
deemed = thought
varlet = knave, scoundrel
garrison = fort, castle
keel = ship
politic = shrewd; remaining loyal while seeming to act in someone else's interest, as Count Bernard did
"win my spurs" = gain my knighthood
hauberk = coat of armour
quitted = left
their principal resort = where they spent most of their time
"You will be over the battlements" = You will fall over the wall
portcullis = the part of the castle gate that is raised up and down
Neustria = present-day Northwest France

Something to notice: Father Lucas (who suddenly reappears in the story) warns Richard to beware of broken vows, "but remember it not in triumph over a fallen foe."

Chapter 10. A Norman's Courtesy

Time: Almost a year later

Setting: The Castle of Bayeux

The Main Events: The two princes arrive as hostages in Normandy, where Richard tries to welcome them but cannot seem to break through their anger and fearfulness.

New Characters:
Charlot, Lothaire's attendant

engaged = arranged
until the terms could be arranged = until the details could be worked out
under the charge = under the care
cavalcade = procession
vouchsafing = giving
litter = a device used for carrying someone (usually either wealthy or ill), like a stretcher with curtains
demoiselle = damsel, girl
Bordeaux = a kind of wine
pasty of ortolans = bird pie
pullet = chicken
maltreat = mistreat
patois = dialect
stalwart = stubborn, strong
remonstrances = pleadings not to do something
desolate = deserted, alone
Pater Noster = Our Father (the Lord's Prayer)

Something to think about: "Perhaps he comes that you may have a first trial in your father's last lesson....and return good for evil." The themes of forgiveness vs. revenge, and God's purposes in all things, continue to be important in this story.

Chapter 11. The Passing Bell

Time: That same summer, and the autumn months

Setting: The Castle of Bayeux

Main Events: Lothaire's attitude improves slightly, although he is still disagreeable. Carloman's delicate health worsens, and he tells Richard that he does not want to live, because the world is "full of cruel people" and he is too "weak and fearful." At the end of the chapter he dies. (This is a short chapter.)

New Characters:
Hardigras, the dog (mentioned in chapter 10)

forbearance = patience
aloof = cold, uninvolved
beneficial = good
sports = games
draughts = drafts
embalmed and lapped in lead = prepared for burial according to the customs of the time

Something to notice: When Carloman dies, Richard thinks, "Where shall I go, when I come to die, if I have not returned good for evil?" What resolution do you think he has made?

Chapter 12. An Oath Fulfilled

Time: That same autumn, shortly afterwards

Setting: Falaise, the strongest castle in Normandy, and the site of a war conference

Main Events: On his way to a meeting at Falaise, Richard saves the life of a dog, and then finds out that it belongs to King Harald of Denmark. King Harald promises Richard any reward he would like, and Richard asks for the release of Lothaire.

New Characters:
King Harald of Denmark

parlement = conference, meeting
you were not wont = you never used to
keep = part of a castle
autumn sport = hunting
unheeding = not realizing
precipice = overhanging rock, cliff
in mortal combat = fighting to the death
girdle = belt
one of those Frenchified Norman gentilesse = those fancied-up Norman la-de-das
baldrick = belt
I am beholden to you = I owe you something
Jarl = Earl (Duke)
tell me your boon = tell me what favour you would like
recoiled = drew back
harry the fat monks of Ireland = go "a-Viking," plundering (robbing) villages etc.
bonder = refers to Osmond
St. Clair sur Epte = where Alberic lives
injunction = command

Something to discuss: How Richard has changed through the book, especially considering the last paragraph. What were the most difficult lessons he learned? Why does Lothaire not think that he can achieve what Richard has?


This epilogue summarizes the rest of Richard's life, through times of war and later of peace, and through the continued hatred of Arnulf of Flanders. It is said that Lothaire died in early youth (although online sources say that he lived from 954-986) and that Hugh Capet became the next King of France (actually he became King after Lothaire's son Louis.) (Technically Hugh Capet is considered to be the first King of France, since until that time France had not been considered to be one country.)

The last scene of the book takes place many years later, when Richard is "a grey-headed man" visiting Abbot Martin at Jumièges. Arnulf appears at the abbey gate, asking for mercy.

Where the hand of the Lord hath stricken = where God has punished
it is not for man to exact his own reckoning = it is not for man to take his own revenge
brought to naught = brought to nothing
refectory = dining hall
venerable = elderly

Historical Note

In our Macmillan edition of The Little Duke (1954), the following footnotes from the Project Gutenberg text are included in a longer "Historical Note" which follows the Conclusion and which verifies some of the historical details used in the book.

"At fourteen years of age, Richard was betrothed to Eumacette of Paris, then but eight years old. In such esteem did Hugues la Blanc hold his son-in-law, that, on his death-bed, he committed his son Hugues Capet to his guardianship, though the Duke was then scarcely above twenty, proposing him as the model of wisdom and of chivalry."

"Richard obtained for Arnulf the restitution of Arras, and several other Flemish towns. He died eight years afterwards, in 996, leaving several children, among whom his daughter Emma is connected with English history, by her marriage, first, with Ethelred the Unready, and secondly, with Knute, the grandson of his firm friend and ally, Harald Blue-tooth. His son was Richard, called the Good; his grandson, Robert the Magnificent; his great-grandson, William the Conqueror, who brought the Norman race to England. Few names in history shine with so consistent a lustre as that of Richard; at first the little Duke, afterwards Richard aux longues jambes, but always Richard sans peur. This little sketch has only brought forward the perils of his childhood, but his early manhood was likewise full of adventures, in which he always proved himself brave, honourable, pious, and forbearing. But for these our readers must search for themselves into early French history, where all they will find concerning our hero will only tend to exalt his character."

(Note written by Charlotte Yonge)

Further Reading

The Normans: The History of a Dynasty by David Crouch ($amzn)

AmblesideOnline is part of's Affiliate program. If you use our links, we receive a small commission which enables us to cover the costs of keeping the website and curriculum. links are identified like this: ($amzn) or ($mp3), but we have provided links to free and alternate sources as well.

Copyright Anne White, 2009

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure