The Normans

The pillaging of Portland and the sack of Lindisfarne in 793 have traditionally marked the entry of the Vikings into Western Europe. The coast of what was to become Normandy was soon breached by these maritime raids. A number of pirate vessels were recorded in the lower Seine around 820, but from 841, Rouen was torched and the rich abbeys of the Seine, Jumièges and Saint-Wandrille, were pillaged or held to ransom.


Norman HelmetIn 845 a Viking fleet sailed up the Seine to Paris and King Charles I (the Bald) agreed to pay a ransom. Normandy was born in 911 out of the concession made by King Charles the Simple to the Viking Rollo of the lands located at the mouth of the Seine with the town of Rouen as its capital.
RolloRollo set himself up in 876 at the mouth of the Seine. In 886 he associated himself with the fleet that had been besieging Paris and took advantage of this arrangement to further his own ends in Normandy by seizing Bayeux and Evreux. From this period onward, the Vikings established in the lower reaches of the Seine seemed to have set themselves the objective of extending their territory to the west.
Between 911 and 933, Rollo and his son William Long Sword extended their power over the whole of the territory of the ancient ecclesiastical province of Rouen which was one of the most powerful principalities of the Kingdom of France.

At the same time, the population of Scandinavian origin was absorbed into the majority. Normandy belonged entirely to the Frankish world and to Christian civilisation, although it did not deny the contribution of Nordic traditions.
NormansThe long reigns of Richard I (942-996) and Richard II (996-1026) enabled Normandy to experience peace and prosperity. Ducal power was reinforced in the context of institutions which were largely inherited from the Carolingian period.
At the beginning of the 11th century the Duke of Normandy exerted a strong hold over his Duchy and derived support from the church, which he both protected.

The Norman key to success was the combination of the continental way of fighting and the Viking spirit.
The Normans had the best trained army and in contrast to other nations, they had an army of professional soldiers.


William the Bastard

Born around 1027, William was the illegitimate son of Duke Robert I of Normandy, and Herleve (also known as Arlette), daughter of a tanner in Falaise. Known as 'William the Bastard' to his contemporaries, his illegitimacy shaped his career when he was young. On his father's death in 1035, William was recognised by his family as the heir - an exception to the general rule that illegitimacy barred succession.

His great uncle looked after the Duchy during William's minority, and his overlord King Henry I of France, knighted him at the age of 15.


William the Conqueror

From 1047 onwards, William successfully dealt with rebellion inside Normandy involving his kinsmen and threats from neighbouring nobles, including attempted invasions by his former ally King Henry I of France in 1054 (the French forces were defeated at the Battle of Mortemer) and 1057.


William's military successes and reputation helped him to negotiate his marriage to Mathilda, daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders in 1050. At the time of his invasion of England, William was a very experienced and ruthless military commander, ruler and administrator who had unified Normandy and inspired fear and respect outside his duchy.

William's claim to the English throne was based on his assertion that, in 1051, Edward the Confessor had promised him the throne (he was a distant cousin).
HaroldNorman sources emphasise the fact that during his stay in Normandy, Harold was bound to William by many oaths, which enabled them to characterise the assumption of power in 1066 by Harold on the death of Edward, as a betrayal. This was a justification a posteriori for the Conquest, and the Bayeux Tapestry is particularly clear on this aspect. Furthermore, William had the support of Emperor Henry IV and papal approval.


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