21 The Normans – a race unbridled

The Normans made a massive impact on Europe, not just England. They went on to establish a kingdom in Southern Italy, and lead the Crusades and the resulting state of Outremer. So the History of England looks at where they came from, with a brief history of Normandy before 1066

21 The Normans – a race unbridled

Beginnings – Rollo (846-931) and the settlement of Normandy

Scandinavian settlements of NormandyCharles the Simple, the King of France, managed to defeat Rollo at Chartres, but realised that the Vikings would be back. So he granted Rollo the land of Normandy in 911, on the promise that Rollo would defend the coast and convert to Christianity. And by and large that's what Rollo did.

The settlement of Normandy was not heavy, and was focussed around the coast, as the map shows. Rollo and his successors encouraged the Vikings to go native. Within a hundred years, the Normans were as French as anyone. 

William I Longsword (b. 893, Count of Normandy 931-942)

William I and the expansion of Normandy Rollo's son William had to fight to protect the new kingdom from the Kings of France who regreted their decision, and from jealous neighbours like the Counts of Flanders. In the end they got to him, when Arnulf of Flanders had William assasination in 942. But by that stage Normandy had grown from the gift of the Contentin and Avranches from Rudolph of France, and by William's mariage.

Richard I 'The Fearless' (b. 933, Duke of Normandy 942-996)

 A minority was always a dangerous time, so when William's assasination left 10 year old as his heir there was bound to be trouble. Louis IVth of France took advantage, walked in and threw Richard in prison. But 3 years later Richard escaped and enlisted the help of Hugh Capet, the count of Paris and founder of the Capetian dynasty. Hugh helped Richard back to the Ducal throne and Richard never looked back. His reign saw the start of the development of the famous Norman heavy cavalry and reform of the church. New religious foundations sprang up and by the time Richard died, no one would have imagined a world without Normandy – which had not been the case at the start of the reign. Richard was also the first to call himself Duke – and make it stick.

Richard II ('the Good', 996-1026) , Richard III (1026-1027) and Robert the Devil (1027-1035)

Richard II built on the work of his father, fostering the development of the church and maintaining his alliance with the Capetians. And on his death, the succession seemed assured through his son Richard. But Richard died suspiciously quickly. Now early death was not unusual in those days, but tomgies will wag and Robert, his brother, was tringly suspected of fratricide. None the less, Robert took over, and set off to have fun and build his wealth by plundering the church. And while he played, his  Barons helped themselves too – not just to church lands, but to Ducal powers as well. By the time the Pope stopped Robert's spree with the threat of excommunication, the damage was done, and his son would have to deal with the consequence of a very independent nobility. Perhaps by way of contrition, Robert went to the Holy Land on pilgrimmage 1034-5, where his ability to throw money around earned him the title of Robert the Magnificant. But he died on the way back.

William the Bastard (Duke, 1035 – 1087)

William the Conqueror William was illegitimate and under age  when his father died, so he had to contend with a disputed succession. The turning point came in 1047 with the battle of Val es Dune, when Henry of  France helped his vassal William defeat his Barons. From then until the death of his rivals, Geoffry of Anjou and a disillusioned Henry of France, William continued to fight for his survival. But from 1060, William could finally go on the offensive, safe at home and ready to take on the invasion of England.

8 thoughts on “21 The Normans – a race unbridled

  1. ‘The History of England’
    Robert the Devil (1027-1035)
    Hi David,
    I do like the way you have put all this together but I do have a question for you to answer and to my mind a very important question.
    It is concerning the payment to Duke Robert 1st of the county of Vexin (French) for services rendered to Henry who then became King Henry 1st of France.WHAT KIND OF SERVICE DID ROBERT RENDER TO HENRY OF FRANCE?
    This service must have been heavy deed, possibly murder as the French Vexin was an extremely important piece of real-estate with it’s borders only 50 miles from Paris!!!
    Then later, Robert treks off to Jerusalem to (possibly) expurgate his great sin?
    I really would like your take on this.

  2. I think the services rendered were clear enough – and from Henry’s point of view more than warranted the Vexin – though as you say this was a major concession. The kings of France were to spend the next 250 years regretting it! So Henry 1st of France was exiled by his stepmother in 1033 in a palace coup. It took Robert and his Norman army and an invasion to get him back on the throne – and the price of the deal was the Vexin.
    the pilgrimage could really have been piety. But there are a couple of other possible reasons; firstly, he!d been excommunicated by the Pope; folk in the middle ages were religious, maybe he regretted it in later life, maybe it was the Pope’s price. Or, maybe Robert really did kill his brother Richard by poison – that being the gossip of the time. That could be a good reason for a pilgrimmage. Though I guess we’ never know for sure…

  3. Hi David,
    I was just re-treading old ground and came across your, straight to the point answers. I can’t thank you enough.
    Another historian who had a tremendous facility to communicate medieval history, unfortunately passed away a few years ago was, Frank Barlow.
    The original reason for my wanting that early Norman info, was for some background history for my novel, ‘BELL

  4. G’day David,
    As a ‘Ten pound Pom’ who came to Australia from near Chichester in 1954 aged seven, I’ve always had an interest and soft spot for the Motherland and its history, despite now being a True Blue Aussie.
    So I was delighted to discover recently (thanks to a mention on the ‘Space Rocket History’ website) your website and fascinating podcasts.
    I’m working my way forward from the earlier podcasts and enjoying them and learning from them.
    Keep up the good work and thank you for your dedication.
    Rob Coates
    Perth, Western Australia

  5. Looking at the family trees, it looks to me the Norman connection for the English started with Emma of Normandy. She is the key figure by the looks of it. She was married to Aethelred (Anglo-Saxon) then Richard the fearless (Normandy). Who is she?

    Or is it all just luck as all of them were just trying to strengthen their alliances for survival or conquest.

    I guess Emma isn’t the first, before her there was also Judith of Flanders second wife of Aethelwulf.

    By the way, fascinating stuff, thank you. However as others commented you are going too fast, especially with unfamiliar names and regions etc.; it’s hard to take it in without having to see the maps and family tree and Dona bit of reading before the potcasts.

    1. Hi Simon – different Emmas I think., Emma of Normandy is a fascinating person; married to Aetheled and then to Cnut, leaving her sons by Aethelred in Normandy and one of them returned to be blinded probably by her son Harthacnut. And yes, there are connections well back to Judith, but William really had no claim.
      You are right I was way, way too fast. Eventually I got the message; but it takes a while. Listen to the Richard I episodes – quite desperately fast!

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