The Normans were a people of Viking and Frankish descent from Northern France. The word Norman, or Norsemen, is derived from the Low Frankish word ‘Nortmann’, or in English ‘Northman’. It has also been suggested it may have been derived from Old Norse as ‘Noromor’, which when translated means ‘Norsemen’ or ‘Viking’.
During the Ninth Century, Viking raids were a common occurrence along the northern coast of the Frankish Empire. Whereas initial raids involved plundering and pillage, the Vikings over time started to settle along the rivers of the Frankish Empire, in present day France.
As time went on, these settlements grew and flourished. The Northmen mixed with the local Frankish population as these settlements developed.
The Founding of Normandy
In order to contain the Northmen threat and to protect the Frankish Empire from the destruction of the Northmen raids, King Charles III of France and one of the Northmen leaders, Rollo, signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in the Autumn of 911.
As part of the treaty, King Charles granted lands to Rollo in what was at the time Neustria. The lands granted covered all those between the sea and the River Epte. In return, Rollo pledged fealty to King Charles and that his people would protect Frankia from future Viking raids. The Duchy of Normandy was born.
As time went on, the Northmen or now Normans, assimilated more and more into Frankish culture. They became Christians and adopted the language and traditions of France into their culture, to create a uniquely Norman culture and language.
This adaptability, their need for conquest, their love of combat and their sheer intelligence are characteristics the Normans became known for. These were all things that were encouraged in Norman society, such as through the adoption of feudalism.
The Dukes of Normandy
The title of Count of Normandy was conferred to Rollo on the formation of Normandy. Initially, the rulers of Normandy were known as Count or Earl of Normandy. It wasn’t until the reign of Richard II in 996 that the title Duke of Normandy was formally adopted.
Until the 1204, the descendants of Rollo ruled the Dutchy of Normandy, when King Philip II of France confiscated the duchy from King John of England, (John I Lackland). From then on, the title of Duke of Normandy was used by several French princes. The British monarchy would go on to renounce their claim to the title Duke of Normandy in the Treaty of Paris in 1259.
The Normans are very well known for their conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror winning the Battle of Hastings. They are less well known for their conquests in places as far afield as Italy, the Canary Islands, the Holy Land, Ireland, Scotland and Cyprus.
The Normans established a foothold in Italy before the conquest of England. In 1030, the Drengot family were given the county of Aversa. They would also go on to obtain the principality of Capua. From these bases the Normans would go on to capture both Sicily and Malta.
At around the same time that the Normans were establishing a foothold in Italy, they entered the Byzantine Empire. First working as mercenaries for Byzantines then on fighting against them in the Balkans and other parts of the Mediterranean.
The Normans gained control of the island of Cyprus during the Third Crusade in 1191. Richard the Lionheart was on his way to the Holy Land with a fleet of ships, whereupon a storm beset his fleet and it was dispersed. When the storm abated, it was discovered that the ship with Richard’s sister and the king’s betrothed onboard was anchored on the south coast of the island near the wrecks of several other ships from Richard’s fleet.
Some of the survivors from these wrecks had been taken prisoner by the ruler of Cyprus, Isaac Komnenos. In May 1141, King Richard’s fleet arrived at the port of Limassol. Upon his fleet’s arrival in Limassol, Richard demanded that Isaac release the survivors and the return some treasure that had been on one of the wrecked ships. Isaac refused to do so and thus Richard put ashore his troops and took the port. After taking Limassol, Richard’s forces then went on to conquer the rest of the island with some support from local barons and other nobles that had arrived after the conquest of the city.
The Norman Conquest of England
The Norman conquest of England in 1066 is one of the best-known events in English history. William II, Duke of Normandy (later King William I of England), had a claim to the English throne through the marriage of King Ethelred II (Ethelred the Uready), King of England’s marriage to Emma, sister to Richard II, Duke of Normandy (predecessor to William). Ethelred and Emma were the parents of Edward the Confessor.
William’s claim was also based on a supposed promise to him from Edward, due to these familial links, that he would accede to the English throne on Edward’s death, as Edward didn’t have any heirs. However, upon Edward’s death, Harold Godwinson, Edward’s brother-in-law, acceded the throne of England as Harold II of England. Harold had apparently agreed to the arrangement between Edward and William and was now seen as going back on his word.
William seeing Harold as a usurper set about assembling his forces ready to invade England. William’s claim to the English throne wasn’t the only one. King Harald of Norway also had a claimed to the English throne and would go on and invade England only to be defeated and killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September 1066.
It was soon after this that William landed his forces near Hastings in Kent. King Harold hearing of the landing of William’s army marched his forces to confront them. On the 14 October 1066 the Battle of Hastings began. It was during this battle that King Harold would be famously struck with an arrow through one of his eyes. With Harold’s death, the battle was effectively lost and the throne of England passed to William.
English Resistance After the Battle of Hastings
Following the Battle of Hastings, William’s hold on the English throne was still in doubt. Over the coming months and years there were numerous battles and revolts that William had to put down. Most notable of these were the Harrying of the North, which was a series of campaigns in the North of England led by William to subjugate the people of Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham and Lancashire.
Gradually William ensured his hold on the English throne was absolute and by about the mid 1070s, there was little or no resistance left.