Who were the Normans?
The Normans, which means “Northmen,” were Vikings in the 10th century who pillaged and settled in Northern and Northwestern parts of France.
At the time, the area which is now referred to as France in Continental Europe was initially referred to as the Frankish Kingdom (or Francia).
In the late 9th century, the Vikings began to move into lower parts of France to pillage and settle. They had a stronghold specifically in the lower Seine River. The Vikings took ships down the Seine and would periodically stop and raid towns or churches.
As they moved south, King Charles III (also called Charles the Simple) of the Frankish Kingdom became afraid that the Vikings would overtake France. The King was further frightened when the Vikings launched an attack on Paris and Chartes.
To stop the pillaging and fighting, the king made a peace treaty with a Viking leader named Rollo. The treaty was called the treaty at St Clair-sur-Epte. Within the treaty, signed in 911 A.D., King Charles III agreed to give land to Rollo to create peace between the Vikings and rest of France.
After the treaty, Vikings were permitted to live peacefully in northern France, as long as they did not cause trouble or pillage villages in the rest of the Frankish Kingdom.
In the 11th century, the Vikings attempted to conquer lands again. The Vikings launched campaigns to southern parts of Italy and Sicily. Some of the Vikings sent to these southern reaches became mercenaries or soldiers against the Byzantine Empire.
However, the Normans are usually thought of as the Scandinavian Vikings that settled in Northern France.
Where Were the Normans From?
The Normans, who were originally Vikings, primarily came from Scandinavian areas. The Normans came from Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. Some Normans may have visited the British Isles first and then moved to the French coastline, but they called parts of Scandinavia their original homeland.
The Norman Conquest (Invasion) of England
The Norman Conquest was an invasion that resulted from confusion as to who had the right claim to the English throne in the early 11th century. In 1066, King Edward the Confessor died in England. He had no heirs, so decisions had to be made as to who had claimed to the throne.
Harold Godwinson, Earl of Essex in England, claimed the throne. The claim was supported by Anglo-Saxon councils and wealthy aristocrats. On the other hand, Duke William of Normandy did not agree with Harold’s claim. Duke William claimed that the throne was promised to him
In the north, King Harold’s brother teamed with the King of Norway, named Harold Hardrada, and invaded English shores. King Harold won the battle for England, but King Harold and the Vikings were quickly threatened by Duke William’s army invading in southern England.
King Harold’s and Duke William’s army fought each other in the famous Battle of Hastings. Since King Harold’s army was tired, weak, and smaller after their previous battle, they faced significant disadvantages when meeting the Norman army.
It was in the Battle of Hastings that King Harold was killed. A Norman archer managed to shoot King Harold in the eye with an arrow, killing him. After a few more battles, Duke William of Normandy, along with the Normans following him, took over England. It was at the Battle of the Hasting that the Normans successfully invaded England.
On Christmas in 1066, Duke William was crowned the King of England. The Normans, which were now French Vikings changed the architectural landscape of England, as well as the religious environment.
Read more about the Norman Conquest
Normans and Saxons
The Normans and Saxons began to combine cultures after the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Saxons were influenced by British culture, while the Normans were influenced by French culture and cultures of Continental Europe. These different cultural backgrounds fused and blended after the conquest.
The Angles and Saxons had a culture that greatly appreciates warriors and warrior stories. They placed great importance in honor and battle. They also believed in blood-feuds or spilling blood to settle disputes.
The Normans firmly believed in social structures and structures of the aristocracy. They spoke Norman French and enjoyed culture surrounding literature and imagination. When fused, the literature of England transformed into myths, such as King Arthur, that combined stories of the hero with the Norman concern for aristocracy and social status.
The Normans also brought governmental structures, giving towns the ability to make charters. The Normans also brought religion that allowed the church to spur developments in agriculture and art.
The Normans combined their culture with the Angles and Saxons to create an Anglo-Norman culture in England.
Normans vs. Vikings
Some may think that Vikings and Normans are the same people, but this is not entirely true. Normans were once Vikings, but they historically split from their Viking brothers during explorations and migrations.
The Vikings are from Scandinavia, which means the Normans are from Scandinavia as well. However, the difference between the two groups is where they settled. The Vikings settled in the British Isles while the Normans were Vikings that either moved past or through the British Isles to settle in northern France.
Since the Normans were influenced by cultures on the continent, they had a much different culture than that of the Vikings, who were influenced by British culture. The Normans spoke a form of French, while the Vikings in England did not. They also had different religions.
What Religion They Have?
When the Vikings first traveled from Denmark, Iceland, and Norway they were considered pagan pirates. However, once they settled into northern France, they began to speak a form of French and looked to the Christian faith on the Continent.
Many scholars and proponents of religion were encouraged to settle in Normandy to spread Christian teaching. Religion grew, and the Normans fostered many renowned monasteries. In fact, Normans began making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
After the invasion, the Normans reinforced Roman Catholicism, and the new king of England was given a blessing by the Pope to reign.
Interesting Facts & Information About The Normans
- Normans were great artists, and they were known for their skill with metal, stone, and architecture.
- The Bayeux Tapestry is a famous Norman tapestry that is almost 70 meters long, and it shows all the events that led up to the Norman Invasion
- The Normans initially wore plain, simple clothing, but they wore more elaborate clothing as they became wealthier.
- Normans still had their desire for war, battle, and honor. Therefore, they traveled as mercenaries, bred horses, and developed techniques in warfare.
- The Normans were primary builders of castles in Europe and England.
- Richard the Lionheart was Duke of Normandy before becoming king of England
- The Domesday Book is a large survey that notes England’s earliest public and legal records. This is the oldest surviving public record, and the Normans created it.
- The Normans are responsible for many of the great cathedrals in England, such as Durham cathedral.