The Normans from Rollo to William; Either Conquer or Perish

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793 A.D., Scandinavian men sailed across the North Sea landing at the island of Lindisfarne, and this is the first known encounter between Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. For the next three centuries, the Vikings and their legendary Longboats marauded across the English continent, seeking treasure and territory. They migrated thousands of miles from the Mediterranean to North America, but the most historic and successful Viking settlement took root in northern France.  It was named, Land of the Northman: Normandy.


Sailing the River Senne, raiding wealthy monasteries, these Northmen took advantage of a weak and fragmented France, where the desirable northern territory was available for conquest.  This band of Vikings was led by a Norwegian giant called, Rollo. Norman history tells us that Rollo was such a large man that no horse could carry him and thus, he earned the nickname, “Rollo the Ganger” or “Rollo the Walker”.  By the early 10th century, Rollo’s Vikings dominated northern France, and King Charles was forced to negotiate with him.




In the year 911, Rollo and King Charles met at the River Saint Clair sur Epte to come to terms. The direct exchange aside, Rollo’s reasons for agreement are not well known but he swore loyalty to the King, agreeing to protect him from any new raids by other Northmen. Rollo and his band converted to Christianity. In return, Rollo’s Northmen were offered all of the land between the river and the sea. Thus, Normandy is born.


Rouen is the city that Rollo claimed as his capital, and where the transformation began. Within two generations, Normandy’s territory had doubled, and became perhaps the most powerful principality in France. The Viking minority ruled over their French subjects but adapted to country and customs. The Normans became French, the French did not become Normans. They learned the local language, married local women and even became wine drinkers.


By the middle of the 10th century the Normans were minting their own coins without any reference to the King. Normandy was now settled, and their newly conquered territory developed into a fully functioning free state. It was an orderly, efficient establishment and all anti-Norman revolts were swiftly swept aside. These once-pagan raiders were now united and governed by the principles of Christianity, but they never completely abandoned their ancestors' gods.


Within 2 generations these Vikings went from a band of raiding Scandinavians, to French-speaking Normans and from burning churches to building magnificent cathedrals. They did not forget their ancestry or pagan gods, as such run deep in proud blood. But Rollo kept his word to the King, and the Normans converted to Christianity with absolute dedication and enthusiasm.  Like with the first Christians and most converts, Jesus the Messiah was persuading in some way, shape or form.


Monastery de Mont Saint Michel was founded on an island off the coast of Normandy in the 8th century, and this became a primary pilgrimage for Normans when they arrived. Saint Michael, the warrior-saint, was their most beloved. The monastery also became a favorite project of the Normans. The oldest part of the monastery that remains standing was built by Rollo’s grandson in the 10th century, and this is the oldest Norman architecture ever discovered. It’s a modest chapel made with simple arches and it’s called, Chapelle Notre Dame Sous Terre. The Abbey Church of Saint Michel was built 50 years later, and here is the starting point of monumental Christian architecture, much of which later became symbolic of medieval chivalry and piety. These men were the ancestors of warriors who were to form fierce cavalry of which the most elite, noblest men would become Knights and eventually, their sons would be the first of the Templar Crusaders in the 1090s.


William the Conqueror


In the year, 1028, William the Conqueror is born. After distinguishing himself at the Battle of Val-es-Dunes, William began to build castles, majestic stone abbeys and cathedrals; symbols of Christian piety and Norman strength. William did have a reputation for morbid vengeance, but also virtues including pinnacle leadership, tremendous vision and by producing sophisticated stone architecture. He expanded the Norman dominion in France but he gazed across the English Channel, toward the prosperity of future Norman generations.


Edward the Confessor


A politically charged era took place in the 1050s, involving various maneuvers by William, involving Harold Godwinson and King Edward the Confessor of Wessex. Both Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror were potential claimants to Edward’s thrown upon his death. Harold, because he was a highly renown General, close to Edward and extremely wealthy. And William, because he was Duke of Normandy at the time and distant cousin to Edward the Confessor.  Harold and William were destine for confrontation.


Harold Godwinson


January 5, 1066, King Edward the Confessor dies. On the same day, Harold Godwinson had himself crowned King of Westminster Abbey.  For devout Christians, Harold Godwinson was largely considered to have gone against God.  Meanwhile, William sent for endorsement by the Pope. Godwinson gained some favor when he crushed the raid of Harald Hadrada and his Norwegian warriors.  In fact for many, to this day the death of King Harald Hadrada marks the end of the glorious Viking era.  And this would be Harold Godwinson's final victory.


October 14, 1066, Godwinson’s Anglo Saxon forces and William’s Norman forces finally confront each other on English soil at the Battle of Hastings. William’s army flew the Pope's banner, and the Norman archers, infantry and knights went into battle knowing that God was with them. The Anglo-Saxons were overwhelmed by the Normans. Harold Godwinson would die on this battlefield, as the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. Duke William the Conqueror was now King William of England, and the reign of their cousins, the Anglo-Saxons, was gone forever.


Kilkenny Castle - Anglo-Norman Architecture


The same glory and fortitude the Normans brought to France from Scandinavia was now brought to England from Normandy, and William brought their elegantly robust stone architecture with him.  King William ruled for the Normans for 52 years, and as the King of England from October 14, 1066 until September 9, 1087.  He died in Rouen. Western culture, language and tradition are largely derived from the Normans, who would reign in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, through the Crusades, the medieval and colonial eras, all the way until present day in the west.


Purcell Coat of Arms


Au T Vi Ncam Aut Pe R I Am translates; Either Conquer or Perish. These are the words on the Purcell Coat of Arms. I am proud to carry an Anglo-Norman name and Anglo-Saxon-Norman blood. I am proud of what the Normans achieved and conquered. We are the Normans. I am the Normans. You are the Normans.


Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 25, 2017 - 10:55pm
Thanks, Slade.  Leroy here on WB seemed to show an interest in me writing up something relative to Norse history.  I'm glad it was interesting. 
Your Mom and I would have gotten along just fine!  It's my personal opinion that our heritage as Anglo-Saxons-Normans-Vikings-etc. has been undermined in this generation.  Our history is being taught as though we come from little more than colonial enslavers - here in the states anyway.  We were always, and will always be much greater than that.  
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 25, 2017 - 11:53pm
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Feb 26, 2017 - 5:43am
Good one. I once was invited to Essex, where friends live (Hailsham), and we visited Pevensey, where the battle of Hastings started. That started my interest in history, the Bayeux tapestry etc.
And now I know more about British history than about our own Swiss one LOL
Billy Roper Added Feb 26, 2017 - 7:34am
Our ancestors might have served together, one of mine came over with William. In fact, "Roper" doesn't come from an occupational surname, it's a shortened form of a Norman descriptive name, "Rubespaethra", meaning 'red sheath'.  Actually, though, I had ancestors on both sides of Hastings, and some that were with the other Harold at York a couple weeks earlier. Life gets complicated, sometimes. This article was as good as it gets, well done.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 10:35am
As far as I'm concerned, you're my brother anyway.  It would not surprise me if our ancestors stood shoulder to shoulder at Hastings, among other battlefields.  Thank you for such high praise!  Heh- Billy the Conqueror.  I imagine your name is William?  William is a Purcell family name too.
Billy Roper Added Feb 26, 2017 - 11:49am
Actually, my birth certificate name is "Billy Joe", not "William" or "William Joseph". It's a southern thing, lol. But, yep, it comes from William. I'm a Jr.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 11:57am
I hear ya.  I'd love to be more in touch with southern culture.   My family had acreage in Oklahoma and Illinois before and after the Civil War.  Heh, you might have heard of the city of Purcell in Oklahoma.  I suppose east of the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma is upper southern?  Well, I can't claim connection to the naming of Purcell, OK., but we did own land in the Sooner state.  :)
Billy Roper Added Feb 26, 2017 - 12:01pm
Yes, I've heard of it. I live in the Upper South, too, the Arkansas Ozarks. Rather than the flatland delta where the descendants of obsolete farm machinery are the majority. ;->
Leroy Added Feb 26, 2017 - 12:04pm
Excellent article, Tom.  Was there a relationship between Rollo and Ragner as the series Vikings indicated, or was that all bunk?
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 12:19pm
Thanks, Leroy, and I appreciate the inspiration you gave me.  To my knowledge there is no relationship between Ragnar and Rollo.  I found no mention of a Ragnar in my research of Rollo and William.  You'll have to pardon me on the Viking series, I only watched the first two episodes before getting bored with it.  That's just how I am, I need more meat on the bone, more information, more real details.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 12:20pm
...the battle scenes aren't bad though!
Leroy Added Feb 26, 2017 - 2:03pm
I enjoyed the series, but there was a lot of fluff.  You can always tell when a series is on its way out when it turns mythical and magical.  The series depicted the women as fierce fighters.  I find that hard to believe.  Sure, I can imagine them being fierce protecting the home but not being part of the mauradering bands wreaking havoc on Europe.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 2:47pm
That's true.  There were no female warriors on warships.  The Normans were more chivalrous than that.  Now the Russians on the other hand, put a lot of their women in the front and the back, taking the brunt of the fire and lugging the carts.
Billy Roper Added Feb 26, 2017 - 2:55pm
The series threw in race-mixing and homosexuality, as well.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 3:10pm
That's a given in modern media, right?  Having a gay ole time?
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 3:11pm
Anything White and masculine is automatically racist bigotry, or so it seems.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 3:19pm
I might be a bit busy to reply to comments in the next day or two.  Thanks for reading and commenting!
Ryan Messano Added Feb 26, 2017 - 4:29pm
Good article, my experience with the Norman's comes from Walter Scott's immortal "Ivanhoe", which detailed their wars with the Saxon "dogs".  English history is fascinating, as is Nordic, and Viking history.
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 5:02pm
Thanks, Ryan.  Our history can really capture attention, and the architecture our ancestors left with us resonates with anyone to behold them. 
Doug Plumb Added Feb 26, 2017 - 5:23pm
We do need some good historical critique of these TV series and Hollywood movies. You and Billy should do some YouTube vids on this. Jay Dyer does a great job, but he is also a philosopher.
  (A warlocks staff is made of hollywood)
Tom C. Purcell Added Feb 26, 2017 - 5:38pm
Doug, thanks for that!  I bet Billy would be a great partner in that effort, and probably you and a handful of others here on WB as well.
Leroy Added Feb 26, 2017 - 6:03pm
Even until this day, the people of Normandy are quite a bit different than the general population of France.
Patrick Writes Added Feb 27, 2017 - 7:22pm
Great post. The Normans, last people to successfully conquer England (officially). 
And for better or worse, the leaders of the first two Crusades and rulers of the Crusader kingdoms in the Middle East (to my knowledge).
Billy Roper Added Feb 27, 2017 - 7:56pm
Wow, after his two attempts to say that the Phoenicians and the Sumerians weren't White, I thought Patrick was going to try to claim that Rollo was a Ubangi. I'm glad he managed to restrain himself.
Billy Roper Added Feb 28, 2017 - 12:29pm
Tom, I thought you'd enjoy this article on the subject. In France, now, anti-racists are opposed to people finding out about their Norman ancestry:
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 1, 2017 - 7:59pm
Thanks for the compliment.  Too little is known about the glory of the Normans.  Yup, they were the first Crusaders.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 1, 2017 - 8:04pm
Thanks for that link.  Interesting timing!  Yes it seems to be socially offensive to have any semblance of identity or pride in White heritage.  Perhaps the world at large fears the unity of White men, for reasons rather obvious to the likes of you and I. 
Billy Roper Added Mar 1, 2017 - 9:36pm
Yep. Kind of like here at WB, the way things go. ;->
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 2, 2017 - 11:50am
Hale Rollo, Hale William!
Douglas Proudfoot Added Mar 2, 2017 - 4:47pm
William was able to defeat Harold Godwinson and his Saxson Army because Harald Hardrada attacked in the North of England, near York, earlier in 1066.  The Saxon army moved north to deal with Harald Hardrada, who was perceived to be the bigger threat.  King Canute, of Denmark, had ruled Saxon England from 1016 to 1035, so it was considered likely that Harald Hardrada could make himself King of England.  The Saxon Army decisively defeated Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on September 25, 1066.  However, this left the army completely out of position to defend Southern England against William the Norman.
Some people think the Saxon troops were tired from the journey and fought poorly at the battle of Hastings for that reason. The theory I support is that Harold Godwinson did not have enough transport to quickly move all of his experienced troops from Stamford Bridge roughly 260 miles south to Hastings.  Almost all of Harold's army fought as infantry.  With forced marches, light infantry could have marched 30-35 miles a day, meaning at least 8 days in transit to Hastings.  But the troops Harold wanted were heavily armored troops who would have to march wearing their armor.  They would have traveled much more slowly.  The history is that Harold left them behind.  Harold took his mounted House Carls, who rode horses to travel but fought as infantry.  The North of England was too poor to provide the horses and supplies needed to move the rest of the Saxon army.
When Harold got to London, local levies of the fyrd, the equivalent of todays' National Guard, met him.  They marched to Hastings and fought in the battle on October 14, 1066.  Most of the fyrd were poorly trained and not well equipped.  So although both the Norman and Saxon army were roughly 8,000 men, the Normans were better armed, better trained and many fought mounted.  Even if Harold hadn't been hit in the eye with an arrow, the Normans had the edge from the start of the battle, because Harald Hardrada thought he could be king of England.  Harald died trying, giving the victory to William the Conqueror.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 2, 2017 - 4:55pm
That's all interesting and true as far as I know it, Douglas.  The Anglo-Saxons were overwhelmed because of a variety of circumstances, including the ones you've cited.  We can't underestimate the impact of faith, and the power of papal banners, which were on the side of William's Norman army.  The capacity and successes of the Normans also speak for themselves as much or more than Saxon conquests.   
Douglas Proudfoot Added Mar 2, 2017 - 10:42pm
What interests me is the reasons England developed as a Constitutional Monarchy, while other Norman territory did not have anything like that.  I think that not enough Normans came to England to change the expectations that Saxons had of government.  The Normans had a talent for organizing and keeping track of their possessions which really improved the governance of England.  The Doomsday Book is the primary example of Norman organizational skills.  But by 1215, England's solution for a very bad king was a very Saxon sounding Magna Carta.  I don't think binding a king by law was a Norman thing to do.  Vikings and Normans solved a problem with a bad king by killing and replacing the king.  It seems to me that Saxon clerics probably suggested the Magna Carta solution to their Norman and French overlords. 
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 3, 2017 - 12:23pm
I love what you're adding to this discussion.  Yes the Normans and Vikings took an approach that is hard to argue with - "Off with his head".  Well, no-nonsense, "keep it simple stupid" can actually be an effective way to maintain order and peace.
Would you write a piece from 1215 forward on these matters?  I'd love to jump in on that conversation and to learn a thing or two. 
Shane Laing Added Mar 4, 2017 - 11:32am
According to Dr David Starkey the battle was very much in the balance most of the day. Harolds men on top of a ridge holding the high ground the Normans having to attack a solid shield wall it could have gone either way.  Only with the introduction of the Norman cavalry were the Normans able to win. The first Magna Carta drafted by the then Archbishop of Canterbury was issued to appease a group of rebel barons (not for all citizens, the poor didn't count). Because neither the king or the barons kept their sides of the agreement Pope Innocent scrapped it. It was reissued in different forms at later dates under different kings. Cant remember if it was three or four times you would have to check on that.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 4, 2017 - 12:26pm
There are many blocks to stack when it comes to organizing these transformations, all possessing their own particular intrigue.
Shane, how's "Adolf Hitler; The Greatest Story Never Told" going?
Douglas Proudfoot Added Mar 9, 2017 - 3:44pm
In the Battle of Hastings, the Normans got the Saxons to break their shield wall by pretending to be retreating and defeated.  The Saxons broke ranks to attack the retreating Normans and start looting the bodies on the battlefield.  The Normans reformed their armored cavalry formation and charged the Saxons' disorganized formation.   When heavy cavalry charged, period infantry was toast unless it was in tight formation in 1066.  Breaking ranks showed a lack of discipline in the Saxon troops.  I think this was the result of using local troops to replace the best Saxon infantry which was left behind in Yorkshire.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 9, 2017 - 4:16pm
Heh, I take very little history from Wikipedia.  I think it's a great source for some things like contemporary phrasing, origins of clichés, the preferred diet of giraffes, etc..  I only write historical perspectives when I've done far more extensive research from a variety of sources. 
Thanks for adding that info though, it does happen to be generally accurate and very interesting!   
Douglas Proudfoot Added Mar 9, 2017 - 5:01pm
The man who made the Magna Carta meaningful was Simon de Montfort (c. 1208-1265).  
     The Magna Carta was written by Cardinal Stephen Langton (c. 1150–1228) , Archbishop of Canterbury.  (I had to look it up. I'd forgotten.) Langton was almost certainly a Saxon.
     King John was a bad king.  King John's son, Henry III (1207-1272), as at least as bad or worse.  Henry III initially reissued the Magna Carta in 1223, when Henry III was 16, under pressure from Archbishop Langton.  Later, Henry III ignored all of the Magna Carta.
     Simon de Montfort was the second son of a French Count. Under English law at the time, an individual could not hold feudal land and pledge fealty to both England and France.  Simon went to England because his brother took the French title, which was worth much more.
     Simon de Montfort eventually got his title, Earl of Leicester, from Henry III.  He married the king's sister.  De Montfort learned to speak English.  He went on Crusade.   His career was stellar.  At various points he was Mayor of Jerusalem and Viceroy of all Christian Holdings in the Holy Land.
     In 1263, Simon de Montfort returned to England at the invitation of some barons who said Henry III was not respecting the provisions of the Magna Carta.  De Montfort, ironically, led a revolt of common people and some barons against all of those foreign overlords who were eating out England's wealth.   A de Montfort led army captured Henry III.  De Montfort, as de facto ruler of England, called the first English Parliament to include common people in 1265.  
    De Montfort's reforms were for everybody, but most of them did not out live him.  They did, however, serve as models for people who came after him.  The idea of inviting commoners to Parliament became representative democracy. 
     Henry III's son, the future Edward I (1239-1307), worked hard to win the Barons back to his father.  Edward raised a big army and beat Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham in 1265.
Douglas Proudfoot Added Mar 9, 2017 - 5:06pm
Tom:  The Wikipedia entry matches my extensive readings about the Battle of Hastings and also what the guide said at the site of the battle when I was there in 1972.  I included it only to give you more information because I'm a slow typist.  I also find that Wikipedia footnotes are quite useful for finding source material to read.
     I'm in IT.  History is my hobby.  It's a vacation from technology to think about the past, where there wasn't very much tech.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 9, 2017 - 8:26pm
I hear ya.  It would really be something to visit Hastings.  BTW, you are very good at your hobby.  I like your approach and style when it comes to writing up history.  Maybe I relate because I spent 5 years as a technical writer, reporting on real estate markets and assets.  That, and my wife is a systems engineer.  I'm fortunate to have made a short career out of writing, and real estate is always interesting but I prefer historic real estate, like the battlefields and landmarks in Great Britain and Europe.  I'd adore making a living by reporting on, and teaching the histories that I have such great affinities for.
I must travel to Europe and England someday, and touch the soil that our/my ancestors fought over throughout the centuries.  I'd take a Viking longboat if I didn't get seasick.  ;) 
Shane Laing Added Mar 10, 2017 - 3:11am
Yes Tom come over there is so much history here. Fabulous castles, Battlefields etc, we have such a bloody history through the ages over a thousand years. For William the Conqueror read about the Harrying of the North. His son Rufus was no better.  Regarding the Hitler film I need to go back and finish it.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 10, 2017 - 11:31am
My wife has been to England.  She liked London but so far, no one I've met in the states enjoys British cuisine!  Why is everything boiled and bland?  Heh, it must be a derivative of ye olde seagoing adventures and preserving proteins.  
Shane Laing Added Mar 15, 2017 - 9:21am
Boiled and bland???? Grrrrrrr. You need to come over and try it go to Camden Lock (take Northern Line to Camden Town). You will find cuisine from all over the world.  I make a wicked Strawberry Cheesecake so there yah, boo and hiss. lol.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 15, 2017 - 10:37am
Haha that's funny.  No offense, friend from across the pond.  I can't say much because, what's American cuisine?  Well there is some good traditional American food like slow smoked meats, especially from the south.  I enjoy smoked brisket, pork ribs, pork belly, all that stuff.  A decent, grilled American burger really hits the spot too.  Otherwise, American cuisine is unsophisticated. 
But hey, "you will find cuisine from all over the world" - is that because British food sucks?  Lol.  One of these days I'll have to try a beef Wellington.
Shane Laing Added Mar 15, 2017 - 10:54am
Best steak I ever had was in a roadside diner in Texas, wasn't too impressed by Red Lobster though. Was a big fan of Man v Food, blimey, you guys can really eat. We used to import cheap disgusting white wine from France because it was safer than drinking the water. Then an English man called Christopher Merret worked out how to put bubbles in it and Champagne was born.  Makes no odds its still disgusting sparkling wine.
Tom C. Purcell Added Mar 15, 2017 - 11:10am
That's funny.  Oh yeah you'll find good steak in Texas.  That's cattle country, where the good Black Angus is.  Red Lobster is icky, but I don't like shellfish to begin with.   Of course, living near the Oregon coast, why would I want shellfish when I have access to some of the world's best fresh fish from the North Pacific.  Halibut, steelhead, sole, snapper, orange ruffy, a lot more and of course our famous local Pacific NW salmon.
Yeah, it's embarrassing how some Americans can really put away the calories.  Just the size of entrees at most restaurants is unreal here.  Morbid obesity is becoming too acceptable here and that's a sad fact.
Oh and I hear you on the drinking water.  I'm from Phoenix, AZ and drinking the local water and tap water is unwise.  Everyone buys crazy amounts of water there, being it a desert.    

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