The Normans from Rollo to William
By Tom C. Purcell (edit & repost)
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 destined for confrontation.
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.
“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.