The Normans from Rollo to William

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.


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.


“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.


Ian Thorpe Added Nov 12, 2017 - 12:28pm
There's a direct link today to the realm established by Rollo. After that bastard William the Bastard (he became The Conqueror a couple of centuries later,) usurped Harold, the throne passed by inheritance and marriage to a powerful French family, The Plantagenets. At its peak the Plantagenet Empire included England and Wales, most of Ireland, and a not of the western coastal provinces of France. Though the Plantagents died out and the French monarchs reclaimed most of their territory, The Channel Islands - in the news this week through their tax haven status -, which are nominally ruled by The Queen Of England, Scotland and Wales but not part of the United Kingdom political entity, are the last remnant of the territories acquired by The Plantagenets.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 12, 2017 - 12:30pm
Good article. Finally.
Dino Manalis Added Nov 12, 2017 - 12:30pm
The Vikings discovered the New World, but it was after Columbus the Europeans became interested in the New World.
Leroy Added Nov 12, 2017 - 12:51pm
Thanks for reposting, Tom.  It was a very interesting history. 
I have to say that to this day, the people of Normandy and Brittany aren't quite French.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 1:13pm
Thanks for those comments, perfect continuation.  I chose "conqueror" over "bastard" out of respect, obviously. 
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 1:16pm
No confusing chamber doors for you to sweat in this one...nice and abstract analysis required so you won't need any barbiturate medication, it should be okay.  ;)
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 1:17pm
Dino, yup those damned Conquistadors wreaked havoc in South and Central Americas.   
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 1:19pm
You inspired this piece when you suggested I write about Norse history, and it's become one of my personal favorites.
Leroy Added Nov 12, 2017 - 1:23pm
Mine too, Tom.
Stone-Eater Added Nov 12, 2017 - 2:40pm
Thanks Tom.
I was always interested in history of that era and have read quite a bit too about that subject. May your article find interest !
Stone-Eater Added Nov 12, 2017 - 2:42pm
...and I'm Helvetian ... a sidepart of the Alemanni which are a sidepart of the Germans ;)
Stone-Eater Added Nov 12, 2017 - 2:43pm
Tribes all over not only in Africa...
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 2:59pm
Thanks, Stone!
Heh, there is a popular place not far from me called 'Helvetia Tavern'.  It's a nostalgic, sizeable log-built structure with a welcoming hearth and clinking pints.  They make a great hamburger.  :)
Ian Thorpe Added Nov 12, 2017 - 3:48pm
Tom, sorry. I've always been a fan of Hereward so Willian with always be the illegitimate one from my POV. Hereward aka Herward The Wake was a Saxon hero who led a resistance movement against Normandy. He was a real person but is thought by a lot of medieval historians to be the original inspiration for Robin Hood.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 12, 2017 - 4:33pm
Excellent piece, Tom. Such information can be culled from the records of the Vatican and from the royal historians. However, what of other groups whose records were burnt to eliminate them from the historical body of knowledge as President Trump tries to eliminate President Obama's name from the presidency of the United States?
Still my main point is when I was a wee lass, when I heard history, it was like the only thing that was happening in the world at the time of the history being presented was that event. For example, when I heard about 1066 and the Battle of Hasting, I thought that was the only thing happening in the world at that time, and the people and the place in question were that and only that.
Of course, Blacks were not included in the history, and that was never a thought of mind in my native Jamaica, Now that you have presented that excellent piece, it is challenging me to present a piece on what Blacks were doing in that time frame. Did your research find meetings of the Vikings and Blacks? Thanks for the wonderful information.
Morgoth Added Nov 12, 2017 - 5:05pm
Well, Tom, you actually wrote something I don’t have a problem with.  Congrats.
I see you abandoned your Auschwitz article.  That’s probably for the best.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 7:23pm
Great stuff!  We all have our own admirations, and I respect yours.  Most of all, thank you for adding intriguing notes about the Saxons and Hereward. 
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 12, 2017 - 7:38pm
That's cool that I might have helped to inspire some material for you and I can't wait to read it.  I soak up history, I adore it. 
"Did your research find meetings of the Vikings and Blacks?"
Good question.  My research was focused on the Normans' timeline and actually, I didn't come across any Viking-African/Black encounters.  It does make me curious about a potential meeting.  My take is; a conflict or conquest would be unlikely unless a longboat sailed astray, came across a tribe that possessed something the Norse needed or wanted.  And in such a case, I would guess said tribe would be avoided if too vast or well defensed, or annihilated if necessary but it would not have been like the Conquistadors and the Maya, where entire peoples were obliterated.  Actually, I can imagine a politically amicable trade relationship for basic goods on a small scale during the Viking era. 
Anti-Trump rhetoric doesn't belong on this one!  :)
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 12, 2017 - 8:36pm
@ Tom. "Anti-Trump rhetoric doesn't belong on this one!  :)"
As a Republican I find above curious. Truth must be told in historical documents for them to have validity and veracity. Rape as well as shooting off of noses of the conquered were tools of war. I will reply on Blacks and Vikings. This is just a teaser.
Morgoth Added Nov 12, 2017 - 8:38pm
Dave Volek Added Nov 12, 2017 - 9:01pm
Nice review of history. It is strange how that Viking influence came around in a circle.
Stone-Eater Added Nov 13, 2017 - 5:07am
Switzerland's Latin name is Confoederatio Helvetica. Our license plates are therefore CH. And I live in Vitudurum. That's what Winterthur was called from 200BC by the Romans :)
But Hamburgers arrived here in the Eighties !
Stone-Eater Added Nov 13, 2017 - 5:09am
BTW: We have a comic book series here called Asterix and Obelix. Know that one ?
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 13, 2017 - 9:52am
Dave,  Thanks for those comments!  For me, history doesn't get much more interesting than the Norse.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 13, 2017 - 9:54am
Indeed I've heard of Asterix and Obelix, but I can't say that I "know it".  Hamburgers came in the eighties?  Wow I guess things were really strict in Europe.  Hamburg wasn't that far away!
George N Romey Added Nov 13, 2017 - 9:58am
Nice history lesson Tom.  In fact the Vikings were much better explorers than Columbus.  From  what I've read Columbus was pretty much clueless finding American by mistake, then systematically killing all of the native population.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 13, 2017 - 10:00am
The Rus... Well I didn't claim that Normandy was their greatest achievement, although it might well have been.  I certainly think the Norse surpass the Rus in terms success and influence.  The Rus assimilated in Slavic territory and flourished there and in Russia.  The Normans contributed to western civilization and the Rus just rooted.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 13, 2017 - 10:01am
Thanks, George!  Our Viking ancestors are gaining more respect all the time, as we continue to learn more about their technologies and travels.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 13, 2017 - 10:13am
I understand your comment about the Viking's greatest achievement.  My bad.  I see the way I worded it in the first passage.  Hey thanks for the input on the Rus.  Appropriate branch off!
Ian Thorpe Added Nov 13, 2017 - 12:46pm
, I loved the Asterix strips Stony, but I've always liked The Celts and their Druidic lore. Did you know the chief, Vercingetorix was a real Celtic king and gave Julius Caesar a hard time in Gaul.
I think one of the most remarkable achievements of the Vikings was to navigate the Rhine and its tributary The Main and then somehow shift their boats around 100 miles overland to row down the Danube to the Black Sea.
The ancient world was a lot more complex and advanced that the orthodox history curriculum would have us believe.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 13, 2017 - 12:57pm
Ian, I couldn't agree more that history curriculums are too over simplified.
Ian Thorpe Added Nov 13, 2017 - 1:05pm
Dr. Rupert, I think you may be overlooking a lot of history involving people from north Africa and their interaction with Europeans because they were mostly referred to by Europeans as Moors. Based in Morocco the Moorish empire which lasted from the eighth to the twelvth century, encompassed much of Spain and Portugal, Algeria, Tunisia, Corsica, Sardinia, southern Italy and the Balieric Islands. Moors are frequently mentioned in medieval European literature.
There were almost certainly encounters between the Vikings and a Moorish equivalent, The Corsairs who raided as far north as Britain and Ireland. The most famous Corsair was Barbarossa though he was somewhat later than the Viking era.
Billy Roper Added Nov 13, 2017 - 1:47pm
The Moors were responsible for enslaving more White Europeans than the total number of black Africans who were enslaved by Whites.
Morgoth Added Nov 13, 2017 - 1:49pm
Sure they were.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Nov 13, 2017 - 4:07pm
@Jeff. Not even giving credence to your hearsay evidence, what is done is done, The fascinating thing about Tom's post is it transported  me to another time similar to Tom Jones' song ... A time of my childhood when I read voraciously and lacking the baggage of race and other isms that act as confounding variables to the pursuit of happiness, trust, and multicultural appreciation.  Thus, it moved me to look at the bigger picture, knowing how the colonization of scholarship excluded many from the quilt of the patchwork of history.
Billy Roper Added Nov 14, 2017 - 11:06am
Jeff, your comment does not count. It's only once sentence. You have to put a period after each word, in order to satisfy Autumn's brother. This comment, however, is considered substantive and preferred, because it is more than a single sentence.
Ian Thorpe Added Nov 14, 2017 - 11:31am
Billy, I'm an atheist and my opinion of Autumn's brother is the same as my opinion of God :-)
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 14, 2017 - 12:32pm
Sometimes I wonder if brother isn't also Dino, making sideways comments that often completely miss the point.
Ian Thorpe Added Nov 14, 2017 - 1:26pm
Tom, LOL
Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 16, 2017 - 11:47am
Tom: You must abandon your Dino thought. I think the same.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 16, 2017 - 11:51am
I'm pretty sure I thought it first.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Nov 16, 2017 - 12:09pm
Tom: Likely. Great minds think alike...and others sometimes, too.
Tom C. Purcell Added Nov 16, 2017 - 12:32pm

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