A Brief History Of The Normans – The Men From The North

Normandy is a historical region located in contemporary northwestern France. It is renowned through its long standing historical legacy, as from late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages it had gradually been inhabited by Celts, Romans, and Germanic tribes, among which most notably were the Normans.

The Roman Empire was ultimately forced to withdraw from most of Normandy by the beginning of the 5th century as of the cause of the raids of Saxon pirates along the coastline. During the late 5th century, the area between the rivers Somme and Loire was under the rulership of Frankish lord Clovis. However, the region takes its name from the Norse settlement in the 9th century. The denomination of Normandy stems from the Old French word ‘normanz’, meaning ‘northman’.

Mounted Norman warriors, as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Initially, small convoys of Vikings from Scandinavia used the river Seine only to attack Paris and some local monasteries (including the one at Jumièges). Afterwards, they came bolder and in far larger numbers to seize control of northern modern day France, taking advantage of the disintegrations within Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire.

The Duchy of Normandy was formed under the rule of a Norse chieftain by the name Hrolf Ragnvaldsson (known in Old Norse as Göngu Hrólfr and in Latin sources as Rollo, subsequently baptised as Robert) who had conquered Rouen (876), and sieged Paris (885-86) as well as Bayeux and Évreux, from 885 to 887.

He had most likely ruled over an earldom which corresponds to the territorial extent of modern day county Møre og Romsdal, western Norway, before finally becoming Count of Rouen. There has also been quite a dispute among scholars regarding his ethnicity, with Danish historians claiming that he was Danish while Norwegian scholars claiming that he was Norwegian.

Lands between Somme and Loire were ceded in the late 9th century by Charles III the Simple, the then King of Western Francia, to Rollo through the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in order to stop raiding the region and protect the kingdom against subsequent incursions of other Viking war bands. Charles III the Simple also demanded the conversion of Christianity of Rollo and of his men (mainly Norwegian and Danish Vikings, with a few Swedish Vikings as well).

The descendants of the Norse settlers intermarried with the local population, resulting thus an ethnic mixture of Scandinavians, Franks, Celts and Saxons that together formed the Normans who will eventually conquer England in 1066 at Hastings.

Documentation sources and external links:

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7 Responses to A Brief History Of The Normans – The Men From The North

  1. Espen Solheim says:

    The Norman’s did not have the boats to transport their army from Normandy to England. The Norwegian fleet that initially raided York merged together with the Norman’s as initially planned.

  2. Stephen Small says:

    My mother, who was from More og Romsdal told me that Göngu Hrólfr, or “Gange-Rolf” meant “Walking Ralph”, which he was nicknamed because if mounted on a horse, his feet met the ground, and therefore; he was too big to ride a horse.

  3. Keith Redfearn says:

    Does anyone know if there are any Norman connections to the surname “Redfearn”.

  4. Hrolfur made a deal with Charles the simple in 911 not anytime before that. His descendants in Scotland (descendants of the earls of the isles), Faroes and Iceland have him as the son of Rögnvald earl in Mæri in Norway. He himself revised in Scotland or the isles before assembling a Nores army for the invasion of France. I wonder what the Queen’s ancestry tells us about his origins!

  5. Bong Holmes says:

    In Normandy 98% of male haplogroup is r1b, so the Scandinavians that settled there were also mostly r1b?

  6. Roger Allen says:

    I am a descendant of Alan Fitz Flaad, Fitz is Norse for “son of”, so ( Alan son of Flaad). Alan Fitz Flaad was born in 1070
    in (Britagne, France aka Brittany France boardering Normandy. Alan was knighted a mercenary knight possibly by William
    the Conqueror.

    Alan had three sons William Fitzalan 1105, Walter Fitzalan and Jordon Fitzalan. Remember (Fitz) means “son of “.
    William Fitzalan’s descendants were “Welsh Marcher lords” along with other Marcher lord families .in the 1100’s and 1200;s
    The Marchers patrolled the Welsh boarder with Briton.

    I have a book recently printed in England about the Welsh Marcher Lordships. The book talks about my Fitzalan ancestors.
    At the time the Fitzaland’s became one of the wealthiest families in Briton.

    Latter years, The Fitzalan’s became the Earls of Arundel Castle in Arundel, W. Sussex, England. Walter on the hand, was good friends with King Henry l of Scotland. Walter was made 1st High Steward of Scotland, this meant that Walter managed
    the Kings money and household. The job was made hereditary. Walter’s grandson also named “Walter” took the “d” off of
    Steward and made the name “Stewart”. Three generations later another Walter married Marjory Bruce, daughter of Robert
    the Bruce, also a Norman. Marjory had a son Robert, named after her father.. Their son Robert l was 55 years old when he became King Robert l, He had wait for his Uncle David l to die first, When Robert l became King, the House of Stewart began.

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