10 Interesting Facts You Should Know About The Normans And Normandy

Below is a list of 10 interesting facts you should know about the Normans (a people of renowned warriors, conquerors, and kings) as well as about Normandy, their region in present day northwestern France.

10. Northern origins

The Normans did indeed come from the north. Under the leadership of a reputed Norse warlord by the name Hrólfr Ragnvaldsson (also known as Rollo or Robert), who was born in Scandinavia and was of Danish/Norwegian origin,  a group of Norse colonists were given land and permission to settle in the north of Western Frankia in the early 10th century by King Charles III the Simple so as to avoid further incursions on their behalf and of other Norse warbands in his kingdom along the River Seine. So it is that Rollo became the first Count of Rouen and his descendants rose to the throne of the Duchy of Normandy in the decades and centuries to come.

Illustration depicting Normans and their costumes in Norman England. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

9. Rollo the Ganger and his debated origins

Rollo was born in a noble Norse family of jarls in the earldom of Møre og Romsdal, western present-day Norway, at some point during the mid-late 9th century. In his youth, he was nicknamed ‘(the) Ganger’ because he was that tall no horse could had carried him. Nowadays, his origins are debated amongst some historians, with several considering he was either Danish or Norwegian. In this respect, a DNA test on his descendants’ tomb was also taken in consideration.

Statue of Rollon in the city of Rouen, France. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

8. The rise of Normandy

Normandy as a duchy was first recorded after the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte (911), being thus constituted as an early medieval state under the rulership of Count Rollo of Rouen. Legend has it that upon pledging allegiance to King Charles III of Western Frankia Rollo refused to bow to kiss the king’s feet; instead, he turned him upside down and kissed his feet this way (although it’s been also speculated that he chose one of his men to do this). Last but not least, the very word Normandy stems from the origins of its Nordic settlers, ‘Nordmanni’ in Latin.

16th century map of Brittany and Normandy situated in northern present-day France. Image source: Wikimedia Commons 

7. Rollo’s descendants

The descendants of Rollo did not solely rose to the throne of the Duchy of Normandy; many prominent Norman noblemen became monarchs in other medieval polities across Europe. One such tremendous example is William the Conqueror, William II, and Henry in in England, Robert Guiscard (the conqueror of southern Italy and Sicily during the 11th and 12th centuries), and William Clito, Count of Flanders.

Rollo’s family tree. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

6. The Norman language

Normandy’s Scandinavian settlers gradually assimilated into the local culture by adopting the language spoken there and the afferent customs of the region. So it is that the Old Norman language was created as a mix of inherited Old Norse vocabulary and of Old French loanwords, resulting in a new Romance language. Subsequently, in England Old Norman diverged into Anglo-Norman, a relative of Old French, after the Battle of Hastings (1066).

5. Norman castles

The once Old Norse-speaking settlers of Normandy went on little by little to be remarked as noteworthy castle builders in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. So it is that the Normans built impressive strongholds throughout Britain and Ireland as well as in northern France and southern Italy. As an example, an imposing Norman citadel that passed the test of time is Trim Castle in Ireland.

Clifford’s Tower, the main keep of the York Castle built at the orders of William I. Image source: www.pixabay.com

4. The Norman conquest of England

Following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, one of the clashes that largely marked the end of the Viking Age, England was going to be subdued by the Normans and fall under Norman royal authority up until 1154, when the Norman dynasty was followed by the Plantagenets.

19th century painting detailing the Battle of Hastings (1066). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

3. The Norman conquest of Sicily

Very much unlike the case of England, the Norman conquest of Sicily was not decided through the aftermath of a sole battle but was rather the result of many decades of skirmishes between the Normans and the Emirate of Sicily. In the end two Norman leaders managed to control Sicily and defeat the Saracens, namely Robert Guiscard and Roger I, Count of Sicily.

Detailed map highlighting major battles in the context of the Norman conquest of Sicily. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

2. William the Conqueror’s village in Normandy

In the small commune of Dives-sur-mer there lies a medieval-themed market village dedicated to William the Conqueror who set sail along with his army from the harbour of this village to Hastings in 1066 in order to conquer England.

Wooden depiction of William the Conqueror on horseback in the commune of Dives-sur-mer, Calvados department, Normandy, northern France. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

1. A museum for the Vikings in Normandy?

Relatively recently, it has been suggested that a museum dedicated to the Norsemen, to the Viking Age, and the Norman heritage might be opened in Normandy. As of 2015, the project was still discussed within the Regional Council of Haute-Normandie.

Documentation sources and external links:

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4 Responses to 10 Interesting Facts You Should Know About The Normans And Normandy

  1. Lisafer says:

    Thank you for this, it’s of particular interest as our family research has led to our roots being Norman though I’m equally fascinated by the Norse as a whole.

  2. Fascinating. I love such DETAILED historical information. Thank you.

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