History of Normandy
Normandy was a province in the North-West of France under the Ancien Régime. Initially populated by Celtic tribes in the West and Belgic tribes in the North East, it was conquered in 98 AD by the Romans and integrated into the province of Gallia Lugdunensis by Augustus. In the 4th century, Gratian divided the province into the civitates which constitute the historical borders. After the fall of Rome in the 5th century, the Franks became the dominant ethnic group in the area, built several monasteries, and replaced the barbarism of the region with the civilization of the Carolingian Empire. Towards the end of the 8th century, Viking raids devastated the region, prompting the establishment of the Duchy of Normandy in 911. After 150 years of expansion, the borders of Normandy reached relative stability. These old borders roughly correspond to the present borders of Lower Normandy, Upper Normandy and the Channel Islands. Mainland Normandy was integrated into the Kingdom of France in 1204. The region was badly damaged during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, the Normans having more converts to Protestantism than other peoples of France. In the 20th century, D-Day, the 1944 Allied invasion of Western Europe, started in Normandy. In 1956, mainland Normandy was separated into two régions, Lower Normandy and Upper Normandy, although proposals to unify the regions are under consideration.
Prehistory and antiquity
Normandy before the Roman conquest
Archeological finds, such as cave paintings prove that humans were present in the region as far back as prehistoric times, especially in Eure and Calvados. The Gouy and Orival cave paintings also testify to humans in Seine-Maritime. Several megaliths can be found throughout Normandy, most of them built in a uniform style.
More is known about Celtic Normandy due to the archeological sources being more numerous and easier to date. As early as the 19th century, local scholars studied archeological sites (especially those of Upper Normandy) and recorded their discoveries. They discovered objects such as the Gallic gilded helmet of Amfreville-sous-les-Monts, made in the 4th century BC, and the iron helmet currently in the Museum of Louviers. They also examined the cemetery at Pîtres with its urns for cremated remains. The artifacts found at these sites indicate Gallic presence in Normandy as far back as the times of the Hallstatt or Tène cultures.
Belgae and Celts, known as Gauls, invaded Normandy in successive waves from the 4th to the 3rd centuries BC. Much of our knowledge about this group comes from Julius Caesar’s de Bello Gallico. Caesar identified several different groups among the Belgae who occupied separate regions and lived in enclosed agrarian towns. In 57 BC the Gauls united under Vercingetorix in an attempt to resist the onslaught of Caesar’s army. After their defeat at Alesia, the people of Normandy continued to fight until 51 BC, the year Caesar completed his conquest of Gaul.
A list of Gallic tribes of which the territories correspond to later Normandy and their administrative centers:
- Abrincates (Ingena, modern day Avranches),
- Aulerci Eburovices (Mediolanum, modern day Evreux),
- Baiocasses (Augustodurum, modern day Bayeux),
- Calates (Juliobona > modern day Lillebonne),
- Esuvii (*Uxisama > modern day Exmes)
- Lexovii (Noviomagus Lexoviorum, modern day Lisieux),
- Sagii (unknown name, modern day Sées)
- Unelli (Cosedia, modern day Coutances),
- Veliocasses (Rotomagus > modern day Rouen),
- Viducasses (Aragenuae, modern day Vieux).
In 27 BC, Emperor Augustus reorganized the Gallic territories by adding Calètes and Véliocasses to the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, which had its capital at Lyon. The Romanization of Normandy was achieved by the usual methods: Roman roads and a policy of urbanization.
Classicists have knowledge of many Gallo-Roman villas in Normandy, thanks in large part to finds made during construction of the A29 autoroute in Seine-Maritime. These country houses were often laid out according to two major plans. One design features a tall and slender structure with an open façade facing south; the second design is similar to Italian villas, with an organized layout around a square courtyard. The latter can be seen at the villa of Sainte-Marguerite-sur-Mer. The villas were built using local materials: flint, chalk, limestone, brick, and cob. The technique of half-timbering came from this period and Celtic huts. The heating systems of these villas relied on the Roman hypocaust.
Agriculture in the region provided wheat and linen, according to Pliny the Elder. Pliny also noted the presence of fana (small temples with a centered, usually square plan) in great numbers. In antiquity the temples of Évreux made the town an important pilgrimage site, with a forum, Roman baths, a basilica, and a Gallic theatre. Évreux is also notable for the mother goddess statues found in tombs and houses.
Crises in the 3rd century and the Roman loss of Normandy
In the late 3rd century, barbarian raids devastated Normandy. Traces of fire and hastily buried treasures bear evidence to the degree of insecurity in Northern Gaul. Coastal settlements risked raids by Saxon pirates. The situation was so severe that an entire legion of Sueves was garrisoned at Constantia (in the pagus Constantinus), the administrative center of the Unelli tribe. Batavi were garrisoned at Civitas Baiocasensis (Bayeux ). As a result of Diocletian’s reforms, Normandy was detached from Brittany, while remaining within Gallia Lugdunensis. Christianity began to enter the area during this period: Saint Mellonius was supposedly ordained Bishop of Rouen in the mid-3rd century. In 406, Germanic and Alan tribes began invading from the West, while the Saxons subjugated the Norman coast. Eventually in 457, Aegidius established the Domain of Soissons in the area (with its seat the town of the same name Soissons, formerly the seat of the Suessiones), independent of and cut off from the Empire but with citizens nevertheless still considering themselves Roman. His son Syagrius succeeded him in 464 and remained until the kingdom was conquered in 486. Rural villages were abandoned and the remaining "Romans" confined themselves to within urban fortifications. Toponymy suggests that the various barbarian groups had installed themselves and formed alliances and federations already at the end of the 3rd century before the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476.
Early Middle Ages
As early as 486, the area between the Somme and the Loire came under the control of the Frankish lord Clovis. Frankish colonization did not occur on a massive scale, and is evidenced chiefly by cemeteries in Envermeu, Londinieres, Herouvillette, and Douvrend. The place names were chiefly Frankish at this time. The Franks also cut administration and military presence at the local levels. Eventually the eastern region of Normandy became a residence for Merovingian royalty.
The Christianization of the area continued with the construction of cathedrals in the principal cities and churches in minor localities. This establishment of the parishes would continue for a long time. The smaller parishes tended to be located in the plains around Caen while the rural parishes took up more space. Villagers would be buried around the local parish church up until the Carolingian era.
The Neustrian Monarchy developed in the 6th century in the isolated western regions. In the 7th century the Neustrian aristocrats founded several abbeys in the valley of the Seine: Fontenelle in 649, Jumièges about 654, Pavilly, Montivilliers. These abbeys rapidly adopted the Benedictine Rule. They came to possess great quantities of land throughout France, from which they drew considerable income. They therefore became involved in political and dynastic rivalries.
Normandy takes its name from the Viking invaders who menaced large parts of Europe towards the end of the 1st millennium in two phases (790–930, then 980–1030). They were called Nortmanni in the Medieval Latin documents, which means "men of the North". This name provides the etymological basis for the modern term "Norman" and "Normandy", with -ia (Normandia, like Neustria, Francia, etc.). After 911, this name replaced the term Neustria, which had formerly been used to describe the region that included Normandy. The other parts of it kept the name France (now Ile-de-France), Anjou and Champagne. The rate of Scandinavian colonization can be seen in the Norman toponymy and in the changes in popular family names.
The first Viking raids began between 790 and 800 on the coasts of western France. Several coastal areas were lost during the reign of Louis the Pious (814–840). The incursions in 841 caused severe damage to Rouen and Jumièges. The Vikings attackers sought to capture the treasures stored at monasteries, easy prey considering the helplessness of the monks to defend themselves. An expedition in 845 went up the Seine and reached Paris. The raids were carried out primarily in the summer, the Vikings spending the winter in Scandinavia.
After 851 they began to stay in the lower Seine valley for the winter. In January 852 they burned the Abbey of Fontenelle. The monks who were still alive fled to Boulogne-sur-Mer in 858 and to Chartres in 885. The relics of sainte Honorine were transported from Graville to Conflans, that became Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in the Paris region, safer by virtue of its south-easterly location. The monks also attempted to move their archives and monastic libraries to the South, but several were burned by the Vikings.
The Carolingian kings in power at the time tended to have contradictory politics, which had severe consequences. In 867, Charles the Bald signed the Treaty of Compiègne, by which he agreed to yield the Cotentin Peninsula (and probably the Avranchin) to the Breton king Salomon, on condition that Salomon would take an oath of fidelity and fight as an ally against the Vikings. After being defeated by the Franks in the Battle of Chartres, in 911, the Viking leader Rollo and the Frankish King Charles the Simple signed the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, under which Charles gave Rouen and the area of present-day Upper Normandy to Rollo, establishing the Duchy of Normandy. In exchange Rollo pledged vassalage to Charles and agreed to be baptized. Rollo vowed to guard the estuaries of the Seine from further Viking attacks. With a series of conquests, the territory of Normandy gradually expanded: Hiémois and Bessin were taken in 924, the Cotentin and a part of Avranchin followed in 933. That year, King Raoul de Bourgogne of France was forced to give Cotentin and a part of Avranchin to William I of Normandy, essentially all lands north of the Sélune River, that were theoretically under control of the Breton dukes since about 70 years. Between 1009 and 1020 the Normans continued their westward expansion, taking all the land between the Sélune and Couesnon rivers, including Mont Saint-Michel, completing the conquest of Avranchin. William the Conqueror completed these campaigns in 1050 by taking Passais. Logically, the first counts of Rouen and the first dukes of Normandy tried to unite politically the two different Viking settlements of pays de Caux-low Seine in the east to Cotentin in the west. Furthermore, Rollo established the archbishop of Rouen again and wanted the traditional limits of his archbishopric in the west, that always included Cotentin and Avranchin, to be found again.
While many buildings were pillaged, burned, or destroyed by the Viking raids, it is likely that the picture given by ecclesiastical sources is unfairly negative: no city was completely destroyed. On the other hand many monasteries were pillaged and all the abbeys were destroyed. Nevertheless, the activities of Rollo and his successors had the effect of bringing about rapid recovery.
The Scandinavian colonisation was principally Danish, with a Norwegian element in the Cotentin region. For instance, the first name Barno is mentioned in two different documents before 1066 and it is clearly the "frankization" of the Old Scandinavian personal name Barni, only found in Denmark and in England during the Viking Era. It can be identified in many Norman place-names too, such as Barneville-sur-Seine, Banneville, etc. and in England : Barnby.On the other hand, the presence of Norwegians can be detected in the Cotentin, indirectly first : there are toponyms created with typical Celtic anthroponyms from Ireland or Scotland, which are reputed to have been occupied by Norwegian Vikings, for instance : Doncanville (PN Duncan) or Digulleville (PN Dicuil cf. Digulstonga, Iceland) and directly second : the coastal route from the Orkney Islands down to the Cotentin peninsula is marked by rocks and cliffs with typical Norwegian names. A few Swedes were maybe present. The Viking colonisation was not a mass phenomenon. Nevertheless, in some areas the Scandinavians established themselves rather densely, particularly in pays de Caux and the northern part of the Cotentin. In fact, the Nordic settlements in Normandy can be qualified as Anglo-Scandinavian, because most of the colonists must have come after 911 as fishermen and farmers from the English danelaw and a consequent Anglo-Saxon influence can be detected. Toponymic and linguistic evidence has been found to support this theory : for instance Dénestanville (Dunestanvilla in 1142, PN Dunstān > Dunstan) or Vénestanville (Wenestanvillam 13th century, PN Wynstān > Winston). Furthermore, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions three times the possible settlement of danes from England in Neustria : 1/ A Danish army has been stationing in the kent for three years, finally broke up and while some Danes stayed in England, others who owned ships sailed over the Channel to the Seine River. 2/ Later, it is told that the jarl Thurcytel (Thorketill cf. NPN Turquetil, Teurquetil), who first settled in the Midlands, sailed to Francia in 920. 3/ Around 1000, another Viking fleet left England to Normandy. Archeological evidence can be added : some Anglo-Saxon swords were dredged out of the Seine River, they had probably been used by the Danes and more recently, the discovery of a buried treasure at Saint-Pierre-des-Fleurs, that contained nine Anglo-Saxon coins with traces of blows to test the metal quality of the coins. The fact it was buried proves that its owner was intent on coming back here.
The merging of the Scandinavian and native elements contributed to the creation of one of the most powerful feudal states of Western Europe. The naval ability of the Normans would allow them to conquer England, and participate in the Crusades.
Ducal Normandy (10th to 13th centuries)
Historians have few sources of information for this period of Norman history: Dudo of Saint-Quentin, William of Jumièges, Orderic Vital, and Wace. Diplomatic messages are the primary source of information for the succession of dukes.
Rollo of Normandy was the chief – the “jarl” – of the Viking population. After 911, he was the count of Rouen. His successors gained the title Duke of Normandy from Richard II. After the rise of the Capetian dynasty, they were forced to vacate the title, for there could be only one duke in Neustria, and the Robertians carried the title. These dukes increased the strength of Normandy, although they had to observe the superiority of the King of France. The dukes of Normandy did not resist the general trend of monopolizing authority over their territory: the dukes struck their own money, rendered justice, and leveled taxes. They raised their own armies and named the bulk of prelates of their archdiocese. They were therefore practically independent of the French king, although they paid homage to each new monarch.
The dukes maintained relations with foreign monarchs, especially the king of England: Emma, sister of Richard II married King Ethelred II of England. They appointed family members to positions as counts and viscounts, which came about around the year 1000. They held on to some territory in Scandinavia and the right to enter those lands by sea. The Norman dukes also ensured that their vassal lords did not get too powerful, lest they become a threat to the ducal authority. The Norman dukes thus had more authority over their own domains than other territorial princes in Northern France. Their wealth thus enabled them to give large tracts of land to the abbeys and to ensure the loyalty of their vassals with gifts of fiefdoms. William’s conquest of England opened up more land to the dukes, allowing them to continue these practices whilst preserving sufficient land holdings to serve as their powerbase.
The course of the 11th century did not have any strict organizations and was somewhat chaotic. The great lords made oaths of fidelity to the heir of the duchy, and were in return granted public and ecclesiastical authority. The justice system lacked a central governing body and written laws were uncommon.
The aristocracy was composed of a small group of Scandinavian men, while the majority of the Norman political leaders were of Frankish descent. At the start of the 11th century the region was attacked by the Bretons from the West, the Germans from the East, and the people of Anjou from the South. All of the aristocrats’ fidelity oaths to the Norman dukes were attributed to defending their important domains. As early as 1040, the term ‘baron’ indicated the elite knights and soldiers of the duke. On the other hand, the term ‘vassal’ does not appear in the documents from 1057 onwards. It was also in the middle of the 11th century that fiefdoms came to exist. Richard the First designated fiefdoms to counts from the dynasty and the cities so as to prevent them from getting too powerful.
- Notitia Dignitatum
- Élisabeth Ridel, Les Vikings et les mots : l'apport de l'ancien scandinave à la langue française, éditions Errance, Paris, 2009, p. 51.
- Ridel 54
- Ridel 52
- Ridel 52 - 53