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Statue of Rollo, founder of the fiefdom of Normandy, standing in Falaise, Calvados, birthplace of his descendant William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy who became King of England.
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In the Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney), the British monarch is known as the “Duke of Normandy”, irrespective of whether or not the holder is male (as was the case of Queen Elizabeth II, who was known by this title) and notwithstanding the extinction of the Duchy itself in modern-day, republican France. The Channel Islands are the last remaining part of the former Duchy of Normandy to remain under the rule of the British monarch. Although the English monarchy relinquished claims to continental Normandy and other French claims in 1259 (in the Treaty of Paris), the Channel Islands (except for Chausey under French sovereignty) remain Crown dependencies of the British throne.[1]

In the Middle Ages, the Duke of Normandy was the ruler of the Duchy of Normandy in north-western France. The Duchy arose out of a grant of land to the Viking leader Rollo by the French king Charles III in 911.

In 924 and again in 933, Normandy was expanded by royal grant. Rollo’s male-line descendants continued to rule it until 1135. In 1202, French king Philip II declared Normandy a forfeited fief,[2] and by 1204 his army had conquered it. Normandy remained a French royal province afterwards – still called the Duchy of Normandy – but only occasionally granted to a duke of the royal house as an apanage[3].

The History of Normandy[4]

Normandy was a province in the North-West of France under the Ancien Régime, which lasted until the late part of the 18th century. Initially populated by Celtic tribes in the West and Belgic tribes in the NorthEast, it was conquered in AD 98 by the Romans and integrated into the province of Gallia Lugdunensis by Augustus. In the 4th century,
Gratian divided the province into the civitates that constitute the historical borders.

Archaeological finds, such as cave paintings, prove that humans existed 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 archaeological sources being more numerous and easier to date. As early as the 19th century, local scholars studied archaeological 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 artefacts found at these sites indicate Gallic presence in Normandy as far back as the times of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.

Before the Romans

Belgae and Celts, known as Gauls, invaded Normandy in successive waves from the 4th to the 3rd centuries BC. Much of what is known about this group comes from Julius Caesar‘s de Bello Gallico. Caesar identified several disparate groups among the Belgae who occupied separate regions and lived in enclosed rural towns. In 57 BC, the Gauls united under Vercingetorix to cope with the onslaught of Caesar’s army. Even after their defeat at Alesia, the people of Normandy continued to fight until 51 BC – the year Caesar conquered Gaul.

In 27 BC, Emperor Augustus reorganised the Gallic territories by adding Calètes
and Véliocasses to the province of Gallia Lugdunensis, which had its capital at Lyon. The Romanisation of Normandy was achieved by the usual methods: Roman roads and urbanisation policy.

After the Romans

After the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD, the Franks became the dominant ethnic group in the area and built several monasteries. Towards the end of the 8th century,
Viking raids (see below) 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 boundaries of Lower NormandyUpper Normandy and the Channel Islands. Mainland Normandy was integrated into the Kingdom of France in 1204.

Scandinavian Invasions

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). 
Medieval Latin documents referred to them as Nortmanni, which means “men of the North”. This name provides the etymological basis for the modern words “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 Neustria became known as France (now Île-de-France), Anjou and Champagne. 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 Viking attackers sought to capture the treasures stored at monasteries – easy prey for the insurgents as monks generally could not put up much, if any, resistance.

More recently

  • 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.
  • D-Day, the 1944 Allied invasion of Western Europe, started in Normandy in World War II.
  • In 1956, mainland Normandy was separated into two regions, Lower Normandy and Upper Normandy, which were later reunified in 2016.

How the Duchy of Normandy came about

The Duchy of Normandy grew out of the 911 Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte between King Charles III of West Francia and the Viking leader Rollo. The name “Normandy” reflects Rollo’s Viking origins. The Duchy was named for its inhabitants, the Normans. From 1066 until 1204, as a result of the Norman conquest of England, the Dukes of Normandy were usually also kings of England, but there were three exceptions:

­Rollo, the Viking[5]

Rollo[6] was a Viking who became the first ruler of Normandy, today a region in northern France. He stood out as the outstanding warrior among the Norsemen who had secured a permanent foothold on Frankish[7] soil in the valley of the lower Seine. After the Siege of Chartres in 911, the king of West Francia (Charles the Simple) cut a deal with Rollo, granting him lands between the mouth of the Seine and what is now Rouen in exchange for[8]:

  • Rollo agreeing to end his brigandage (robbery and plunder)
  • Swearing allegiance to him
  • Religious conversion to Christianity; and
  • A pledge to defend the Seine’s estuary from Viking raiders.

The Emergence of The Normans

The name Rollo is first recorded as the leader of these Viking settlers in a charter of 918, and he continued to reign over the region of Normandy until at least 928. His son,
William Longsword, succeeded him in the Duchy of Normandy he had founded.[9]  Through their intermingling with the indigenous Frankish and Gallo-Roman population of the lands they settled, the offspring of Rollo and his followers became known as the “Normans“. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066 and their conquest of southern Italy and Sicily over the following two centuries, their descendants came to rule England, much of Ireland, Sicily and Antioch from the 11th to 13th centuries, leaving behind an enduring legacy in the recorded histories of Europe and the Near East.[10]

Grant of Lands to Rollo

The first Viking attack up the Seine river took place in 820. By 911, the area had been raided many times, and there were even small Viking settlements on the lower Seine. The text of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte has not survived – it is only known through the historian Dudo of Saint-Quentin, who wrote about it a century after the event. By the agreement, Charles III, king of the West Franks, granted to the Viking leader Rollo lands along the lower Seine, perhaps already under Viking control. For his part, Rollo agreed to defend the territory from other Vikings and that he (and his men) would convert to
Christianity.[11] Rollo’s decision to convert and agree on terms with the Franks came in the aftermath of his defeat at the Battle of Chartres by Dukes Richard of Burgundy and Robert of Neustria (the future Robert I of France) earlier in 911.[12] The territory ceded to Rollo comprised the pagi[13] of the CauxÉvrecin,  Roumois  and Talou. This territory was formerly known as the country of Rouen, which would become Upper Normandy. In 1202, Philip II of France declared Normandy forfeit to him, and two years later, he seized it by force of arms. It remained a disputed territory until the Treaty of Paris of 1259 – when the English sovereign ceded his claim except for the Channel Islands[14].

Norse Settlement in the Duchy of Normandy

There were two distinct patterns of Norse settlement[15] in the Duchy of Normandy:

  • In the Danish area in the Roumois and the Caux, settlers intermingled with the indigenous Gallo-Romance-speaking population. Rollo shared the large estates with his companions and gave agricultural land to other followers. Danish settlers cleared their own land to farm it, and there was no segregation of populations.
  • The population in north-western Cotentin (also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula) was purely Norwegian. Coastal features bore Norse names as did the three pagi of Haga, Sarnes and Helganes (as late as 1027). The Norwegians may even have set up a þing, an assembly of all free men, whose meeting place may be preserved in the name of Le Tingland.

Within a few generations of the founding of Normandy in 911, however, the Scandinavian settlers had intermarried with the natives and adopted much of their culture. But Normandy was neither a political nor monetary unit at that time. Frankish culture remained dominant, and according to some scholars, 10th century Normandy was characterised by a diverse Scandinavian population interacting with the “local Frankish matrix” that existed in the region. In the end, the Normans stressed assimilation with the local people.[16] In the 11th century, the anonymous author of the Miracles of Saint Wulfram referred to the formation of a Norman identity as the “shaping [of] all races into one single people”.[17]  According to some historians, the idea of “Norman” as a political identity was a deliberate creation of the court of Richard I in the 960s as a way to “create a powerful if rather incoherent sense of group solidarity to galvanise the duchy’s disparate elites around the duke”.[18]

Duchy of Normandy between 911 and 1050. In blue are the areas of intense Norse settlement
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Norman Rule and the Establishment of Ducal Title

Starting with Rollo, Normandy was ruled by an enduring and long-lived Viking dynasty. Even illegitimacy was no bar to succession, and three of the first six rulers of Normandy were illegitimate sons of concubines. Rollo’s successor, William Longsword, managed to expand his domain and came into conflict with Arnulf of Flanders, who had him assassinated in 942.[19] This led to a crisis in Normandy, with a minor succeeding as
Richard I and also led to a temporary resumption and revival of Norse paganism in Normandy.[20] Richard I’s son, Richard II, was the first to be styled duke of Normandy, the ducal title becoming established between 987 and 1006.[21]

The Norman dukes created the most powerful, consolidated Duchy in Western Europe between 980 (when they helped place Hugh Capet on the French throne) and 1050.[22]
Scholarly churchmen brought into Normandy from the Rhineland, built and endowed monasteries and supported monastic schools, thus helping to integrate distant territories into a wider framework.[23]

The dukes imposed heavy feudal burdens on the ecclesiastical fiefs, which supplied the armed knights that enabled the dukes to control the restive lay lords but whose bastards could not inherit. By the mid-11th century, the Duke of Normandy could count on more than 300 armed and mounted knights from his ecclesiastical vassals alone.[24] By the 1020s, the dukes imposed vassalage[25] on the lay nobility. Until Richard II, the Norman rulers did not hesitate to call on Viking mercenaries for help to get rid of their enemies around Normandy, such as the king of the Franks himself. Olaf Haraldsson crossed the Channel in such circumstances to support Richard II in the conflict against the count of Chartres and was baptized in Rouen in 1014.[26]  In 1066, Duke William defeated Harold II of England at the Battle of Hastings (see detail below) and was crowned King of England through the Norman conquest of England. [27] Anglo-Norman and French relations became complicated after the Norman Conquest. The Norman dukes retained control of their holdings in Normandy as vassals owing fealty[28] to the King of France, but they were his equals as kings of England. From 1154 until 1214, with the creation of the Angevin Empire, the Angevin kings of England controlled half of France and all of England, dwarfing the power of the French king, yet the Angevins were still de jure 
(according to the law) French vassals.[29]

The Battle of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings was fought on Sunday, 14th October 1066 between the Norman-French army of William, the Duke of Normandy and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson, beginning the Norman Conquest of England. It took place approximately seven miles (11 km) northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, East Sussex. It was a decisive Norman victory. The background to the battle was the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor in January 1066, which set up a succession struggle between several claimants to his throne. Harold was crowned king shortly after Edward’s death, but faced invasions by his brother Tostig, William and the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (Harold III of Norway). Hardrada and Tostig defeated a hastily gathered army of Englishmen at the Battle of Fulford on Tuesday, 20th September 1066, only to be defeated by Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later. The deaths of Tostig and Hardrada at Stamford Bridge left William as Harold’s only serious opponent. While Harold and his forces were recovering, William landed his invasion forces in the south of England at Pevensey on Wednesday, 28th September 1066 and established a beachhead for his intended conquest of the kingdom of England. Harold was forced to march south swiftly, to the battle, gathering forces as he went. The exact numbers present at the battle are unknown as even modern estimates vary considerably. The composition of the forces is clearer: the English army was composed almost entirely of infantry and had few archers, whereas only about half of the invading force was infantry, the rest split equally between cavalry and archers. Harold appears to have tried to surprise William, but scouts found his army and reported its arrival to William, who marched from Hastings to the battlefield to confront Harold. The battle lasted from about 9 am to dusk. Early efforts of the invaders to break the English battle lines had little effect. Therefore, the Normans adopted the tactic of pretending to flee in panic and then turning on their pursuers. Harold’s death, probably near the end of the battle, led to the retreat and defeat of most of his army. After further marching and some skirmishes, William was crowned as king on Christmas Day 1066. While there continued to be rebellions and resistance to William’s rule, Hastings effectively marked the culmination of William’s conquest of England. Casualty figures are hard to come by, but some historians estimate that 2,000 invaders died along with about twice that number of Englishmen. William founded a monastery at the site of the battle, the high altar of the abbey church was supposedly placed at the spot where Harold died. 
Source: Picture Credit: Norman knights and archers at the Battle of Hastings, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. File made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Attribution: Myrabella, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Page URL:

The Duchy remained part of the Anglo-Norman realm until 1204,[30] when Philip II of France conquered the continental lands of the Duchy, which became part of the royal domain. The English sovereigns continued to claim them until the Treaty of Paris (1259) 
but kept only the Channel Islands.[31] Having little confidence in the loyalty of the Normans, Philip installed French administrators and built a powerful fortress, the
Château de Rouen, as a symbol of royal power.[32]


When the Norse-speaking settlers spread out over the lands of the Duchy, they adopted the Gallo-Romance speech of the existing populations — much as Norman rulers later adopted the language of the administered people in England. In Normandy, the new Norman language was formed by the interaction of the peoples inherited vocabulary from Norse. In England, the Norman language developed into the Anglo-Norman language. The literature of the Duchy and England during the period of the Anglo-Norman realm is known as Anglo-Norman literature.

William the Conqueror[34]

William was the illegitimate son of Robert I, duke of Normandy (reigned 1027–1035), and a woman of lower social status named Herleva. William had two half-brothers: Odo (the bishop who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry) and Robert, who became Count of Mortain. Both half-brothers gave him important support later in his career.

William was the first Norman king of England, reigning from 1066 until he died in 1087. A descendant of Rollo, he was Duke of Normandy from 1035 onward.

Source: Picture Credit: Norman knights and archers at the Battle of Hastings, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. File made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. Attribution: Myrabella, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Page URL:

William had a difficult start to life and was given a lot of responsibility from a very young age. As he was the son of Robert, Duke of Normandy, he was named his successor shortly before his father’s death.

In the early years of his reign, William’s control of Normandy was challenged by various nobles and relatives. He only secured his hold on Normandy with victory at the Battle of Varaville in 1057. William also launched campaigns against other neighbouring rulers to expand his territory. These included his success in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, culminating in his becoming king of England.[35] introduces William the Conqueror like this:

‘William I, byname William the Conqueror or William, the Bastard or William of Normandy, French Guillaume le Conquérant or Guillaume le Bâtard or Guillaume de Normandie, (born c. 1028, Falaise, Normandy [France]—died September 9, 1087, Rouen), duke of Normandy (as William II) from 1035 and king of England (as William I) from 1066, one of the greatest soldiers and rulers of the Middle Ages. He made himself the mightiest noble in France and then changed the course of England’s history by his conquest of that country.’

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Sources and Further Reading

[1] Source and Acknowledgement:

[2] Mentioned at: See also “Rise and Fall of Feudal Law” by Charles Sumner Lobingier at

[3] Explanation: An appanage was a concession of a fief by the sovereign to his younger sons, while the eldest son became king on the death of his father. The system of appanage has played a particularly important role in France. It developed there with the extension of royal authority from the 13th century, then disappeared from the late Middle Ages with the affirmation of the exclusive authority of the royal state. It strongly influenced the territorial construction, explaining the arms of several provinces. The prerogative of Burgundy is also the origin of the Belgian, Luxembourg and Dutch States, through the action of its dukes favoured by their position in the court of the kings of France.

[4] Source:

[5] Source:

[6] NormanRouRollounOld NorseHrólfrFrenchRollon

[7] Explanation: The Franks (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were a group of Germanic peoples whose name was first mentioned in 3rd century Roman sources, and associated with tribes between the Lower Rhine and the Ems River, on the edge of the Roman Empire. Later the term was associated with Romanised Germanic dynasties within the collapsing Western Roman Empire, who eventually commanded the whole region between the rivers Loire and Rhine. They imposed power over many other post-Roman kingdoms and Germanic peoples. Beginning with Charlemagne in 800, Frankish rulers were given recognition by the Catholic Church as successors to the old rulers of the Western Roman Empire. Source:

[8] Sources: (1) Bates 1982, Normandy Before 1066. Longman. ISBN 978-0-582-48492-4 pp. 8–10, and (2) Flodoard of Reims (2011). Fanning, Steven; Bachrach, Bernard S. (eds.). The Annals of Flodoard of Reims: 919–966. University of Toronto Press. pp. xx–xxi, 14, 16–17. ISBN 978-1-44260-001-0.

[9] Source:  “Rollo”. Encyclopedia Britannica. 28 August 2008.

[10] Source: Neveux, François; Curtis, Howard (2008). A Brief History of the Normans: The Conquests that Changed the Face of Europe. Robinson.

ISBN 978-1-84529-523-3.

[11] Source: Renaud, Jean (2008). Brink, Stefan (ed.). The Duchy of Normandy. The Viking World. Routledge. pp. 453–457.

[12] Source: Lake, Justin (2013). Richer of Saint-Rémi:The Methods and Mentality of a Tenth-Century Historian. Catholic University of America Press. p. 101.

[13] Explanation: A pagus (plural pagi) was a Roman administrative term designating a rural subdivision of a tribal territory, which included individual farms, villages (vici), and strongholds (oppida) serving as refuges, as well as an early medieval geographical term. Source:

[14] The Channel Islands comprise two Crown Dependencies: the Bailiwick of Jersey, which is the largest of the islands; and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm and some smaller islands.

[15] Source: Renaud, Jean (2008). Brink, Stefan (ed.). The Duchy of Normandy. The Viking World. Routledge. pp. 453–457.

[16] Source: Abrams, Lesley (January 2013). “Early Normandy”. Anglo-Norman Studies.

[17] Source: Renaud, Jean (2008). Brink, Stefan (ed.). The Duchy of Normandy. The Viking World. Routledge. pp. 453–457.

[18] Source: McNair, Fraser (2015). “The politics of being Norman in the reign of Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy (r. 942–996)” (PDF). Early Medieval Europe. 23 (3): 308–328. doi:10.1111/emed.12106ISSN 1468-0254.

[19] Source: Thorpe, Benjamin (1857). A History of England Under the Norman Kings: Or, from the Battle of Hastings to the Accession of the House of Plantagenet: To Which Is Prefixed an Epitome of the Early History of Normandy. London: John Russel Smith. p. 24.

[20] Source: Bradbury, Jim (2007). The Capetians: Kings of France 987-1328. London and New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 9780826435149.

[21] Source:  Rowley, Trevor (2009-07-20). Normans. The History Press. ISBN 9780750951357.

[22] Source: Cantor, Norman F. (1993) [1963]. The Civilization of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Medieval History. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 206–210. ISBN 9780060170332.

[23] Source: Potts, Cassandra (1997). Monastic Revival and Regional Identity in Early Normandy. Suffolk, UK & Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer. pp. 70–71. ISBN 9780851157023.

[24] Source: Source: Cantor, Norman F. (1993) [1963]. The Civilization of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Medieval History. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 206–210. ISBN 9780060170332.

[25] Explanation: A vassal or liege subject is a person regarded as having a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch, in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. While the subordinate party is called a vassal, the dominant party is called a suzerain. Referenced at:

[26] Source: “Olav Haraldsson – Olav the Stout – Olav the Saint”. The Viking Network. 25th June 2015

[27] Source: Rex, Peter (2012) [2008]. 1066: A New History of the Norman Conquest. Stroud, UK: Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445608839.

[28] Explanation: In medieval Europe, the swearing of fealty took the form of an oath made by a vassal, or subordinate, to his lord. “Fealty” also referred to the duties incumbent upon a vassal owed to the lord, which consisted of service and aid. Referenced at:

[29] Source: Turner, Ralph V. (1995-02-01). “The Problem of Survival for the Angevin “Empire”: Henry II’s and His Sons’ Vision versus Late 12th Century Realities”.

The American Historical Review. 100 (1): 78–96. doi:10.1086/ahr/100.1.78ISSN 0002-8762.

[30] Source: Harper-Bill, Christopher; Houts, Elisabeth Van (2007). A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World. Suffolk, UK & Rochester, New York: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. p. 63. ISBN 9781843833413.

[31] Source: Powicke, Frederick Maurice (1999) [1913]. The Loss of Normandy, 1189-1204: Studies in the History of the Angevin Empire. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 138. ISBN 9780719057403.

[32] Source:  Baldwin, John W. (1986). The Government of Philip Augustus: Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages. Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press. pp. 220–230. ISBN 9780520911116.; “ – Joan of Arc Tower”.

[33] Source and Acknowledgement:

[34] Source and Acknowledgement:

[35] At:


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