Friday, January 4, 2013

The home of the wild things: Normandy

To most people, ask them what Normandy is and you’ll be told it’s a beach in western Europe where a bunch of men landed during World War II. Well informed people and historians know Normandy has a richer history than just being the landing point for the Allied Forces.

Let’s start with Charlemagne. The Carolingian leader became king in 774. Charlemange had a gift and was able to inspire men to follow to follow him. His army conquered and consolidated lands as his forces spread westward, eventually taking over much of what would be most of western Europe. Charlemagne was appointed the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 and used Italy as his home base. Part of the conquered lands in the Emperor’s kingdom in 768 were the Frankish countries of Austria, Nuestria, Burgundy, and Provence. The Carolingians added Frisia, Saxony (in 797), Alemania, Bavaria (in 788), Ostmark, Carinthia, Friuli, the Kingdom of Lombardi (in 773), Septimania, Gascony, and Aquitania by 814. 


With a large land mass to rule, Charlemagne had a challenge. He couldn’t be everywhere at the same time. He had to rely on appointed local leaders, utilizing the feudalism preferred by the Frankish people. The Emperor had hoped to divide his lands between his three sons, but that was not to be.

The peace was short-lived.

In an eerie premonition to the future Plantagenets, Louis’s sons bickered among themselves after their father died, the result being the splintering of the once large kingdom. In 843, the Treaty of of Verdun splint Charlemagne’s lands to three parts: East Francia, West Francia, and the Middle Kingdom. Only Louis survived his father’s death, and was crowned shortly afterwards in 814.  

See a map of the region on this link

Taking advantage of the unsettled family matters, Norsemen (Vikings) began raids on the West Kingdom. Through multiple attacks, the Vikings managed to take over a section of land adjacent to the English Channel. Using the western coast of Francia as a launching point, the Norse travelled upstream on the Seine River as far inland as Paris via boat, and using horses to continue their mayhem on dry land moved north and south. The rampages became so regular, residents from some regions paid the Vikings protection money to avoid the plundering. Frisia paid the Norseman so often it was said their country was part of the Danish territories.
Once settled, many Norsemen converted to Christianity. In 911 Normandy was transformed in to a Duchy under the principality of the French when King Charles III officially made made Rollo, Chief of the Vikings,  the first Duke of Normandy. The Vikings became Normans.

The Dukes and Duchesses of Normandy were powerful in their own right.  William the Bastard, illegitimate son of Duke Robert, grew up to become William the Conqueror and King of England. William’s son, Henry (King Henry II) married the divorced wife of King Louis of France, Eleanor. Eleanor was the Duchess of Aquitaine, one of the largest tracts of land inWestern Europe in the twelfth century. By 1180 Henry held England, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Touraine, Berry, Maine, Santonge, and Gascony. The King also controlled part of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and disputed lands in neighboring France.

Henry may have technically been a vassal of the French King, but Henry held the true reins of power. This was apparent when the English King wrestled Toulouse back from Louis's control. Normandy was key for seaports and river travel access.

See a map of modern Normandy on this link

For more information on this subject:

Atlas of the Medieval World
By Rosamund McKittrick
2004, Oxford University Press
ISBN # 0-19-522158-3

Who Were the Celts?
By Kevin Duffy
1996, Barnes & Noble Books 1999 edition
ISBN #0-7607-1608-0

The Barbarians
By Tim Newark
1985 Blandford Press
ISBN #0-7137-2042-5

Stay safe out there!

“To be great, you have to assume responsibility.” Winston Churchill

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