The Norman Dynasties

Formation of the Duchy of Normandy [Normandie] in France (c.911).

In the eight and early ninth centuries, over population in the Scandinavian regions of what are today modern Norway and Denmark caused the inhabitants to seek other lands. These 'Northmen' or 'Vikings' launched different kinds of expeditions. The first of these were war-like reconnaissance raids along the sea routes of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Whenever successful over the local defenders, these Northmen attempted to establish more permanent communities at some of the more desirable regions. The Northmen's most remarkable and enduring efforts were in northwestern France, which became the French province of 'Normandie'.

In the early ninth century, the Northmen's attempted settlements at Bordeaux and in the Charente regions failed. They concentrated their raids in the Seine valley, sacking Paris in 845 and 861, but being dramatically repulsed in 885. Failing to advance further into northern France, the Northmen consolidated their settlement around the ancient town of Bayeux, which had been a Roman town and an important episcopal city, that developed from an earlier Gaulish capital of the Bajocasses. Prior to the arrival of the Northmen, the region had been raided by Bretons and Saxons.
One of the last Carolingian kings of the Franks, Charles III 'the Simple' (893-922) designed to create a 'marche' in northwest border of his kingdom to defend against further waves of raids by the Northmen and Saxons. In 911, those Northmen already occupying much of the extreme northwest of France suffered a severe defeat by Richard 'le Justicier' duc de Bourgogne [Burgundy] near Chartes. Taking advantage of this set back, Charles III negotiated the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with the leader of the Northmen settlement, Rollo [Rollon; or Rolf 'the Walker' or 'the Ganger']. Rollo accepted Christanity and paid homage to Charles for the duchy of Normandy. Duke Rollo (911-927) married Popa, the daughter of Count Béranger, governor of Bayeux. Rollo made the center of his duchy at Rouen. In 905, Rollo and Popa had a son, who became the next duke (927-942) as William 'Longsword'. William's son, Richard I 'the Fearless' followed as duke (942-996); and his son, Richard II 'the Good', was duke from 996 to 1027). By the end of the reign of duke Richard II, the population had stopped speaking Norse and spoke French 'in the vernacular' of the inhabitants of northwestern France.
Richard III, son of Richard II, was duke (1027-1028). Robert 'the Devil', another son of Richard II, was duke from 1028 to 1035. Duke Robert had a natural son, William, by a girl called Arlette. William, despite the status of his birth, was chosen by his relatives to succeed his father [who died on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land] as duke. William quickly demonstrated military prowess and established his clear claim as duke of Normandy [duc de Normandie] (1035-1087). In his claim, duke William was assisted by the French king, Henri I. William went on to win control of the counties of Maine and Brittany, during which he had to contend against the count of Anjou. William married Matilda, daughter of the count of Flanders.

French Norman Conquest of the English Kingdom (1066).

William would go on to be most famous as William 'the Conqueror' [Guillaume 'le Conquérant'] and founder of the Norman dynasty of English kings. There had developed close associations between the Normans in France and the rulers of Anglo-Saxon England. William was a cousin to Edward 'the Confessor', king of England who was childless. Edward spent considerable time in Normandy as a guest of duke William, who had been led to believe that he migh be heir to the English throne. When another Anglo-Saxon cousin, Harold of Wessex was shipwrecked on the Norman shore, William was credited as saving Harold and claimed to have extracted from Harold William's claim to succeed Edward's English crown.

Upon Edward's death in 1066, Harold claimed the English crown. William of Normandy led an invasion and defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings (14 October 1066). Overcoming what little resistance remained in southeast England, William led his army to London, and was crowned king on Christmas Day. Although William immediately began to build and garrison castles around the country, he apparently hoped to maintain continuity of rule; many of the English nobility had fallen at Hastings, but most of those who survived were permitted to keep their lands for the time being. The English, however, did not so readily accept him as their king, and the Normans treated the conquest much like an occupation.
A detail of the famous 'Bayeux Tapestry' [held by the Museum of Bayeux, France] which depicts the Norman conquest of England. The work was comisioned by the duchess Matilda for her uncle, Odo, bishop of Bayeux. Contrary to legend, Matilda [William the Conqueror's wife] did not work on making the tapestry, which was likely made in England.

Formation of the Anglo-Norman Dynasty (1066-1135 [or 1154])

The victory of William I 'the Conqueror', now king of England (1066-1087) did not give him complete control of England. A series of rebellions broke out, and William suppressed them harshly, ravaging great sections of the country. Titles to the lands of the now decimated native nobility were called in and redistributed to the king's Norman followers. Castles were built by the Normans from France to control the English country (including a fortress at Windsor, and the White Tower at the Tower of London). The lands of defeated Saxon nobles were given to William's followers in return for military service by a certain number of knights, so that the tenants' foremost obligation was allegiance to the King. This firmly established the feudal system as practiced in France. By 1072 the adherents of Edgar Atheling and their Scottish and Danish allies had been defeated and the military part of the Norman Conquest virtually completed. In the only major rebellion that came thereafter (1075), the chief rebels were Normans.

In 1086, William commissioned the Domesday Book, to record land holdings for the assessment of taxes and other dues. William spent long periods in Normandy to maintain his authority there, dealing with rebellions and French invasions. William died in 1087 in Normandy, leaving his duchy to his eldest son, Robert, and England to his next surviving son, William Rufus. William 'the Conqueror' and his wife Matilda were buried at Caen, France, which they virtually made 'the capital' of their Norman Empire'. They were buried in the the two separate pre-gothic churches that each had constructed in Caen: William in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, and Matilda in the Abbaye-aux-dames.

William II (known as William Rufus) was strong, outspoken and ruddy (hence his nickname 'Rufus'), William II (reigned 1087-1100) extended his father's policies, taking royal power to the far north of England. Ruthless in his relations with his brother Robert, William II extended his grip on the duchy of Normandy under an agreement between the brothers in 1091. (Robert went on crusade in 1096.) William II's relations with the Church were not easy; he took over Archbishop Lanfranc's revenues after the latter's death in 1089, kept other bishoprics vacant to make use of their revenues, and had numerous arguments with Lanfranc's popular successor Anselm. William II died on 2 August 1100, after being shot during a hunting expedition.

Henry I 'Beauclerc' (reigned 1100-35) succeeded to the throne. Henry I was William II's younger brother, and was present when William II was killed. Henry immediately rushed to London to claim the throne. Henry I was crowned three days after his brother's death. The eldest brother Robert, also claimed the English throne, but Henry I took the initiative and challenged his older brother for the duchy of Normandy. Henry I won the decisive battle of Tinchebrai (1106) in France, where he captured his brother Robert. Robert was destined to spend the last 28 years of his life as his brother's prisoner. During his captivity, Robert's son, William Clito, escaped and obtained aid from Louis VI 'the Fat', king of France (r.1108-1137). This involved Henry I in wars for the duchy of Normandy (1109-1113, 1116-1120). Henry I 'Beauclerc' formed an alliance with the German emperor Henry V (r.1106-1125). However, the emperor called off his invasion of France in 1121, when confronted by a large force under Louis VI at Rheims. William Clito died in 1128, and Henry I was able to complete his conquest of Normandy, returning the duchy to the dynasty on the Englsih throne.

An energetic, decisive and occasionally cruel ruler, Henry centralised the administration of England and Normandy in the royal court, using 'viceroys' in Normandy and a group of advisers in England to act on his behalf when he was absent across the Channel. Henry successfully sought to increase royal revenues, as shown by the official records of his exchequer (the Pipe Roll of 1130, the first exchequer account to survive). He established peaceful relations with Scotland, through his marriage to Mathilda of Scotland. Henry's name 'Beauclerc' denoted his good education (as the youngest son, his parents possibly expected that he would become a bishop); Henry was probably the first Norman king to be fluent in English. In 1120, his legitimate sons William and Richard drowned in the White Ship which sank in la Manche [the channel between Engalnd and France]. This posed a succession problem, as Henry never allowed any of his illegitimate children to expect succession to either England or Normandy. Henry had one legitimate daughter, Matilda. After she became widow of the German emperor Henry V, she married Geoffrey, comte d'Anjou, in France. However, Matilda's claim to the English throne and the duchy of Normandy was rejected by the Anglo-Norman barons, who mostly were opposed the idea of a female ruler. The barons elected Henry I's nephew, Stephen de Blois as king of England and duke of Normandy. Stephen was the son of William the Conqueror's daughter Adela.

Stephen versus Matilda (1135-1154).

Stephen's reign as king of England from 1135 to 1154, was a troubled one. He could neither control his friends nor subdue his enemies, despite the support of his brother Henry de Blois (Bishop of Winchester) and his able wife Matilda de Boulogne. Stephen's rule in England and in Normandy, france was challegned by warfare. Henry I's daughter Matilda invaded England in 1139 to claim the throne, and the country was plunged into civil war. Although anarchy never spread over the whole country, local feuds were pursued under the cover of the civil war; the bond between the King and the nobles broke down, and senior figures (including Stephen's brother Henry) freely changed allegiances as it suited them.

In 1141, Stephen was captured at Lincoln and his defeat seemed certain. However, Matilda's arrogant behaviour antagonised even her own supporters (Angevins and some Normans), and Stephen was released in exchange for her captured ally and illegitimate half-brother earl Robert of Gloucester. After the latter's death in 1147, Matilda retired to Normandy, which her husband, Geoffrey d'Anjou, had conquered in 1144. Stephen's English throne was still disputed. Matilda's eldest son Henry, who had been given Normandy by his father in 1150 and who had married the heiress Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine, conducted military campaigns in England in 1149 and again in 1153. Stephen fought stubbornly against Henry; Stephen even attempted to ensure his son Eustace's succession by having him crowned in Stephen's lifetime. The Church refused (having quarrelled with king Stephen some years previously). Eustace's death later in 1153 helped lead to a negotiated peace (the treaty of Wallingford) under which Henry would inherit the throne after Stephen's death. The assumtion of Henru d'Anjou to the English throne essentially incorporated the Anglo-Norman England into the much large 'Angevin Empire'. [See Angevin Dynasties]
In context of the ruling house holding the English crown, the pure 'Anglo-Norman' can be seen as having ended either with Stephen [introducing briefly an 'Anglo-Blois' dynasty], or most definitely with the Angevin 'conquest' of 1154. However, Henri II d'anjou, did not follow the example of the earlier French Norman conquest. Angevin nobles were not imported to replace the existing Anglo-Norman barons in England. The new Angevin king of England found the residual nobility of the earlier French imports to be quite compatable. So there remained among the broader, high nobility in Engalnd a true 'Anglo-Norman' elite, while the monarachy was 'Angevin' and in time, more correctly 'Plantagenet'.


Normans in Southern Italy.

In the eleventh century, the three sons of Tancrède de Hauteville, a small baron from the Coutances area in Normandy, aroused great enthusiasm. The eldest, Guillaume, known as 'Iron Arm', profited from the local imbroglio to chase away those who had summoned him to Italy, and became Guillaume d' Apulia in 1042. His two brothers, however, were the true founders of Norman power in the Mediterranean: Robert Guiscard de Hauteville (c.1015-1085) and, even more, his younger brother Roger I, who became the strongest of all Christian monarachs.

Robert Guiscard's sons allowed the duchy of Apulia to lapse into anarachy. Bohemund, another son of Guiscard, established himself [temporarly] as prince of Antioch. Guiscard died campaigning to regain the region in Greece that his son had lost.
Roger I count of Sicily (1072-1101), Guiscard's brother, completed the conquest of Sicily. After his death in 1101, his ministers governed effectively in the name of his infant sons.
Simon count of Sicily (1101–05). Son of Roger I.
Roger II count of Sicily (1105-1130), king of Sicily (r.1130-1154), second son of Roger I, surpassed all other in brilliance of display. By also acquiring the duchy of Apulia and became undisputed king of Sicily. He brought in a great era of civilization; multi- language culture; very liberal.
Guillaume I 'the Bad' (1154-1166), son of Roger II. Continued conquest of Roger II. Defeated Byzantine allies of Pope Adrian IV, compelling the pope to recognize Guillaume's titles in Sicily, Apulia, Naples, Amalfi and Salerno. He supported pope Alexander III agaisnt Emperor Fredericl II.
Guillaume II 'the Good' (1166-1189), son of Guillaume I.
Tancred of Lecce (1189-1194), [Langer says: 1190-1194] granson of Roger II. Purely Norman rule ended with him.

The last ("not pure line') Norman King of Sicily was Manfred. Manfred, the illegimate son of Frederick II, was made king of Sicily by the populace, who defied papal wishes. He was leader of the Ghibelline faction in Italy.

Pope Urban IV, a Frenchman, offered the crown of Sicily to Chalres of Anjou in 1261. Charles of Anjou led a military force to make good his claim and killed Manfred at the Battle of Benevento (1265). [This, like with England, is another occasion that the French Angevins follow a Norman dynasty in the 'overseas' kingdoms.]

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originally established 7 January 2002; revised 28 November 2002.