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'.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
THE MEDITERRANEAN NORMAN CONQUESTS
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.
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.