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Normandy (Traditional province, France)


Last modified: 2013-06-11 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Normandy]

Flag of Normandy - Image by Arnaud Leroy & António Martins, 13 July 2003

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History of Normandy

Normandy did not exist as an historical homogeneous land before 911 and the "Treatyt of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte. From 911 to 1204, Normandy nominally depended of the Kingdom of France but was de facto one of the best organized states in medieval Europe. Since 1204, continental Normandy is a French province. Of course, the name of Normandy did not exist before the Norsemen, but it will be used below in an anachronical manner for the sake of simplicity.

Normandy before Normandy

After the Roman conquest, all the Celtic tribes of Gaul were incorporated into the provincia lugdunensis, named after its capital Lugdunum ( Lyon). In the Lower Empire, the province of Second Lyonnaise was created, with Rotomagus ( Rouen) as its capital. The borders of this province were more or less those of medieval and modern Normandy. This is not surprising since the later dukes maintained the early ecclesiastic administrative divisions, which were themselves based on the former Roman civil divisions. Christianism spread over the Lower Empire through the axis Lyon-Rouen, so that the first Bishop of Rouen was appointed in the beginning of the 4th century. Six other towns, which were former capitals of Gaul tribes, became a Bishopric: Évreux, Lisieux, Bayeux, Coutances Avranches and Sées.

From the 3rd to the 6th century, the Saxons established a few settlements in Bessin, the coastal part of Calvados). Bretons expelled from England by the Saxons conquered the Channel islands. At the end of the 5th century, the whole Normandy was incorporated into the Kingdom of the Franks. Most of the new colonists settled in the eastern part of Normandy, where the new lords allied with the Church. Powerful abbeys were founded, for instance Jumièges and Fontenelle, in the lower valley of Seine. After the successive shares of the Kingdom of the Franks, Normandy was incorporated into the Kingdom of Neustria, whose kings were landlords absolutely not interested in maritime affairs.

Around 800, Charlemagne started to establish a defense system against the Norsemen, repelling a first attack in 820. However, the Norsemen sacked Rouen in 841 and looted the abbeys. In 851, they overwintered on an island of the Seine, making the defense of the coasts impossible. King Charles the Bold built a fortified bridge on the Seine near Pîtres (862) and commissioned the Bretons to protect the paeninsula of Cotentin and Avranches (867), to no avail.

The foundation of Normandy

In 911, a Danish army led by the Norwegian Rollon (Hrolfr) was defeated near Chartres. Rollon started negotiations with King of France Charles the Simple. By the "Treaty" (no act was ever signed) of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, France ceded to Rollon what is now known as Upper Normandy (departments of Eure and Seine-Maritime). Rollon's Vikings were christened and appointed defendors of Normandy against the other Vikings. Rollon's powers were those of a Frankish Count, so he took control of the remainings of the royal and ecclesiastic powers.

Other Norsemen settled in Normandy, for instance Danes from England near Bayeux and Norwegians from Ireland in the Cotentin. In 923 and 933, Rollon was allowed by the King of France to take control of these areas, which was a fairly difficult task. The borders of Normandy in the middle of the 10th century were more or less those of the former ecclesiastic Province of Rouen. The only missing part was the eastern Vexin, which remained in the royal domain as the Vexin français, as opposed to the western part, incorporated to Normandy as the Vexin normand, the border being the river Epte. The only significant later modification of the territory of Normandy was the incorporation of the Passais, near the town of Domfront, around 1050. The stability of the borders of Normandy is a noticeable exception in the medieval France.

The early evolution of the Duchy of Normandy

The Scandinavian influence in Normandy is mostly visible through place and family names, and was important mostly in the coastal areas. There are very few archeological remains of the Norsemen and not the least artistic influence. The only influence of the Norsemen on the institutions was on maritime and criminal laws. In the beginning of Normandy, the Frankish institutions were adopted by the Scandinavian lords, who often bore two names (Rollon was also called Robert) and married twice, according to the Christian and Danish (more Danico) rules.

The first dukes increased their powers through successive crises and abandoned the Vikings' traditional expeditions. Rollon (911-c. 932) followed the example of the Danish Kings of York (England) and reestablished in Rouen the archbishop and the monks of the St. Ouen abbey. He was succeeded by his son William I Longsword (c. 932- 942), who propagated the Christian religion and established a strong alliance with the Kings of France. His successor Richard I (942-996) repelled an attempt of Frankish conquest and other attacks by his neighbours, helped by Viking mercenaries. Richard II (996-1026) rebuilt a powerful Church in Normandy, founding or rebuilding abbeys in Fécamp, Jumièges, Saint-Wandrille, Rouen (St. Ouen) and Mont-Saint-Michel. All bishoprics were reestablished. Richard II started to adapt to Normandy the feudal institutions and used them to increase his power and stabilize his state, whereas those institutions were the source of the desagregation of the Kingdom of the Franks. New towns were built, including Caen (1025), which would later replace Bayeux as the second capital of the Duchy. Richard II married his sister Emma to King of England Ethelred II, this marriage being the source of the later claims of the Dukes of Normandy over the throne of England.

The conquest of England

Duke Robert the Magnificent (1027-1035), an impulsive person, died in Nicaea (Asia Minor) on his way back from Jerusalem. His illegitimate son William the Bastard succeeded him (1035-1087). William's early reign was difficult. The barons of the Duchy revolted, but Guillaume subdued them with the help of the Church. The formation of autonomous domains within the Duchy was prohibited, the army was reorganized, and those who contested William's power were forced to exile. The most famous of these rebels is Robert Guiscard (c. 1015-1085), who founded a Norman state in southern Italy. Appointed Count (1057-1059), then Duke (1059-1085) of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily, by Pope Nicholas II, Robert expelled the Byzantines from Italy in 1071 and, later, the Sarracens from Sicily. Other Norman lords, serving as mercenaries in England, Spain and Byzance, sent back money to Normandy to fund or rebuild churches, for instance the cathedrals of Coutances and Sées. Some of them eventually calmed down and came back home, where their wealth and military experience was very helpful to William.

Once the Duchy stabilized, William incorporated Maine in 1063, on behalf of his son Robert. His cousin, King of England Edward the Confessor, without a heir and in big trouble with his court and his subjects proposed him the succession. After Edward's death in January 1066 Guillaume landed in England on 28 September 1066. The English pretender Harold was defeated and killed in Hastings on 14 October 1066 and William was crowned King of England in Westminster on 25 December 1066, and nicknamed William the Conqueror. William's success was mostly due to three military elements, his Scandinavian-like fleet, the association of cavalry and archers' troops, and a deep knowledge of fortification systems. Moreover, his English opponents were exhausted after having defeated another, Norwegian pretender. William, officially supported by the Church, attracted in his expeditions several Breton, French and Flemish knights. The conquest of England is depicted on the famous Tapestry of Bayeux.

The Anglo-Norman kingdom

Normandy and England were associated in a single state for 138 years, from 1066 to 1204. William was much more powerful than his theoretical suzereign, the French Capetian king, locked in his small domain. Wiesly, William never challenged the Capetian authority. The Norman barons and prelates were allocated big domains in England, and sent back a lot of money to Normandy. The ports on the Channel developed, including Caen, where William and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, funded two abbeys. The union of Normandy and Flanders scared so much the Pope and the King of France that William had to found the two abbeys as a token of good faith. A specific architecture style called Norman art developed.

William's successors were not so brilliant but they were able to preserve the Anglo-Norman Kingdom thanks to the strength of the institutions set up by William. William's elder son, Robert Curthose, appointed Duke of Normandy only (1087-1106), could not benefit from the English wealth. Back from the First Crusade, he was overthrown by his brother Henry I Beauclerc, King of England since 1100. Henry modernized the institutions and started the building of a line of fortresses (Arques, Gisors, Châeau-sur-Epte, Domfront, Chambois, Falaise, Caen, Brionne...) on the border with the Kingdom of France. The Échiquier (Chessboard) was established as a Supreme Court presided by the Duke-King or his personal representative.

Since Henry I had only one daughter, married to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, a succession crisis (1135-1153) threatened the unity of the Anglo-Norman Kingdom. Geoffrey's son, Henry II Plantagenet (1150-1189), preserved the unity of the Duchy-Kingdom, building a big state, including Anjou and Touraine, inherited from his father, and most western and south-western France brought by his marriage with Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henri's state stretched out "from Berwick to Bayonne", with Normandy as its executive center. Henry prompted the redaction of the Norman Law, which served until the French Revolution as the basis of the moral unity of the Duchy, and is still used, slightly modified, in the Channel Islands.

Henry II's sons were not able to preserve their father's achievements. Richard Lionheart (1189-1199), the elder son, exhuasted his state through his unsuccessful military campaigns. He ruined Normandy by building the huge fortress of Château-Gaillard. which was not able to repell the French assaults against the Duchy. John Lackland (1199-1216) had to face the strong-minded King of France Philip II Augustus, who incorporated within two years (1203-1204) Normandy and a part of the southern neighbouring areas to France. Compelled to chose between their Norman and English possessions, the Norman barons, who had not really supported John, mostly emigrated to England. John kept the Channel Islands in spite the attempts of conquest by pirates supported by France.

The incorporation to France

The Capetian kings preserved the Norman institutions but placed them under their personal control. The Chessboard alternatively gathered in Rouen and Caen, but was always presided by a representative of the king. In 1258, the Treaty of Paris officialized the separation of Normandy and England. Agriculture, trade and manufacturing industries developed in Normandy. In 1315, Pierre Dubois published in Coutances his charte aux Normands, which establisghed a definitive modus vivendi between Normandy and the Kingdom of France.

The Hundred Years' War

In 1343, a few lords from the Cotentin supported a plot set up by Geoffrey of Harcourt, lord of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, attempting to place again Normandy under English suzereignty. King of England Edward III landed in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue on 12 July 1346 and sacked Saint-Lô, Caen, Lisieux and Elbeuf on his way to Crécy, where he defeated King of France Philippe the Handsome on 26 August. Black plague achieved to ruin Normandy in 1348. During the next thirty years, Normandy was scoured by armed gangs claiming to be the English party or the Navarre party, since King of Navarre Charles the Bad was lord of Cotentin and Évreux.

In 1364, Constable Duguesclin defeated the Navarre army in Cocherel. In 1375, the English were expelled from Normandy and even from the Channel islands, for a short period. Henry V of Lancaster landed in Touques on 1 August 1417 and organized the occupation of Normandy, but without any promess of autonomy. The occupation was never complete since Mont-Saint-Michel was never seized. Moreover, several pockets of resistance were organized by farmers led by local lords.

Started around 1440, the French reconquest of Normandy was achieved in 1449-1450. The victory of Formigny, near Bayeux, caused the fall of the last fortresses still kept by the English. From 1461 to 1468, the French occupied Jersey but were exepelled by the inhabitants helped by the English fleet.

The reconstruction of Normandy and the formal incorporation to France

In 1450, King of France Charles VII granted Normandy a general amnisty and confirmed the Norman rights. In 1469, Louis XI formally suppressed the Duchy of Normandy (at least its French part) but respected the local rights. The reconstruction of Normandy was achieved with the foundation of the port of Le Havre by François I in 1517. In the 16th century, the powers of the Chessboard were transfered to the Parliament of Rouen.

Source: L. Musset. Normandie. Encyclopaedia Universalis 16: 436-442.

Ivan Sache, 13 July 2003

Flag of Normandy

The flag of Normandy is a banner of the arms De gueules aux deux léopards d'or, armés et lampassés d'azur, passant l'un sur l'autre (Gules two lions passant gardant in pale or armed and langued azure), assigned to the province by Jacques Meurgey in his Notice historique sur les blasons des anciennes provinces de France (Historical note on the coats of arms of the ancient French provinces, 1941).

Allegedly bore by Willima the Conqueror, these arms appeared for the first time on the shield of Geoffrey Plantagenet (1135/1144-1150).

Very popular in Normandy, this flag flies over several historical buildings, including the fortresses built on the former border with France, the castle of Caen etc. "Cheap" flags often portray the leopards without the blue tongue and claws. The leopards are widely used as the symbol of Normandy, for instance on the labels of Camembert cheese.

Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 14 June 2009

The legend is that Duke William of Normandy had two lions for Normandy and Maine, and added a third for England when he conquered it in 1066. However as heraldry did not exist in the 11th century, this must be apocryphal. Presumably there was a deliberate resemblence between England's and Normandy's arms to recognise the dynastic connection between the two, though.

Roy Stilling, 5 February 1997

The theory saying that heraldry did not exist in the 11th century is a long held, even cherished, theory that has been seriously questioned. It is to a large extent based on the fact that no continuity can be found between the devices on the shields in the Bayeux Tapestry and those borne by lords of the same name in the years of the Crusades.
In contrast to this there is a well developed theory presented in The Oxford Guide to Heraldry by Thomas Woodcock, Somerset Herald, and John Martin Robinson, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), which puts a different point of view. The theory has since been confirmed by a number of different researchers, and has it that armory was in use in Flanders among a group of families descended from Charlemagne for some two centuries before its use became general. I use the term armory for two reasons: firstly heralds had not become involved in it, and secondly it was initially a system of flags, not shield devices. Only later, apparently, were the devices transferred to shields.
The system spread from Flanders to areas where Flemings settled, especially as castle-builders, and this included Normandy, although in this early period it was in all likelihood restricted to the Flemish families, and not taken up by their Norman neighbours. Quite a number of Flemings were included in William of Normandy's army when he invaded England, and their use of armory in Britain (primarily England, but also areas of Wales, Ireland and Scotland, in all of which they formed the new land-owning class) was emulated by other "Normans" and then carried back to their relatives on the European Continent. (I use the term Normans in quote marks because although Normans made up the majority in the army, there were many others, including Bretons [not French subjects at the time] and men from other regions that were under the French king's authority.)
This laid the groundwork of a system that suddenly became a military necessity in the time of the Crusades, when it became widespread.

However, it is highly probable that William of Normandy did not use armorial devices and it is probably correct to dismiss the theory concerning the one lion of Guyenne and the two of Normandy being combined to make the three of England.

Mike Oettle, 16 August 2002