The making of the Duchy of Normandy

From the Vikings to the Normans

Damascined sword handle, found on the site of a Viking base, on an island in the Loire (île de Beaulieu, Nantes), dated between 843 and 960. [Musée Thomas Dobrée, Nantes].The pillaging of Portland in c. 789/802 and the sack of Lindisfarne in the north of the British Isles in 793 have traditionally marked the entry of the Vikings into Western Europe. The coast of what was to become Normandy was soon breached by these maritime raids. A number of pirate vessels were recorded in the lower Seine around 820, but from 841, Rouen was torched and the rich abbeys of the Seine, Jumièges and Saint-Wandrille, were pillaged or held to ransom. In 845 a Viking fleet sailed up the Seine to Paris and King Charles I (the Bald) agreed to pay a ransom.

Viking brooches found at Pîtres (Eure). [Musée départemental des Antiquités de Seine-Maritime, Rouen]The Vikings quickly had the measure of the inability of the Frankish kingdom to organise its own defence. From the middle of the 11th century they established permanent camps on the islands of the Loire and the Seine to over-winter so that they could conduct their campaigns in the better weather, ever deeper into the heart of the Frankish kingdom.

"Norman pirate raid", by E. Charrier, 1881. [Musée de Normandie]Viking attack, miniature from the "Vie de saint Aubin d'Angers" [Life of saint Aubin of Angers] , c. 1100. BNF. Photo Archives Y. LeclercThese attacks were repeated in this way almost every year during the second half of the 11th century. New contingents increased the number bases that had already been established. They arrived directly from Scandinavia, but also included men from the Danish settlements in the north of England, or Norwegians from the coasts of Scotland and Ireland.

Abbey of Jumièges founded in 624, pillaged by the Vikings in 842, restored by the son of Rollo from 925. The abbey church of Notre-Dame (photo) dates from the period 1040-1067. DR.In order to face the invader, the Carolingian kings drew up major military positions which they delegated to their entourage of lords, known by the title of marquis. The territories of the future Normandy were derived from the Marquisate of Neustria which was allocated to a powerful aristocratic Frankish family, the Robertiens, a branch of the dynasty of the Capetian kings.

"Norman pirates", by E. Luminais, 1897. [Musée de Moulins]However, the regions on the banks of the Seine and to the west of the river evaded the control of Carolingian government. In 867 Cotentin and Avranchin were abandoned to Breton chiefs under the pretext that they would ensure the defence of this land in the service of the king. The position of Count of Rouen, as a representative of the king, still existed in 906, but this was not something that would be of concern to the Normans in control of the Seine. The king had to resign himself to entering into a treaty with one of them; this was to be the Norwegian Rollo.

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