Born from a settlement of Scandinavians around Rouen and the lower Seine in 911, Normandy had, in all essentials, reached its geographical limits as early as the 10th century. In the 11th century the duchy became one of the most powerful principalities in the kingdom of France, but also kept its close links with the Norse and Anglo-Saxon worlds. With the benefit of a long political and military career, Duke William 'the Bastard' was strong enough in 1066 to undertake the conquest of England, defeating King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings.
After the death of William 'the Conqueror' the Anglo-Norman realm was shared between his two eldest sons, but after 1106 it was reunited by the youngest, Henry I 'Beauclerc'. On Henry's death in 1135 the right of succession was contested by his daughter, the Empress Matilda, married to the Count of Anjou, and King Stephen. The situation was finally resolved when Matilda's son Henry II Plantagenet gained the throne in 1154 and became the ruler of an immense domain stretching from Aquitaine to the Scottish border. The increasingly assertive positions adopted by the English and French monarchies would, however, soon lead to the break-up of the 'Angevin Empire'. This was symbolised by the reunion of Normandy with the kingdom of France in 1204.
The story of the Normans in southern Italy began with the first pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land or the shrine of St Michael at Monte Gargano at the beginning of the 11th century.
Soon the pilgrims offered their
services as mercenaries for the various local lords - who
were eternally at war with each other - thus acquiring increasing
In 1059 Pope Nicholas II recognized Robert de Hauteville and Richard Drengot as duke of Apulia and prince of Capua respectively. The remarkable series of conquests of the Hautevilles was continued by Roger I, the ‘Great Count’, who seized Sicily from the Arabs (1061-1091).
The kingdom was founded in 1130 : Roger II (son of Roger I) united the whole of southern Italy under his rule. The dynasty continued with William I and William II. After the latter’s death without heirs in 1189 and the brief reign of Tancred of Lecce, the German Emperor, Henry VI of Swabia, conquered the kingdom in 1195, putting an end to the Norman dynasty.