The missing link. Written in the Norman city of Rouen

Last year, sightseeing in England we often heard of Normans, who once invaded the country and left quite an impressive imprint in particular in architecture (from the present-day point of view of course).

As Normandy is located in the traditionally French territory, we associate it with French, or as referred to earlier in the history – the Franks. But who were the Normans according to historical facts? There is probably no better place in Europe to answer this question than Rouen, located in the present-day French Normandy, but in the past – the birthplace of the Norman traditions and culture.

In the late I millennium (AD) the influence of the Roman Empire over Western Europe was lost to the Carolingian Empire. The Empire was established in times of Charlemagne. After his death the Empire was divided into three parts. The South, the East, and the West. The kings of the Western part of the realm of Franks became with time the French kings.

However, the Northern parts of the Western realm were for years raided by the Vikings (warriors or pirates from the present-day Scandinavia, in particular, Norway and Denmark, that time referred to as Norsemen).

To buy peace, King Charles the Simple, the king of Franks, signed a peace accord with Ganger-Hrólf, otherwise called Rollo, the leader of the Viking raiders.

According to legend, Rollo was a powerful and ruthless Viking warrior who conducted raids throughout Europe, including in France. In the 9th century, he was hired by the king of France, Charles the Simple, to defend his kingdom against other Viking invaders. Rollo and his army were successful in driving back the other Vikings, but they then began to demand land and other concessions from the French king. When negotiations broke down, Rollo launched a full-scale invasion of northern France, eventually capturing the city of Rouen and establishing his own territory in the region. He then went on to launch further attacks on neighboring territories, eventually establishing the Duchy of Normandy, which would become a powerful and influential state in medieval Europe.

To only solution for the King was to sign a peace accord. In exchange for the autonomy (the Vikings were given the lands around the lower Seine that is Normandy in present-day France), the Vikings accepted Christianity and ceased raids and piracy. With time they mixed with the local francophone population and became the Normans.

Rollo’s grave at the Cathedral of Rouen in Normandy, France.

One of Rollo’s descendants (however not a legal one, as his king father did not marry his mother) was William the Conqueror. He was also a relative of the English kings. (As Vikings already for centuries raided Britannia, its kings and other nobility were that time of Danish roots. Even Rollo in his first years pirated in Britain). Once promised the English throne, after the English king who made the promise (Edward the Confessor) died childlessly, William (that time called William the Bastard) did not accept that instead of him Britain’s nobility chose a king from among themselves. He invaded Britain (the Norman Conquest of England in 1066), took the crown and started to introduce the Norman order.

After his coronation, William set about consolidating his power in England. He built a series of castles throughout the country to protect against rebellions, and he also introduced many administrative and legal reforms that helped to establish his authority. One of William’s most significant achievements was the compilation of the Domesday Book, a comprehensive survey of the land and property in England. This document helped William to better understand his new kingdom and to ensure that he received the maximum amount of revenue from his holdings. The noblemen who did not undergo the Norman superiority were gradually replaced by the new Norman nobility. 

Because of Norman influences of that time, there are many French influences in the English language. After the Norman Conquest, French became the language of the ruling class, and many French words and expressions were introduced into the English language. This resulted in a significant change in the English language, and many of the words and phrases that are still used today can be traced back to French roots. The Normans also brought with them their architecture, which was characterized by strong, stone buildings with large windows and decorative features. Many of the most famous buildings in England, including the Tower of London, were built by the Normans and still bear their distinctive architectural style. The Normans also introduced new social and cultural customs to England, including chivalry, the practice of knighthood, and the concept of courtly love. These ideas became an important part of English culture and literature, and they helped to shape the romantic ideals that are still prevalent today.

The famous Tower of London initially built in times of the Norman and English king William the Conqueror.

Conqest of England by William the Conqueror meant that the Normans now ruled over a large portion of England as well as their homeland of Normandy. Over the years, the ties between Normandy and England grew stronger. In the late 12th century, King Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine, which brought Aquitaine and Gascony under English rule. This created a powerful English empire that included much of modern-day France. However, this situation did not last long, and in 1202, King Philip II of France declared war on King John of England and began a campaign to retake the French territories that had been lost to the English. In 1204, King Philip II succeeded in capturing Normandy from the English, effectively ending Norman independence and bringing the region under French control. The loss of Normandy was a major blow to the English, and it marked the beginning of a long period of conflict between England and France, which would last for several centuries. Today it is a region in the French Republic.


The missing link. Written in the Norman city of Rouen